The Downing Street parties would not have happened under Theresa May

Despite all May’s failings, there is no way Downing Street would have turned into the London equivalent of a prohibition-era Chicago speakeasy on her watch

James Moore
Thursday 20 January 2022 15:44
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<p>May looks positively Churchillian by comparison to her successor</p>

May looks positively Churchillian by comparison to her successor

Did you know that if you put “Sue” into Google, Sue Gray now pops up above the Suez Canal, Sue Perkins, Sue Ryder and even Suede, the indie rock band. Congratulations, Ms Gray: you’re a bona fide rock star!

Variations on “wait for Sue” – a latter day King Solomon – are the only answers the PM and his allies have been prepared to offer in response to questions about Partygate, ever since she was handed the job of reporting on it. Along with some bluster.

But on the subject of this tawdry affair, there’s another question that interests me, and it also involves a woman. Do you imagine that this would have happened under Theresa May?

Regardless of what Sue G says about what Boris Johnson knew or didn’t know, which of the informal “gatherings”, “work events” or full on “party-on-dude piss ups” he attended and which he didn’t, we all know they occurred. (We also know they were party-on-dude piss ups. It’s a wonder Rishi hasn’t started lobbying to hire Downing Street out as a party venue. It’d be a good way of raising cash to help with the cost-of-living crisis.)

Imagine May having one of her top aides, supposedly without her knowledge, sending round an email suggesting everyone meet in the back garden with as much booze as they could squeeze into a bag for life, to blow off a little steam in the middle of a pandemic.

Imagine that she, keen to get a bit of air after a Zoom Cobra session with her top team, happened upon it. What do you think she would have done? Would she have pulled up a chair and put in a call to Philip, asking him to bring down the bottle of Bollinger they’d been keeping in the fridge and join them? Or would she have delivered the sort of b******ing that would make a teetotaller of anyone in range? I’m betting on the latter.

May was many things, not all of them good. She might look positively Churchillian by comparison to her successor, but she was still a poor PM. But she did at least have a sense of duty and, despite all her many failings, there is no way Downing Street would have turned into the London equivalent of a prohibition-era Chicago speakeasy on her watch.

The hard fact is that the Gray report, if that’s what we’re calling it, matters much less than the fact that Downing Street became lockdown party central under Boris Johnson in the first place. There were so many booze ups that Rishi Sunak was probably banging on the door asking them to pipe down when he was trying to put his Budget together in No 11.

This is what only a handful of Tories seem to have worked out, with Christian Wakeford, who joined Labour, and David Davis who quoted Cromwell in demanding Johnson’s resignation in the House of Commons, the most notable of them.

It’s not just that Boris Johnson felt that the rules didn’t apply to him. We know all about that. It’s the picture the affair paints of the shambolic, half-arsed, disgracefully unprofessional mess Downing Street became under Johnson, while people were dying. And they still are.

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Following the back and forth of Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson returned to boosterism, announcing plans to drop his plan B restrictions and pumping up his performance during the pandemic. Britain has the best testing programme in Europe! Britain has the best vaccination programme in Europe! All hail king me! There was one rather important absence from his list continental comparisons: Britain’s death toll. It’s the continent’s highest with the exception only of Russia, a good chunk of which is in Asia.

It’s now at 150,000-plus, roughly equivalent to the population of Oxford, within 28 days of a positive test, but nearly 175,000 when you consider fatalities with Covid mentioned on the death certificate. That’s nearly the population of Sunderland. Set against chilling figures like that, Johnson’s boosterism was almost as tasteless as the booze ups.

Partygate wouldn’t have happened under May, for all her failings as a leader. Had she been the occupant of No 10, some of those people, the tears of whose loved ones have also been drowned out by the sound and fury, would probably be alive today. That’s probably also true of every other prime minister for the last 100 years, too.

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