Nightmare before Christmas! Boris Johnson embroiled in Downing St party scandal.

Thomas Morgan takes a look at the Downing Street Party scandal currently engulfing British Politics

Despite weeks of denial of any sort of Christmas party for staff at No 10 Downing Street during the lockdown of December 2020, yesterday, the Prime Minister signalled the first sign of capitulation and that he is now taking this issue somewhat seriously…

After an ITV news video emerged showing the PMs press Secretary joking about the prospects of a Downing Street party, at a time when London was in tier 3 restrictions and large gatherings were banned, a political nuclear bomb was detonated, which even this Prime Minister who has built a reputation of seeing off scandals may later regret.

It all started when The Daily Mirror broke a story alleging that staff at the heart of government violated restrictions by hosting a spate of parties days after they plunged the country into stringent Covid 19 restrictions.

Since the story broke, the Prime Minister, aided by his ministers, vehemently denied any party, reinforcing the line that “all covid guidance was followed” while simultaneously denying any knowledge of a party at all.

But since the ITV clip emerged and resulted in the tearful resignation of Allegra Stratton (the former Downing Street Press Secretary), many are asking why would someone resign for mocking a party that supposedly did not happen.

Former Downing Street Press Secretary Allegra Stratton giving statement to Media announcing her resignation, On Wednesday

Boris Johnson arrived at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday armed with a defiant response, repeating the same line ‘that he had been assured that there was no party and that he too “was also furious” at the idea that the very people that made the rules treated them with contempt and humour.

But pause for a second…. Many have asked just how the PM was unaware of a party that allegedly took place in his residence. With reports now from credible news sources that Boris Johnson himself may have attended one of the five apparent parties (and even made a speech), questions will be asked about whether his credibility is now diminished.

The Metropolitan Police have tonight said they will not investigate this potential breach of the rules. They do not look into historic covid violations; however, many have pointed to many landmark prosecutions in courts of public members who broke lockdown laws and have faced hefty fines.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer asked the PM whether he would commit to handing over all necessary evidence to the police, and the PM agreed, whilst also announcing an internal inquiry headed by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, (who no ten have refused to confirm whether he was in attendance at the party himself!).

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQS on Wednesday

Often these scandals are a big deal in the so-called “Westminster bubble” of politicians, the media and those who follow politics closely. Still, there is strong evidence that this debacle has caused significant public anger.

Opinion polling provided by Opinium for Sky News reveals that 64% of the public believe a party did take place, and 53% of the people are now advocating the Prime Minister’s resignation.

For much of the public, this goes beyond a matter of politicians breaking the rules, they remember the sacrifices they made last Christmas in not being able to see loved ones, and some were even unable to be by their loved one’s side in their dying moments in hospitals and care homes.

The scandal invokes rage as many will feel, ‘it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us”.

The government announced on Wednesday evening that it would be moving to “plan B” covid restrictions in light of the new Omicron variant, introducing the use of Vaccine passports, compulsory masks and more.

Downing Street press conference with Boris Johnson, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty on Wednesday evening

Many public health experts will be worried about how this scandal has undermined public confidence in their leaders, and they are now increasingly worried that compliance may be low amongst the public.

With conservative MPs increasingly concluding that Johnson may now be a liability, and with public rage evident through opinion polling, this scandal may have the potential to bring down the once unassailable Boris Johnson.

Thomas Morgan
tm19047@essex.ac.uk