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OPINION - It’s My Party And I’ll Lie If I Want To

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

Legend has it that my grandpa, once he concluded it was time for his guests to leave of an evening, would venture upstairs only to return in his pyjamas for the purpose of feigning surprise that his visitors were still there.

At the other end of the spectrum is Boris Johnson, who seemed to be totally unaware that a party was going on in his own home last Christmas.

The problem with the Downing Street Christmas party story prior to yesterday evening was there were no visuals with which to raise hackles. No pictures, videos, old tweets... think Matt Hancock’s kiss being caught on CCTV (actually, don’t.)

That was until ITV got hold of a video in which Allegra Stratton (who has in the last few minutes announced her resignation), then the Prime Minister’s press secretary, was rehearsing a news conference (watch here) in which she fielded questions from her own colleagues pretending to be journalists.

In it, Ed Oldfield, a special advisor to Boris Johnson, asks Stratton about an apparent party. They all have a big laugh as they decide how not to answer a question that might reveal some of them had broken lockdown restrictions. Here’s a full timeline of events here. The Met is to probe the footage.

Johnson took a beating at PMQs as you’d expect. Keir Starmer contrasted the party with the rather more noble and heartbreaking actions of a woman, Trisha, who was unable to visit her dying mother in hospital over Christmas because she, unlike Number 10 staff, was following the rules.

You don’t need me to point out the political problem for Johnson. It is as if Number 10 saw Dominic Cummings’ visit to Barnard Castle and thought, hmm how can we do it again but this time implicate the Prime Minister (though there is no suggestion he himself attended) and much of his staff.

But the potentially greater problem is how he governs from here. It now seems likely that Plan B – which involves working from home and vaccine passports – is set to be rolled out across England.

(PSA: devolution is a thing and working from home has remained the advice for the roughly 11m people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

To put it bluntly, how does Johnson tell people they can’t do things if his office so blatantly (and apparently hilariously) broke the rules themselves.

The Health Secretary was scheduled to do the media round this morning to talk about the booster programme and presumably mark the one-year anniversary of the first Covid vaccines being administered in the UK.

Instead, not a single representative of the government was made available to promote government policy, because the first question they’d be asked would be about last year’s Christmas party.

That is why this is not a nonsense, Westminster bubble story. If the government cannot get its message across (in a pandemic, no less) for fear of ridicule, how can it seek to govern?

In the comment pages, Tom Newton Dunn writes that Boris Johnson talks tough but his Drugs Strategy is strangely progressive. Meanwhile, Minister for London Paul Scully has helpfully provided Sadiq Khan with a plan for he can secure a long-term deal for TfL.

And finally, Jimi Famurewa reviews Manteca in Shoreditch: Indulgent, imaginative Italian is such a joy ‘I almost forgot to leave’. He clearly wasn’t at my grandpa’s house.

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