Thursday, 26 May 2022

Only one real fact established by 'partygate' investigations


As excuses go, ‘I thought it my duty to thank departing members of staff and wish them well for the future’ isn’t an entirely bad one, although, as others have pointed out, it doesn’t stand up well to comparison with the ban on saying farewell to family and friends on their deathbeds. It’s an excuse for the wrong accusation, though, and amounts to a classic piece of misdirection. Nothing in the laws which Johnson implemented would have prevented him thanking and saying farewell to members of his staff; what the laws prohibited was any gathering of people not strictly necessary for work purposes. Saying thank you and goodbye did not require getting people together in a room with food and drink and farewell speeches – no matter how usual that might have appeared in normal time, those simply weren’t normal times. It’s quite clear that Johnson didn’t understand the difference, but being too stupid to be PM isn’t much of an excuse at all.

As things stand, he has been fined for the one event where it might reasonably have been argued that his attendance was completely unplanned and he was caught unawares, and completely let off for one of the most egregious – a party in his flat. Some on his own side suggest that he was lucky to get away with the latter (or even that there was a cover-up) after Sue Gray failed to investigate it, but it looks more like utterly incompetent policing than a carefully planned and executed establishment cover-up. Sue Gray suspended her investigation into that event at an early stage, before establishing the facts, when the Met decided to investigate after all, but the Met, in turn, seems only to have ‘investigated’ those events for which Sue Gray had already provided all the necessary evidence. Use of initiative does not seem to have been an attribute deployed by the boys in blue as they burned their way through half a million quid examining evidence that someone else had already collected. Once they had finished, Ms Gray seems to have decided that further investigation of that one event would add little to the overall picture which she was painting and turned over no additional stones.

Seizing on the fact that he was fined only once as some sort of vindication and confirmation that he did nothing else at all wrong is typical of Johnson’s character. And claiming to have taken “full responsibility” is just a meaningless form of words. He’s actually taken responsibility for nothing, because he thinks he’s done nothing wrong, and has left the punishments to all those junior staff who assumed that events organised and attended by their bosses would have been checked for compliance in advance. At one level, that’s not an unreasonable assumption; but at another, it indicates a certain lack of pro-active thinking and analysis of the sort which one might hope would be reasonably prevalent at the heart of government.

Neither Johnson nor those immediately around him emerge with much credit from the whole saga, but the only real fact to have emerged is that, of the 359 or so (the number keeps changing as more get caught out for their various sins) Tory MPs, an unknown number, which is lower than 54, have a even a vestigial backbone, let alone any sense of shame, honour, or embarrassment.


Anonymous said...

It's a bit like Brexit all over again.

Clamors for an investigation, an investigation is launched, the results are published, no-one believes the findings, no-one changes their mind.

Why bother to investigate anything? This is the lesson we need to learn. Just think of the cost savings!

John Dixon said...

"the results are published, no-one believes the findings, no-one changes their mind." I'm not sure that that rule of thumb is as universal as you suggest; most enquiries lead to some policy changes (Johnson claims to have made a number of changes in Downing Street, although I accept that what Johnson 'claims' and the actualité do not usually coincide). But if you are identifying the fact that some enquiries are less than entirely rigorous and far from independent, you'd be right. And some minds are certainly closed to the results.

However, "Why bother to investigate anything? This is the lesson we need to learn. Just think of the cost savings!" is more than a little over the top. It seems to be true that the police already take your advice far too seriously and fail to investigate many crimes. But is a lawless society really what we want, or should we be trying to fix the problem by getting rid of the corrupt, the useless, and the dishonest?

CapM said...

I don't recall anyone in parliament or the press event afterwards asking Johnson why, if he thought thanking staff who were leaving was part of his job, he couldn't have done that part of his job as a one to one in his office and without a supply of bubbly, red wine and gin.