Monday 17 January 2022

Making sense of the denials


When the PM stood up in the House of Commons last week and uttered his unapologetic apology, he must have been well aware that there were other events which hadn’t yet been made public, especially the “Wine Time Friday” sessions which were apparently scheduled into the electronic calendars of around 50 Downing Street staff, and which the PM is reported to have called into on multiple occasions. And he must surely have been aware that there was a high probability, given the succession of stories over recent weeks about other events at Downing Street, that they would also become public sooner or later. Perhaps he was simply hoping that the story wouldn’t get out – a pretty forlorn hope given that there are clearly multiple sources behind the string of stories.

Alternatively, this latest revelation of a weekly event might just make some sort of sense of his repeated denials that there has been any wrongdoing. It is clear that the Friday sessions predated both the pandemic and the Johnson premiership – they were simply seen as a ‘normal’ part of the working week. Whilst many were trying to work from home, Downing Street staff were under instructions to attend the office and work normally – and ‘working normally’ apparently includes staying in the office until late on a regular basis and consuming alcohol whilst doing so. There have been stories in the past about a culture of boozy lunches when Johnson was editor of the Spectator; perhaps for him, drinking in groups around desks and/or moving out into the garden really is just a normal working day.

Earlier on in the unfolding story, some ministers got a bit hung up trying to define what was or was not a party. Duncan Raab tried to claim that it can’t have been a party because people were "all in suits, or predominantly in formal attire", and Business Minister Paul Scully tried to argue that the absence of balloons and party poppers proved that it was a work event. It’s a semantic blind alley: for most of us, staying at the office after the end of the working day and cracking open a few bottles whilst chatting informally draws a clear line between work and socialising. And it was the people doing that who made the rules outlawing socialising at the time. It’s a difference which most of us understand; Johnson’s inability to understand or empathise with the way others think goes to the heart of the problem.

Whatever, the man’s days in Number 10 are now clearly numbered. I somehow doubt that the infamous Sue Gray report will deliver a verdict which is enough, in itself, to finish him off. Establishing criminality isn’t really part of her brief, and she’s not exactly independent either as a senior civil servant reporting to the PM. Johnson’s continued smirk when he refers to her and her report suggests that he is confident that she’ll give him enough wiggle-room to carry on, but the real question is whether Tory MPs, fearful for their seats and beset by a wall of outrage from their constituents, will be content to allow him to do so. The odds look to be against him at the moment, especially if more revelations keep appearing.

Whilst many will take a certain amount of pleasure at seeing the Great Liar defenestrated, we should be careful what we wish for. Perhaps there is a dark horse lurking somewhere in the depths of the Conservative Party, untainted by association with the boss, who will restore a degree of decency, common sense and honesty to the affairs of government. But if there is, he or she has yet to make himself or herself known – and the alternatives who are currently making their play don’t exactly look like people who are going to make things much better.


Spirit of BME said...

Who is Duncan?

Gwyn Jones said...

He's named Dominic which in Caernarfon is," do imi niwc", give me a penny.He's not worth any more!