Following Liz Truss’s shortest every premiership, in which she crashed the economy and hastened the rising of interest rates, immediately raising the bills of some mortgage payers, it appears the government might have yet another horrendous trick to unleash upon us in time for Halloween: the return of Boris Johnson.
Besides the long list of Johnson’s difficulties with the truth, his links with Russia and his opaque financial relationship with public money, there is the significant matter of the investigation of ‘partygate’ by the parliamentary privileges committee, which is not yet concluded. What has thus far been made public suggests that there is significant evidence of wrongdoing.
There will be many articles expressing incredulity about what the government might be thinking, reinstating a prime minister who was mired in scandal long before he walked into No 10 Downing Street, and at a time when the UK’s international status is under significant threat, due to the dire mismanagement of the economy.
However, this is not going to be such an account. What it will describe is how it would feel for those whose relatives died during lockdown laws, while Johnson and his colleagues were breaking these with abandon, regularly partying in the highest office of state in the nation.
What was happening in No 10 Downing Street while people died alone?
My brother died of lung cancer on 18 December 2020, the day of the now infamous ‘Secret Santa’ party. He hadn’t seen any member of his family in person for over a month, and none were with him when he died.
One of the last things he said in a phone call was “you won’t forget about me, will you?”, a concern I am sure was present in all of those who died in the same situation.
The Sue Gray report recently revealed exactly what was happening in No 10 Downing Street on that day.
- At 12.09pm, an hour after my brother’s death, the party, labelled a ‘wine and cheese evening’ was planned via a WhatsApp group.
- At 1.09pm, the get-together was re-badged via WhatsApp as an ‘end of year meeting with wine and cheese’.
- At 6pm, the event began. Up to 45 people were present in the room.
- At 7.45pm a panic button was accidentally pressed, which summoned caretakers and police officers. However, the event continued until the early hours of the morning, with some attendees becoming very drunk.
The next day, the cleaner had to deal with wine spillage. It was later reported that some attendees had been rude and dismissive to cleaners and caretakers.
Our 92-year-old mother, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, died in a nursing home just seven weeks later. She had not seen any member of the family in person for nearly a year. Both funerals were subsequently affected by the stringent Covid laws in place at that time.
When initially asked about conduct in his office during this time, Johnson continually told parliament that all ‘rules’ (although in fact, these were laws) were followed. But by the end of May 2022, 126 fixed penalty notices for Covid law violations had been issued to those attending social events at No 10 Downing Street. Two of these were issued to the prime minister and his wife.
Arguments about some events being eliminated from both the Sue Gray and Metropolitan Police investigations have not been fully addressed at this point. Whether information will emerge from the privileges committee investigations, or whether these will be picked up again by journalists if Johnson puts himself on centre stage yet again is not yet clear.
In June, the political editor at Politics Home, Adam Payne, reported on Twitter that:
“Tory MPs who want Johnson out have this weekend been circulating a briefing document setting out why. It warns the party is on course to lose the next election & concludes “the only way to end this misery, earn a hearing from the British public… is to remove Boris Johnson as PM.”
The betrayal continues
The sense of betrayal that I (and I am sure many others) experienced after finding that the prime minister’s office partied throughout the awful lockdown days whilst we were obeying the laws that the prime minister himself had passed has started to return. It will increase sharply if he does end up on the leadership ballot, and greatly intensify if he walks back into 10 Downing Street as prime minister, yet again. The insult that this will convey to all of those still mourning relatives who died alone while the highest office in the land partied will be immense.
This cartoon by Stan is the abiding image of Johnson’s premiership for me. The idea that this may be resurrected by the Conservative Party is abhorrent.
One of the principal emotions one feels having lost relatives under lockdown, being unable to see them in person or attend their funerals, is guilt. It’s a type of guilt, in large part also a feeling of foolishness, that can be compared to the feelings that bubble up when you are a victim of fraud – a sense of being scammed. But here it is magnified because the loss was not financial, but emotional.
The choice for Conservative MPs: behave like responsible adults, or call a general election
The attitude with which the Conservative Party goes into this vote greatly concerns me. Truss controversially entered 10 Downing Street with just 81,326 votes from 57% of the Conservative Party membership. Her mandate to govern started from a rocky premise and the incompetence that she demonstrated in office caused it to gain in controversiality.
Yet MPs are now considering replacing her with a previous incumbent whose behaviour in office created a catalogue of scandal, and whose reinstatement would re-traumatised tens of thousands of bereaved families across the nation.
These are not the actions of mature adults, let alone what would be expected from people with the intelligence and statesperson craft to run a G7 democracy. I would suggest that all 357 Conservative MPs take a good look at themselves and think really hard about how history will record their tenure.
And, if their party is unable to do the job for which they have been elected, resolve to resign the whip and trigger a general election, so the people of this once great nation can be given the choice to choose representatives they judge to be worthy of the responsibility of governance.