Have they really lost all use of their own judgment? Boris Johnson’s derisory defence, that he failed to notice alcohol was flowing or that his own fiancée was present at one event, is insulting. His only regret, I suggest, is that he got caught. If he wasn’t there physically, he was in spirit. Or he would have called an end to it all.
Do any of these people not think that when all this is over – if they still have a job – they will want the public to believe in them and presumably, if they are political candidates, proffer support at the ballot box?
Or has collective arrogance gone so far that they truly believe public memories are short and serious (and potentially illegal) breaches so easily forgivable?
As Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, conducts her investigation into Downing Street parties, I’ve watched as the Prime Minister and any number of his Cabinet colleagues, MPs and acolytes have tried to slide their way out of truthfulness when questioned publicly.
Mr Johnson is the main culprit, obviously. However, I watched Justice Secretary Dominic Raab being grilled by Kay Burley on Sky News earlier this week, and his insistence that he did not recognise any “caricature” that portrayed Number 10 as a drinking den where parties proliferated whilst the rest of the country suffered under lockdown.
When he was running the country as deputy at the time Mr Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus in April 2020, Raab said that the staff at Number 10 worked “phenomenally hard under gruelling conditions”.
He added: “I do not personally recognise the caricature that they were all partying, this was incredibly serious and difficult and a dedicated team. I’m just telling you what I saw, my experience.”
Presumably, some of the same members of this team were present at events when, it is reported, a DJ set up decks in the basement and things got so giddy that ‘revellers’ broke a swing belonging to the Prime Minister’s son Wilf.
I’m the last person to criticise anyone for having a good time. However, as we all know, if even half of what we have learned is true, laws were broken and those involved must admit wrongdoing.
Mr Johnson’s contrite performances in the last week have felt staged. His swift roll-out of back-of-an-envelope new policies smacked of the kind of distraction tactics parents will be familiar with. I remember my son, now 19, presenting me with a chocolate bar from the shop when some precious ornament or garden plant had been smashed by an errant football and I was yet to discover it.
These people, however, are not kids, but supposedly credible leaders. What ever has happened to personal responsibility? Why has failure to admit to serious misdemeanours and moral turpitude become so impossible?
And why can’t a bunch of supposedly respectable individuals, who have benefitted from the very best of educations, and with the privilege of power, be trusted to police themselves? I’ve never meet Ms Gray, but I can’t help but imagine her as a headmistress possessing the twin powers of punishment or absolution.
It makes me concerned that we’ve allowed individuals who have no concept of self-governance to govern us all.
Whilst the appointment of Ms Gray and the progress of her investigation is fascinating – never before has the fate of a government rested on the word of one civil servant – it is a worrying development.
We cannot live in a democracy and run the risk of senior politicians being allowed to apparently flout the laws of the land ever again. As Sir Keir Starmer says, Mr Johnson is “poisoning the well” of British democracy with his behaviour.
The Labour leader was of course called out when a photograph of him drinking a beer with staff in a constituency office last year surfaced. He hastily pointed out that there the number of people present did not exceed social distancing rules and the meeting was in an actual bona fide workplace.
I think we all know – at least I hope we do – that it really is true to say that this represents no comparison with Downing Street. And whatever the outcome of Sue Gray’s inquiry, there’s one simple lesson for all those who govern us – behave like grown-ups.
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