‘Don’t go to work, but do go to parties’ was the overarching message British newspapers gleaned from the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 press conference yesterday evening, in which he announced Plan B measures to fight the spread of the Omicron variant across England.
The essence of this message must have resonated with the government, after this past week revealed the depth of the Tory passion for a good party. Which one, you ask? There are several, it seems, but the main event dominating public attention is the Christmas party that allegedly took place at Downing Street on 18 December. After placing London under new restrictions, dozens of elites drank wine and played games while the rest of the city stayed indoors.
The story of this party seems to have managed the impressive feat of uniting the country in disdain, with public figures including Gary Neville, Ant and Dec, and Bill Bailey all counted among those vocalising their anger. Things have even got bad enough that the government is facing an onslaught of accusations from the very right-wing press that facilitated its rise.
Last night, a Tory spokesperson confirmed the Times’ scoop on an ‘unauthorised social gathering’ (see also: party) at Conservative HQ on 14 December, organised by Shaun Bailey’s campaign team. Dancing and drinking (again, while the rest of the country stayed indoors), the revellers reportedly got so out of hand that some damaged a door. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail also claim to have the guestlist for a flat party hosted by Carrie Johnson on 13 November, when the country was in lockdown, but both publications say they won’t release it.
There are additional reports of an event hosted by former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on 10 December, too. Williamson was so passionate about keeping the joy alive that just the following week his department was launching legal action against schools for closing in the face of rising cases.
Each new party to emerge confirms what’s long been clear about the Conservatives and the ruling class they represent: they have nothing but contempt for everyone else. Recent footage of Jacob Rees-Mogg laughing at the idea of police investigating these parties only crystallises a sense of entitlement that has always existed, regardless of whether it manifests in the form of Matt Hancock making out with aide Gina Coladangelo or the Tories launching a drugs crackdown the same week that evidence of cocaine use is found in Parliament.
The importance of the party doesn’t lie in the fact that it was a singular transgression. It lies in the fact that they do this all the time. In fact, a party is an apt metaphor for the weight the government gives its responsibilities and the lives of those in its care: it’s light entertainment to them, and it has been all along.
Perhaps more importantly, their constant hypocrisy is enabled and legitimised by the full force of state power. Last week, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, himself a former lawyer, justified the absence of formal response to the breach with the puzzling suggestion that retrospective crimes aren’t usually looked into by police—the implication apparently being that the Met have discovered a new way of foreseeing future criminal activity.
In fact the police are indeed prosecuting someone for an alleged illegal gathering on 18 December last year, but this one’s not in Downing Street—it’s in Ilford. The point Raab was awkwardly trying to make was that the police rarely look into crimes when it’s him and his friends who are committing them.
Johnson has since ‘apologised unreservedly’ and ordered a probe into whether a party did indeed happen. Nonetheless, like a stuck record, Number 10 still maintains that ‘Covid-19 rules have been followed at all times’.
This is, of course, a lie—but again, it’s only the latest and most on-the-nose of a decades-long string of falsehoods that the ruling class enthusiastically dishes out. Some of these are more pervasive than others: the party didn’t happen, Britain isn’t racist, we can’t afford school meals for hungry kids, and if you work hard enough, you can be as rich as Jeff Bezos (not to mention its more sinister counterpart: if you’re poor, it’s your own fault).
This is evident in that the sackable offence for eventual fall guy Allegra Stratton wasn’t the party itself—it was the jokes about the Christmas party, which came one step too close to an open acknowledgement of the existence of two completely different worlds. The Tories and those who rely on them can afford you thinking they made a few mistakes: the threat to them lies in the realisation that it’s the outrage that’s the anomaly and the rule-breaking that’s the norm.
Stratton, the press spokesperson famous for not giving press conferences, ultimately proved an expendable pawn in the effort to protect Johnson and the other higher-ups, but don’t buy her tears. A few members of the gang will resign from their jobs, if it seems they absolutely must. They won’t give up the real power without a much bigger fight.