Whether the PM had gatherings/meetings/parties at No 10 and/or Whitehall is merely 'froth' or 'fluff', compared with the events unfolding throughout the country and the world. It is this unbalanced focus on trivia that has increasingly annoyed me, to the extent that I have been motivated to put metaphorical pen to paper, in an attempt to highlight the fact that we appear to have lost all sense of proportion.
The first issue is what the Press appears to be calling 'Partygate.' Whilst I do not condone the activities of politicians and civil servants who are alleged to have broken lock-down rules, I do get very annoyed listening to the sanctimonious busy-bodies who make allegations along the lines of 'the whole country obeyed the rules, so why should the PM be allowed to get away with it?' For a start, the whole country did not obey the rules: I have personally heard and seen gatherings of people in back-garden parties at the height of the first lockdown. Around the same time, when it was permitted to be outside (but not in groups) for exercise, I can recall seeing other people congregating in private gardens and public areas. I also recall that the police were called out to turn back people from walking on the fells in Derbyshire. In a review of covid fines by ITV News in January 2021, it was claimed that since the introduction of the covid restrictions, the police have fined thousands of people for violation of various restrictions: "Data published by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) on Friday shows a total of 32,329 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued by forces in England and Wales between March 27 and December 21 last year."1
Secondly, why has Keir Starmer not apologised for his behaviour when he was pictured having 'refreshments' indoors at a Party meeting? Surely an indoor gathering is far worse that something that allegedly took place outside? As MP Michael Fabricant has pointed out: "If the Prime Minister can apologise for a secure Downing Street garden event where nobody could have joined from outside, it is a bit graceless of Keir Starmer not to profusely apologise for an event in an office that was not guarded and could have been a real covid spreader."Starmer said that he was in a constituency office just days before the election: "We were very busy, we were working in the office and we stopped for something to eat. And then we carried on working..." I cannot see the difference between this and what Boris is being vilified by Starmer for having done, unless we take into consideration that Boris's mistake took place out of doors (with minimum risk of spreading contagion), whilst Starmer's gathering happened indoors (with maximum risk of spreading contagion). The news coverage on the BBC has been wall-to-wall Boris, and (if memory serves) only one or two mentions of Starmer on the 'Today Programme' on radio 4, and a short interview during which he tried to squirm his way out of trouble. This was only to be expected, as the BBC is both anti-Boris and anti-Conservative, and Nadine Dorris (Secretary of State for Department of CMS) is widely thought to have the BBC in her sights over the licence fee. The current crisis has given the BBC the opportunity it needs to bash Boris and the Conservatives, whilst keeping as quiet as decency will allow over the antics of the Labour Leader.
The hypocrisy is not, however, confined to the Labour party and the BBC. It was reported that the SNP's Ian Blackford "…faced resignation call over Covid rules after 600-mile lockdown trip… the day the country went into a national lockdown." 3 He was apparently challenged over this, but explained that he needed to return home to Scotland; at the same time he was publicly criticising Dominic Cummings for having done the same! The hypocrisy is breath-taking, and all the more so as Blackford is a vociferous and unnecessarily vindictive critic of the PM.
Other high profile figures who have broken covid restriction include the MP Stephen Kinnock who apparently travelled from South Wales to London to celebrate his father's birthday. Kinnock was told by police that his journey "…is not essential travel…we urge you to comply with lockdown restrictions…" It seems that no further action was taken against him. There was also the case of the Manchester City footballer Kyle Walker, who, reportedly "…held a party at his Cheshire home in a blatant violation of the nation's lockdown measures."4So the bleat that everyone obeyed the letter of the law is indefensible nonsense.
The artificial storm over the activities of the PM suggests that as Labour cannot defeat Boris at the ballot box, they have decided to focus on irrelevancies to try to oust him by the constant 'drip-drip' of negative publicity. This began some time ago with the 'wallpaper' affair, in an obvious attempt to re-hash the embarrassment created for Tony Blair when he authorised the refurbishment of No.10,and the residence of his Chancellor.As Harold Wilson famously once said 'a week is a long time in politics' and it is predictable that in six week's time (let alone two year's time) voters will no longer be enraged by this 'was-it-a-party-or-was-it-work-and-how-many-people-attended' nonsense. Starmer's attempt to recreate history some twenty years after the Blair scandal failed miserably, as people were uninterested and wondered why he was focusing on this issue when there was so much of far greater importance happening such as covid. So he has had to latch onto something else, and obviously feels that he can play on the moral outrage factor. Labour is worried and that is why they must keep the 'crisis' (any crisis will do) in the public mind for as long as it will last, and then try to find something else.
Whilst Blackford and Starmer try to destabilise the PM and the country through a fruitless focus on frippery, all this nonsense is preventing the government from focusing its sights on important domestic and foreign issues:
• Inflation: currently this stands at 2.6%, and indicators suggest that unless something is done, it will continue to increase.
• Illegal immigration: the very fact that this is illegal means that there are no official records, but estimates put it into the thousands every year at least. For example, the NSO reported that "21,365 people entered immigration detention in the year ending September 2021."And there were undoubtedly far more that were never caught.
• Increases in energy prices: the predicted massive increase in energy prices (especially gas), which is expected to hit households some time this year.
• National Insurance: if the government is forced to NI contributions to help fund the NHS which has been under pressure since the arrival of covid.If Labour can keep Boris on the backfoot between now and April, they can then blame him for the NI increases, accuse him of breaking electoral promises, and anything else they can think of as being vaguely appropriate. Ironically, before the pandemic, it was Labour under Corbyn who were calling for a massive increase in NHS funding – an emergency budget of £5 billion, but without suggesting where the money was to come from; had the government done nothing, they would have been accused of complacency.
• The EU: the continuing problems with the EU, especially with regard to fisheries and Northern Ireland.
• Internationally: there is the growing threat of destabilisation posed by the aggressive activities of Putin's Russia. Even though small focused incursions into Ukrainian territory or a 'request' for peace-keeping forces is more likely than a full scale invasion, we must show Putin that the country is united, and as one with our NATO allies; otherwise he may do what he did just after Christmas and order Russian troops into Kazakhstan to 'restore order' ostensibly at the request of Ukrainian President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Of the Russian 'peace-keeping' force, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned the Kazakhstanis: "I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave."
Underlying all these threats is COVID.
Finally, we turn to those Conservative MPs who are reportedly plotting to overthrow Boris, and to those who have criticised him openly – such as the Conservative MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford who defected to Labour on 19th January. As one of the intake of newly-elected Conservative MP in the so-called 'red wall', he was presumably worried more about his seat than the effect that his betrayal might have on the government and the country. The honourable course of action would have been to resign and force a by-election – that he did not do this, speaks volumes. Ironically, he is unlikely to trusted in future by his constituents, many of whom might have preferred a 'real' Labour candidate in the first place; he would do well to remember that he owes his seat to Boris and Brexit. Before the 2019 election, I talked to many people in the North-West, including many who had always been Labour supporters. They largely indicated that they would vote Conservative this time for three reasons: (1) they liked Boris as a person, (2) they supported Brexit, and (3) they disliked Corbyn. Corbyn will not be leading the Labour Party at the next election, and Brexit has been achieved. If Boris is ousted, what will remain to induce such people to vote Conservative at the next election?
If Boris is found to have broken lock-down rules, then he should be fined as any other citizen; parliamentarians should not endanger the security and well-being of the country by deliberately undermining the government at a time of insecurity and uncertainty – there are far more important matters than the manufactured outrage over 'Partygate.'
1. ITV News (2021) "More than 30,000 fines handed out for Covid-19 breaches - so how many were fined in your area?" ITV News (8th January); https://www.itv.com/news/2021-01-08/more-than-30000-fines-handed-out-for-covid-19-breaches-so-how-many-were-fined-in-your-area
2. Daniel Martin (2022) "Starmer Must Say Sorry for Drinks in Lockdown" Daily Mail (17th January), p.2.
3. Charlie Smith (2022) "SNP's Ian Blackford faced resignation call over Covid rules after 600-mile lockdown trip." Express (20th January), p.1
4. ITV News (2020) "The high-profile figures who have 'breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions'" ITV News (22nd May),https://www.itv.com/news/2020-05-22/the-high-profile-figures-who-have-breached-lockdown-restrictions
5. Colin Brown (2002) "Blairs to give No 10 a £850,000 makeover." Independent (30th June); https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/blairs-to-give-no-10-aps850-000-makeover-182209.html
6. Colin Brown (1999) "Irvine `demanded costly wallpaper'" Independent (8th November); https://independent.co.uk/news/ irvine-demanded-costly-wallpaper-1124353.html)
7. NSO (2021) "How many people are detained or returned?" National Statistics Office (25th November 2021); https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-year-ending-september-2021/how-many-people-are-detained-or-returned