We must not ‘move on’ as Liz Truss would have us do. Partygate is existentially different from the government’s disregard for other rules because it affects each of us directly and at the most fundamental, personal level. It is a betrayal of trust.
We are all holding our breath to see whether ‘Big Dog Boris’ will manage to cover the mess of Partygate with his hind legs. Being famously lazy, he only ever wanted to become (and then to have been) PM and ideally, somehow skip the ‘middle bit’ – that troublesome section where he actually has to govern. So Partygate would be a clear opportunity for him to throw in the towel. On the other hand, since he has vowed to stay PM for longer than Thatcher and since his ego is planet-sized and fed by winning back favour after being ‘bad’, it’s more likely that he will pull out the stops to recover support.
Johnson shouldn’t have a dog leg to stand on. Since he’s a certified liar, then it’s completely reasonable to question the truth of claims such as “I thought it was a work event” and “I was only there for 25 minutes”. In addition, commissioning one of his own civil servants with a track record of helping ministers cover incriminating paper trails to do an inquiry into Partygate is quite simply ‘marking one’s own homework’. Furthermore, as Joylon Maugham of the Good Law Project observes regarding the event on the 20 May, 2020, the ‘bring a bottle’ invitation sent to 100 people, together with Johnson’s admission that he attended the party, is sufficient evidence that at least one party took place. This calls into question the Met’s refusal to investigate on the grounds that ‘there is insufficient evidence’.
All the same, Owen Jones, for example, notes that Blair’s Iraq mission was worse than Partygate because thousands were killed, yet Blair went on to lead for another term. Some of Johnson’s back bench might argue that the parties were perfectly acceptable since the problem lay with the excessively stringent regulations Johnson imposed – we should all have been partying, and ‘more fool us’ if we weren’t. The majority view though is that Partygate is yet another, albeit particularly infuriating, example of ‘one rule for them, another for us’.
But we have to recognise that Partygate is different in kind from the government’s neglect of other rules they ask their subjects to follow. Johnson’s aim of hanging on to his premiership should not be allowed to succeed this time. His accomplices may try to help him wriggle out of culpability (again) but we all know a party took place and that, since parties were unlawful, ergo Johnson behaved unlawfully. And this is the crux – no ‘inquiry’ can deny the facts of what we know.
This point needs to be clarified urgently and before the whole sorry debacle is moved to the government’s ‘scandal graveyard’, i.e. shoved under the media carpet to be safely reduced, like all the other conquered scandals, to the dimly lit arena of ‘Leftie whining’ on social media that Rees-Mogg so loves to mock.
Partygate belongs in a different league from other previous government scandals such as:
- the attempted prorogation,
- the PPE cronyism,
- the failure to remove ministers who broke the ministerial code,
- the unaccountability for constant lies on everything from poverty, the UK economy and the NI Protocol to flat refurbishment expenses.
These scandals constantly remind us of how this privileged group view themselves as exempt from the rules they require others to follow. But none of these instances of ‘one rule for them …’ get close to Partygate. None get anywhere near the anguish and sense of betrayal on learning that the rule givers were partying whilst you obeyed the rules by letting your husband, wife, partner, mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, niece, nephew, child or close friend die alone. None of the usual examples of disregard and contempt by the government for us gets close to the fact that they were drinking and dancing whilst we said goodbye remotely via tablet to someone dear to us, knowing that they won’t have had direct contact, possibly for weeks, with a single person beyond the masked apparition treating them under layers of plastic during their final days. These truly heart-breaking scenarios are the stuff of nightmares but were happening all over the country, day after day after day.
Being required to stay away from a loved one during their final days and on their death is probably, short of torture, one of the worst and most traumatic experiences we can go through. It requires an extraordinary level of sacrifice, restraint and composure and yet thousands of families in the UK rose to this challenge in order to play their part in protecting others. To have to live through this experience is very likely to result, for many, in PTSD or other mental health issues, particularly those connected with long-term difficulties in working through the normal process of grieving. The post pandemic ongoing trauma of not being allowed to be with a loved one when they died is likely to be accompanied by, for example, a range of uncontrollable flashbacks and negative, destructive emotions such as guilt (that you weren’t there), depression, prolonged shock and a sense of loss and helplessness; it could also evolve into full blown ‘complex grief disorder’.
Aside from the trauma of having to let loved ones die alone, people struggled with other hugely stressful circumstances – women following the rules endured increased domestic abuse. During 2021, domestic abuse-related crimes rose by 6%. People who live alone coped with extreme loneliness, shut in their home with no human contact except faces through windows and parcels left on doorsteps, for months on end. Others acquired mental health problems, or found pre-existing ones aggravated, because of extended separation from the key people in their lives. Families were separated from elderly relatives in care homes. They were not only held at bay but experienced extreme anxiety that their loved one would catch Covid whilst in the care home. Following the rules meant they were also tormented by feelings of helplessness at being unable to save their relative from harm.
The image of the Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral was salutary for the nation. You don’t have to be a royalist to be profoundly touched by this image. It moved everyone because it symbolises the cruel solitude and disconnection that was imposed on all of us, across society, by the necessity of the lockdown rules.
But we all got on with it – we all battled on because we understood the point, frequently repeated by government, that we were ‘all in it together’ – we were a community in the biggest crisis since a war most of us hadn’t experienced, but nevertheless doing all we humanly could to protect ourselves and others. It was hugely demanding, often frightening, and will, for many, be unforgettable.
All the consequences just described of the government’s pandemic lockdown restrictions will have affected, and still be affecting, the millions of people who followed the government’s rules. If the rules meant you couldn’t escape from domestic abuse, close up and real, or you had to exist in the extreme solitude of solitary confinement for months, or a member of your family has to die alone and afraid in a remote hospital ward barred from contact with those he/she loves, you don’t get over it in a month, or a year, or possibly ever, fully. Lockdown had already left a legacy of trauma that people are still grappling with.
Partygate – a double whammy of pain
However, we learnt, during the weeks that followed the first Mirror disclosure on the 30 November 2021 that, in the midst of our own existential lockdown sacrifices and whilst we were all carrying the enormous burden of living and dying alone with all the dignity we could muster, the rule givers were – partying – and moreover, concealing the fact. Partygate wasn’t just another instance of ‘one rule for them’. It was an absolute betrayal of our core values, one which added a whole new dimension of grief to a country already traumatized by Covid and its effects.
The damage from Partygate was vertical in the sense of being a betrayal of trust that went straight to the heart of our most valued and vital needs – for connection with others and with loved ones. But the damage was also horizontal in the sense of altering our perceptions across time. We, and the Covid bereaved, have, rightly, been recalling what we were doing on the 20 May 2020. But our resentment is not confined to how we felt on that day, or to any subsequent ‘aberrant instances’ of partying.
The knowledge of Partygate and how our trust was betrayed affects our experience, retrospectively, of the whole pandemic. We now know that the rule-dispensing partygoers knew throughout the pandemic about the discrepancy between what they were saying (to us) and doing (amongst themselves). When we think back, with our new knowledge, to the detailed prohibitions spelt out at press briefings, and the police convictions of everyone from secret ravers to homeless people and kids, for breaching the rules, every occasion we recall sends a massive new hit to our trust in the government and provokes a stinging new sense of treachery and betrayal.
30 people, including the PM, knew about the party on the 20 May 2020 and sat on this knowledge, saying absolutely nothing, for nearly two years, all the while continuing to insist on adherence to the very rules they had flouted and, it turns out, continued to flout on a regular basis. Not a murmur, not a whistle blower in sight. They didn’t just party whilst we suffered. They continued to party, knowing that the rest of us were suffering, but without remorse and without owning up throughout the pandemic.
Partygate is a colossal betrayal by Johnson and his complicit party goers. It is a duplicitous violation of trust and of our core and most cherished personal values. Being ‘moved on’ is therefore something we must, this time and for once, resist with all our might. Johnson and all who try to turn a blind eye to this betrayal must go.