Sketch: Downing Street parties come in different shades of Gray
Boris Johnson is waiting for the outcome of the investigation into whether Boris Johnson attended an illegal party at Boris Johnson’s home, before deciding what to do with Boris Johnson, despite Boris Johnson admitting he spoke at the party to Boris Johnson’s staff.
“All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray,” said Boris Johnson. He was going to wait before saying anything else on the topic, until things started to get a bit out of hand.
A leaked email, published by ITV News, seems to suggest the Prime Minister’s private secretary invited around 100 people to the No 10 garden in the middle of a national lockdown “to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks”. No wonder the email was tagged “OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE-No10 ONLY”.
And so, Boris Johnson found himself in the Commons, apologising for this email which had led the public to believe “that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules”. Not, importantly, an apology for breaking any rules.
Yes, he had known about the gathering of around 40 people in his back garden and indeed had gone out to speak to some of them. But only for 25 minutes, which can hardly be considered a party.
“I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said, apparently ignoring the booze staff had brought and even the attendance of his wife. But maybe he thinks of his wife as staff.
Still, Boris Johnson would rather wait for Sue Gray to tell him whether or not he’d done anything wrong. That meeting “could be said technically to fall within the guidance”, he insisted. And it seems his loyal band of followers are happy with that.
Deployed the day before to fend off the reports of a party (unsuccessfully, which might be a sackable offence), health secretary Edward Argar toed the party line: “I’m not going to speculate on whether he was or wasn’t there. What I will say is it’s important that rules are followed.”
So, were the rules followed in May 2020? Argar insisted he had no idea, because he “wasn’t invited”. Poor guy. It must be pretty dispiriting to know you’re not on the mailing list of your boss’s top 100 friends.
“I can understand, entirely appreciate, why people are not only angry but very upset and very hurt by these allegations,” he assured the listening public. Don’t worry, Argar understands how hurtful it can be to not be invited to a party everyone else is invited to.
“That’s why it’s absolutely right that Ms Gray conducts that investigation, hopefully swiftly, to get to the facts of exactly what happened, who did what, what did or didn’t happen.”
MPs were not content with these excuses. Paymaster General Michael Ellis was duly dispatched to the Commons.
“Where’s the Prime Minister?!” shouted MPs, drowning out Ellis to the point where the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, had to step in.
“It’s quite obvious it is not the Prime Minister,” Hoyle said, “so we don’t need to keep asking that question. Can we hear what the minister’s got to say? He’s got a tough job as it is, don’t make it harder for him.”
Poor Michael Ellis, who was forced to repeat the lines about Sue Gray’s investigation. He also insisted it was “clear that in this country the same rules apply to everyone”, which, to be kind, is quite wishful thinking.
What of the Tory backbenchers?
Well, anti-lockdown Desmond Swayne seemed quite chill about the whole thing. He said it was a “powerful corrective” for how everyone should have just been ignoring restrictions from the start.
Meanwhile, Maria Miller said it was “important that we have a debate” on the issue – but only after Sue Gray’s report.
So Sue Gray will soon tell us whether the gathering was a gathering. She’ll be able to answer important questions about whether attendees were wearing suits (a sign it was a business meeting) or whether there was cheese and wine available (“Is cheese and wine alright?”)
Of course, Sue Gray has only been put in charge after it became apparent that the PM’s first choice of investigator – Simon Case – had attended a party himself.
Oh, no, wait, not attended.
He had simply “walked through the team’s office” where a Christmas quiz was taking place.
You’d have thought having the lead investigator into whether there was a party, walking through the party in question is good evidence the party happened. But what do I know? I’m not in government.
Still, Case thought it best to recuse himself to “retain public confidence” in the investigation. Quite a jump to assume the public still has confidence.
And so despite the several jaw-dropping scoops and the increasingly bizarre manoeuvring from politicians trying to deny those scoops, it seems we are no further forward in any of this.
Apart from perhaps offering a good excuse whenever you do a spot of wrongdoing yourself. Did I buy another pair of shoes I don’t need? That’s a matter for Sue Gray.
Did I go a bit too fast on the motorway? A matter for Sue Gray.
Did I once tell my mum I definitely, absolutely, had not got drunk, underage, at a friend’s house after having arrived home at 3am swaying and slurring? Definitely a matter for Sue Gray.