Incredible, when you think about it, that the ceremonial funeral of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh had fewer attendees than “Slacky”’s leaving do the night before. That’s showbiz, I guess. Anyway: another day, another Downing Street party dispatch from the nation with the highest Covid death toll in Europe. If only Boris Johnson’s administration could have organised a piss-up in a brewery, instead of just in No 10.
I’m sure Dominic Cummings has some complex 5D game-theory analysis as to why decision-making in Whitehall was systematically loaded toward bad outcomes, but a lot of us will be developing an alternative hypothesis. Namely, do you reckon one of the reasons we did so badly was because you lot were trashed half the time? Forgive me: I forgot to use the approved euphemism. Do you reckon one of the reasons you made impaired decisions and now seem to be suffering repeated memory loss was because of “the drinking culture at No 10”? I mean, honestly. Imagine being such a mess that even JOURNALISTS reckon you drink too much.
And so to a recap of the latest. These two most recently exposed parties were both held at Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, during lockdown last April. Probably the most eye-catching detail reported – beyond the impromptu DJ set, the basement dancing, the suitcase of wine wheeled in, the spills and stains on the carpets – was that one of the revellers apparently broke Wilfred Johnson’s garden swing. (Incidentally, if you take a tour of Graceland, you’re told that Elvis and his chums loved to shoot in the backyard, and are shown the bullet hole in Lisa Marie Presley’s kiddie slide. Fun times.) “What happened to my swing, Daddy?” “Buck up, little chap. Some press officer whose job is issuing denials but who currently thinks he deserves a Victoria Cross for coming into the office sat on it when he was drunk. Is it wet? Probably don’t touch it if it is.”
As for the rest of the-day-after-the-night-before … I was recently re-reading a bit in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities about a shame-haunted hangover, where the character has drowned his memory of the previous evening like a monstrous beast in an icy lake. And yet, the events begin returning to him. Perhaps it felt a bit like this for the Downing Street staff who attended those parties. “A ripple … The monster was heading up from the bottom of the lake! In a moment … Its filthy snout! Can’t face it –”
Well quite. Oh, God, the suitcase of booze. The attempt at body popping in the basement. Breaking the kid’s swing … Can’t face it. Switch on the telly, to take the old mind off it. Oh dear. Live footage of the 94-year-old Queen sitting utterly alone at her husband’s funeral. Christ, the snout on this hangover. The filthy snout …
Then again, the one thing the Downing Street staff don’t seem to have been overburdened by after these many, many parties is a sense of shame. I guess you tell yourself that while the Queen is vaguely significant, she is not in any way as significant a personage as you, a Downing Street desk johnny. It all gives new meaning to one of the slogans of Vote Leave, who famously wanted to be rule-makers, not rule-takers. After all this, I don’t think anyone could accuse them of taking their own rules.
Speaking of Vote Leave, many of you will be rather bored of Cummings’s ongoing attempts to present himself as Downing Street’s Jiminy Cricket, a tireless conscience who was forever trying to do the good and noble thing while surrounded by liars and idiots. Take his announcement this week that he told the BYOB party organiser, Martin Reynolds, “in writing” that it should not happen. Yeah, not all heroes wear capes. Some send a single, arse-covering email to insulate themselves against any future trouble and then do jack shit else to stop the event, even though as the prime minister’s most senior adviser they could have taken a proper stand.
Reynolds has long been expected to be moved after Sue Gray’s investigation, apparently to a Middle Eastern ambassadorship. Amazing. Is this the same Martin Reynolds who was this week reported to have regretted his BYOB email as soon as he sent it, become “panicky”, but thought he couldn’t go back on it or it would somehow be worse? Because he sounds EXACTLY the sort of guy who should be an ambassador in the Middle East. Great to hear that the British establishment will keep protecting and advancing him. Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?
Meanwhile, today’s Sue Gray leak indicated that the civil servant investigating the multiple parties would find insufficient evidence of criminality. Maybe there are legal exemptions because all this took place on the Crown estate – which won’t do a whole lot for the whole stink of elitism, but it will certainly allow the Met to carry on doing absolutely nothing about any of it.
As for the damage being done not merely to the Johnson administration but to the entire concept of government by consent, are these latest revelations finally going to be an end to it? Or are they not even the half of it? My guess is that there is plenty more to come out. One rumour doing the rounds of the upper echelons in Whitehall centres on a lockdown drinks event allegedly attended by several secretaries of state.
Last night, even loyalist MP Andrew Bridgen called for Johnson’s resignation, apparently as disillusioned with the government as fellow Brexiteer Lord Frost. (As with communism, the problem with Brexit will always be that it has yet to be done properly.) Johnson’s staunchest defenders seem to be Priti Patel, now detested by Tory voters and beyond because of her perceived failure to get a grip on migrant boats, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose intellect remains very much single-breasted. Perhaps you caught him this week declaring that “HR does not apply to ministers”, and calling the leader of the Scottish Tories a “lightweight figure”. Oh dear. How did Jacob bite through his restraints? If he hadn’t been kept out of circulation for months, he might have heard that hanging on to the union was quite an important policy of his government, and perhaps not best assisted by mugging off the most senior Conservative in Scotland.
Not the greatest surprise, then, to see a voter in a TV vox pop judging that “Boris has lost his moral compass”. (I love the idea that he ever had one. What would this contraption have looked like? A custom-built device where the needle pointed magnetically to the words World King Get Big Drunken Shag?) If things carry on at this rate, it won’t be long before the Conservative party decides to Build Back Borisless. For now, the most positive reading of Johnson’s situation is that he’s in the last chance saloon – but hey, at least that means there’s booze.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
Join our journalists for a Guardian Live online event on the No 10 lockdown party and Boris Johnson’s future at 8pm GMT on Wednesday 19 January. Book here