Partygate: a plague in all your homes

It is therefore the day long awaited by British commentators. The Prime Minister and Chancellor are to be fined for breaking Covid rules. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak today became the first occupants of their respective offices to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office, following the police investigation into the Downing Street exit parties. The Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, was also fined.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Will Tory MPs now try to oust the Prime Minister, or will the war in Ukraine put ‘partygate’ in perspective? Does Rishi Sunak raise a toast, after a week of appalling press over his wife’s tax arrangements? Will civil servant Sue Gray’s long-awaited report on the parties – delayed by the Met inquiry – be the final hammer blow? Only time will tell.

But what is already clear is that no one comes out of this pit. This scandal destroyed popular support for Johnson, and rightly so. This so-called man of the people put people under house arrest and then started throwing parties. At the height of the first lockdown – the hazard-strip days on the benches – his assistants were pissed off in the No 10 garden. Afterwards, Johnson repeatedly lied about breaking the rules. It has become an insult to our intelligence.

We at dope were hardly quick to condemn the breach of Covid rules. The rules were often hard not to break. Many of the stories surrounding partygate were also borderline cases pushed by pearl-and-scalp-hungry reporters. But their volume ultimately made it impossible to eliminate them. It became all too clear that our leaders wanted us to follow their senseless and cruel rules to the letter, but had no intention of doing so themselves.

It was truly shameless – and it was all happening from the very beginning. The infamous BYOB garden party took place in May 2020. An hour before kick-off, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was on TV telling all of us that we could now only meet one person – how generous! – outside. A few days later, Johnson tell the audience they could always call in the police to disperse large gatherings in parks.

Nor have all the lockdown breakers been treated as gently as Johnson by authorities. At the height of the Covid regime’s crackdown, some people were fined over £10,000 for hosting house parties. Excited cops set about clearing parks of the homeless – apparently they didn’t get the memo to ‘stay at home’ – and questioned young mothers about why they were hanging out with their children in public, as we reported here on dope in May 2020.

But the other side of this never-ending scandal – those in the media and politics now breathlessly calling for Johnson’s resignation – is hardly faring either. First, there is the histrionics. Partygate was shameful – no doubt. But this isn’t the Iran-Contra affair, is it? From the comment, you would have a hard time telling the difference. Robert Peston is currently calling it a “constitutional crisis”, if Johnson hangs on after misleading Parliament.

The media has affected feigned outrage and disbelief toward Johnson for years now, and this appears to be one of his many crescendos. Since the days of the Brexit referendum, various hacks and politicians seem to have been gripped by the belief that no politician ever lied or cheated or was a massive hypocrite before 2016. Apparently Johnson made it all up, pushed by his crazy, silly Brexit supporter base.

More importantly, there is something upsetting about Johnson’s opponents crying ‘shame’ given that they were all enthusiastic supporters of his lockdown. They were the cheerleaders for the restrictions that kept children out of school, left the elderly to die alone and undermined our civil liberties. Indeed, they have spent the better part of the past two years demanding that he go further. They have never subjected these unprecedented restrictions to serious scrutiny.

So what’s worse? The suspension of our hard-won freedoms, the criminalization of social interaction, the tens of thousands of fines imposed, the willful fearmongering among the populace, or Johnson’s arrogant refusal to follow his own rules? Hypocrisy is an irresistible subject for journalists, but as scandals mount, partygate pales into insignificance compared to the lockdown itself.

Partygate infuriates me as much as the next person. Johnson treated us all like fools – unable to weigh our own risks and unable to see through his blatant lies. Any positive, populist energy he might have had is now gone. But the ultimate judgment on him should come from the ballot box, from the very people he despised, not from the hysterical media that has so spectacularly let us down in recent years.

Tom Slater is editor of dope. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

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