The anger and grief felt by so many people who strictly adhered to the Lockdown rules, very often at huge personal anguish while apparently civil servants in No 10 were partying, is perfectly understandable. How can it be that those who make the rules were simultaneously disobeying them? Some aspects of Sue Gray’s report, for which the PM has humbly apologised, are totally unacceptable. Drink, vomit, fighting, rudeness to cleaning staff and so on is plainly wholly wrong, and steps have been taken to correct the flawed management structures within the No 10 civil service to make sure that kind of thing can never happen again. So I personally share the Nation’s anger at what seems to have happened.
However, I do have a number of reservations about it all. Most of these events -unacceptable as they are- were leaving drinks for massively overworked civil servants. There were no MPs present, apart from the PM looking in to some of them in passing. Those who are trying to pretend -no doubt for party political reasons- that these were “Conservative” events are simply wrong. Very many of the civil servants taking part are doubtless Labour supporters in private. Second, Sue Gray’s final report was very similar to her interim one, and really does not expose any new evidence of serious wrong-doing. And third, while the PM has openly admitted that he should not have done so; looking in to a junior staff member’s leaving party, red box in hand en route to his own flat, is hardly a hanging offence.
As I write I am listening to the Chancellor of Exchequer’s ground-breaking announcement about massive help for those facing huge increases in their utility bills. It is particularly targeted at the poorest and weakest in our society; but it also tries to help every household suffering from the cost-of-living crisis. Worth a total of £20 Billion or so, this demonstrates what governing the county is all about, and stands in stark contrast to the small-minded carping against the personality of the PM and Chancellor.
Much of the extreme vitriol and personal abuse which one or two of my correspondents on the matter have used doubtless stems from their personal frustration that the Report does not, after all, demand a resignation from anyone, far less the PM. Many of the things which are reported were pretty disgraceful, but I am not sure that they merit quite the hysterical over-reaction of some of the observers and critics. Nor do I think that I could justify calling for the PM’s resignation as a result of them.
The last remaining question, which will be considered by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, is whether or not the PM knowingly lied to Parliament. That would indeed be a resigning matter. The relatively mild disapprobation in the Gray report seems to me to back up the PM’s claim that he was not aware of any illegal parties in No 10. Innocent until proved otherwise must be the prevailing argument here.
So subject only to any clear adverse conclusion from the Standards Committee, I will not be one of those calling for Boris Johnson’s head. He has got a great many things wrong, and the civil service parties in Downing Steet and associated events are very embarrassing. But they do not, in my view, amount to justification for removal of the PM. He has apologised and lessons have very plainly been learned. Let us leave it there and get on with the real and important business of running the country.