I’ve caved. I’m joining the conversation on the continuing discussion of #partygate and Boris Johnson’s leadership capabilities.
In December it was first published by ITV that Boris Johnson and other members of his cabinet broke their own social distancing rules to hold a boozy after work meeting or party. The leaked images showed MP’s sat in the garden at 10 Downing Street drinking. Then, later, Dominic Cummings revealed more instances and evidence of Johnson breaking COVID regulations.
But should our prime minister resign over this?
Dominic Cummings, former political advisor, has been known to stir things up in parliament. In Brexit: A Civil War Cummings is presented as Machiavellian and scheming, doing the dirty work then shoving Boris Johnson into the spotlight. Though fictionalised and dramatised, playwright James Graham did much research into the behind-the-scenes of Brexit. Dominic Cummings was then pressured out, and sacked, in the first year of the pandemic, November 2020, due to surrounding controversy. Now he is the mole of parliament, perhaps tactically, leaking incriminating information to the press.
In his apology issued to the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago Johnson said “I want to apologise… when I went into that garden just after six on 20 May 2020 … I believed implicitly that this was a work event”.
This apology has been noted to be quite insincere in its address, belated and undirected to the British public. Many people who have suffered due to COVID-19 and it’s associated enforced measures are angry at the hypocrisy and the losses that they have suffered when those in power abused their own rules. For some, like Opinion columnist Stephen Reicher it was a ‘non-apology’ that ‘underlines his utter contempt for the British public’; that it was a message that directed blame at everyone but himself. Indeed he made going into the garden seem to be an action out of his own will and as if he was forced to stay there. Being the Prime Minister during these very difficult, and I hate to say it but, unprecedented times must be an incredibly tough job which an outdoor after-work gathering might have afforded some release from. However, many people also needed the same release but were considerate enough not to spread the disease by staying home and abiding by the rules. Yes, they may have been in a ‘work bubble’. Yes, they were outside. But these conditions to the rules that were only recently set (as according to the dates attributed to the photographs) should have been made clearer at the time.
Boris Johnson should have issued a more formal apology before this scandal was covered by the press, or to have made the rules clearer, or not to have held or attended parties at all. It doesn’t do well to have a Prime Minister whom the public increasingly distrust. That’s difficult to get back. Politician’s may be known to dodge questions, but voters tend to vote for integrity and trust nevertheless.
Elsewhere in parliament, other people have been accused of flouting the COVID regulations. In an article by The Telegraph blurry photos show Labour leader Kier Starmer drinking a beer at a party under one of the lockdowns. This story, however, was not received to be as scandalous as Johnson’s. Indeed, few news outlets shared the story and it certainly didn’t make the headlines like the photos from Downing Street did. The Prime Minister was the one making speeches to the nation and reassuring them that the restrictions were vital to getting through the pandemic. Some people have made the point that politicians are people too, and that people make mistakes, that many people didn’t concretely stick to the rules made over lockdown. But shouldn’t the role of a politician, especially of Party Leaders, be to be the role model to the nation; to bear the responsibility of their image, personal and political, on their role representing the country.
The debates around his resignation continue frequently in parliament, despite other pressing issues. Kier Starmer has most recently accused Johnson of breaking Ministerial Code by Misleading parliament. To which Johnson responded ‘you’re a lawyer not a leader’.
There has to be 54 votes for a no confidence vote to be passed. If he does resign, however, who is going to fill the uncoveted post? After a series of PM resignations from the party it is almost as if a curse lay over the position. With the outcomes of Brexit and the pandemic still to get through, few members are going to want to pick up the pieces. There are few obvious contenders for Johnson’s replacement and much of the current Conservative party have been with Johnson and his decisions so far as PM. Will this change now there are polls showing increasingly less public support?
Most politicians are waiting on the result of the report carried out by, senior Civil Servant, Sue Gray which police and government lawyers are currently going over. It was thought that the enquiry would be released and published to the public by Monday, however the Met Police have said “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.” (Sky News) which may trigger a delay in the reports publication. The police inquiry into a “number of” gatherings in 2020 and 2021 for potential breaches of COVID regulations has not yet been concluded. Some, like Theresa May, have criticised the actions of MP’s saying that ‘no one is above the law’.
So, should Boris Johnson resign? It might be the best thing for voter confidence. Few people like to be told “Do as I say, not as I do”. A Prime Minister should act as the role model for the country, not think that they can go by different rules. Politicians are in place to serve the public and put in legislation to ensure their safety – the current apology is quite simply out of touch with the problem. Trust must be implemented and at the moment Boris Johnson isn’t doing particularly well at atoning for his mistakes, let alone admitting any. Yes we are all flawed human beings, put politics is a job where the requirement is to surpass these kinds of ‘mistakes’. This kind of hypocrisy is a political problem not a personal one – in today’s information age how are our elected politicians still thinking they can get away with breaking their own laws? Attending a party or not isn’t a mistake, it’s a matter of will and integrity.