Analysis: Leaked 'party' clip is no joke for No10

8 December 2021, 08:37

Could the clip be the final bombshell that will turn the public against the PM
Could the clip be the final bombshell that will turn the public against the PM. Picture: ITV News/Alamy

By Ben Kentish

Boris Johnson's aides joking about a Downing Street Christmas party is the final bombshell that could turn the public against him, writes Ben Kentish.

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The revelation that No10 staff laughed and joked about having held a Christmas party when the country was in lockdown last December is a political bombshell that raises two major problems for No10.

The first - and by far the most significant - is obvious. Voters will not take kindly to another example of those in government flouting the very rules they were enforcing on everyone else.

When people across the country were making huge sacrifices to comply with Covid restrictions, it appears that, once again, those in power were not following suit.

The stories about Downing Street parties comes in the wake of scandals over Dominic Cumming’s Barnard Castle trip, Matt Hancock’s affair and rows about Boris Johnson being repeatedly photographed without a mask.

In recent weeks, Labour has repeated the accusation that it is "one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us" - an attack line that the Opposition believes is cutting through with voters.

The latest revelation will give Keir Starmer another round of ammunition on that theme at PMQs on Wednesday.

Tory MPs are growing increasingly frustrated at the ease with which No10 appear to be giving their political opponents weapons to attack them with.

Read more: Downing St staff joke about Xmas party in leaked clip after ministers deny it took place

Read more: Education department admits 'we shouldn't have held staff party last December'

The second problem is that the footage appears to completely contradict No10’s insistence for the best part of a week that there was no party held in No10 last December.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman was categorical in denying the claims, while multiple Cabinet ministers have insisted that, if there was an event in No10, then all Covid rules were followed.

But it is all but impossible to see how a gathering the week before Christmas, where cheese and wine were apparently enjoyed and there was, to quote the PM’s former Press Secretary in the leaked video, "no social distancing", can possibly have been in line with guidance at the time, which made clear that only essential work meetings were allowed and that Christmas parties were absolutely not.

The apparent gap between the facts that keep emerging and the government’s statements on the matter raises major questions about the veracity of their denials.

Next time No10 insists a story is completely untrue, journalists and the public will be far less inclined to take them at their word.

Wednesday’s daily briefing with Westminster journalists will be an incredibly bumpy ride for the PM’s spokespeople.

Spin is common in Westminster, but there is a gulf between that and the outright denial of stories which turn out to be accurate.

The emergence of the video also means a story that has been rumbling on for a week has fresh impetus.

It is difficult to see how Boris Johnson’s team can stick to their original denials given the contents of the footage.

However they respond to the video, the concern among Tory MPs is that - once again - the damage has already been done.