Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
2 December 2021updated 07 Dec 2021 5:27pm

Why Boris Johnson may pay a political price for Downing Street’s lockdown Christmas revels

As with the row over Dominic Cummings's illicit jaunt to Durham, exceptionalism and hypocrisy can do governments real reputational damage.

By Stephen Bush

Just how much trouble could Boris Johnson’s 2020 Christmas party put him in? The story is the Mirror’s splash for a second day running: “Booze, nibbles & party games until early hours” screams their headline. One attendee claims that the revels went on until past midnight at the unofficial Christmas soirée on 18 December 2020.  

The Financial Times’s Laura Hughes deserves some sort of prize for unearthing the least sympathetic quotation I ever hope to read. A Downing Street insider told her that work parties were common at the time: “It was the only place you could get together and socialise. They happened most Fridays and they were the only things that kept us going, bearing in mind we were the only people in Whitehall in the office working throughout. We weren’t seeing anyone else outside of work and were our own bubble.” This is a deal that was explicitly not available to people still working throughout in supermarkets, schools or hospitals, as the rules quite plainly stated that work parties, even for key workers, were a no-no.

The row over Dominic Cummings’s jaunt to Durham did real harm to the government’s ratings across a whole swathe of issues – trust, fairness, the perception this was a “new” government and not just a continuation of the old one – and some Conservative MPs worry that Downing Street’s parties will exact a similar toll.  

But when Cummings’s activities came to light the country was still straining under lockdown, whereas right now the United Kingdom is not. One of the government’s biggest advantages is that a lot of people want to put the grim events of 2020 out of their mind. Sajid Javid’s swift move to secure enough vaccines for a booster shot for both this year and years to come is designed to prevent a return to lockdown in the foreseeable future. 

If this fails, questions about what exactly happened at Downing Street and whether it was within the spirit or the letter of the rules would likely become politically toxic.  

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU