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2 December 2021updated 07 Jun 2023 12:33pm

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.  

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