In many ways, the long awaited publication of Sue Gray’s partygate report revealed very little that we didn’t already know. The exception was the revelation of how cleaning and security staff were mocked and treated with disrespect by officials in No 10 during the various lockdown parties and events.
You can learn a lot about people, especially those with some form of power, from how they treat cleaners and security guards. The same goes for waiters and bar staff – essentially, anyone in the service industry who isn’t a professional. As the son of a cleaner and somebody who has myself worked in retail and behind a bar, I can tell you that if somebody treats another human being who is serving them like dirt (say, by laughing at them as they try to break up an illegal party), that person is probably arrogant, out of touch and uncaring.
There is no indication in the report that it was the Prime Minister who was behaving this way. But since the office culture was set by Boris Johnson and his senior advisers and civil servants, it is incredibly revealing that officials felt comfortable behaving in such an appalling manner without fear of being criticised.
As such, perhaps it is unsurprising that the government has been so reluctant to tackle the spiralling cost of living. The plans set out today by the Chancellor are certainly an improvement on what was on offer previously, but Rishi Sunak and the Prime Minister have dragged their heels as the crisis worsened, and have only now belatedly decided to act. A cynic might suggest that the announcement today may be motivated more by the need for a distraction from embarrassing partygate headlines than by a genuine desire to help the poor.
The measures Sunak has announced will go some way towards helping those who are really struggling, as well as many better off people who are starting to feel the squeeze. Yet the government still has no plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis in the long term, given energy prices show no signs of coming down anytime soon. Given their own financial security, our political leaders are out of touch and so seem to think there is only a cost-of-living crisis when it’s on the front pages of newspapers. In reality, those on the lowest incomes face such a crisis every day, with people having to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table.
We need a government with a long-term plan to tackle the high cost of living. Welfare, for example, should be much more generous for the most vulnerable such as low earners and poor pensioners. The planning system should be liberalised to allow more homes to be built – including on the green belt – so that housing becomes much more affordable, which would make a real difference to millions of struggling renters, especially the young. We should also increase the number of nuclear power plants being built to boost supply and lower energy bills, as well as continuing to invest in renewable energy.
For that to happen, though, the government needs to understand the reality for people at the lowest end of the income spectrum. The shameful treatment of cleaners and security staff by No 10 officials suggests the opposite.