Former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption in the Telegraph has weighed in on Partygate to say it exposes both the moral deficiencies of Boris Johnson and that those writing the lockdown rules clearly didn’t believe their own hype.
Partygate is not about parties. It never has been. It is about personal integrity and standards in public life. The Prime Minister can put the parties, the booze, the vomiting and all the rest of it behind him. What he cannot put behind him is the sort of person that he is.
Three points stand out from this grubby saga.
First, the Prime Minister personally decided to criminalise almost all social contact, and then behaved as if this did not apply to him or those around him. It really does not matter whether he thought that his parties were allowed by the regulations. Their rationale was that unnecessary human contact was so dangerous that it must be forbidden by law. He cannot have believed a word of it himself. Otherwise, he would surely not have exposed himself or his staff to this supposedly mortal danger, whether it was technically permitted by the regulations or not. He made his own risk assessment, while denying the rest of us the right to make ours.
Secondly, the Prime Minister has persistently tried to hide behind his subordinates. No one told him, he has said, that this kind of behaviour was not on. It speaks volumes about his moral values that he needed to be told.
This sort of special pleading is a cowardly reversal of ordinary lines of responsibility. Junior staff took their lead from him. They assumed, as Sue Gray points out, that if he was there it must be OK. More senior staff had their doubts. But their only concern was that it would look bad if it got out (“a comms risk”). At the time they congratulated themselves that they had “got away with it.” Sue Gray goes out of her way to point out that their attitudes were not typical of the rest of Whitehall. We are entitled to ask what was different about Downing Street. The answer is that its occupants knew that the Prime Minister would share their instincts. Under a more exacting boss, they would have feared for their jobs.