Partygate is shameful – but Boris shouldn’t resign
I feel torn on partygate. Like most other people, I have flashes of rage over the vision of government ministers living it up with booze and birthday cakes while the rest of us risked arrest if we so much as popped round to our mum’s for a cup of tea.
But there is something in the pushback against partygate that grates, too. It feels opportunistic, possibly even anti-democratic, with Boris’s legion of loathers among the media elites clearly hoping that this scandal will do what they so spectacularly failed to do at the ballot box – get those pesky Brexity Tories out of Downing Street.
This is not to downplay the seriousness of what has happened. That the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been fined for breaking laws that they constantly warned the rest of us to obey is extraordinary. That Boris and Rishi have made history by becoming the first PM and Chancellor to have broken the law while in office is just mortifying. For them, of course (I hope that birthday bash was worth it, Boris), but also for us as a nation. The world pulls together to face down a scary pandemic and our leaders are clinking glasses and rubbing shoulders in defiance of rules they themselves drew up? What an embarrassment.
Downing Street underestimates at its peril the simmering fury people feel about partygate. Even people I know who have no interest in politics are seriously ticked off. That ministers hosted depressing daily press conferences at which they warned the masses not to socialise and then had a jolly old knees-up with their work pals feels like a sucker punch to the public. It has a Marie Antoinette vibe, where the plebs were expected to endure all sorts of social privations while our supposed betters could carry on quaffing and partying. It will take a lot for Boris to restore his already very questionable ‘Man of the People’ pose in the aftermath of this mad little scandal.
And yet, I cannot get behind the cries for Boris and Rishi to resign. Keir Starmer has led the charge. ‘They must both resign’, he says. Tuesday's fines confirm there has been ‘widespread criminality’ at the heart of government, he claims. I’m sorry, but that’s a bit much. It makes it sound as though Boris and his colleagues are a mafia-style outfit carrying out all manner of dodgy deals, when in fact all they did was have a bottle of wine or two after work.
Yes, they broke the rules, and people are rightly angry about that, but let’s get some perspective. When future historians look back on 2020, surely they will think the craziest thing was not that government ministers gathered together to drink booze in a garden, but that gathering together to drink booze in a garden had been made illegal in the first place. Downing Street is clearly heavy with hypocrites, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the lockdown itself was the staggering aberration, not the fact that many people (not only Boris and Rishi) tried to find ways around it.
Johnson and Sunak should not resign for the simple fact that they are elected. They were enthusiastically elected, in fact, by just shy of 14 million people. If all it takes to topple democratically elected leaders is some media poking into illicit parties and a fixed penalty notice from the cops, then how much are we the people really in control of the political affairs of this country?
We live in a democracy, not a police state. The final judgement on a government’s performance should be made by the electorate not by fine-issuing police or the perma-outraged Twitterati.
Some people seem to hope that partygate will topple not only Boris but Brexit, too. ‘If Boris goes, Brexit goes’, said arch Remainer Lord Adonis when partygate kicked off. This, to me, is far more offensive than the hypocrisy and rule-breaking of the Boris circle. Boris and the rest merely insulted us with their lockdown-defying antics. Some Boris-bashers, by contrast, want to go further than that and void the votes that millions of us cast in the referendum in 2016 and the general election in 2019. Give me a democratically elected hypocrite over these opportunistic Brexit-haters any day of the week.
Johnson, Sunak and all the others may have already had a grilling from civil servants and even fines from the police, but they will at some point face a far more consequential judgement – the one made by us, the voters, in local elections and national elections. Only we should get to decide their fate. If you’re really angry about partygate, you know what to do.
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