Freddy Gray

The phoney war on Allegra Stratton

The phoney war on Allegra Stratton
Allegra Stratton outside Downing Street, 2020 (Photo: Getty)
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There’s something telling about the alacrity with which the SW1 hive mind has seized on the leaked clip of Allegra Stratton.

For our slightly depraved opinion-forming class, the sight of the Prime Minister’s press spokesperson sniggering about a party that apparently happened in No. 10 at a time when the government had ordered us all not socialise was just too delicious.

Journalists, who tend to regard themselves as extraordinary people, decided en masse that here at last was a story that ordinary people — the commoners — can be excited by and angry about.

The blue-checks of Twitter quickly pronounced that this bit of news had ‘cut through’ — that awful phrase which media people use to mean that non-media people might care.

ITV, who led on the story, showed the video to some oldies and asked them to be appalled. The well-spoken anchor Tom Bradby put on his best disgusted-on-behalf-of-Britain voice. So did Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, as he threw his former colleague Allegra under the bus.

People who had lost loved ones were dredged up to vent their sense of injustice. And of course everybody can feel their pain. But on the whole this indignant chatter — the endless repetition of ‘it’s one rule for them’ and ‘they are laughing at us’ — is the kabuki theatre of a self-obsessed elite. It is the formulaic patter of media people who privately consider themselves ‘they’ but for public appearances insist on pretending to be ‘us’.

It is phoney.

(Disclosure here — I do know Allegra a bit and I like her, though I am not nearly as friendly with her as many of the people I saw publicly declaring themselves on social media to be shocked at the video.)

The truth is that Stratton was not ‘laughing at us’. Nor were the rest of the No. 10 press team in that silly briefing room. They were laughing at the absurdity of their situation: a mock press conference during a strange and seemingly endless pandemic; a scene in which a representative of the government had to pretend to defend the nonsensical policies of her bosses and to stand up for rules that even in the heart of government weren’t being taken at all seriously. If you were in her shoes you would have laughed too.

It’s not ‘cruel’ to find humour in such moments, as so many have been saying. It’s human. What is strange and cruel is to do what so many journalists started to do in response to the video as it spread online, which is to ham up the outrage in order to signal to others that they too are in on the joke.

None of this is to say it wasn’t hypocritical of government staff to disregard the rules their ministers made. Of course it was. It’s also not necessarily true to say this is just another ‘Westminster bubble’ story. The public too can delight in the schadenfreude of a government spokesperson caught out. It is good tattle and in the age of social media everyone joins in. The video has had millions of views.

But let’s stop being duped by all these political hacks and their posturing as the voice of ordinary folk. What these jackals really want to do is tee-hee together at a juicy bit of viral Westminster gossip.

A fair number of them know the characters involved and might have been invited to that now legendary cheese and wine party — or perhaps one of the other naughty No. 10 lockdown breaches people are whispering about. They secretly thrill at that thought. The embarrassment of others is always more delicious when you think it could have been you.

Meanwhile, the government continues to fail to cope with the weight of various crises, inflation bites and large parts of the north continue to go without power. End times, anyone?