Is the partygate crisis of Boris Johnson’s own making?

Credit: PA

For Tory MPs who regard partygate as being a prime ministerial competence issue, rather than an ethical issue, it is striking that of the three "parties" or events Sue Gray was asked to investigate by the PM, two are not deemed by the Met Police as being potential breaches of the criminal law (namely the leaving party for Cleo Watson and the party at the department for education).

Only the Downing Street Christmas party on 18 December 2020 passed the threshold for police investigation, along with 11 other events that Sue Gray subsequently determined to be in scope of her investigation.

There are a couple of inferences to be drawn:

  • Gray was robustly independent in her investigation, taking her inquiry considerably further than the PM would have wanted or expected.

  • The PM is now in a fearful mess, that could yet end his time in Downing Street, because his initial reaction to The Mirror's disclosure of the Downing St Christmas party was to deny it was a party or a rule breaking event in any way. As a result of that denial, which led to Gray being appointed, his own birthday "event" with cake, a bye-bye Cummings event in his Downing Street flat and the notorious "bring-your-own-booze" garden event that he attended are all now under investigation by the Met - along with nine other seeming parties. With the benefit of hindsight - and many would say foresight too - if he had put his hands up about the original Christmas party and said sorry at the outset, a debacle that has massively damaged the popularity and reputation of the Conservative Party could have been avoided, probably.

In politics it is usually the cover-up that kills. And the question that Tory MPs need to ask themselves is whether the PM and they are now in such dire straits because the PM wasn't good enough at covering up or because his instincts were to cover up in the first place.

Do they think the road to recovery requires a straight dealer in Number 10 or someone who is better organised at hiding the bad and embarrassing stuff.

And equally, as the PM wonders whether he will be found guilty of breaking the law by the Met Police, what practical and ethical lesson will he draw.