Wednesday 25 May 2022

Toasting Sue Gray

There was vomit, there were fights, there was red wine spilled on the carpet. Sue Gray was unsparing in the detail highlighted in her long awaited report, but when all is said and done Boris Johnson remains in situ. His high risk strategy of kicking PartyGate into the long grass worked. First, Gray was appointed to investigate the goings ons in Number 10 during national lockdowns, giving Johnson breathing space. And when the issue was still hot, he sought to cool if off by getting his mate Cressida to investigate the rule breaking. Unsurprisingly, he was let off with very serious questions hanging over the police investigation. Which are now facing a legal challenge. Johnson doesn't care though. His premiership is safe and the most deadliest danger of his political career averted.

He should also be thanking Sue Gray too. This "unimpeachable" civil servant that Tories have flattered with praise in every interview given since her review got underway also did the Prime Minister a solid. Yes, the detail was excruciating. She did paint a picture of an arrogant operation at the centre of the state behaving as if the rules they thought up and implemented did not apply to them. That the Downing Street's director of ethics brought a karaoke machine to an illegal shindig is almost poetry. There were emails from officials telling staffers not to be seen in flagrante with bottles of wine and party gear. Johnson was present and master of ceremonies at several gatherings, showing without any doubt that he lied his head off from the dispatch box when he claimed "not to know" what was going on. Indeed, he tried the same old shtick during his statement to the Commons this afternoon, pointing out what a warren of corridors and rooms the Downing Street complex is. While Gray reported on the serious failings of the political and official leadership and emphasised their responsibility for this culture, it's hard to disagree with Owen Jones, for instance, that her investigation was anything other than a whitewash.

As with all things, what is not said can be as significant as what is. Like the Met, Gray did not investigate the most egregious case of rule breaking: the ABBA-themed party held to mark the departure of Dominic Cummings. This was organised in the Downing Street flat by Carrie Johnson. It cannot be brushed off as staff exuberance, and the Prime Minister's explanation for his attendance - "conducting a job interview" - is as thin as all his other excuses. But no investigation, commentary, or photos. Gray, who we must remember is a subordinate of Johnson's, steered clear. If one was of a conspiratorial turn of mind, one might link the report's outcomes to Gray's receipt of effusive plaudits.

Johnson is safe for now, and it's unlikely any Tory MP will change their mind once the Privileges Committee delivers its verdict about his lying to the House. But the damage is done. The local election results point to shifts under the surface that could doom the Tories, and a much more serious crisis of legitimacy is gathering strength. To try and put the whole PartyGate business to bed, not-at-all coincidentally the government are announcing a package of measures on Thursday that are supposed to address the cost of living crisis. Which, apparently, will include Labour's windfall tax scheme on the oil companies or something like it. But coming so close and having stubbornly resisted providing help so far, whatever they announce won't erase the memory of Johnson partying while people were stopped from comforting their dying loved ones.


Blissex said...

It's amazing how much media activity such matters of primary importance generate, compared to minutiae like booming property inflations, falling living standards, massive international realignments, epidemics, ...

Almost as if media contents were made by and for affluent property owners whose secure wealth and incomes enable them to focus on matters of primary importance such as Johnson's parties or Starmer's beers rather than passing details like political and economic matters.

David Lindsay said...

Partying from four o'clock in the afternoon until half past four in the morning? I cannot imagine where they found the energy. It is little more than a detail that this was during a lockdown, yet the Opposition and Lobby line, so to speak, is that the problem was that while the rest of us were missing funerals and so on, Downing Street was "behaving as normal".

Being found passed out by the cleaners due to never having gone home, throwing up, plastering the walls with wine, playing on a swing, and having a fight, because that is what "a minor altercation" means: all of these are apparently normal behaviour in a workplace in general, and at the heart of government in particular. Had there not been a lockdown in place, then none of this would have raised an eyebrow either from the Opposition or from a Lobby that, like the Police, must have known all about it while it was happening.

Towards the end, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher both threatened to stay on as Prime Minister, "and you can have whoever you like to lead your precious party," or words to that effect. But only Boris Johnson might go through with it. Johnson would not resign as Prime Minister, rather than as Leader of the Conservative Party, if he had lost a vote of no confidence among Conservative MPs. He would not resign as Prime Minister if he had lost a Leadership Election. Even if he could enact no legislation, then who is to say that he would resign as Prime Minister if he had lost a General Election, or even if he had lost his own seat? Who would there be to make him? A 96-year-old? Simon Case? Martin Reynolds? Keir Starmer? Tobias Ellwood?

Blissex said...

«or from a Lobby that, like the Police, must have known all about it while it was happening»

Put another way the parties story on which Starmer and Davey are counting for electoral advantage is celebrity gossip. And it is on celebrity gossip that Starmer and Davey are counting because their thatcherite politics are hardly different from those of Johnson.

But there is a significant if minor political aspect to this celebrity gossip: those who have leaked, and keeping leaking, as if there was an active campaign, the details of the parties and even photos and movies belong all to the Conservatives and participated in the parties, why would they leak that celebrity gossip in which they are themselves implicated? Why would they confess in public to having been so naughty? Also note at the top that in the photo other participants have been made unrecognizable.

The political aspect is then that this is a factional fight inside the Conservative Party using celebrity gossip to attack Johnson personally, of which Starmer and Davey are making secondary.

There is a media aspect too: just as the lobby must have known it all, it is curious that pretty much nobody in the media is pointing out the weirdness of Conservative politicians running a campaign of leaks of celebrity gossip against their own "leader" *and themselves personally* (but again note how people other than Johnson have been made unrecognizable in that photo).

Old Trot said...

Why anyone would expect 'civil servant' Sue Gray to stick the political knife into the head of the entire UK capitalist state machine is a mystery. Sue Gray , and her hubby, ran a pub in Northern Ireland's 'bandit country' throughout the Troubles FFS ! Based on this 'strategic' job change as a publican alone, Sue Gray must therefore rank as one of the most loyal to the status quo Deep State asset 'civil servants' in the entire UK state bureaucracy - and will doubtless in due time receive a suitable high honour, maybe even a seat in the Lords, for her lifetime of service to the state.

Not someone to be looked to for an unbiased investigation. Her 'explanation' as to why she didn't investigate the Johnson couple's' 'Abba Party' says it all . The only object of Sue Gray's investigation was to help play for time and 'save Big Dog' . The cynical choreography of both the Sue Gray Report and the equally risible Met Police 'investigation' was masterly. And , lo and behold, he has been saved, for now. Though the thought of the stupid and probably bonkers , equally juvenile, Liz Truss as PM is even more frightening than Boris Johnson, the psychopathic man-child and lifelong Bullingdon yob, , remaining in post I have to say.

Ken said...

Each generation has to learn that the Met is the bosses’ pets. The Spycops inquiry demonstrates its arrogance yet again in the mysterious outbreak of amnesia among the more senior managers of the “Special” “Squad”. Never trust any police operations with those two words in the title.
Currently, the one-eyed investigation of “events” and the peculiarly miserly rationing of fines except for junior staff by the Met, has made clear the unwillingness to apply the law to those in power. It has come as something of a surprise to those who don’t know its track record.
If the MPs themselves in the sardonically titled standards committee can’t bring themselves to agree that Johnson “misled” them, what a childish euphemism, public contempt for parliament and politicians will affect them all.

Old Trot said...

David Lindsay's concluding paragraph is remarkably ignorant of our UK constitutional realities, and history. The UK monarch appoints as PM whoever can 'command a majority' in the House (of Commons). A Boris Johnson abandoned by his Tory Party could not do so - and the monarch would be advised by the top civil servants and her Privy Councillors to immediately choose a new Prime Minister from amongst the MPs who could actually command a majority - even if that selected person had to pull together a cross party coalition as per the 1931 Ramsay MacDonald coalition government stitch up. In a crisis, the UK Monarch still holds the crucial final say over her mere 'loyal subject' ministers in our extraordinary unwritten constitution state lash-up structure - as a Left Corbyn government would quickly have discovered. With an unelected Upper House (of Lords) Legislature, and the default powers of the Crown, it is doubtful whether the UK should really qualify as a full 'Bourgeois Democracy'. In reality our arrangements constitutionally are more like those of the utterly facade 'democracy' of Myanmar/Burma - in between its periodic open military juntas.

Blissex said...

«won't erase the memory of Johnson partying while people were stopped from comforting their dying loved ones»

The media are indeed focusing electoral propaganda on celebrity gossip rather than politics and economics ("There Is No Alternative"), as most of the "tory" media have been transferred into the "whig" faction (e.g. the replacement of chief editors at the Mail etc.).

As to New New Labour's electoral prospects I am not sure that exploiting the factional war between "tory" and "whig" thatcherites will help much:

* The people who voted against the Conservatives in 2019 already voted against Johnson.

* The thatcherites who voted Conservative in 2019 might be swayed into voting LibDem or abstaining, but the memory of the huge capital gains and hard brexit that Johnson delivered every year won't be erased for most of them, and that is what matters to them in elections that decide economic policy.

Consider the very different results of the 2004 local elections (a catastrophe for electorally toxic Tony Blair) and the 2005 general elections (property prices still booming and that barely saved New Labour despite a collapse in their vote).