Today was the day when the Sue Gray report was rumoured to be published and Sky News broke the news at about two minutes past 9.00am that the report had indeed been received in Downing Street. From this moment on, the media airwaves were evidently going to be dominated by the revelations of the report and after Boris Johnson had answerd a routine PMQ, the time came at 12.30 for Boris Johnson to answer questions on the report. As we have come to expect, there was a period of quasi-contrition soon to be replaced by Boris Johnson going on the attack suggesting that Keir Starmer, himself under police investigation, should have resigned by now. After about half an hour in which the Tory benches (apart from one or two brave souls) seemed to offer tacit support to the Prime Minister, the green benches occupied by the Tory party seemed to rapidly empty leaving only the ministerial teams in place. One shot of the House of Commons was particularly revealing becase it only seemed to show one or two back benchers in place to give support of ]ohnson.
The Sue Gray report itself would appear to be fairly damning but fails to point a loaded gun at the Prime Minister. It does point out that parties went on much longer than they should have done, that there was evidence of excessive use of alcohol and one member of staff being sick, two Downing Street personnel having a fight (called an altercation), a child’s swing in the garden being broken. Quite amazing was the revelation that cleaners and security staff were abused by the revellers when it was time to move them on. One particurlarly newsworthy incident is the fact that in one message after a ‘bring your own booze’ party to which 200 people were invited in May 2020, Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary, said: ‘We seem to have got away with [it].’ So there seemed to be widespread knowledge of the illegalities of the gatherings. Political commentators are also pointing out one massive ‘hole’ in the report. One of the infamous events was the so-called Abba party, held in the Downing Street flat on the occasion of Dominic Cummings leaving Downing Street, where there was evidently much loud music and stampings of feet that sounded like dancing. Sue Gray started to investigate this event but then stopped short when the Met began their investigations. The Met issued no fines after this event and there is some doubt whether it was properly investigated or not. There are also persistent rumours that senior staff filled in the police questionnaires with the barest minimum of detail lest they be incriminated which was a remarkably successful tactic as the majority of fines were handed out to junior staff and not to their bosses. When the Met did not investigate further, Sue Gray concluded that it would be inappropriate for her to investigate this further and so one of the most extreme examples of partying might not have been fully investigated at all. Boris Johnson’s defence in the Commons was generally to say that he was present for only short periods of time, that he genuinely believed that he was acting as a good employer by turning up to pay a tribute to departing staff and that rather than resign he had much more important work to be getting on with to fulfil the government’s agenda, not least with the economic crisis. A package of measures is being rushed through the Treasury in the hope that these can be announced tomorrow, but cutting short any criticisms that might follow the evelations in the teport. Critical, though, is the view of the 1922 bachbenchers committee of MP’s who will be making the crudest of political calculations whether Boris Johnson is an asset to them and can help them to win the next election or a liability for them and is therefore likely to lose it for them. About 60% of the population are of the view that Boris Johnson should resign over partygate but it could be that the ‘albino greased piglet’ as Boris Johnson was depicted in a particularly vivid cartoon may have escaped yet again. An interesting question for the Met is why when some people in a party received fines, the entire gathering did not receive a fine. If it was illegal for any person, then surely it must have been illegal for all of the attenders at the party? Later on this evening, it may well emerge what the mood of the 1922 Committee is liable to be but it does appear that journalists are much more likely to hold the PM to account than his own MPs. From accounts of the meeting of the 1922 committee meeting this evening, it appears that Boris Johnson had ‘struck the right tone’ with them and his support remained high amongst the recently elected ‘red wall’ MPs (Conservatives who won the seats traditionally held by Labour) The older generation of Tory MPs were less likely to give Boris Johnson the benefit of the doubt, however.