UK's Johnson needs to win back trust to get over Partygate scandal

Report by senior bureaucrat Sue Gray is serious and exposes lack of supervision in the higher echelons of government

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Published: Wed 25 May 2022, 9:36 PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cannot seem to shake off the partygate scandal. A delayed but troubling report that confirms what everyone knew for a while now is out. Troubling, because it took a long time coming. Damning?

No. Illegal parties were indeed held by the PM’s team when the country went into three pandemic lockdowns in 2020. Johnson attended some of them and had earlier been fined by the police for breaking the law. He survived then by apologising to parliament. Luckily for him, the Russia-Ukraine war came as a face-saver, and his response to the offensive made him a hero of sorts, at least among the Conservative faithful. Some even painted him in Churchillian hues.

The PM could be forgiven for his team’s lockdown excesses though he was a participant under the circumstance. He first ignored the allegations; said sorry when the findings hit home, and believed all would be well again after brushing aside the moral dimension to the whole affair.

But Tuesday’s report by senior bureaucrat Sue Gray is more serious and, while naming the PM, exposes the lack of supervision in the higher echelons of government. Gray says many of the events “should not have been allowed to happen.” Partygate thus remains a moral dilemma for Johnson.

Staff who raised concerns were not treated with respect which indicates that some of his aides believed they couldn’t be touched or didn’t care. The public’s sacrifices during those dark days were treated with contempt, according to the opposition Labour Party.

A picture of the PM holding his drink as members of his cabinet and other officials watch has since gone viral. There was excessive drinking; parties went on until 4.20am on the day of Prince Philip’s funeral; warnings were ignored. Revelation after revelation. And the PM’s latest response? He takes responsibility and is humbled.

Boris Johnson isn’t going anywhere. That’s the general reading of the situation. He has apologised - again. “I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff.” Which begs the question: What action will he take against staff who flung the rules out the window and organised those parties?

His fellow legislators and cabinet members are unwilling to ask for his head yet. Those touted as his likely successors, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, have troubles of their own. It’s better not to rock the boat at this juncture and back the prime minister till the next elections.

Time has been on Johnson’s side and other events have since overtaken partygate. There’s Covid fatigue, public memory is short and people want to get on with their lives. Partygate, however, has been a worrying episode for Johnson. He will survive but should do what it takes to win back the people’s trust in his government.

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