The words ‘Downing Street party’ along with the names Boris Johnson and Sue Gray have been on everyone’s lips these past few weeks and have distracted the nation from some extremely important news stories. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are reaching boiling point, the cost of living has increased, and there has been confirmation of a national insurance hike.
These are just three major news stories that have had to wait their turn in every report, whilst the discussion around partying in Downing Street continues to take the top spot.
After a limited version of the Sue Gray report stated that the Downing Street parties ‘represent a serious failure’, the Met Police announced they would be investigating. This prompted the Prime Minister to apologise to the House of Commons and state ‘I get it and I will fix it’.
There were some fiery exchanges in the Commons that day, and Boris Johnson faced some tough questions from members across the house, including those in his party. Theresa May asked her successor whether he didn’t think the rules applied to him, and Conservative backbencher Aaron Bell asked ‘Am I a fool?’
The Prime Minister didn’t cover himself in glory either during the session with a false claim linking Keir Starmer with Jimmy Savile, a move that has been condemned by many with Nazir Afzal, a former chief Crown prosecutor for the North West on Monday, labelling it “a disgrace to parliament and office of prime minister”.
The Labour Party have called for the PM to resign, for the lockdown parties and for the attention, it has taken away from the serious issues in the UK and across the globe. It is hard to disagree with that second point, this has been a distraction.
Boris had to delay a call with Vladimir Putin because he had to address the commons and defend allegations of parting in lockdown. This was potentially a key moment in relations between Russia and the UK, which has now been delayed due to the ‘partygate’ accusations.
Again, Boris faced criticism from his party with David Davis, a former Brexit secretary and senior Conservative MP, telling LBC that the row involved “issues where the standing of the country matters and this affects the standing of the country”.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy tweeted about how these distractions can have ‘real world consequences’ and that this has caused a ‘vital diplomatic opportunity’ to be missed.
As tensions continue to rise across Europe, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in a press conference that “This is not going to be a war of Ukraine and Russia. This is going to be a European war, a full-fledged war”. These are crucial times and missing phone calls with the President of one of the nations involved could prove costly on a global scale, rather than just in the UK.
There are some incredibly important issues in the UK that would usually require full Government attention. The cost of living is set to increase massively this year, as annual CPI inflation rose to 5.4% in December, a 30 year high, and is predicted to hit 7%.
The Downing Street lockdown parties have been labelled as distractions, but some would argue that they are key indicators as to how successful, or unsuccessful the Government has been during the pandemic. The public couldn’t see their loved ones, couldn’t attend funerals, and couldn’t enjoy any celebrations under lockdown rules.
The Sue Gray report stated that ‘the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify’, as it’s an equally important issue in itself that the Prime Minister did not put a stop to these gatherings, which seemingly did not adhere to the rules that were being dictated to the British public at the time. In a recent YouGov snap poll, 63% of Britons said they wanted Johnson to resign.
Whether or not these parties are a distraction or just another important issue, is down to individual opinion. However, watching Boris try to defend himself so he can remain as Prime Minister, is taking up a lot of Government and the media’s time.
Particularly in a time when there is such worrying news at home and abroad. There are issues, crises and diplomatic meetings that have massive implications for the British public and the media, and the government must ensure these issues are addressed if they want to be taken seriously again.