Shouldn’t the head of a government that forbids social gatherings indoors have followed his own rules at his official residence? That question has come up in Parliament, where MPs recently demanded answers from Boris Johnson over reports of two parties that violated the UK orders against such residential gatherings. In an ominous move, the London Metropolitan Police have announced that they have begun a criminal investigation into multiple reports of such events at 10 Downing Street, in parallel to an ongoing civil probe:
The Metropolitan Police will investigate whether lockdown-busting parties were held in No. 10 Downing Street in breach of COVID-19 rules, head of the force Cressida Dick said.
Appearing before the London Assembly’s police and crime committee Tuesday, the police chief said that as a result of information provided by the U.K. government’s investigation led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, the Met was “now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations.”
The Metropolitan Police chief has come under increasing pressure to investigate the Downing Street parties because other social gatherings held in London at the same time were investigated, and members of the public have been fined for breaching lockdown rules.
The news is a serious blow for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is fighting to save his political career after admitting he attended one of the parties under investigation by Gray.
“A number of events”? How many are we talking about here — two, four, six, eight? More like nineteen between May 2020 and April of last year, although not all involve Johnson. Most involve Tories, but a number of Conservatives in Parliament have made it clear that they want to give Boris the Order of the Boot to punish the hypocrisy:
The prime minister is facing a rebellion in his own Conservative Party by lawmakers upset over what they see as reckless hypocrisy. The opposition Labour Party has said the parties show that Johnson and his staff ignored rules that they imposed on the British people.
The news that police will investigate comes just hours after a British broadcaster on Monday reported that yet another alleged “bash” occurred at 10 Downing Street during strict lockdown, this one to celebrate Johnson’s birthday in June 2020, at a time when rules designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus forbade indoor social gatherings.
That would appear to be a defensive strategy for the Tories, who have to wonder how voters who suffered through broad lockdowns over the past couple of years will react. Almost certainly negatively, of course, as voters tend to do when elites dictate to them while reserving their own privileges in direct contradiction. That may be even worse when supposed populists engage in such hypocrisy, as voters elect them to replace the elitists from whom that kind of two-faced posturing is more or less expected. Tories have to worry that Johnson might fuel an entirely different kind of populism with his party-animal shenanigans.
Johnson announced in Parliament earlier today that he “welcome[s]” Scotland Yard’s probe, but that he’s more focused on governing priorities and the crisis in Ukraine:
Boris Johnson has welcomed a Metropolitan Police investigation into alleged parties at Downing Street as an opportunity to “draw a line” under the debacle.
“I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe it will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters,” he told MPs as he made a statement on Ukraine.
“But I want to reassure the House and the country that I and the whole Government are focused 100 per cent on dealing with the people’s priorities, including the UK’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world.”
That’s a politically astute tactic, redirecting attention to other issues of substance while appearing open to scrutiny. One has to wonder how many of his own MPs that will reassure, however. It doesn’t take many votes to force a new leadership election in the Conservative Party, using the same technique employed by Johnson to push Theresa May out of 10 Downing Street. If Cressida Dick finds any evidence that Johnson participated in more of the same parties he was fining other Britons for holding, Johnson may find himself out of power … or perhaps shifting completely to what we could call the Beastie Boys Strategy.