While we stayed at home, they snuck through the doors of Number 10, clad in Christmas jumpers and bearing bottles of champagne, ready to party like it was 1999, or perhaps even 2019.
The mood was no doubt jovial. But this wasn’t a scene from happier times, when we could gather freely with colleagues, topping up each other’s glasses and belting out Fairytale of New York without a care in the world. This was 18 December 2020.
On that same day, NHS staff across the country were battling another wave of Covid infections. On that same day 18,238 Covid-positive patients were in hospital, with more than 1,300 in intensive care. Once again, just as they had during the first wave, nurses held iPads up to patients’ faces so their families could say goodbye to their loved ones on FaceTime. On that same day, more than 600 people died with the virus.
With every day that passes, and as more details emerge about the alleged party, or parties, held at Downing Street last Christmas, the anger and disbelief is palpable.
Even after Dominic Cummings’ so-called eye test at Barnard Castle, the dodgy PPE contracts, and Matt Hancock’s affair, the video leaked last week showing the now departed Allegra Stratton and other Downing Street staff laughing and joking about nibbles and wine and no social distancing at a mock press conference is beyond parody.
While we dressed up for parties on Zoom, stretching our arms out to our laptop screens and wishing our friends’ pixelated faces were with us in real
life, even just for a few minutes, Boris Johnson’s pals were no doubt throwing their arms around each other as they quaffed fizz under the prime minister’s roof.
It is a bitter pill for the entire country to swallow. But those of us whose biggest sacrifice was missing in-person gatherings with family, friends and colleagues over the festive period were the lucky ones.
Last week people who lost loved ones during the nightmare that was last Christmas took to social media to share their stories of standing alone at funerals, of not hugging their friends and family even in the depths of their grief. Others told stories of suffering miscarriages alone, of partners banned from hospital wards during the darkest times of their lives, of sitting outside and blowing kisses to their elderly family members through care home windows.
Johnson thinks we don’t care about what happened a year ago. In Prime Minister’s Questions last week he desperately tried to move the conversation on, grappling at the success of the vaccine programme and waffling on about booster shots.
But many of us can’t forget it. NHS staff will never forget the harrowing shifts when staff shortages meant patients died alone. Many of those who have lost loved ones this year will never forget the last Christmas they were unable to spend with them. Business owners will never forget shutting up shop for yet another lockdown, leaving staff to get through Christmas on furlough.
We’ll never forget the sacrifices we made to keep others safe. And we will never forget how those in Number 10 laughed.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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