I don’t know about you lot, but I have never unknowingly attended a party. I have unwillingly attended parties after falling to the demands of peer pressure. I have unintentionally ended up at parties, but not once have I ever gone to a party and not realised I was at one.
Parties are an unmistakable phenomenon. Like most things, when you’re at a party you cannot fail to realise where you are and what you are doing. But as we’ve seen recently, the particulars of whether parties took place at Downing Street, and who knew about them, even while they were in attendance, is subject to a report by the enigmatic Sue Gray.
I thought we were all on the same page with this. I thought we all agreed that revelations about the alleged party culture at Number 10 through lockdowns was one step too far. That was until last Wednesday, when I tuned in to Radio 5 Live, where Conservative voters were invited to call in and give their thoughts on the latest scandal attached to the prime minister.
“Boris is the one man, out of all the politicians, who has ever been able to connect with people,” one caller said. Another said they felt sorry for him. One caller wrangled over the use of language. It wasn’t a party, she said, it was a social gathering. Ah, a social gathering! How silly of us not to realise.
I too broke the rules in May 2020. One of my closest friends, who had spent the unusually warm spring locked down in a flat without an outdoor space in difficult personal circumstances, called me one afternoon. He was passing by my house after attending a medical appointment. We didn’t dare say it. Should he pop round, just for five minutes? It felt wrong, but I caved. “We can sit in the garden,” I said, promising that we’d keep a safe distance apart.
When my friend arrived, my husband went into the back alley and let him in through the alley gates. We pulled a dining chair into the garden and placed it a ludicrous distance from our own. We sat in a bizarre constellation, in the baking heat, for less than 40 minutes, until my friend needed to use the toilet. “I’d better not go in,” he said, worried about breaking the rules further by going inside to use my bathroom. So he went home, holding it in all the way.
If only we’d known that some 200 miles away, in the gardens of power, the invitation was clear: bring your own booze.
And it wasn’t just a one-off. The wine continued to flow while we all made difficult decisions to keep people safe.
Last April, whether we liked it or not, we were all forced into a period of national mourning after Prince Philip died. I remember it well. Lockdown restrictions meant we weren’t allowed to go anywhere, TV programmes were rescheduled and replaced by tributes and documentaries about the Duke of Edinburgh, and every radio station was playing sombre music on a loop.
Just days later we watched as the Queen sat alone at the funeral of her life partner, a display of leadership that earned the respect of even the most hardened republicans.
Little did we know that the night before, Downing Street staff allegedly filled a suitcase with bottles of wine and partied past midnight.
Like everyone else, I’m waiting with bated breath to hear the outcome of Gray’s report. Even with his track record, it’s difficult to see how the prime minister can come back from this.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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