Politics

Prime suspect PM takes partygate delusion to hallucinatory new levels | John Crace


The denial was near total. You’d have thought that Boris Johnson would have had plenty of time to prepare a response to the Metropolitan police’s decision to issue the first bang-to-rights 20 fixed-penalty notices. After all, they can hardly have come as a surprise. Only it seems that everything is a surprise to the Suspect – or the Criminal as we may soon have to call him – these days.

So much so that he’s still not sure if he actually went to a party during lockdown even though the police have concluded that loads of people did. Even now he’s swearing blind that no one did anything wrong in No 10. The police must have made a mistake. If it wasn’t already before, it really is now one rule for him and another for the rest of us.

Imagine the scale of the delusion. It had been a lovely sunny day and “Party Marty”, aka Martin Reynolds, had suggested that the Downing Street staff get a bit pissed together in the garden after work. Just to cheer everyone up a bit and to thank them for all their hard work. And he had even been sure to ask everyone to bring their own booze because he had been thoughtful enough to remember that the Suspect was quite mean and didn’t want to have to pay for people to get trashed. Party Marty had even sent around an email confirming all the details.

But for some reason Boris had not only failed to read the email, he had totally forgotten there had been a party arranged for that evening. So when he had wandered outside with Carrie, he had been totally baffled to discover the garden of No 10 full of people, along with trestle tables weighed down with food and drink. Obviously he had been too polite to ask what everyone was doing there, so he just went along with it. As you do. And it goes without saying that it had also completely slipped the Suspect’s mind that he had introduced legislation preventing people socialising and that parties were illegal.

Now it gets positively spooky. Because the same thing kept happening time and time again and each time the prime minister forgot about the pandemic. There were at least 12 parties in Downing Street – Johnson attended at least six of them – and the Suspect was somehow convinced that no parties had ever taken place. And, bizarrely, still is.

Despite the police having now concluded the first stage of the investigations and found the law had repeatedly been broken at No 10, Boris is still adamant that he had only ever attended work events. It was totally normal for staff to get roaring drunk, break the toddler’s swing and toss the empties into the flower bed at pandemic planning meetings. What happened in No 10, stayed in No 10. And that also went for the fixed-penalty notices. Anyone who got fined would not be obliged to resign or even admit they had broken the law. This was government as the wild west.

No wonder then that Labour have become ever more inclined not to take the prime minister at his word. If the police don’t feel they can trust him, why should anyone else? Either the Suspect is a lying, narcissistic sociopath who has no idea of the boundaries between right or wrong, or he’s out of his head on psychotropic drugs and is living in a parallel, hallucinatory universe. Or both possibly. So Angela Rayner turned an opposition day debate into a humble address to force the government into releasing information about the appointment of Evgeny Lebedev to the Lords. Just to make sure there was no wrongdoing.

You could sense that Rayner would rather have been letting rip about the FPNs and Johnson having lied to parliament than debating Lebedev, but the Commons had been warned not to stray off topic – even to join the dots about the prime minister’s lack of judgment – so Labour’s deputy leader stuck to her brief. Her request was simple. The Guardian and Sunday Times reported that the intelligence services had originally recommended Lebedev as unsuitable for a peerage. Indeed the head of MI6 had even refused to have lunch with the oligarch.

So Rayner just wanted to check whether their concerns were genuine and the Suspect had doctored their recommendations in forcing the Lords’ appointments committee to change its mind. Or whether Johnson was just shallow, venal and corrupt and wanted to reward someone who invited him to flash parties – the lengths he might have gone to drop his security detail after the Nato meeting to get trashed in Lebedev’s castle in Italy – and gave him good coverage in the Evening Standard. As for Lebedev, was he in hock to Putin like his dad or was he just a spoilt airhead?

As so often, it fell to paymaster general, Michael Ellis, to defend the indefensible in the Commons. Fortunately, Ellis has no sense of self-worth and will say almost anything to advance his own career. Though this time he was almost on his own as many of the rest of the Tory backbenchers had decided – after the Owen Paterson lobbying fiasco – that it wasn’t a good look to be seen to be trying to cover up possible wrongdoing and had said they would vote with Labour. If there was dirt on Lebedev, then so be it. And if there wasn’t, then there was no harm in making the details of his appointment public. Weirdly, there are some Tories who feel the probity of the prime minister still matters.

Ellis tried to make the case that even the Suspect had given up on. There was nothing remotely abnormal about Lebedev becoming a peer, he said sotto voce. If the prime minister’s brother and Zac Goldsmith could become Lords then anyone could. Perhaps one day, even Ellis himself might reach such heights. He could dream.

Lebedev had just been your everyday billionaire who had taken pity on a down-on-his-luck London mayor and backed him through thick and thin. The intelligence services were just guilty of Russophobia in turning him down. It didn’t help that Lebedev was busy tweeting that it was an outrage the Commons was debating his peerage. You can take the boy out of the Kremlin but you can’t take the Kremlin out of the boy.

Only two Tory MPs bothered to speak up for Ellis and for the rest of the debate he cut a lone figure. Just waiting for the moment his own party chose not to vote with him at the division. Like so much of his life, his contribution had been entirely pointless.

Though Ellis wan’t the only one to stick up for the Suspect’s inherent honesty and magnificence. Over on the BBC, Matt Hancock, whose skin-crawling neediness is in a league of its own, was saying that he didn’t care if Boris had lied or broken the rules. Johnson was the right person to be leading the country regardless. Just gizza job. Or a peerage. Lord Love Nest.



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