Downing Street's lockdown Christmas party: It's one Yule for them and another Yule for everyone else – Aidan Smith

It’s been called the bleakest Christmas movie ever. A film that starts with Keira Knightley inviting a gaggle of middle-class irritants to a big, holly-decked country house – but then the party turns sour and any suggestion this might be the work of Richard Curtis disappears up the Aga flume.
Keira Knightley stars in what's been called the 'bleakest-ever' Christmas movie, but it's got nothing on the one yet to be made of Boris Johnson's 'Apocalypse Noel' (Picture: PA)Keira Knightley stars in what's been called the 'bleakest-ever' Christmas movie, but it's got nothing on the one yet to be made of Boris Johnson's 'Apocalypse Noel' (Picture: PA)
Keira Knightley stars in what's been called the 'bleakest-ever' Christmas movie, but it's got nothing on the one yet to be made of Boris Johnson's 'Apocalypse Noel' (Picture: PA)

The Queen’s message comes from a bunker and, instead of after-dinner mints, there are government-issue suicide pills because the world is about to end, swallowed up by a giant toxic cloud.

Apparently the movie, Silent Night, was conceived before the pandemic but if it had been ready in time I don’t think it could have been released last Christmas.

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That was the one, never to be forgotten, of severely curtailed gatherings because of bubble limits, travel restrictions, positive testing, hospitalisations – and death. We wouldn’t have been ready in the age of Covid even for a film calling itself a black comedy. Keira’s flick would have been pronounced a turkey.

And now? Are we able to laugh at the grimness of it all? Well, if not for Omicron then maybe. And if not for those games of Twister in No 10 a year ago.

Of course I have no idea if it was Twister or Forehead Detective or Truth or Dare because I was not at the infamous 18 December bash. I was at home with my family, as rules decreed, with not even the mother-in-law, who’d lost her husband of 46 years just a few months before, able to join us.

But games were played in Downing Street. There were drinks and there were nibbles. Boris Johnson was not at the party either but he has not denied that it happened.

So remind yourself of the plot for Silent Night. Do you think it too fanciful? Too far-fetched? Too cynical? Just too ghastly? Now consider the scenario for a Johnson black comedy based round the No 10 hoolie. This would, I reckon, prompt even more astonishment, even more incredulity, even more “they wouldn’t, would they?”

This film – let’s call it Apocalypse Noel – would begin earlier in the day leading up to the party with a meeting of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), set up by Johnson’s administration, which at its December 18 meeting confirmed that the Alpha variant of Covid, discovered in Kent and which would spread to 50 countries, was up to 70 per cent more contagious than the original strain.

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Dominic Raab says Downing Street Christmas party would 'clearly' break the rules...

Johnson fired off a tweet. It’s tempting to wonder how preparations for the party were progressing by that stage. Presumably the food delivery had arrived in good time without the driver needing to stop for a pee in an empty elderflower presse bottle. Presumably there was sufficient mulled wine and mince pies – and oh, mayo, Hellmann’s naturally, the dressing ubiquitous among the Bullingdon Tories which so appalled Nick Clegg’s Spanish wife during the coalition years.

And lo, the PM’s urgent message read: “If you are forming a Christmas Bubble it’s vital that from today you minimise contact with people from outside your household. Everyone must take personal responsibility to avoid passing on the virus to loved ones...” Twenty-four hours later Johnson cancelled Christmas.

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The Boris blockbuster would then flash up a caption reading “One year later … ” Another Christmas approaching, another variant already here. As that classic song by the Associates has it, Party Fears Two. Would we be able to enjoy some festive frolics because it was hellish missing out on them last year – but hang on, what’s this screaming headline: “Booze, nibbles & party games until early hours”? Clearly some didn’t miss out.

The headlines got funnier – “Downing ’em Street” – and then they got sadder: “Mum died alone while No 10 had a knees-up.” Johnson – who couldn’t on this occasion have had a Post-It on his forehead while yabbering “Am I… Churchill? It must be Winston, come on!” – stressed that no rules were broken.

But the shindig by its very existence contravened them. The police were breaking up weddings to uphold what was law at that time and others who couldn’t stay cooped up over Christmas were fined. You wonder what they thought of partying politicos. And you wonder what the bereaved thought.

And where does 18 December, 2020, figure in the league table of the most notorious parties? Ancient Egypt’s “Feast of Drunkenness” was staged annually. Henry VIII and King Francis I of France had a “meeting” which lasted two and a half weeks and the constantly flowing wine fountains would have been partly responsible for its protractedness.

Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, is supposed to have invited “50 honest prostitutes” to a Vatican fete. US President Andrew Jackson celebrated his last days in the White House with a 1,400lb wheel of cheese. And in 1694, First Lord of the Admiralty Edward Russell’s punch bowl was so large that a boy in a boat was able to paddle across it to serve guests.

After all that excess, the No 10 party would have been small beer. The cheese would have been cut into chunks and served with pineapple. Presumably the guests were honest spads, nothing racier. But the party, because of its shocking timing, can’t simply be brushed under the carpet like dropped cocktail sticks. It’s already been inserted in Johnson’s political obituaries.

The timing of the PM’s announcement of any Covid curbs to this Christmas appeared almost as shocking – 18 December, the party’s anniversary – until presumably this was noticed by his staff, resulting in indications yesterday that the date will be brought forward.

Meanwhile, Dominic Raab is busy claiming a police probe is unlikely because they don’t “normally” investigate year-old offences. Honestly, nothing in Silent Night is as bizarre as the events in Apocalypse Noel. It’s one Yule for them and another Yule for everyone else.

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