What we now know is that such breaches were not simply a one-off event, but occurred on multiple occasions, including at least one where Johnson’s presence gave alcohol-fuelled parties his official blessing.
And that makes the video of Stratton’s mock press conference all the more concerning. Because when Downing Street aides, pretending to be journalists, asked Stratton about reports of a party they all knew had taken place, it appears they were trying to test whether she, as the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson, could respond in a way that denied or dismissed the event without actually lying.
Stratton couldn’t find a suitable form of words, she was not able to deceive convincingly, and the plan for US-style daily briefings was later dropped. Perhaps she laughed out of embarrassment, more than anything else. Had she been glib and slick enough, Johnson’s much-condemned attitude towards the truth could have become embedded in the UK government.
And that is not funny at all. However, anyone watching Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday might have been forgiven for thinking that the ‘Partygate’ scandal really was all a bit of fun as Keir Starmer joked about Tory MPs “bringing their own booze” to the Chamber to the delight of his backbenchers.
Ridicule may be an effective weapon – and Johnson’s position is increasingly ridiculous – but it risks creating even greater public cynicism about politicians and fostering the idea that they regard democracy as a game.
Johnson’s toleration of and participation in lockdown breaches – at a time when the general public were unable to say goodbye to loved ones as they died or attend funerals – was utterly atrocious behaviour. His attempts to dissemble and deny each allegation as they have emerged shows a contempt for public scrutiny.
When the Prime Minister says “I thought that I was attending a work event”, it is as unbelievable as Stratton’s half-hearted line that “this fictional party was a business meeting”.
Unsurprising then that even former Cabinet colleagues are telling Johnson, “In the name of God, go!”