The only lesson Boris Johnson has learned out of the Sue Gray Report is that his spineless party has let him get away with his bad behaviour which means that he can continue to get away with breaking the law.
First published: May 2022.
The long-awaited Sue Gray report has finally been published. As was widely predicted, the report detailed a catalogue of shockingly bad behaviour which the Prime Law-Breaker presided over in Downing Street. And as equally widely predicted, Johnson mugged his way through a performative apology and lied about taking full responsibility before going on to claim that he didn’t know what was going on in the offices that he was in charge of and insisting that his responsibility did not extend to tendering his resignation.
The Gray report did not cover some of the most egregious examples of law-breaking in Downing Street such as the party on 13 November 2020 which led to the police issuing a number of fines. The report just mentioned that this had already been dealt with by the police. So the Gray report will not tell us why Johnson did not receive a fine for attending a party which the police clearly thought was unlawful even though other less important party-goers were fined.
We learned about drunken parties that went on until 4 am, about staff getting so drunk while still at their place of work that they vomited, garden furniture getting broken by pissed up staff members, and staffers betting into an alcohol-fueled physical confrontation. We learned about the bullying derision and contempt heaped upon security and cleaning staff who tried to point out that what was going on was deeply inappropriate. It’s the Bullingdon club as government.
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The journalist and environmental campaigner George Monbiot tweeted that a source in the Met Police had told him that the reason junior staff were fined but Johnson and more senior Downing Street staff were not was because the senior people attending the event had declined to cooperate with the police enquiry and had not filled in the questionnaires sent to them by the police. It is not, as Johnson and his apologists would have us believe, that the police found he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. It’s just that he refused to help the police with their investigations.
However sorry Johnson claimed that he was when he appeared at Prime LawBreakers Questions in the Commons on Wednesday, you can be quite certain that he was not remotely sorry when he thought that the public didn’t know that puke ups, punch ups and piss ups were what passed for government in Downing Street. A work culture starts at the top. Staff take their cue from the boss. Johnson says that he was not aware of what was going on, but even if that obvious and blatant arse-covering lie were true, it merely points to gross negligence and incompetence in office which alone constitutes grounds for Johnson to be removed from office.
Ten years ago this week, Theresa May first publicly coined the term “hostile environment” – a set of hideous and xenophobic policies designed to make life impossible for anyone who can’t prove their formal immigration permission, in hopes that callous cruelty would make them disappear. Now the self-same Theresa May is what passes for a moral compass in the Conservative party, not even the realisation that no one now considers her the worst Conservative PM in living memory was enough to cheer her up. She sat stony-faced through Johnson’s so-called apology and left the chamber clutching a copy of the Gray report, this is how low the British establishment has sunk, Theresa Hostile Environment May is considered a beacon of rectitude and decency. The worst of all is that there is still no bottom in sight. There is no hostile environment for Tory misbehaviour and entitlement, only collusion and enabling. Those Conservative MPs who sat in silence in the Commons resolving to do nothing are every bit as culpable as Johnson. He is a creature without honesty, integrity or respect for the law, and those are his best qualities. Johnson the corrupt lying lawbreaker will continue to transform the institutions of the British state in his twisted and venal image for as long as the Conservatives allow him to cling to power.
The other widely predicted thing about the Sue Gray report is that in the grand tradition of British government reports and inquiries into British government wrongdoing is that it will make not a whit of difference. At best some minor functionaries will be thrown under the bus, there will be claims that procedures have been changed, and regulations tightened up, move along now nothing to see here, and Johnson and the rest of those in charge will sail on regardless, free from any meaningful consequences. The system which allowed such an individual into the highest office will remain unchanged, despite the fact that it gave us an individual who is manifestly unfit for office.
It’s not just Johnson whose position is untenable even as he clings to office, so is that of the Scottish Conservative apologist in chief Douglas Ross and every Scottish Conservative MP and MSP who refuses to demand Johnson’s immediate resignation. They are all complicit in the debasement of public office. Every Tory MP that fails to send a ‘no confidence’ letter to the 1922 Committee is in support of the notion that a known liar and criminal is an acceptable leader. They are equally dishonourable as Johnson.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted: “The Prime Minister has apologised and lessons have been learned. I hope we can now move forward…” The only lesson that has been learned is that Johnson never has to face any consequences.
As the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said at PMQs on Wednesday: “When the Tory Members retire to the 1922 committee this evening, I hope they will bear in mind the now infamous Government advert featuring a desperately ill covid patient. It says – Look into her eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”
Some Conservatives laughingly tell us that we must move on from this issue because Johnson has learned his lesson. I am furious and am never moving on. The only lesson that Johnson has learned is that his spineless party has let him get away with his bad behaviour which will only teach him that he can continue to get away with it.
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Some, such as the Brextremist Brendan Clarke-Smith, the Conservative MP for Bassetlaw, insult everyone’s intelligence by popping up on the TV to insist that dethroning Johnson only plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands, shamelessly hiding Johnson’s appalling behaviour behind the smouldering rubble of a Ukrainian apartment block. Brendan, who used to be an RE teacher, told Channel 4 News that he was perfectly content to have a law-breaker as PM. It was a craven and spineless defence of an egregious liar.
On Thursday the government grandly announced what it described as help for households to tackle the cost of living crisis, to be funded by a windfall tax on the bloated profits of energy companies. They could have done this weeks ago, but they cynically waited until the Sue Gray report was published so that they’d have something to point at and say, “Look over there!” This isn’t help for households to tackle the cost of living crisis, it’s help for Johnson to tackle the partygate crisis.
The graywash confirms that the institutions of the British state are incapable of holding the powerful to account and unable to guarantee even the most basic standards of acceptable behaviour in public office. The best thing you can say about the United Kingdom is that it will be over soon.
- Senior leadership must bear responsibility – Sue Gray | PMP Magazine
- Sue Gray report – Why hasn’t Boris Johnson resigned? | PMP Magazine
- ‘Wine time Friday’ and invites for 200 – Five of the most interesting findings from Sue Gray’s partygate report | PMP Magazine
- Sexism, vandalism and bullying: inside the Boris Johnson-era Bullingdon Club | The Guardian
— AUTHOR —
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger. Biting the hand of Project Fear.
- Text: This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 29 May 2022, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - PM oris Johnson. | 25 May 2022. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)