“They answered when
Both Fate and History beckoned.
Robert Clive came first
And poor Siraj came second…”
— From Chancing Maansingh by Bachchoo
Someone whose calculative skills are superior to mine declared that there are fifty shades of grey. This week the British nation was tempted to evaluate this assertion when a report into the misbehaviour of the inhabitants of Downing Street, compiled by civil servant Sue Gray, was published. Would the report expose that a number of misdemeanours, popularly known as “Partygate”, had taken place?
My reading of the reports on the report suggests that there wasn’t much nuance involved in the illegal behaviour in question — the description of the prevalent culture in government circles, notably within 10 Downing Street, was disgustingly uniform.
Perhaps the Sue Gray report should be labelled “fifty shades of shame”.
The only reason I make bold to cast the first stone is that I am comfortably certain that I stuck by the rules of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. I didn’t mix with anyone outside my recommended “bubble”; I wore a mask when required; I kept my social distance even when walking on the pavements for daily exercise… oh virtue, thy name is (almost) FD!
I readily admit that there was only one occasion on which the regulations against gatherings of people caused me emotional distress. That was when my dear friend Mahmood Jamal died of conditions triggered by Covid-19 and the regulations prevented me from attending his funeral. For millions of people across the country, this form of distress was multiplied by an unaccountable factor as they were prevented from seeing their loved ones in hospitals, on their death beds in care homes and in other circumstances of extreme emotional deprivation.
And while that was imposed on the general public, the denizens of 10 Downing Street carried on as though they were part of a nation apart — one in which the rules they had imposed on the rest of Britain didn’t apply. Simultaneously, with the publication of the Sue Gray report, the BBC ran an investigative documentary led by the brave journalist Laura Kuenssberg into the behaviour during the lockdown behind the world famous doorway of 10 Downing Street. More shades of shame.
Witnesses to the regular revelries spoke anonymously to Kuenssberg and to us. The cameras kept them in the dark and their testimony was read by actors so their voices couldn’t lead to identifying them. They were, naturally, cautious about being whistle-blowers. Their revelations were — what’s the word I’m looking for — Ah! Shameful!
There were regular Friday evening parties in Downing Street. BoJo knew about them and attended or passed through very many of them. There was always booze, cheese, snacks, pizzas and no social distancing. One whistle-blower told Kuenssberg that BoJo raised a glass, toasting an adviser at his leaving party while perhaps 25 people crowded into a room without masks, shoulder to shoulder, and some even sitting on others’ laps. Another witness said these parties went on into the early hours of the morning, when some of the guests availed themselves of the sofas in Downing Street to spend the night.
The Bacchanalia was sometimes so riotous that the revellers were told to vacate the offices and continue in the back garden, where it is reported there were on occasion fights and where people were sick with drink.
At one of these parties, a security guard expressed his disapproval and was not only ignored, but mocked and told to mind his own business. Crowning it all, the witnesses testified that the revellers, steeped in the vanity of privilege, were routinely offensive to the security and cleaning staff.
Apart from casting a spotlight on bad and illegal behaviour for which the police has issued 126 fines, the Gray report, the Kuenssberg programme and some revelations in the newspapers, with damning photographs of BoJo attending these occasions, make two things clear. The Prime Minister broke his own rules on several occasions and he knowingly lied to Parliament. Both these offences should lead to his resignation or eviction from office.
They won’t, though BoJo is shameless and is determined to brazen this out. A procedural challenge to his leadership of the Tory party would require 54 MPs to write letters asking for him to resign. So far, the tally of MPs openly against BoJo is only 17.
According to one Cabinet member, even though the British economy is in shambles, the cost of living for the common person has reached a 40-year high, there is an acute energy crisis, inflation is running at nine per cent, the National Health Service is in shambles, the Brexit protocol threatens the unity of the UK… (I could go on and on) … there is no alternative to BoJo and his cohorts blundering on. In his words, there is no “Prince in Waiting across the Water”.
What he means is that Tory MPs who once thought that Hedgie Sunak could fill the vacancy left by BoJo’s resignation, don’t any longer.
The scepticism about Hedgie’s suitability arose when it was revealed that his billionaire wife was a “non-dom” and therefore didn’t pay taxes in the UK. Now it emerges that Mr and Mrs Hedgie are in the Sunday Times “Rich List”. All 250 billionaires on the list stand to increase their wealth by eight per cent by simply having it. The country’s earners — not on the list — face inflation of nine per cent. As we say in Brooklyn — “go figure!”