As the Omicron threat slows down, and winter is surprisingly mild, politics here continue to rage over “Partygate”. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, did what he does best — he first denied that there ever was a party at Number 10 during lockdown (he thought these were all work events) and then he apologised for them.
But, meanwhile, his popularity has come crashing down. Senior civil servant Sue Gray, permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, has now been tasked to investigate whether indeed there were more than 17 parties at Downing Street while the rest of the country were being fined and punished for any parties at all.
This has made many of us wonder about what construes a party? Can it be that, once it is at the workplace, it is no longer a party? What looks like a “party” is a mere get-together with a glass of wine? And even if people are asked to “BYOB” — remember that ancient custom of “Bring Your Own Booze”? — possibly that is okay, too, if the boss feels that you can drink the moment office hours are over.
So Ms Gray’s task is made more onerous because unrelenting office hours makes the long suffering team at Number 10 work round the clock. Many feel that our Teflon coated PM will bounce back with a mere censure over “Partygate”. He will be urged to get a new office somewhere — as the separation of the home and office space will ensure that boundaries are not crossed.
His supporters point out that the main problem at the Prime Minister’s residence is that it is just above his office, and work and fun seem to exist cheek by jowl.
After all, far too many have faced this dilemma during the work-from-home period. Official Zoom meetings have merged into slurping beer and munching chicken tikka masala over office files, while holding a wailing child…
What can the poor Prime Minister do anyway — when so many people are working from his home — almost like one gigantic joint family! Those who dream of the PM’s resignation over partying too much are going to be disappointed! None of this is his fault. It never is.
Nonetheless it does not stop the bookies from betting on who will be the next Prime Minister! And what has been really remarkable for this multicultural country is that the list of those seven most-likely-to-be-PMs has only two all-white candidates! Reassuring to know that success no longer depends on the colour of your skin.
The two all-white most-likely-to-be-PM-candidates are Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary. More interesting is the diverse list of other frontrunners including Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Priti Patel, the home secretary. Both are of Indian origin. There is also Sajid Javid, former chancellor and now health secretary (he is of Pakistani descent), Kwasi Kwarteng, the first black British Conservative minister and Nadhim Zawahi, born in Iraq. He is also one of the richest MPs in Parliament. As the education secretary, he has been very pro-active recently about getting children back to school.
All the candidates have the gravitas and experience to make it — and it will be really exciting if one among the non-White candidates does manage to get into Number 10. However, dislodging the present incumbent will not be easy, and they may have to wait for a general election.
And now for news that will cheer all book lovers who were unbeaten by Covid. Of course, literary festivals have been somewhat subdued by the virus — but book sales have shown a huge jump! 212.6m print books were sold — and the cash registers rang in almost 2 billion pounds. Self-improvement books and murderous thrillers led the charge against Covid-induced home isolation, proving once more that crime writing does pay! After this marvellous result — the arrival of the new virus heralds that book sales will continue to shoot up! It is certainly a good time to write — and my new resolution is to spend the next few months writing a new book starring my detective Simran Singh… as she investigates murders most foul.
But one day soon there will be a book on Prince Andrew’s sudden downfall: last week he was stripped of all royal duties and military honours and pulled into a legal battle over whether he had indeed had a relationship (however short) with an underage girl. The court battle will be fought in the US, but it will cast its shadow on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The swiftness with which Prince Andrew’s “royal” status was snapped away shows how much the monarchy and its heirs fear the impact this scandal will have on it. But many feel that the damage has already been done. Another episode of The Crown is being played out in front of us, yet again , in real life.