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Tories Party While People Die: Just What the Hell Has Been Going On in England This Week?

By Petr Navovy | Politics | December 9, 2021 |

By Petr Navovy | Politics | December 9, 2021 |


Around this time last year, as Christmas approached while the UK was in the grip of a deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, London—alongside many other parts of the country—was placed into what was then referred to as Tier 3. In this level of pandemic restrictions, all indoor gatherings of two or more people were forbidden. Massive fines of up to £10,000 were being leveled at people who broke the rules. With hospitals on the brink of collapse, approximately 500 people a day were dying from the pandemic. Many thousands died alone, their loved ones barred by the lockdown rules from being by their side in their final moments.

Thanks to new evidence revealed by broadcaster ITV, we now know that at the same time as the country was reeling with the effects of a terribly managed Tory pandemic, a party apparently took place at No 10 Downing Street. Secret Santa featured. As did servings of wine and cheese. According to a BBC source, ‘No 10 staff drank, ate food, and played party games until gone midnight’. Having been poised to announce a relaxation of the gathering rules for Christmas, a few days after that No 10 party Boris Johnson announced the cancellation of that relaxation.

Rumours and murmurs about an alleged party at Downing Street have been swirling for a little while now. In response, Tory ministers have been making the media rounds with soundbites ready to deflect attention and to assure the public that no parties took place. It was into this environment that ITV released a leaked clip from a dry run press conference presided over by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s then-press secretary, Allegra Stratton. In the clip, Stratton is seen with other Downing Street staffers rehearsing the answers to a series of hypothetical questions aimed at addressing rumours of a party at No 10. To the fury now of much of the country, Stratton and the other staff members exhibit an attitude of wanton frivolity and callous privilege:

Some background on Allegra Stratton: Her husband is the political editor of the rightwing paper The Spectator. Current Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak was the best man at the couple’s wedding in 2011. Stratton counts Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie as a close personal friend.

Following the ITV clip’s publication, Stratton has since resigned from her latest role as spokesperson for COP26 President Alok Sharma and given a teary televised address expressing her incredibly sincere contrition. The police have said that they will not be investigating the party. Boris Johnson has apologised in the House of Commons. No other punishments or resignations have occurred, while reports of further rule-breaking events at Downing Street have bubbled up:

Social media has been in a state of agitated flux in reaction to the events of the last few turbulent days:

True to form, Media Lens released a searing indictment of the mainstream corporate media and their complicity in keeping the public ignorant of the biggest issues of the day, touching on the type of news the capitalist media regularly refuses to cover properly, including terrifying udpates to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as well as the passing of the racist Nationality and Borders Bill, and other aspects of Britain’s imperialist foreign policy and its spiralling journey into fascism:

Media Lens conclude in that fantastic piece by highlighting the discrepancy between the avalanche of media coverage the Tories’ COVID rule-breaking is currently getting and the minimal attention paid to other matters:

While corporate news media are content to expose the galling, but comparatively minor crime of holding a Christmas party at 10 Downing Street during lockdown, they remain essentially silent about much bigger state crimes.

This is of course entirely true, yet the story causing so much furore right now is still interesting because it does cut to the heart of how power and the media operate in the UK—and especially England. There is one rule for Them, and one rule for Us. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve written about the rotten, nepotistic nature of the British establishment, and how a tiny proportion of the population that make up the government-media-private sector revolving door is bringing this country to ruin. Yes, there may be much bigger, more dangerous, structural issues to pay attention to at the same time, but this story—about a government brazenly breaking the law it expects others to follow while thousands die and millions more suffer thanks to policies it has enacted, and featuring a number of cosily linked media figures starkly highlighting the kleptocratic nature of the country’s ruling elite—remains a powerful snapshot of where we stand as a nation.