My postbag this week has been dominated by one issue – parties. Overwhelmingly those emailing me feel that the Prime Minister should resign and many cite their personal experiences, the loss of loved ones and separation from family.
I expect many people will have broken the rules deliberately, because common sense dictated it or, more often, inadvertently. If someone fell in the street it is natural and right to help them up no matter what the rules say. If you are dropping shopping off on an elderly relative you might carry a heavy bag into the house. A grandchild might run and hug a grandparent at an otherwise distanced meeting.
My office received many calls from people asking about the rules and trying to test what fitted within them. The response was always the same: “If you feel that you are having to bend the rules or make up reasons why something fits within them then you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you are planning.”.
It seems that in various government departments some sought to pretend that a work meeting was happening so that they could tell themselves that what they were doing was within the rules. They must have known that they were deluding themselves.
In your columns I have previously explained that I could not support the Prime Minister over Dominic Cummings and Owen Patterson.
There is no blank cheque from me to Boris Johnson or anyone else.
I followed coronavirus restrictions. I take the maxim ‘lawmakers can’t be law breakers’ seriously. Like most I could not see my family, I could not meet with colleagues and I most certainly could not socialise with friends. My office team were all working from home and there was no mixing between us let alone after work with alcohol pretending that the car park outside my office was an extension of it.
For me there are two issues about parties– the allegations made before Christmas is the first and the second is the most recent claims about a party attended by the Prime Minister on 20 May 2020 – the infamous ‘bring your own booze’ event.
I can see why there needs to be an investigation into allegations about gatherings and parties that occurred in the senior reaches of government and I think it is reasonable to await the outcome of that. But given the urgency required, I want to see swifter progress.
On the 20 May gathering, the statement from the Prime Minister is clear. He attended the event with 30 or so members of staff. He believes that since 10 Downing Street is a workplace that this was a work meeting and he attended for 25 minutes to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.
His apology was necessary and welcome, but I do not think this closes the matter. There are many more questions, some as a consequence of his statement. In any case I think most people would question how anyone could think this gathering had been within the rules.
As a result, many have asked me to submit a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister to the Chair of the government’s backbench committee (the 1922, as it is called). When 54 such letters are submitted a formal vote of Conservative MPs is triggered.
My discussions with the Chair of the 1922 Committee are and will remain confidential in the same way that my correspondence with constituents is confidential. That is because if an MP says they have submitted a letter, something may happen and they might withdraw it. If they haven’t submitted a letter yet they may tomorrow. Giving a day-by-day running commentary of whether one has or has not submitted a letter, withdrawn a letter or re-submitted it is pointless.
However I can assure constituents I treat the allegations, appearance and admissions of wrongdoing seriously and I am in no way sympathetic to fancy words or formulae that allow anyone to pretend they were at a work event when they clearly were not.