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Another Gray day

27 May 2022
| by Field Team

Field's Hannah McLaughlin asks whether party gate will continue to torment the Prime Minister.

For the Prime Minister, the never-ending saga of party gate must be starting to remind him of his young children’s bedtime routines. You’ve read them a story, they’re on the verge of dropping off, then as you creep off into your own room, you hear a knock at the door with your errant toddler having leapt back out of bed, full of the joys of spring and jumping on the bed to wake you up from your fleeting moment of child-free serenity. 

Because just when you think there cannot possibly be any more news squeezed out of party gate, a new piece of the puzzle emerges invoking equal amounts outrage from some and exasperated sighs from others. Enter Sue Gray’s full-fat final report into the fiasco, which has finally been published. 

It looks increasingly like the PM will be able to ride out the allegations facing him even though it seems clear is that he has been dishonest to Parliament and has broken the law. Six months ago, we would have considered both offences to be nailed-on resignation offences. But after the cycle of extraordinary events over the last two years – nothing seems certain.

In the main, this is because although the Sue Gray report wasn’t as bad as some in No.10 were expecting – it does not in fact put an end to things. There is now an investigation by Parliament’s Committee of Privileges to contend with. Yes, that’s right, another party gate milestone is coming. The MPs on the committee will have to vote on a report into whether the Prime Minister did or did not mislead parliament with claims he was unaware of the scale of No.10’s lockdown parties, and on whether, if he did so, it was deliberate or not. And here lies the new danger, because though Tory MPs may not be prepared to oust the beleaguered PM, they will at the very least also be cognisant of the fact they do not want to be seen to support what went on. 

The best Johnson can hope for from the Privileges Committee is admonishment for not having amended the record earlier when it became clear that there had been rule breaches at No.10. In the worst-case scenario that the conclusions are any more damning than that, Johnson will surely find himself in an untenable position. Though of course, we have said that before…

Combined with ongoing inflationary and cost of living pressures, the Prime Minister still has an uncertain few months ahead. At the moment, Johnson in many ways maintains his position because there’s no clear leader from his own benches around which Johnson’s detractors can corral – but this could change. Though the threat of Chancellor Rishi Sunak has dissipated following the scandal of his tax affairs back in April, and indeed his own fixed penalty notice, others will surely be quietly working the tea rooms to decipher their own positions. 

Ultimately, the Gray report may not have been bad enough to land the knockout blow. But with few friends on the Privileges Committee, the Prime Minister’s demise could yet be a long and painful one. To sure up his own survival, the Prime Minister must now act on the raft of policy pledges from the recent Queen’s speech to show that though he may not be an honest lawmaker, he may at least be an effective one that can push through tangible agenda that make him electorally viable in the months ahead. Besides, he has a legacy to create and the next election is only a couple of years away now. Doesn’t the last one feel like yesterday? Time flies when you have a PM who brings as much drama as Boris Johnson.

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