Why Boris Johnson and his Cabinet ministers have treated us all for schmucks over a Covid Christmas - Dani Garavelli

It is traditional for office Christmas party quizzes to include a section on the most outrageous antics/faux pas of the year.

Who stapled their tie to the desk? Who was caught in flagrante in the stationery cupboard? Who CC-ed everyone into an email calling the managing director a prick?

There would have been no shortage of cringeworthy material for those organising last year’s Downing Street staff bash to draw on.

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to a children's choir sing during the ceremony to switch on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights in London. Picture: AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Which political leader boasted about shaking hands with hospital patients as the pandemic raged (then went on to catch Covid-19 himself)?

Which Cabinet minister awarded a £560,000 contract to a company run by associates of Dominic Cummings?

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Which political adviser tried to pass off his journey to Castle Barnard as the world’s weirdest eye test? How they must have guffawed as they swilled their wine and swapped their secret Santa presents.

How much harder would they have clutched their sides if they had been able to foresee the LOLs still to come? If only they'd known 2021 would see the ante upped, so this year’s festive quiz - were one to be held - could feature such questions as; which Cabinet minister was caught groping his aide? Which political leader reduced a CBI speech to a rant on Peppa Pig World?

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Of course, generally, the point of such quizzes is for the party-goers to mock one another and their superiors.

Whereas, at this bash – held on December 18 while indoor mixing was forbidden – those nibbling their clandestine canapes were laughing at us, the schmucks who spent last Christmas adhering to the rules Boris Johnson and crew drew up, but felt at liberty to defy.

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Those at the heart of power in the UK have been laughing at us since the very first person was diagnosed with Covid-19. They are still laughing at us 21 months and 169,000 deaths later.

So how did most of us spend the last festive season? We did what we’d been told was right, what we ‘believed’ was right.

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At Johnson’s behest, we kept our glad rags in our closets. We waved through the windows of care homes. We exchanged gifts in freezing back gardens.

To keep us safe – to keep ‘them’ safe – we left elderly loved ones to spend Christmas Day 2020 alone. Some of those loved ones are no longer around to enjoy Christmas Day 2021.

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Yet here we are again. December 25 is fast approaching. The new Covid variant – Omicron – is on the rise.

The UK Government is between a rock (scientists warning it needs to move quickly to prevent the spread) and a hard place (its leaders’ fixation with having a good time). And so the Tory party is being tussled over by its good and bad angels.

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When business minister George Freeman sounded a note of caution about big office dos, Johnson urged us to party on.

When Thérèse Coffey warned us not to kiss strangers under the mistletoe, health secretary Sajid Javid gave us licence to snog whoever we wished (albeit cautiously).

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Javid is yet to define “cautious kissing”. But it’s probably when you remember to turn the CCTV off. If only his predecessor Matt Hancock had taken this advice.

Johnson may have finally understood he cannot exhort the country to do one thing while he does another. But it’s too late. His credibility is shot.

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Pre-2019, he and his Brexiteer brothers saw themselves as outlaws, a self-image they could not relinquish even in government. And so they have spent the pandemic undermining their own messaging, destroying their own authority.

Nowhere has that self-sabotage been clearer than in the Prime Minister’s attitude towards face coverings. Johnson is a libertarian opposed to state intervention; a natural anti-masker.

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But if l’etat, c’est toi, what do you do then? In Johnson’s case, you promote the continued use of masks while refusing to make them mandatory in restaurants and public transport.

You pay them lip service while pressing your own loose lips into service unfettered by such encumbrances. You appear mask-free in the Commons and even in hospitals, where they are still de rigueur. Because, though masks are a small price to pay for reduced transmission, they are not for the likes of you. They’re for the schmucks.

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And who wants to be a schmuck? So other people follow suit.

Masks disappear from gigs and trains, and enforcing their use becomes difficult, even in Scotland where the rules were not relaxed and vaccine passports are required – though not always checked – at larger gatherings.

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Later, you act surprised when your attempt to row back and re-mandate mask-wearing is met with resistance. But why should anyone take you seriously now?

The Prime Minister’s gung-ho attitude has created a two-tier system. The most cavalier have been doing what Johnson does, not what he says, increasing the risks for everyone.

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That is likely to continue despite the tightening of the rules in England.

More people will catch Covid in crowded spaces. The most recent outbreak of the new variant in Scotland has been linked with a Steps concert at the Hydro.

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Others, who are cautious by nature, or are more worried about passing it on to their loved ones, will look at the increased risks and simply opt out.

And so this Christmas, like the last, will be deeply divided. Some will party like there’s no tomorrow; others will lie low in an attempt to ensure there is.

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We know which path Johnson and his careless acolytes will follow. They will carry on their mask-free swallying, while expecting us schmucks to make sacrifices on their – and our own – behalf.

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