BoJo “Big Dog” Johnson, Distemper in the Time of Pandemic

Photograph Source: British Embassy Belgrade – CC BY 2.0

On 8 December 2021 Boris “BoJo” Johnson declared himself to be “furious” over a leaked video clip showing his then press secretary Allegra Stratton and other Downing Street staff joking in a mock press briefing about how to describe a Downing Street Christmas party in 2020 that clearly violated Covid lockdown restrictions.

BoJo, during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) that day, also apologized for the leaked video, and said he was launching an investigation into whether lockdown rules had been broken by the Christmas party in question.

Subsequent revelations about several other lockdown-breaching parties, at Downing Street and a number of government ministries, show BoJo’s declaration and apology to be entirely hypocritical.

Apparently now calling himself “Big Dog”, the prime minister masquerading as a large canine, has been having to deal with the fall-out of an estimated 7 parties which allegedly took place at his official residence in Downing Street between May 2020 and April 2021, and 5 other parties held in government offices outside Downing Street.

The senior civil servant Sue Gray is due to release her inquiry findings into these supposed “gatherings” in the next few weeks. Gray’s inquiry will also pivot on excuses made on BoJo’s behalf by his surrogates and colleagues. These include (according to the Huffington Post):

+ “They were farewell speeches”–

Two leaving parties took place at 10 Downing Street the night before the funeral of the queen’s husband on 16 April, 2021. After farewell speeches, the parties later merged, as a suitcase filled with bottles of wine was introduced and around 30 people danced till the early hours. BoJo was at the prime minister’s official country residence, and did not attend the parties.

+ “Refusal to acknowledge it was a party”–

Following allegations that staff partied hours before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral when the country was in national mourning, Downing Street issued an apology to the queen. At the same time it refused to confirm or deny what was happening at no. 10 that evening. Johnson’s deputy spokesman only said: “It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and no. 10 has apologized to the Palace”.  When asked why it was an apology from Downing Street and not Johnson, the spokesperson replied: “Again, the prime minister said earlier that misjudgments have been made, and it’s right people apologize as the PM did earlier this week”.

+ Foreign Secretary Liz Truss claimed “he’s apologized” so everyone should “move on”–

Foreign secretary Liz Truss told ITV News that people should view Brexit and the Covid recovery as BoJo’s true legacy. Addressing the party scandals in general, she said: “The prime minister apologized on Wednesday. He was very clear that mistakes have been made…I think we now need to move on…”

+ The rules were “too hard” to follow—

 Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, claimed: “We must consider as this goes to an inquiry and we look into what happened with Covid, whether all those regulations were proportionate or whether it was too hard on people”.

+ BoJo didn’t “see” or “receive” the email– 

BoJo’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent out the email invitation to the May 20, 2020 drinks party, which made it plain it was a social event to be held in No. 10’s back garden. Allegedly, BoJo did not see the email. Later, Downing Street claimed BoJo did not receive the email either, and did not instruct Reynolds to send the invitation, which states explicitly: “It would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No.10 garden this evening”.

+ BoJo “didn’t know it was a party”—

BoJo made a public apology at the start of PMQs on 12 January. He said: “When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a working event”.

+ Garden is an “extension of the office”–

BoJo also claimed: “No.10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus”.

+ Technically “within the rules”—

BoJo also evaded having to admit that this “gathering” between 30 and 40 Downing Street staff, involving booze, was outside of the rules. He said: “I should have recognized that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies”.

+ Time to wait for Sue Gray’s conclusions? —

To much scorn from mainstream and social media BoJo and his ministers have punted on questions by deferring to Sue Gray’s investigation. In parliament BoJo said: “All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established”. This phrase has been ventriloquized by his allies. Given that one of these questions asks whether BoJo attended a party at his own residence during the lockdown period, this confirms the impression of BoJo and his pals wanting a desperate last throw of the dice to save their half-rotting but somehow still twitching carcasses.

Excuses for the 18 December 2020 Christmas party

It was mentioned at the at the start of this article that BoJo apologized for a video clip showing his aides laughing about socializing during the lockdown.

What followed was a parade of “the dog ate my homework” excuses:

+ There was no party—

BoJo then claimed he had been “repeatedly assured” that there was “no party”.

+ No rules were broken—

In the same speech, BoJo, always prone to detaching himself from reality when speaking, also threw down the gauntlet to Sue Gray by claiming that “no Covid rules were broken” in No.10 throughout the pandemic.

BoJo also promised “there will be disciplinary action for all those involved” once an inquiry into the alleged Christmas party had taken place.

Presumably the scope of this “disciplinary action” will include the Big Dog himself.

Excuses for other 2020 parties

+ The deputy prime minister Dominic Raab believes suits mean it wasn’t a party– 

Commenting on a photo showing Downing Street staff “having a drink after the formal business has been done” in No.10 on 15 May, 2020, Raab said: “staff would have been under gruelling conditions”, and that it was clearly a business meeting because everyone present was in a suit.

NHS hospital staff working on Covid wards took to social media to remind Raab what working in “gruelling conditions” (for almost 3 unceasing years) involved.

So what will Big Dog and his lackeys do next?

According to The Independent, BoJo is trying to save his premiership by devising a plan dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog” (the title chosen by the big canine himself, though BoJo’s officials have started using the code name themselves), to be implemented when Sue Gray’s findings are published.

In addition to highlighting the Big Dog’s supposed achievements, a list of officials to be dismissed is being worked out as part of the plan.

Dan Rosenfield, BoJo’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, author of the “BYOB” email, are thought to head this list of those facing the chop. To convey the impression that this “clearing of house” is comprehensive, other lesser beings will join those at the top.

“Big Dog” summons memories of another equally priapic and ill-disciplined western politician who faced problems of an analogous kind, namely, the “Big Dog” Bill Clinton.

The British Big Dog is however more Trump than Clinton— his privileged upbringing notwithstanding, the mediocre BoJo is more Trump than the intellectually more capable Clinton.

The odds remain stacked against BoJo.

At the moment he is even less popular in the opinion polls than his predecessor as prime minister, the maladroit Theresa May. He prevailed over May thanks to his Brexit-fuelled popularity, but that moment no longer exists.

BoJo used the Brexit-moment to morph the Tories into a “Farage-lite” nationalist-populist party, by forming an ad hoc coalition exploiting unusual and situational demographic and other factors that have since fallen away.

That (conditional) popularity papered-over BoJo’s long record as a liar and sociopathic scoundrel, but the opportunistic alibi afforded by this Brexit-moment has now flown away.

Brits of all political stripes, those on the right finally, are starting to see the monster for what it has always been.

Meanwhile, the public can expect political moves with a rightward tilt as Big Dog tries to save his premiership. The first of these came this weekend, when it was announced that the BBC licence fee will be abolished in 2027 – and the broadcaster’s funding will be frozen for the next 2 years.

The measure will force the BBC to close services and potentially make thousands of employees redundant, but is likely to be welcomed by Tory party members and supporters, as well as the rightwing media (Rupert Murdoch).

All Covid restrictions are also expected to be lifted on 26 January.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.