shock horror

Two Drab Photos Are Endangering Boris Johnson’s Career

What, him worry? Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

It’s been more than two weeks since British tabloid the Daily Mirror first reported that Boris Johnson and his staff were holding parties and get-togethers at 10 Downing Street during the 2020 holidays, while the rest of the country was under strict lockdown that Johnson himself had imposed. But hard evidence of the existence of such gatherings had been difficult to come by, with the prime minister and his staff denying and dissembling at every turn.

That changed in the last few days. First, ITV uncovered a damning clip in which a former spokesperson for Johnson laughed about a Christmas party on December 18, 2020, which 10 Downing Street had denied taking place.

Then, this week, the Daily Mirror came out with some photographic evidence of Johnson’s shenanigans. The paper published a leaked, low-quality photo of the prime minister personally administering a pub quiz on Zoom, on December 15, 2020. (Under the watchful gaze of Margaret Thatcher, natch.)

The picture may look innocuous at first glance, but government guidance at the time specified that “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.” The Santa hat and supplemental reporting from the paper indicates that while staff had been encouraged to play the quiz from home, some had stuck around the office, where they “knocked back fizz, wine, and beer” — and were then encouraged by a senior official to “Go out the back” of the building, an acknowledgment that all the fizz-guzzling was illicit.

At least the pub quiz included some vaguely witty names. “The 6 Masketeers”? Not terrible!

On Tuesday, the Daily Mirror struck again. This time, it published a photo that unambiguously showed a true holiday bash taking place, at Tory headquarters on December 14 of last year. The event had been thrown for the mayoral campaign of Shaun Bailey, who days after the party had tweeted about how tough life was under COVID restrictions — a message that, as they say, has not aged well. And though BoJo does not seem to have been personally involved in the December 14 shindig, a senior member of his leadership election campaign was.

After that photo circulated, Bailey promptly stepped down from his position in the London assembly.

And the party revelations keep coming. On Thursday, the Guardian reported that according to unnamed sources, Johnson had briefly joined staff at a pizza party (the best kind) in May 2020, during the U.K.’s first round of COVID lockdowns. Johnson had been hospitalized with the virus the previous month.

BBC News has helpfully compiled a list of all the rule-breaking gatherings that either Johnson or his associates are alleged to have attended. It’s not very short.

The ethically laissez-faire Johnson was already dealing with multiple scandals before “Partygate,” as the unimaginative press has dubbed this latest scandal. (Will the Western world ever move past the “-gate” suffix? A question for another time.)

There were the allegations that he used money from a party donor to help pay for improvements to the apartment of Carrie Symonds, his then-fiancée. (Symonds and Johnson married in May, and they welcomed a daughter last week.) There was his protracted defense of Owen Paterson, a Tory lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, which ended with Paterson resigning and Johnson having to backtrack completely.

The Omicron COVID wave rolling over the U.K. isn’t making the PM’s life any easier. New COVID restrictions championed by Johnson passed Parliament on Tuesday — but only because Labour lawmakers helped him out enough to withstand a mass defection from his own party.

Amid all this drama, Johnson’s approval ratings have been slipping badly. Recent surveys show that more voters have at least temporarily switched their allegiances to Labour, after a long period of Tory opinion-poll dominance. An election for Paterson’s open seat on Thursday marks a key test for Johnson; if Liberal Democrats capture it, which is a good possibility, he will be weakened further. There is even talk of a possible no-confidence vote — the leadership-challenge maneuver that helped usher Thatcher into power — though one is unlikely to happen soon.

Throughout his career as a politician, Johnson has had an uncanny knack for wriggling out of situations, often of his own making, that would sink other politicians. This might be his biggest test yet.

Two Drab Photos Are Endangering Boris Johnson’s Career