There's nothing outrageous about Johnson's Christmas quiz

13 December 2021

12:07 AM

13 December 2021

12:07 AM

Since lockdown, the Mirror has had a good line on Tory lockdown hypocrisy scandals: Barnard Castle and the No. 10 parties. But today’s Sunday Mirror splash does not really deserve to go down in the annals of historic journalistic scoops — despite all the excited chatter this morning.

Like all ‘clear breach of lockdown rules’, this turns out to be a mundane event — another feeble attempt to have fun in the middle of a depressing pandemic. It’s the Prime Minister doing a quiz on Zoom.

We see a typically dreary video-call snapshot. It shows a bored Prime Minister, flanked by two aides, all looking quite miserable. The only alcohol on display is in the sanitising hand-gel dispenser in the foreground.

Ah — but, according to the report, in other parts of No. 10, people on the call were ‘huddled by computers’ in groups of six and drinking alcohol from the local Tesco. At the time, London was under Tier 2 restrictions which banned any social mixing between households. Christmas parties were forbidden, too. A clear breach!

This media gotcha game over social gatherings is now so tiresome and familiar, and underneath the faux seriousness of all the coverage you can almost hear the hacks tittering to themselves.

The public can enjoy it, too, since it’s more gossip than news. Lockdown regulations turned us all into children. We grumbled at the unfairness of it. Many of us occasionally fell short of the strictest standards ourselves, so the knowledge that our leaders broke the rules is particularly satisfying.

Of course, unlike the Prime Minister, we didn’t make the rules. Nor did we send the police after those who broke the rules. That’s why it is hypocrisy. That’s why we can all delight in any and every No. 10 breach of them. The parties-gate scandal also points towards an obvious truth — that this government is shambolic, staffed as it is by hugely unqualified people who didn’t think through the consequences of the restrictions. It is teeming with leakers and petty squabbles. It is failing to lead the country through a series of epoch-defining crises.

There may well be more salacious party stories to come — and that should hurt this premiership. After all, the state was threatening and arresting people for doing the same elsewhere. Perhaps we could try a simple test: did any minister preside over an event that anyone else, anywhere, was prosecuted for? If so that is a genuine scandal.

But all this bizarre obsessing over tinsel, party hats and alcohol from Tesco — over who was and wasn’t having fun — is getting too absurd. If the sight of Boris Johnson doing a Christmas quiz on Zoom really sends you into spasms of apoplexy, maybe you should dial down your inner livid-o-meter a little. There are real outrages out there. This just isn’t one.

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