Kick out the Prime Minister for being near a cake? that’s crazy

If Boris Johnson has really lied to Parliament, he will have to go. Ministers can get away with many misdeeds – drunkenness, fornication, witchcraft, folk dancing – but they cannot intentionally mislead the House of Commons. It is one of those unwritten but unbreakable rules on which our system rests.

But so far there is no evidence, none, that the prime minister has lied. When he stood in the Dispatch Box and declared that “there were no parties” and that “whatever happened, instructions and rules were followed at all times”, he was telling the truth as he knew it. .

In fact, it may be that the rules were followed, despite what the Clouseaus now claim at the Met. Under the Public Health (Disease Control) Act 1984, Crown property, including Downing Street, is exempt from restrictions. The Prime Minister has wisely refused to defend himself on these grounds, knowing that it would appear to be a special plea. But it is at least arguable, on a limited point of law, that the block did not apply to Number 10.

That point may be moot. What it isn’t is that it never occurred to the PM that receiving a cake from staff between meetings could be considered “a party”. Nor, at the time, did it occur to anyone else. I write it with certainty because, far from being sneaky, Downing Street immediately recounted it to the press.

“Boris Johnson celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday with a small meeting in the cabinet room,” reported the Times the following day. “Rishi Sunak, the chancellor and a group of aides sang Happy Birthday to him before eating a Union Jack cake.” Sound like some kind of illicit speakeasy to you? Did anyone, reading it, suggest that the rules had been broken? Did Labor MPs demand a police investigation?

Of course not, because no one thought it was even remotely wrong for key workers to socialize at their workplaces. During the lockdown, nurses uploaded TikTok routines, celebrated birthdays, and generally tried to make our hospitals more joyful. No one called their meetings inappropriate, and for good reason.

The rules against meeting people outside of our bubbles were intended to slow the spread of a virus, not dictate the behavior of people already under the same roof.

No wonder the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that to the best of his knowledge there had been no parties. A party is a festive gathering of guests, not a break in the office day. The only Downing Street event we know of that remotely resembles a party in the usual sense of the word took place while Johnson was 60 miles away.

Of course, there may be more revelations. But he remembers that when Johnson told MPs that the rules had been followed, he must have known that everything that had happened at No. 10 would come to light. If it was a lie, it was the stupidest lie since an Amalekite falsely claimed to have killed King Saul and was executed on the spot for his pain.

Sir Keir Starmer knows all this. As an attorney, he understands the difference between social gatherings and people legally working together. But Labor has opted to go down, making a series of false equivalencies between tragic cases where people couldn’t see dying relatives and key workers in their offices.

Until shortly before the prime minister’s birthday, hospital visits and social calls were largely prohibited. Those rules applied as much to the prime minister, who was isolated during his own Covid outbreak and unable to visit his mother (who died shortly after), as they did to anyone else. There is no suggestion that he made fun of them.

The valid comparison is with what others did. while at work. And here, clearly, there really is a rule for Boris and another for everyone else, but precisely in the opposite way to what is normally understood. It is unthinkable, literally unthinkable, that the police would sanction nurses who shared birthday cakes, much less open an investigation two years later.

For the record, I opposed the lockdown. I thought that the rules that divided families were inhumane. But Starmer didn’t. He wanted to tighten them and wrongly predicted disaster every time he loosened them.

That is why many voters now find his crocodile tears distasteful. The latest opinion poll, as I write, puts the Conservatives six points behind Labour, an extraordinarily good performance for an incumbent party at this stage of Parliament.

Yet Starmer has also tapped into the prissy populism that has been on the rise since the lockdowns, a sense that people in public life shouldn’t be allowed any frivolity. No one is against Downing Street staff working together, having lunch or tea together. But throw booze or cake in it and suddenly it’s outrageous.

Boris was cast as a disruptor, a Falstaff, a man with little time for niceties, attributes that enabled him to break the deadlock in the House of Commons, deliver Brexit and win the vaccine race. But the pandemic has changed the national mood. To turn the tables, Boris finds himself stranded as Toby Belch in a nation suddenly full of Malvolios. “Do you think that because you are virtuous, there will be no more cakes and beer?” Unfortunately, it seems that many of us do.

I understand why the Labor MPs want him gone. They remember how he led his party from 8.8 percent of the vote in the 2019 European elections to 42.4 percent just seven months later.

But what about the Conservative MPs who will decide his fate? Some, of course, never liked it in the first place, some didn’t make it through the 2016 referendum, and others feel ignored or underestimated. But these groups remain a minority: only nine of the 358 Conservative MPs have openly called for a leadership challenge.

Most parliamentarians approach the issue more hard-headed. They are receiving some local flak over the accusations and are hoping to see an awful outcome in the next council election, where they are arguing for a high base. But they will shrug off these things whenever they see a government doing things that they approve of.

Which brings us to the heart of Johnson’s problem. Conservative MPs have long wondered what the point of an 80-seat majority is when their policies are barely distinguishable from those of the Labor Party.

They were prepared to make concessions during the pandemic, but the pandemic does not explain the nationalization of social care, the determination to go ahead with HS2, the green taxes, or the reluctance to deregulate.

This week, to take a random example, it was announced that companies should give at least 40 percent of board positions to women. There was a time when conservatives viewed corporate hiring policies as a matter for shareholders, not governments.

I have complained often on this page about Johnson’s determination to spend money as if Britain still had the half a trillion pounds it spent during the lockdowns. But, in February, things began to change. A new Downing Street policy team was launched, determined to make use of every one of the hundred weeks remaining in this Parliament. It made itself felt almost immediately.

In the last two months, the moratorium on fracking has been lifted and Channel 4 has been marked for privatization. Britain will become the first Western state to sign a trade deal with India, which will eventually become a bigger market than the EU. Jacob Rees-Mogg is scrapping EU regulations.

Two years later, we are finally exercising some of our Brexit freedoms. We are admitting more workers from Commonwealth countries, but cracking down on those who enter illegally.

The Rwanda plan is a viable solution to the Canal ship crisis. After all, an asylum seeker is trying to get outside of a particular country, not in to a particular country. There are even signs that, after two years of EU scandal, we will act unilaterally to correct the Northern Ireland Protocol.

You may not like these things, of course. You may want to vote for someone else. That is your right. But, precisely for this reason, parliamentarians should think long and hard before usurping it. Losing a war, abandoning fundamental principles or, furthermore, cheating Parliament: all of these things could justify a coup. But being in the immediate vicinity of the cake? Come now.

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