Last Wednesday, the British Labour leader Keir Starmer asked an interesting question to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Did a party take place in Downing Street on December 18th last year contrary to rules banning such social gatherings? His answer set off what has now been over a week of difficult questions.
Johnson refused to deny the allegation, but implausibly claimed Covid rules had been followed throughout. His ministers were wheeled out to parrot this line for several days, until ITV News published a video of Downing Street staff joking about the party days after it happened. And still no one admits that a party definitely happened.
The video has caused horror, not least from people who lost loved ones whilst following the rules their own rulers ignored. And just hours later, Johnson called a press conference to announce England would be moving to Plan B – masks in indoor venues from tomorrow, work from home where possible from Monday and vaccine passports next Wednesday.
This means England now has almost identical rules to other parts of the UK – Scotland introduced vaccine passports in October, Wales in November and they come into legal force in Northern Ireland next Monday. And guidance over face mask use and working from home was never dropped in the so-called devolved nations.
There’s just one major problem with Johnson’s announcement. And that’s whether anyone is going to take any notice of what he says anymore. It’s not just the fact that he ignores his own advice with alarming frequency – shots of him walking around in a hospital with no mask on demonstrated his casual attitude. It’s not even the fact his own staff were laughing at us in that video.
No, there’s also the fact that time and time again during the pandemic, he’s changed his mind on things. During the summer, his government flirted with the idea of vaccine passports for England. It led to a notable dip in his popularity amidst his own MPs and led to the policy being dropped. Yet now that he’s in political trouble, we’re expected to believe he’s had a Damascean conversion in the space of an afternoon.
At a time when no one’s too sure how the Omicron variant of Covid is going to play out, this couldn’t happen at a worse time. I have been searching for months to see if nightclubs are this coronavirus hotspot – and they don’t appear to be. Once again, this looks like the government wanting to look like they’re doing something when very little is happening.
What will they try next if or when these moves don’t work? Even fewer people will be listening by then, and even more will have caught the virus. What a mess…