Sorry seems to be the hardest word

For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men

We live in odd times when the newspaper headlines are full of stories relating to a garden party. And not one that the Queen was at either.

So, 100 or so people who had all been working together for long hours in stuffy offices in an 18th century building were invited, nearly two years ago,  to sit outside for socially distanced drinks after work. This was to make the most of the lovely weather and to reward them for working incredibly hard. Under any other circumstances this would not even be a news blip. It’s perfectly possible for the requisite social distancing to take place in that garden, even with 40 of you. Take a look on Google Earth – it’s huge. The point is that no-one else was supposed to be doing likewise.  It’s all over the news because it was the complete opposite of what the rest of us were being told to do.

And we were being told what to do by the Prime Minister , to whit “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household. You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”

One of the most irritating things about this whole business is the way that members of the government are justifying it by commenting how hard those who worked in Downing Street were working. I don’t doubt it for a moment. But did PPS Martin Reynolds really believe that no-one ese was?

Did they really think they were the only people who were working 18-hour days or did the imagine that  the rest of the country was living it up on furlough, being paid 80% of their salary for watching Netflix? What the hell did they think all that saucepan-banging and clapping on a Thursday evening was for? Did they not realise that for every person who was furloughed, there was another who was working twice as hard just to keep the business in the same place? Hands up those who ended up doing two or even three jobs during that first lockdown – I’ll go first.

Those meeting-up rules may have been, at least overzealous and at worst Draconian but they were The Rules. OK, so maybe it was perfectly Covid-safe to have a drink or two in the garden after work with the people you have just spent all day with anyway. The point is that it would probably have been perfectly safe for those who weren’t in the Downing Street bubble. Perfectly safe but illegal.


Martin Reynolds is said to have regretted sending that email after he did so (Hey, Martin, we’ve all been there), but decided to double-down on it, because cancelling would have garnered more attention. Bearing in mind this happened getting on for two years ago, he probably had a point. However, he reckoned without his boss pissing off so many people in the interim that the email chain, kept in the archives ‘just in case’, made it to ITV News. As did the texts of those who were invited, but who realised that this would not play well to the cheap seats.

Someone will lose their job over this, surely. Probably Reynolds. Allegra Stratton, who resigned over a Christmas party that she didn’t even attend, must be fuming. Can Boris spoffle his way out of this? Probably because it will undoubtedly be found to have been a work meeting; if you dig down far enough into the Covid Restrictions Act, there’ll be a line which they will use to excuse it, I know there will. However,  every last shred of credibility is pretty much gone now. It’s not so much what they did, it’s the blatant disregard for what the rest of us were going through at the time that is so galling.

If the Prime Minister does go, there is one person I feel sorry for, and that’s whoever takes over in Number 10. Whether it’s Dishi Rishi, the Thatcher-channelling Liz Truss or even (whisper it) Michael ‘Stalking Horse’ Gove, they might get the top job, but they’ll have to put up with that bloody awful Lulu Lyttle wallpaper.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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