“Lord” Gavin Barwell, the sometime Tory MP for Croydon Central and former Downing Street Chief of Staff, has this morning turned on his old mucker, Blundering Boris Johnson, and called for “total honesty” from No10 over the mounting Christmas party scandal in the Conservative Party. Good luck with that, Gav.
The Prime Minister and other leading figures in the Tory government have bunkered down this morning, after a video taken 12 months ago was released by ITV News, showing senior aides laughing and joking over the holding of a “cheese and wine” Christmas party within the PM’s official London residence.
Johnson and No10 officials are accused of hosting the party, at a time when thousands of people were seriously ill in hospital with covid, many of them dying, and the nation was under a strict government-imposed pandemic emergency lockdown that effectively cancelled all Christmas celebrations in 2020.
The official government position on the party has been that it never happened, raising fresh accusations that Johnson is a liar.
By the end of yesterday evening, with the Christmas party scandal not going away and extending into its sixth day, Johnson and his government had even become the butt of jokes for Ant and Dec on I’m A Celebrity.
And now a former close political chum of Johnson, Gavin Barwell, has entered the discussion, calling for a frankness and honesty that has hitherto been missing from Downing Street’s briefings over most matters, but especially that of their rank hypocrisy.
The timing of Barwell’s intervention may be key: yesterday, a lawyer acting on behalf of the government apologised for and accepted responsibility for failures to change fire safety regulations ahead of the 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze in which 72 people were killed.
As the Grauniad reports today, “The admissions were made in an opening statement by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to the final stage of the public inquiry that will investigate the role of dozens of government figures from junior officials to former ministers including Eric Pickles and Gavin Barwell.”
The Mirror’s front page accuses successive Tory-led governments of a “cover-up” over their failure to act on fire safety warnings, with the Fire Brigades Union this morning saying, “It’s finally time that previous and current governments are held to account for failures that led to the Grenfell fire.”
Thus Barwell’s intervention at this time on an entirely separate matter might be more convenient than just coincidental.
But given how closely Barwell was seen to work with Johnson when the latter was Mayor of London, it is still significant, even if the relationship between the two Tories cooled somewhat when Barwell was Theresa May’s Chief of Staff in Downing Street, her efforts to deliver a Brexit deal seen to be scuppered by Johnson and his acolytes.
Highlighting the original release of the ITV News video by reporter Paul Brand, Barwell this morning tweeted over his breakfast cornflakes: “No10’s response to this story needs to be driven by one simple question: what can it try to do to restore trust?”
The breakdown in public trust, Barwell suggests, could have dire public health repercussions in the coming weeks, as the spread of the Omicron variant of covid-19 continues at pace.
“I pray it won’t,” Barwell wrote, “but [the government] might need to reintroduce some restrictions in the next few weeks. Even without this footage, that would have been hard.
And Barwell tweeted further: “The starting point must be total honesty about what happened and a full and genuine apology.
“It will be politically very painful, but the leak of this footage shows that the truth is coming one way or another.”
Meanwhile, Croydon’s only current Conservative MP, Chris Philp, has failed to deny that he was invited to the cosy little Christmas law-breaking get-together at No10 last year.
Johnson is due to face Labour’s Keir Starmer in Prime Minister’s Questions at noon today, the modern-day equivalent of a “savaging by a dead sheep”.
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