But our Covid lockdown rules were stupid, government appears to tell us

Sienna Rodgers
© Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street
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But the rules that we created were stupid! Once again, this is the bottom line of the excuses emerging from No 10 and government ministers today, attempting to explain away a new ‘partygate’ development. In perhaps the most easily digestible and memorable iteration so far, we now know that Boris Johnson had a birthday bash during the first lockdown in 2020. According to the ITV exclusive, it was organised by Carrie Johnson and up to 30 people attended, including interior designer Lulu Lytle who is linked to the Downing Street flat renovation scandal. That the birthday event took place is not being denied, though No 10 says Johnson attended for less than ten minutes and fewer people than alleged were there. ITV News has also reported that family friends were hosted in the Prime Minister’s flat that evening, which No 10 has denied. Such gatherings were illegal at the time.

Reacting to the story, Keir Starmer said: “​​The Prime Minister is a national distraction and he’s got to go.” Labour has criticised the government for being distracted both from the cost-of-living crisis and the situation in Ukraine. In a joint piece for LabourList today, David Lammy and John Healey – who visited Ukraine earlier this month – set out Labour’s position. It is strongly critical of President Putin’s Russia, “an autocracy with little regard for international law or human rights”, in contrast with Ukraine, “a sovereign and independent country on a democratic journey”. While the pair express support for “diplomatic efforts to de-escalate this crisis”, they also say Labour rejects the argument that NATO is responsible for escalation, backs UK military support for Ukraine and believes international unity “against Russian aggression” must be maintained.

Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has its first full meeting today since November. The ruling body was promised a copy of the long-awaited Forde Report at this meeting but, as LabourList exclusively revealed yesterday, Martin Forde QC has confirmed in a letter that this won’t be happening. The inquiry chair says his report is “largely completed” and he hopes to have it ready for next month’s NEC. He again describes speculation about the reasons for the repeated delays as “ill-informed” and states that the long wait “has not been caused by any political interference”. But he offers no clarity on why there have been so many delays. The Information Commissioner’s Office has told LabourList that its own investigation into the leaks – one reason Forde was allegedly delayed – is ongoing. No answers to our further questions have been answered by the Forde Inquiry so far.

What will be discussed by the NEC today are changes to Labour’s parliamentary selection guidance. While there is plenty of criticism on the party’s left that these reforms will reduce the power of local members, Labour Women’s Network director Claire Reynolds has written in favour of the proposals on the basis that women will benefit from shorter, cheaper selection campaigns. The NEC will also consider a motion put forward by the Labour left to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. Because this motion is likely to be rejected, not everyone on the left believes this move is a good idea: it may allow the leadership to point to the result and say the matter has been considered by the NEC. “When this motion falls today it will set the left back at least five years,” one source put it this morning.

Nominations have now opened for this year’s Labour internal elections. Ahead of the NEC contests, Labour to Win has announced its slate of pro-leadership candidates: Luke Akehurst, Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan will be standing again, while Abdi Duale and Jane Thomas will also be vying for places. In 2020, the group announced six candidates plus three endorsements, which included Ann Black, but this has now been reduced to a straight-forward slate of five only. (Under the single transferable vote system used since Starmer’s Labour changed the rules, smaller slates are key.) LabourList understands that the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) will be meeting over the coming weeks to finalise a slate backed by Momentum and other Labour left groups – which will also be a slate of five – and they hope to announce their candidates in early February.

As I am about to send this email, the Metropolitan Police has announced that it will be investigating the Downing Street parties after all, due to both information provided by Sue Gray’s team and the assessments of its own officers. This indicates that Gray has definitely found evidence of behaviour that could be a criminal offence and had to be referred to the police. It seems likely now that the Gray report will be paused. The line ‘wait for the police’ is not a good replacement for ‘wait for Sue Gray’ as it won’t be a comfortable one for ministers and MPs to repeat incessantly on the airwaves. Most importantly, that the threshold has been met for the police to investigate suggests the end is nigh for Boris Johnson.

Update, 11.15am: The Cabinet Office has said the investigation by Sue Gray is “continuing”.

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