by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 25
May 2022
HerdWatch
10:29

The media is embarrassing itself over Partygate

Much of the coverage has been clownishly trivial and melodramatic
by Henry Hill

Partygate is a truly weird story, because it simultaneously manages to be quite serious while also contriving to make much of the media’s coverage of it appear clownishly trivial.

Look at this video from Laura Kuenssberg. She is interviewing someone about social gatherings in Downing Street. Yet the aesthetic is much more reminiscent of a key witness giving testimony on the mob (or, more fitting to the current moment, the IRA).

The blurred-out silhouette, the professional voiceover, the sterile, cell-like backdrop for the interviewer — they have all wandered in from another story where lives are in danger.

But I don’t want to single out the BBC or Kuenssberg. We might just as easily take aim at those newspapers that sent journalists out to scour the area around where Sir Keir Starmer’s team were staying. These intrepid reporters then produced elaborate maps of where he and his team might have picked up a bite to eat.

And beyond these bizarre individual bits of coverage, the sheer volume of broadcast and newsprint dedicated to Partygate (and its spin-off, Beergate) is just extraordinary. Just today, there was a question over what font size the Sue Gray report would be in.

This seems in part to testify to the incompetence of the relevant authorities. How is it, for example, that after a formal (and very expensive) police investigation, the Daily Mirror is apparently still unearthing potentially illegal events which haven’t been looked into?

In another sense, the ridiculousness of the coverage surely reflects the character of the rules, with stories turning on details which seemed important at the time but are now, with the benefit of hindsight, absurd. (Did Boris Johnson know that his wife was going to bring a birthday cake to a meeting? Should he have fled the room when he saw it? Serious questions.)

The Prime Minister too must shoulder his share of the blame. If he had actually got ahead of this story with a proper mea culpa, it would not have had the oxygen to stay on the front pages for five months.

But he proved utterly incapable of doing this, meaning every new leak undermined his previous explanations (or evasions) and brought the whole thing front and centre again.

Fundamentally, people do seem to care about this story. According to a recent YouGov poll, over half (55%) the country believes that the Sue Gray findings matter while only one in five (21%) don’t. That is because millions of people stuck rigidly to the rules, at significant personal cost, feel that they have been made fools by the revelation that those who drafted those rules did not.

But the balance of coverage compared to much more serious issues — inflation, spiralling fuel and food costs, etc. — feels misjudged.

Perhaps it’s simply that many hacks are simply less equipped to grapple with serious economic stories at the sort of length we give to the Westminster rigmarole.

Or maybe it’s just a head-in-the-sand moment; choosing to live just a little longer in a world where a suitcase full of booze, rather than the cost of a basket of groceries, is the story of the day.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
28 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago

The problem is everyone – politicians, journalists, civil servants – all think this is their opportunity to bring down a government they don’t like. The are incensed that the police have not done the job for them.
While of course those trying to protect Boris are desperate to find a similar story on Kier to take the heat away.
The real story is the utter stupidity of the rules themselves – the ridiculous idea that we could all put our lives on hold for a couple of years & the government could pay for us to do so.
We are now paying the price in the so called cost of living crisis. No surprises there… Rampant public expenditure, rampant inflation …. the things we were warned about if we voted Corbin!

Matt M
Matt M
30 days ago

The author doesn’t understand it at all.

It is and always has been about Brexit and trying to depose Boris for pushing it through.

Now the Sue Grey report and the police investigation has cleared him, they will move on to the next thing. They will never stop.

Hell hath no fury like the upper class scorned!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
30 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Upper class? I think you mean the Establishment (two different things, but with some overlap).

Matt M
Matt M
30 days ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes you are right. Hell hath no fury like The Establishment scorned!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
22 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

It is rather an extraordinary definition of ‘establishment’ which doesn’t include Boris Johnson (Eton, Oxford etc….).
Let’s get some more forensic analysis here, the ‘establishment’ doesn’t all hold one view vis the near state of civil war in this country over Ireland in 1914..

Last edited 22 days ago by Andrew Fisher
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Spot on. It’s like whack a mole with Johnson as the mole. They will never stop as you say because their hatred for Johnson has become a psychosis – on a par with Brexit/Trump Derangement Syndrome.

One day they will get him. And then they’ll congratulate themselves – like when Thatcher got kicked out by similar weasels.

And this writer quoting survey results fails to acknowledge whether partygate will matter to voters in a year’s time, above inflation, wages, etc. I can tell him now it won’t matter.

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
30 days ago

The problem is that no politician is willing to admit that the covid rules were wrong and that any reasonable citizen would therefore be compelled to break them.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
30 days ago

The socially privileged lot in the British media is so miffed at the socially privileged lot in the British politics that they are willing to embarrass themselves over it. That is all there is to it!

As a commoner, I have always accepted that power will be abused. It is not news.

Last edited 30 days ago by Vijay Kant
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
30 days ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Your final sentence is as perspicacious as anything written by your namesake, Immanuel.

Last edited 30 days ago by Steve Murray
Peter B
Peter B
30 days ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Quite. Who seriously believes that the media all followed all the Covid lockdown rules ? Hold on – we know they didn’t (Burley and Rigby) !
I was sick of the media hyopcrisy and self-serving attitude long before this. They seem to believe their job entitles them to campaign for their personal agendas rather than report news.
Politicians like Boris Johnson are at least accountable to the public and can be removed. Sadly not the case for media types and civil servants.
My reading of this report is that 90% of the rule breaking was by civil servants. Many of whom seem to be airbrushed out of photos and go unpunished. Why ? And now these people “speak out” (on condition of anonymity) as though they are doing so on principle. Funny they didn’t speak up at the time, isn’t it ?
I am no fan of Boris Johnson. But I’m sure I’m not alone in finding those piling on in the media vendetta against him far worse.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Especially when there are real crises out there to be solved. Why are the media not concentrating on the need to get grain out of Ukraine? What is currently happening in Mali? Taiwan, China, Sri Lanka etc..

David Lewis
David Lewis
30 days ago

Through the retrospectoscope we remember the Covid rules only as oppressive and confining. We forget that many of us were frightened of catching the disease and dying. The country divided into two – those able to hide away, either by virtue of being retired or able to WFH (mostly white collar workers and the privileged) – and those who had no option but to continue working, interacting with fellow-workers and the general public. Healthcare workers bravely continued working surrounded by the disease. Some of these latter groups caught the disease and died.
I suspect it was rapidly apparent to those in government that there was little option but to carry on working pretty much as normal – attending meetings and staying at their desks. The Prime Minister caught the disease and nearly died.
For those working normally and accepting the risk life must have been strange. On the one hand driven by necessity to interact closely with colleagues during the working day, despite attempts to follow Covid advice, and then expected to leap apart and hide away after working hours. What about those whose ‘working hours’ were poorly defined? I have heard that stress-relieving meetings/parties continued in many healthcare environments (and would we begrudge them?).
For these reasons I suggest that those who continued working and taking the risk of catching the disease should be cut some slack. Certainly, the faux outrage regarding ‘Partygate’ is probably unfair.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
30 days ago

30-odd years ago the media started to switch from reporting what was happening to finding ways to embarrass a politician so that they had to resign.
Getting someone to resign is now the gold-standard of MSM journalism.
They are not reporters, they are rottweilers.
They want us to choose our political leaders, not on their policies or qualities, but on whether or not the had beer/cake/ when they should not have.
A few months back i wanted Boris to resign. Now I want him to hang in there, not because I think he’s a good leader, but because I don’t want the rottweilers to win this round.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
30 days ago

The reason for the MSM’s wild overhyping of ‘partygate’, and before that curtaingate, wallpapergate, cakegate, etcgate, is perfectly simple; they are all viscerally opposed to Brexit, and as a senior columnist in the leading broadsheet declared ‘all sensible people should aim to destroy the architect of Brexit’. It’s entirely ideological, and if all you’ve got to further your ideology is trivia, what do you do but s e x up trivia.

Philippe W
Philippe W
1 month ago

The results of that YouGov poll are a reminder of just how many people stuck to the rules and now feel like chumps. Not hard to see why they’re grown mistrustful of all official messaging, particularly where it has been government mandated, all which is a tremendous self-own for our dimbulb ‘public health’ overlords.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
30 days ago
Reply to  Philippe W

The result of the YouGov poll is at least partly due to the number of people who used to take part in YouGov polls but, like me, have found them so irritating and slanted towards pushing for specific ‘findings’ that they no longer do so.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago
Reply to  Philippe W

No it doesn’t. I don’t know a single person who stuck to the rules.
Even myself, shielding with a disabled spouse, had to break the rules at one stage – my wife couldn’t exercise by walking around our estate due to many others doing the same – when airborne infection outside was still not known to be a tiny risk – so we drove over a mile away to the beach.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
30 days ago

The press and media are obsessed with this ‘issue’ – and have convinced the public that it is of vital importance. According to this view, everything that has happened in the world, and the economy, and the public health, since the beginning of the first lockdown is just – Boris employing ‘dead cat’ stories to ‘distract’ from … Partygate!
I can understand the Opposition – this is the one issue that seemed to gain traction with the public and raise Labour’s polling numbers (fractionally) while trashing the Tories’.
But, really, is the UK THAT trivial? Can’t our politicians and broadcasters work out which are the important matters facing the country – and which is the dead cat?

Peter B
Peter B
30 days ago
Reply to  Kate Heusser

I don’t believe that many are really convinced in a way that will last. In fact, I can see this ridiculouds media vendetta (this is really what it is now) starting to backfire. It certainly will if Johnson has to go for something this trivial in the overall scheme of things.
It does look as if the vast majority of the rule breaking was down to the civil service (the culprits here all get to remain un-named). Johnson’s fault may principally be in being too hands-off in keeping tracks on what’s going on in No 10.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
30 days ago
Reply to  Kate Heusser

Labour and their media supporters have been unable to beat Boris at the ballot box (2 Mayoral elections, Brexit and the General Election landslide) and seem unaware that he appeals to the electorate largely because he is a flawed and therefore human individual.
They therefore make constant ad hominem attacks on him and anyone else that they disagree with. Issues no longer matter, it is the character of the cavalier Boris Johnson v the roundhead, spiritually pure Kier Cromwell.
They can’t beat Boris on issues so make it about something else, hoping he will be gone before the next election. This is all predictable, though I do find it disappointing that the media appears indivisible from the Labour propaganda department.

Last edited 30 days ago by John Wilkes
Iris C
Iris C
30 days ago

But did they stay “rigidly to the rules”? How can we tell when the issue was judged in retrospect?
It seems unlikely to me that those working in offices during the pandemic did not celebrate before breaking up for Christmas and New Year, and the convention of having birthday cakes when someone in the office has a birthday is standard.
For that reason, this whole contretemps has put the law into disrepute and made us a laughing stock throughout the world.

jill dowling
jill dowling
29 days ago

I’m always very disappointed that YouGuv never seems to ask me to participate when they are compiling surveys such as “do you care about Sue Gray’s findings?” or “Is Keir Starmer amazing or just wonderful in every way?” They ask me all sorts of other things such as how do I vote and what do I watch on TV. Perhaps they dont want my input as it might skew their results. Just sayin’

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
30 days ago

With all the awful stuff going on in the world, surely we all need this bit of light entertainment?

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
30 days ago

The whole partygate story has been most unfortunate. It has turned a very serious national issue (the unsuitability of Johnson as PM, of which there was ample evidence before) into standard party-political knockabout.
Compared with the attempt to shut down parliament, the signing of an agreement with the EU and then telling the world that Britain couldn’t be trusted to keep to a treaty it had just signed, his willingness to ask his MPs to vote against their consciences in the Owen Paterson affair (and then tell them he’d got it wrong), not to mention his casual attitude to the truth … compared with all that, the question of going round the office spreading good cheer and drinking the occasional glass of wine is relatively trivial and adds little to what we knew already.

Peter B
Peter B
30 days ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

You may recall that the EU itself attempted to renege on the Northen Ireland protocol whilst thrashing around in their catastrophic handling of Covid vaccines. That shows you just how much they care about Northern Ireland and the people there.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
30 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

I don’t remember who made that suggestion, but it was very quickly overruled and withdrawn. The British threat, in contrast, continues to this day.

Peter B
Peter B
30 days ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

So you agree it was made. At the top level of the EU. Again, this tells you all you need to know about the EU and Northern Ireland. It also tells you just how clueless EU leaders are when confronted with real problems which need rapid action (Yugoslavia, migrants, the Euro debt crisis, Ukraine … need I go on ?). They literally live in a Brussels bubble.
You might also have fallen for the EU line that they are due some credit for peace in Northern Ireland (just as they claim that the EU was responsible for peace in Europe rather than NATO). Most of us know better. The EU’s actions demonstrate that they do not care at all about peace in Northern Ireland.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
30 days ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

But the mask slipped when they made that error. Saving lives in the U.K. with COVID drugs became a pawn in their battle to hurt Britain.

Your mask has slipped too that you trivialise this act by the EU and view it as meaningless.

Last edited 30 days ago by Ian Stewart