Partygate v Beergate: a tale of two tabloids
On January 26 this year, the Daily Mail lamented in its splash that we were a nation that had lost all sense of proportion. The Metropolitan Police had announced that it was going to investigate alleged breaches of Covid laws by Boris Johnson and his aides and officials.
On April 30, the same paper denounced the Durham police – who had declined to investigate Dominic Cummings’s notorious Barnard Castle expedition – for failing to investigate Sir Keir Starmer and some of his colleagues for alleged breaches of Covid laws. This, a leading article said, was a shameful dereliction of duty.
Hypocrisy? Or a reasonable demand for consistency? That, of course depends on your political stance and what you think Partygate and Beergate tell us about our ruling classes and the Press that documents their activities.
The Mail’s exasperation at the failure of the Downing Street drinking culture to vanish from the headlines – in spite of repeated editorials urging the country to “move on” – surfaced again when the truncated Sue Gray “update” was published in February: “Now publish the whole damn thing”. And again last month, amid calls from both the Opposition and some Tories for the Prime Minister to resign after Johnson, his wife and Rishi Sunak were fined over the birthday cake “ambush”: “Don’t they know there’s a war on?” And again a week later, when MPs returned from the Easter break and agreed that the Parliamentary Standards Committee should look into the whole affair: “How long can the Partygate farce go on?”
In the Mail’s eyes, there have always been more pressing issues than the Prime Minister breaking laws he himself imposed. First, getting rid of lockdown restrictions, then energy price rises, the National Insurance hike, the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis. All of which made a few drinks and some uneaten cake trivial. Though the paper was at pains to emphasise that it didn’t want to minimise the anger or suffering of those who had obeyed the rules, those whose loved ones had died alone or been denied the chance to unite with family at weddings or funerals.
In the month since that “Don’t they know there’s a war on?” edition, the Mail has splashed on the war and the cost of living once each. Of the 18 issues of the daily and Sunday titles since that “farce” heading, Keir Starmer “swigging” a beer has been the lead in nine of them, with a dominant puff on a tenth. Has the Mail lost all perspective? Doesn’t it know there’s a war on and a cost of living crisis?
Or is it simply doing what the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh said the Labour-supporting Mirror was perfectly entitled to do when it “trashed Boris for an antiseptic Zoom quiz”: enjoy a political hit against a declared enemy.
It was, of course, the Mirror that made the running on Partygate – breaking the story on December 1 with “Boris party broke Covid rules”. Since then, the paper has been even more dogged in pursuit of Johnson than the Mail has of late in pursuit of Starmer. And both have been staunch in seeking to protect their gang’s leader: while the Mail has been urging everyone to forget Partygate, the Mirror has done its best to ignore Beergate.
So I thought it would be interesting to compare how the two titles have covered some of the key dates in the two “gates” over the past five and a half months. Strap in for a long ride.
Splash: Boris party broke Covid rules
Inside: A single spread “Downin’ em street” in which Pippa Crerar’s exclusive mentions three dates: a leaving do on November 27, a “boozy party” with a secret Santa on December 18 and a “smaller gathering” after Dominic Cummings left on November 13. Downing Street sources said there was a huge amount of work going on at the time and nobody could blame people for “cracking open a bottle at the end of a hard day”.
Leader: The PM’s reckless hypocrisy is dangerous because it might encourage people to flout the rules.
At this time, the Omicron variant had surfaced, infections were rising and there was speculation that further restrictions would have to be imposed, putting upcoming Christmas celebrations in jeopardy.
Splash: PM: Don’t cancel your Christmas.
No coverage of the party allegations, even in the later editions. This in a paper that is unrivalled in picking up stories from other papers’ first editions.
Splash: Booze, nibbles and party games until early hours
Inside: Booze he kidding? Grieving families are angry as Crerar reports on further details of the partying and claims that there were drinking sessions “most Fridays” – “It was the only place you could socialise”. Starmer has raised the issue at PMQs and Johnson was “squirming” but did not apologise.
Splash: Stop being Christmas killjoys, ministers! Sajid Javid and Therese Coffey are taken to task for asking people to be sensible about parties and kissing under the mistletoe.
Inside: A Covid spread on Britain buying more vaccines has a small panel on Johnson saying no rules were broken at No 10 party.
Splash: “Our loved ones died while No 10 partied”.
Inside spread: “Hours after mum died, No 10 chucked rules and had a knees-up. I’m so angry”.
More grieving relatives being cross, but no new allegations.
Leader: Betrayal of all of us by BoJo and Co.
Mail on Sunday
Splash: William’s mental health crisis.
A lot of royals, but no Partygate.
Inside spread: “Shameless PM tries to shrug off party row”. A Green peer, the football pundit Gary Neville and a former Met detective call for a police investigation. “Sources” tell the Mirror there were “always parties” in the No 10 flat, that Carrie Johnson was “addicted to them”. Her spokesman says this is total nonsense.
A page 15 story says No 10 says its Christmas party will go ahead this year. Nothing on Partygate.
A video clip shows Allegra Stratten practising answering questions in the new Downing Street media suite and laughing as colleagues ask her about a “fictional” cheese and wine party. Gavin Williamson, then Education Secretary, is accused of having hosted a Christmas party.
Splash: Another top Tory broke Covid party rules.
Inside spread: Gavin a laugh. Williamson is the main element, with a small story on the right about Stratten.
Splash: A sick joke.
Page 5: 40-second video that will haunt Tories.
Allegra Stratten dominates the front with “the moment PM’s spokeswoman laughed about illegal party while the nation was in lockdown”.
Ministers were still insisting that there was no Christmas party and that rules were followed at all times. But they were aghast at “crass” video and called it appalling.
New Covid rules are introduced and a Cabinet Office inquiry into the party allegations is announced.
Splash: Plan B for us, Plan ‘lie, lie, lie’ for him.
Inside: Two spreads "Gathering storm for Johnson" and "Dad was betrayed" – more grieving families being angry.
Leader: Taking us all for fools. “The Prime Minister had the opportunity to admit there was a party on December 18 last year and to apologise for the offence caused. Instead he made things worse by treating the public as fools. He has now ordered an investigation into an event he still continues to deny took place. Does he seriously expect people to believe he had no knowledge of a party attended by dozens of his closest staff, which was held in the building where he works and lives?”
New covid rules are introduced
Splash: One rule for them, new rules for the rest of us
Inside: Two spreads. The first has “Find the video mole!” and Sarah Vine asking, “Why is it always the woman who carries the can"; the second asks “Were there FOUR parties inside Downing Street”. The coverage also notes Stratten’s tearful resignation and the fact that a Civil Servant, not the police, will investigate.
Full-page leader: the Mail continues to believe that with his intellect, energy, optimism and charisma, Johnson is the right man to lead the nation. For all his flaws, he is a winner. Starmer is an unremitting dud. But some rules can’t be flouted. Dissembling and denial have turned a storm in a teacup into a raging hurricane of recrimination. He needs to get a grip.
Comment: Stephen Glover despairs that the PM keeps shooting himself in the foot.
The flat redecoration controversy resurfaces, Tory MPs threaten to rebel against the Plan B restrictions, Carrie Johnson gives birth to a daughter.
Splash: Another day, another lie (wallpaper, not parties)
Inside: two spreads: “The party pooper” and “The Tory party seven” – more dates are added to list of alleged parties.
Splash: Tories’ Plan B mutiny
Inside: three spreads. The new party allegations are on the third, along with Jason Groves asking if the Tories could really do the “unthinkable” and oust their leader.
Opinion polls show that voters are not pleased by the party allegations. Two-thirds don’t trust him and more than 70% are less inclined to follow new Covid rules.
Splash: “PM’s party backlash”
Inside spread: “We’ll do what you do, Boris”
Leader: “PM ruining Covid fight”
Inside spread: “Women are deserting Boris” and “7 parties…& explanations that just did not stack up”.
Leader: “Voters won’t forgive calamitous new curbs”. The Government is lurching from crisis to crisis, each raising questions about Johnson’s judgment and integrity. New Covid rules threaten the economy. Voters might forget the “current hysteria” over wallpaper and parties, but not the loss of their livelihoods.
Splash: “Taking us for fools (again)”. This is the tinsel-clad Zoom quiz hosted by the Prime Minister, attended by “up to 70 officials, huddled in teams of six, knocking back alcohol”.
Inside: A spread that has since been hidden from the clippings archive.
Mail on Sunday
Splash: “Boris blast at BBC over Partygate”. Glen Owen reports that the Prime Minister thinks the BBC is spending too much time on parties when it should be urging people to get their booster jabs as the Omicron variant is “starting to rip”. A leading article agrees.
Inside: David Mellor wonders if Partygate will do for Johnson in the way that tax evasion did for Al Capone. Peter Hitchens says we shouldn’t rage at the parties, we should rage at the fact that we couldn’t have one too.
Both papers focus on the ambition of giving a million booster jabs a day to counter Omicron. The Mirror has an inside spread with a Labour MP urging the police to investigate the parties; the Mail has an inside spread headlined “Operation revenge”, claiming a “motley crew” including Dominic Cummings and Theresa May are out to settle old scores by bringing down the Prime Minister as “new storm rages over festive quiz”.
The Mirror has an inside spread on another Tory party – this time London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey is photographed with about 25 people having fun. He quits as chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee. More on the festive quiz along the lines that it was pre-arranged, that participants were in the office and no work was done. (The arguments now being put forward by the Mail on Starmer.) The Mail reports Bailey’s resignation on page 16. Both papers come back for another inside bite the next day.
Splash: Cops quiz party pair.
The lead and an inside story say police are to investigate the Bailey gathering. It is also looking into the Williamson party – but not yet investigating – as it is with No 10.
The Guardian and Independent are meanwhile reporting that Johnson attended a previously unmentioned "pizza party" in the garden of No 10 in May.
The Conservatives have lost the by-election caused by the departure of Owen Paterson in a previous sleaze scandal with the biggest swing against the party for more than 30 years. Cabinet Secretary Simon Case stands aside from the internal inquiry into Downing Street parties after it is disclosed that he had a party too. Sue Gray takes over.
Splash: “Party probe office had a party” under strapline “They were all at it”.
Inside spread: “Probe boss faces the music”.
Leader: “PM’s glass now empty”. Johnson couldn’t organise a drink in a brewery, never mind a drink in the last chance saloon. Everything he touches is turning to dust. Time is about to be called on his awful reign.
Splash: “Now cut the 10-day rule”. More pressure to reduce isolation periods and other Covid restrictions.
Inside spread: “Angry Tories put Boris on notice”.
Comment: Andrew Neil says voters are hopping mad and wanted to send a message.
Leader: “For all his faults, Boris remains the Conservatives' most potent political asset, retaining an almost unique ability to speak to all parts of the country at once. He stands head and shoulders above Sir Keir Starmer.”
The Mirror and Mail both focus on whether Johnson is going to cancel Christmas at the last minute again. Inside, the Mirror reports that half of Tory voters think the Prime Minister is dishonest.
Meanwhile the Guardian has a front page picture of Johnson, Carrie and baby Wilf among 19 people in the Downing Street garden at that “pizza party” in May.
Splash: “The Queen’s quiet Christmas”
Inside spread: “When this lot were necking wine at No 10, loved ones were dying surrounded by strangers”. The paper catches up on the Guardian’s garden picture. Starmer says there are serious questions to be answered. The Prime Minister says the photograph shows people “at work, talking about work”.
Splash: “Rejoice! Christmas is looking safe”
Inside: “Find the snappy rat”. The Mail also runs the garden picture. As with the Stratten video, finding the traitor is the focus – in this case suspicion is falling on the Treasury offices overlooking the No 10 garden.
The Sunday Times breaks the story of the “bring your own booze” party on May 20 after Johnson’s PPS emailed about 100 people saying it would be a good opportunity for people to get together and enjoy the fine weather. The paper’s front page asks if Boris and Carrie were both there and suggests that this is a bigger problem for Johnson than the Zoom quiz and the “pizza party” that featured in the Guardian, which even Cummings says was just people at work.
The Mirror reports the Sunday Times allegations and Labour’s claim that the Government was treating people as fools on page 10. The Mail is focused on the cost of living, Lord Frost’s “manifesto” for Johnson’s survival, as published in the sister paper yesterday. Tories want Johnson to “get a grip”. There is no mention of the BYOB party.
ITV gets hold of the Reynolds email, and it makes every front page in some form – with the sole exception of the Sun.
Splash: “Invite to do what you like”
Inside: Page lead on 5, pointing out that an hour before the party started, Tory chairman Oliver Dowden told the daily press briefing that people should meet outside only in pairs. The Met says it is in contact with the Cabinet Office
Splash: “Boris rocked by new party revelations”
Inside: Spread saying “Party aide might have to quit today” and opinion piece by Sarah Vine – Michael Gove’s estranged wife – railing at the “damn stupidity” that could ruin the whole Tory project.
“Rage doesn't even begin to cover how I feel when I realise that, while all our rights were being stripped away, while people were losing their jobs and sanity, staff at No 10 were having cosy little get-togethers 'to make the most of the lovely weather',” she writes.
“But it's not just the injustice of it, the sheer hypocrisy that makes my blood boil.
“It's the damn stupidity and short-sightedness.
“Look. I spent half my life in lockdown listening to Matt Hancock bellowing down the telephone to my now ex-husband, explaining why if the Government didn't lock everyone up the bodies would be piling up in the streets.
“Every time I walked past his study door I would catch snippets of the Prime Minister talking to the Cabinet via Zoom, working like a dog - and I do mean like a dog - to get the country out of the crisis created by Covid. They barely slept, they agonised over every decision. The Prime Minister himself practically died, and yet he soldiered on. They all did. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, non-stop.”
The story is now the lead in every paper with Johnson’s future in doubt and letters of no confidence going in to the 1922 Committee chairman.
Splash: The party’s over, Boris
Inside: Spread: “Sick of it”. More angry relatives and “even” some Tories are now cross
Leader: “Time to go, cocky BoJo”.
Splash: “Is the party over for PM?” This is the “gravest crisis of his premiership”, he is lying low, Tory MPs “vent fury” and “not one Cabinet member defends him”. Plus a top-of the-page trailer for leader: “The country is fizzing with anger. Boris must apologise and show humility – only then can he survive”.
Inside: Three spreads. Furious Tories plunge in the knife; grieving families; “Sausage rolls and BYOB on the hottest day of the year” with another outing for the Downing St garden photograph, while Andrew Pierce gets to work on Cummings – the source of the latest allegations: “Bitter. Vengeful. Obsessed. And carrying a box of lethal secrets to kill off his old boss and put Rishi Sunak in No 10”.
Leader: “Fiasco risks becoming PM’s gravest mistake” – but there are more important issues at this time, namely ending Covid self-isolation.
Comment: Vine and Gove speculate at length on Johnson’s chances of survival.
Johnson has apologised to the Commons and says he was convinced the BYOB party was a work event. Sunak is noticeably absent from the chamber.
Splash: Disgrace. Nation in outrage.
Inside: Two spreads: “Man with no shame” and “Remorse? No simply a liar desperately trying to save his own skin”.
Leader: “Apology is hollow, PM”. “Mr Johnson had previously claimed there were no parties in No 10 and no rules had been broken. Only after intense pressure did he admit finally yesterday that not only was there a party but he attended it. To have misled the public in this way should be a resignation offence. Instead of doing the decent thing, we had the pathetic spectacle of a Prime Minister using a weasel formulation of words as he desperately tried to save his own skin.
This was not a genuine display of remorse. He feigned contrition for mistakes others might have made but failed to say sorry for his own conduct. The fact that he cannot admit he broke the rules makes him unfit for office.”
Splash: “Operation save Boris”. Fulsome apology, Cabinet rallies round, Liz Truss stands by him, but Sunak’s “lukewarm support” hints at troubles ahead.
Inside: Three spreads: “Grovelling apology” with a sketch headlined “As fibs go, it’s up there with Dom’s eye test at Barnard Castle; “Where’s Rishi?” and a profile of Sue Gray – the “ex-pub landlady who holds PM’s fate in her hands”; grieving families and Matthew Goodwin on how awful it would be if “shroud-waver in chief” Keir Starmer were in charge.
Leader: “PM can bounce back from this humbling”. It was right that Johnson donned sackcloth and ashes; the Mail believes his remorse is sincere. He’s not out of the woods yet. But he has bounced back before and can do again – and be hailed a hero for releasing the country from Covid restrictions.
The Prince Andrew story dominates everywhere, but Partygate won’t go away.
Splash: “No 10 parties on eve of Philip funeral” – a story broken by the Telegraph
Inside: “Bring your own boos”. Johnson, who told MPs in the Commons tearoom that he was taking a hit for something he didn’t deserve, is absent because a family member has Covid and Sunak is lying low. Jacob Rees-Mogg says maybe the rules were too strict.
Three inside spreads: “Has missing Sunak overplayed his hand?”; “Tory civil war”, Johnson isolating over relative with Covid and “Met could launch inquiry if Sue Gray finds criminal evidence”; “Tories hit out at outrageous bias in BBC apology coverage” and Mick Hume on the BBC’s “obsessive campaign” to destroy Johnson.
Leader: End the infighting
Comment: Littlejohn says the booze-ups proves the Prime Minister knew his rules were bonkers.
Splash: “Boris’s wine-time Fridays” with picture of Downing Street wine fridge.
Inside: Spread on “Arrogant plonkers” and a photograph of the 34-bottle fridge being delivered by a back door. Pippa Crerar says the drinking sessions were a longstanding tradition in the electronic diaries of about 50 people and continued into lockdown. Johnson encouraged staff to “let off steam” and they took it in turns to take a wheelie suitcase to the local Tesco Metro to buy supplies.
Leader: “Boris scorn for Queen”. The Prime Minister is unfit for office and the police should at the very least ask for CCTV footage.
Splash: “Starmer the Covid party hypocrite”. Beergate – though without the sobriquet makes its debut with a video still of the Labour leader drinking beer at an indoor gathering and “Guess what! He says it was a work event”.
Inside: Spread with Truss backing Johnson, the Prime Minister apologising to the Queen and a righthander asking “So will the sanctimonious Labour leader demand his own resignation?”
Leader: “It’s time to find our sense of perspective”. Can Johnson rise from the ashes of an excruciatingly painful week? Is it in the country’s interests for him to be ousted? Are the potential rival candidates any good?
“Moving on, of course, is the last thing Labour and the rest of Mr Johnson's enemies want.
They would rather see him mired in Partygate indefinitely, even though the honourable thing would be to let him focus all his energies on running the country at this critical time.
Almost bursting with puce-faced piety, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister on Wednesday of lacking all 'moral authority'. Yet it now transpires that just days after the April 16 parties in Downing Street, Sir Keir was swigging beer with a gaggle of party members in a northern constituency office.
Risibly, he claims that it was 'a work meeting'. The very defence he called 'pathetic' when Mr Johnson used it. What a shameless hypocrite!”
Inside spread: “Fridge too far”. The lead story is based on Keir Starmer writing – in the Sunday Mirror – that Johnson is just out to save himself. Right alongside the column in which Keir Starmer writes that Johnson is just out to save himself. No mention of Beergate.
Leader: “Tories are turning on their boss”. He’s a lousy Prime Minister and will soon be out of office.
Mail on Sunday
Inside spread: “Boris’s Operation Fightback begins”. Johnson to take charge of migrant policy, clear out Downing Street staff and reshuffle Cabinet to try to survive until the summer.
Page 16: Tory MPs Andrew Bridgen (who has previously called on Johnson to quit) and Iain Duncan Smith call for an investigation into Starmer’s beer drinking in Durham. Asked if he would resign if found to have acted in the same way as Johnson, Starmer is reported to have told a Fabian Society meeting “Absolutely”.
Splash: “Johnson’s scapegoats”.
Inside: ”Bonfire of the flunkies”. Senior officials are expected to carry the can for the partygate revelations. And there's another one. This time the Prime Minister is said to have given a speech at an aide’s farewell. No Beergate.
Splash: “Starmer must say sorry for drinks in lockdown”. So say Tory MPs Michael Fabricant and Andrew Bridgen after a TV interview in which the Labour leader told Sophie Raworth he hadn’t broken the rules: “I was in a constituency office just days before the election. We were very busy, we were working in the office and we stopped for something to eat. And then we carried on working. That is the long and the short of it. No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the Prime Minister.”
Splash: “Johnson gave go-ahead for party”. Dominic Cummings says he will swear on oath that the Prime Minister was warned the BYOB event broke the rules, but authorised it anyway. “Full story, page 7”. Where there is also a small single column story on Starmer saying he didn’t break the rules.
Page 2: Cummings will swear on oath that Johnson knew about party; page 10: “Revealed: Starmer ‘broke rules’ on campaigners meeting during elections”. The paper is doing this revealing, in the sense that it is quotes the rules and sets them alongside what it thinks happened.
Tory MPs are getting fed up and there are moves to oust the Prime Minister. One of the alleged plotters represents Melton Mowbray, so both papers lead on the “Porkie Pie plot”. The Mail is outraged at the treachery and ingratitude of Red Wall MPs who owe their seats to Johnson, the Mirror can hardly contain its joy.
PMQs was bruising, starting with a Tory defection to the Labour benches and ending with David Davis telling Johnson to quit.
Splash: “In the name of God go”
Inside: Two spreads on how Johnson’s days are numbered
Splash: Boris and Carrie’s baby hit by Covid. Puff: Leader trailer: “In the name of God, grow up”.
Inside: Three spreads on the plot falling apart, “Treachery of the Red Wall traitors”, attacks on defector Christian Wakeford and David Davis, and a column by Stephen Glover saying that fractious Tories need to calm down or they’ll end up with Starmer in No 10.
Leader: Full page attacking the plotters, Davis, Wakeford, Starmer – again an “unremitting dud” – for losing their sense of perspective. The Prime Minister “too often displays a troublingly lax attitude to probity”, but he got Brexit done and had made “an exceptionally good fist” of handling the pandemic. There is no one else of his calibre, so his detractors should shut up.
Both papers have a picture of Johnson holding a cake (not at No 10) on their front pages.
Splash: “PM’s No 10 birthday bash in lockdown” under strapline “Another day another party”.
Inside spread: “What a Carrie on”.
Leader: “End of the party, PM”. “Liar Boris Johnson has nowhere left to hide now it has emerged that a Covid lockdown law-breaking birthday party was held for him in Downing Street.
“Even a fibber as shameless as the charlatan in Number 10 cannot pretend he did not know a gathering with a cake and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday by 30 revellers was a party instead of a supposed work event.
“What more evidence is required by the police, Sue Gray, Conservative MPs, Parliament and the British people to conclude that Johnson broke the law, lied repeatedly when caught and is totally unfit to lead our nation?”
Splash: “PM’s Mr Brexit says kill of tax hike”. That’s Lord Frost backing a Mail campaign. The cake picture comes with the heading “New storm over Boris’s ten-minute birthday “party” at No 10.
Inside spread: “No 10 hits back in new party storm”. It was a surprise event that involved up to 30 people and the singing of “Happy birthday” when indoor gatherings – and singing in public – were banned.
Leader: “Party madness plays into Putin’s hands”. The drip-drip of accusations proves that we are in the grip of a collective madness while Russia is fully primed for an attack on Ukraine.
The police are to investigate.
Splash: Number’s up, PM
Inside: Two spreads: “Prime suspect” and “PM must face the music”.
Splash: “A nation that’s lost all sense of proportion”.
Inside: Two spreads on how the investigation could take months and might limit the fallout of the Sue Gray inquiry. Plus “Tory MPs tell the Yard: So now investigate Keir’s lockdown beer” (even though it’s beyond the Met’s jurisdiction).
Page 11: “This drip-drip of leaks is nothing less than a calculated coup against an elected PM, led by the worst lockdown liar of all” (Cummings, of course).
Full-page leader: “This probe is like setting the Flying Squad on a parking offender. When WILL we rediscover our sense of perspective?”
The Met asks Sue Gray not to publish her full report – which she is just about to deliver – until it has completed its investigation.
Inside: “Gray report in hours…but police censor it”.
Splash and inside spread: “Outrage at police over No 10 probe shambles”
The redacted Gray “update” is published with criticism of failings of leadership in Downing Street.
Splash: “Zero shame”
Inside: Three spreads: “Failure of leadership”, “Deeply damaged” and “Man with no shame” – a piece by Keir Starmer who says the British people aren’t fools and that Johnson should resign.
Splash: “Now publish the whole damn thing”.
Inside: Three spreads: “Met’s dossier of 300 party photos”; “I get it, I’ll fix it, vows PM, but May sticks in the stiletto”; “Yard in dock over censorship shambles” and Glover saying Gray should have published and been damned.
Leader: “Publish report in full and let us all move on”.
More party allegations surface and Johnson promises to hand over photographs gathered by Sue Gray's inquiry. The Prime Minister is also under fire from opponents, Jimmy Savile's victims and even friendly quarters for accusing Starmer of spending his time as DPP "not prosecuting Jimmy Savile".
Inside: "Another day another party"
Inside spread: "PM: I'll publish 300 Partygate photos". Plus, "Boris stands by his Jimmy Savile jibe against Starmer" and "Johnson on probation as another MP tells him to go".
Comment: Andrew Pierce on "Boris is right. Starmer's CPS did fail to prosecute Jimmy Savile. So why all the faux outrage?"
Johnson’s policy chief Munira Mirza quits over his “Jimmy Savile” gibe at Keir Starmer in the Commons. Sunak tells an interviewer that he wouldn’t have made the comment. The BYOB organiser Martin Reynolds, No 10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfeld and communications director Jack Doyle – a former Mail executive – all resign.
Inside story: No 10 rocked as four Boris aides quit in one day
Splash: “Meltdown in Downing Street”.
Inside spread: “Ruthless Rishi twists the knife”.
Splash: “Cops handed pic of PM with lager at No 10 party”
Inside: “Carry the can”.
Page 1 puff: “Tory peer’s bombshell book says Carrie is to blame for No 10 chaos”.
Inside spread: “He’s mesmerised. It’s a Greek tragedy”. Plus a teaser for the serialisation of Michael Ashcroft’s book in the Mail on Sunday.
There follows a quiet period, Cressida Dick resigns as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, questionnaires about the parties are sent out to people allegedly involved – including the Prime Minister – and the first fines are handed down. Covid restrictions are lifted early. All in the shadow of impending war in Ukraine.
Johnson, Carrie and Sunak are all fined over the birthday cake “ambush”.
Splash: “Led by liars and lawbreakers”
Inside: Three spreads: “A street of shame”; “The guilty parties” and “Have they got away with it?”
Splash: “Don’t they know there’s a war on?”
Inside spread: “Nine minutes, no cake…and unopened beer”.
Leader: “Call time on Partygate and let us all move on”
Comment: Glover says Johnson’s enemies should get a grip. He was right to say sorry, but this was no bacchanalian orgy.
Realisation dawns that the uneaten birthday cake (which stayed in its Tupperware container) was probably the least of the Partygate sins and that if Johnson was fined for that, what will the police do about the BYOB party and the other events he attended?
Splash: “Worst is yet to come, PM”
Two inside spreads: “Gathering storm” and “This is why it matters”.
Inside spread: “Boris braced for string of fines”
Johnson makes a statement to the Commons when MPs return from Easter break. There are moves to instigate a Parliamentary standards investigation. If the Tories are whipped to oppose, it could be like “Paterson on steroids”, making matters worse.
Splash: “You choose” – a message to Tory MPs: “Tomorrow you vote on whether to investigate if our PM misled Parliament. You can vote for integrity & decency... or for a liar and a cheat. Your vote will define the character of our nation for many years to come.”
Inside spread: “A sorry excuse for a PM”.
Inside spread: “Boris: My bitter regret”.
Leader: “PM’s apology should lay Partygate to rest”. “Confected outrage by his political opponents (invariably Remainers) verges on deranged.”
The Prime Minister heads to India to talk trade as MPs talk about whether the standards committee should investigate him. Before leaving, he had followed up his Commons apology at a meeting of backbenchers in which he bridled at the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of the Rwanda immigration plan and at the BBC's coverage of Partygate.
Inside spread: "Dark day for decency"
Inside spread: "Rage at Starmer for Boris BBC slur", Oliver Dowden calls on Starmer to apologise for saying Johnson had accused the BBC of not being critical enough of Putin. Johnson says, "I said nothing of the sort". Plus: "House of hypocrites", Andrew Pierce castigates MPs who spoke against the Prime Minister over Partygate and Rwanda, detailing their "hypocrisy". Targets include Theresa May, the woman the paper backed as PM for three years through thick and very thin.
The whips are called off and the Commons approve the standards investigation without a vote. The Prime Minister isn’t there to see it: he’s on a trade trip to India.
Splash: “At last Tories turn on PM”
Inside spread: “MPs’ Indian mutiny”
Splash: “How long can the Partygate farce go on?”
Inside spread: “PM: how often can I apologise?”
Splash: “Police review over Starmer’s lockdown drinks”.
Inside spread: “Was this really a work event?”
A “full” 43-second video of Keir Starmer “swigging” beer in Durham on April 30 last year has emerged. A Tory MP has written to Durham Police to ask them to investigate. They had already looked at allegations about the event and decided no rules were broken. They have not now promised to review the claims, merely to consider the MP’s letter.
The Mirror carries nothing
Splash: “Labour’s lockdown lies and hypocrisy”.
Inside spread: “We made a mistake. Angela WAS present”.
Page 9: “Keir flouted lockdown guidance at own birthday party…with TWO cakes.”
Labour had initially said Angela Rayner had not been at Durham, but now said she had.
The Mirror carries nothing.
Splash: “Police told to investigate Labour’s lies”
Four inside pages: “Who does Keir think he’s kidding?”; “and how did she think she could keep it secret?”; “Backlash over Sue Gray adviser who accused Tories of ‘serving up bile’”; and Glover on “Why DID Labour mislead this paper on Beergate?”
Leader: “Shameful dereliction of the Beergate police”
The people telling the police to investigate Labour’s lies are Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers. There is no new evidence or any fresh allegations.
The Mirror carries nothing.
Splash: “Show us the proof, Sir Keir”
Inside spread: “Humiliated Starmer’s Beergate admission” plus “Riddle as takeaway driver tells of ‘big’ curry delivery for up to 30 people…then U-turns hours later
Leader: “Stop dissembling and come clean”.
Tory MPs are the ones demanding proof that Starmer carried on working after his 10pm beer and takeaway. Details of the curry delivery are trickling out. Starmer’s “admission” is that Labour should have said from the outset that Rayner was in Durham.
The Mirror carries nothing.
Page 1 puff: “Sir Keir’s Beergate hypocrisy and why people who live in glass bottles shouldn’t throw mud”
Inside spread: “No reasonable person believes Labour’s story” and the Littlejohn column puffed on the front.
Leader: “Police must do their duty”.
Nadine Dorries says she doesn’t believe the Durham beer drinking was a work event.
The Mirror carries nothing.
Splash: “Man who just can’t answer a straight question”
Inside spread: “Were Keir police at Beergate Hall?”
Leader: “Why won’t Keir tell the truth?” “This scandal won’t go away”.
Starmer declines to say in a series of interviews whether the police have been in touch.
The Mirror carries nothing.
Inside spread: “Sir Beer changes curry night story”
Comment: Glover says “Keir isn’t as honest as he’d like us to think”.
It’s not clear how Starmer has changed his story, but the paper says that a buffet for “up to 30 people” was in clear breach of the rules which said there should not be any sharing of food or drink by people who did not share a household.
Richard Holden, the Tory MP who had twice written to Durham police asking them to investigate, writes to them again. More details of the £200 curry takeaway came courtesy of the Sun.
The Mirror carries nothing.
The local election results are in. The Conservatives have done badly in their southern heartlands but Labour have not made progress in the Red Wall areas that turned Tory in the general election.
Inside spread: “Tories turn on Johnson” on the election results, with a single column on “Labour’s curry is probed by police”.
Splash: “Now it’s slippery Starmer in crisis”
Inside spread: “New evidence that skewered Starmer”. Evidence for which the paper claims credit.
Leader: “How can Starmer survive police probe?”
Mail on Sunday
Splash: “Keir Starmer’s Beergate story blown apart by leaked memo”
Inside: Two spreads: “Keir’s curry night was pre-arranged”; “Rivals circling to take faltering leader’s job”; Dan Hodges comment: “Voters will forgive many things, Sir Keir, but self-righteous hypocrisy is just not one of them”.
An internal organisational memo shows that the curry takeaway was always planned and not a response to hotels and restaurants being shut and that Starmer was due to return to his hotel straight afterwards. He says he carried on working.
Splash: “Rattled Starmer snubs chance to clear the air” – he has pulled out of an event where he was to speak and then face a Q&A session.
Inside spread: “Labour insiders: he’ll have to go if fined”.
Leader: “Sinner Starmer must say sorry for Beergate” – but the paper doesn’t think he should resign.
Patrick Maguire says Labour should have done better at the elections, but thinks Beergate is a Tory smear campaign.
Starmer says he will resign if fined over Beergate. This is seen as a good and bad thing.
Splash: “This is what honour looks like, Mr Johnson”
Inside spread: “I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws should follow them”.
Leader: “Calling the PM’s bluff”. This could be make or break for Starmer, but either way, Labour wins.
Splash: “Starmer accused of piling pressure on police”
Inside spread: “Keir’s curry night staff were drunk”. Plus Glover: “If he were really a man of honour, he wouldn’t be trying to sway the police”.
Was the beer and curry night legally the same as the Prime Minister’s birthday cake ambush? Possibly. Are they both trivial infractions (if they were at all)? Possibly. But what really matters in both cases is the question of honesty and integrity. The Mail gets it in spades with Starmer and Beergate – it repeatedly hammers the hypocrisy line and the Labour leader’s “self-righteousness”. But when it was Johnson’s fine, it was all about the uneaten cake. The Mirror was maybe too outraged, the Mail too quick to brush aside concerns.
The Partygate scandal was so big and widespread that every paper picked up on it and splashed it at least once; there were just so many events, a culture of drinking at the heart of government. Beergate hasn’t generated anywhere near the same enthusiasm, even among Conservative-supporting papers.
It’s also worth mentioning here some of the connections / history in this saga. The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar was excluded from Johnson’s battle bus in the 2019 election campaign and an attempt to keep her out of a David Frost Brexit briefing in 2020 sparked a walkout by all journalists covering Downing Street. So there is no love lost between her and the Government. The Mail, on the other hand, has close links to some of the people involved. One of the parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral was a farewell for James Slack, the head of communications. He was previously the Mail’s political editor and moved to Downing Street at Theresa May’s behest. He is now a Sun executive. Jack Doyle, who made a speech at one of the events and left in the No 10 clearout, is also a former Mail associate editor. And the Starmer video that sparked Beergate turns out to have been shot by Ivo Delingpole, a Durham university student who happens to be the son of the former Mail writer James Delingpole. The paper has not mentioned that to its readers (or so far as I can see) – but you wouldn’t expect a paper to reveal its sources.
The Mail has claimed credit for discovering and running with the story, but the curry details, the claims that no work was done after the meal, and the reports of drunkenness were uncovered by other papers. And while a dozen Downing Street events are under police investigation, the Mail’s dogged pursuit of Beergate has failed to elicit even a single report of other events, beyond the TWO (in capital letters) birthday cakes apparently consumed in Starmer’s office in September – when Covid restrictions were off. You would have thought that, as happened with the Downing Street parties, that once one “sin” had been uncovered, other people would come forward with examples of wrongdoing – the sort of snowball effect exemplified by the #MeToo movement.
But none has. So the Mail has been banging on with this one “weapon” – and to achieve what? It has said in so many words that it doesn't want Starmer to resign; it wants him to carry on, discredited. It wants to show, by false equivalence, that “everyone was at it”, that “all politicians are the same” – which they weren't and aren't – to sustain in power a Prime Minister it itself has accused of lacking integrity and judgment.
Meanwhile, the Mirror has been pouncing on every Partygate twist and turn to proclaim “this is the moment” when Johnson has to go. But he's still there. People are angry about the parties, but not angry enough for the Red Wall to return Labour councillors last week. They still like Boris. It’s the southern heartland dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives who don't.
Starmer can doubtless prove that his team worked on after the takeaway – it was a key by-election campaign after all, not a normal day at the office. And the £200 curry bill suggests the "up to 30 people" claim is hyperbole, unless they had extremely modest portions (we spent £80 on a meal for four of us the other night). But that "buffet" element, when the rules were that you should not share food with people from outside your household, might just lead to a fine.
So we have a situation where we could possibly see the leader of the opposition resigning while the Prime Minister, who by any measure presided over the bigger scandal, survives.
Funny old world, isn’t it.
Liz Gerard’s Notebook is a fortnightly column published in the InPubWeekly newsletter. To be added to the mailing list, enter your email address here.