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UK politics

Why Downing Street broke the rules

One element of “Partygate” that keeps coming up is the sheer stupidity of it, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. How, people wonder, could the “notionally bright folks” running the country have possibly thought that their “series of illicit jamborees” were in any way acceptable? Well, I have a theory: it was “lockdown detachment”. While the rest of us were stuck at home, office life in government “rolled on” as usual. This wasn’t because officials thought the rules didn’t apply to them – it was because the business of government simply couldn’t be conducted remotely, in many cases for security reasons. So in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, “desks were occupied throughout the three lockdowns”. It was, at work at least, life as normal.

That’s the reason why those boozing aides and officials seemed to be detached from reality – they were detached from the reality everyone else was facing. The worry is that this detachment may have bled into policymaking. If you have never been cut off from colleagues, then perhaps harsh, extensive lockdowns don’t seem so onerous. Boris Johnson has announced that England’s remaining restrictions will end next week, but full recovery from the pandemic will still entail some difficult policy choices. Those in power shouldn’t make the same mistake again – they need to recognise that they have been the “privileged exception”.