Birthday party in lockdown: Will Johnson’s cake doom?

As reported by the television channel ITV, Johnson’s wife Carrie is said to have organized a birthday party for the conservative politician in his official residence at 10 Downing Street in June 2020 – in the middle of the lockdown. Private indoor meetings were not allowed at the time. The government did not deny the report in principle.

For Johnson, who has been in the crossfire of criticism for weeks over reports of allegedly illegal lockdown parties, Monday night’s revelation comes at a precarious time. The critical voices in his own party are getting louder. In the past few days there have been allegations of Islamophobia in the government and lax action against fraud in corona aid.

The results of an internal investigation by top official Sue Gray into a spate of alleged lockdown parties at Downing Street are expected later this week. Johnson’s political fate could depend on the outcome of this investigation.

Several members of his own faction want to overthrow him. The new revelations should be grist to their mills. Insiders now believe a vote of no confidence is inevitable. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak as well as Health Committee Chairman Jeremy Hunt are already positioning themselves as successors.

According to ITV, up to 30 guests are said to have attended the alleged celebration on the afternoon of June 19, 2020 for Johnson’s 56th birthday, including mainly employees, but also the designer Lulu Lytle, who renovated the Johnsons’ official apartment for a lot of money – another scandal. According to the report, Carrie Johnson said “Happy Birthday”. In addition to the cake, there is said to have been a picnic with delicacies from a well-known department store and delicatessen chain. Several family members later attended a private party at the Johnsons’ home.

A government spokeswoman did not dispute the report of the gathering, but did not interpret it as a party but rather as a brief gathering of staff after a meeting to congratulate the prime minister. Johnson was there for less than ten minutes. Overall, the event only lasted 20 to 30 minutes. The spokeswoman rejected the report about guests in the official apartment as “completely untrue”. Johnson only received a small group of family members outdoors. Designer Lytle said she was only in Downing Street to work and was waiting to speak to Johnson outside the room where the party was said to be.

The reactions in the press were devastating. Many newspapers took a photo of Johnson with a birthday cake to the front page. The “Sun” headlined: “You can’t have your birthday cake…and eat it, Boris” – an allusion to an English proverb that, when turned into the opposite, is considered Johnson’s motto. In the original it means: You cannot eat a cake and save it for later at the same time. However, Johnson was of the opinion, particularly during the Brexit negotiations, that he could do it and wanted to retain the advantages of EU membership despite leaving. Brussels described this as cherry picking and blocked the attempts. It also caused ridicule that Johnson had repeatedly emphasized at the beginning of the pandemic that you should wash your hands until you have sung “Happy Birthday” twice.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer of the Labor Party has criticized the government as “chaotic and rudderless” and has repeatedly called for Johnson’s resignation. “He has to go,” Starmer affirmed.

Johnson’s voluntary departure is unlikely. But the growing resentment in his own party could become dangerous for him. The head of the conservative Tory party is faced with a confusing coalition of different camps. If 54 members of his parliamentary group in the House of Commons write in favor of a change, there would be a vote of no confidence.

One of Johnson’s last trump cards could be that there is currently no clear favorite to succeed him. Although Secretary of State Truss is considered the favorite of Brexit supporters, she does not have the best reputation among the population. Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak was able to score points during the pandemic with the generous Furlough program, British short-time work. As the son-in-law of an Indian billionaire, however, he is considered unsuitable for inspiring the working class in northern England that Johnson successfully wooed. Hunt is an outsider at best.

Things were already looking dicey for the prime minister last week. He admitted to attending a garden party at his official residence in May 2020 but said he mistook it for a work meeting. His private secretary had invited him in an e-mail with the note “bring your own alcohol”. Johnson says he didn’t notice the e-mail any more than the warnings in advance that it was a breach of the rules. If Gray’s report exposes this information as untrue, it should be tight for Johnson.

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