“Sorry” seems to be the hardest word

“Sorry” seems to be the hardest word

What a busy month May 2020 was for the No 10 staff. Not only was the PM’s principal private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, busy inviting staff to an after work party to enjoy the lovely May weather, but the story of Dominic Cummings’ escape to his family home (when he was diagnosed with Covid) and subsequent trip to Barnard Castle broke. The newspapers were full of little else for days. MPs were busy placating angry constituents. Some Cabinet Ministers decided to defend a man for protecting his family. The Attorney-General, showing her usual disregard for the proprieties of her position, decided to weigh in on the side of Mr Cummings before the police had even finished their investigation. Others wisely stayed silent. There was much chatter in Westminster corridors. Eventually, a table was brought out into the garden of No 10 so that Mr Cummings could explain to us all what he thought he was doing.

Yet, strangely, despite all this chatter not one word of the rules-busting party held only a few days earlier in the very same garden was said. Was it really only the 100 who were invited or the 30 who came who knew about it? Were the rest of the Cabinet or other Ministers completely unaware? Why did no-one blow the whistle then? And what about the earlier pizza party on 15th May? Who knew about that one? Or spoke up about it at the time? Those Ministers who knew then but did or said nothing are no more fit to be in office than the man in whose garden all these parties were being held. Turning a blind eye to wrongdoing is not something to be applauded. Even less so if it is only being revealed now to advance someone’s career.

There were other things happening in May 2020. The weather was indeed glorious, for weeks on end, as the photo for this header shows. In 2020 many of the various holidays and feast days fell conveniently on a Friday or on a weekend. I remember seeing in January the calendar on the wall of my Daughter’s office with the various feast days marked. It promised to be a bumper year for hospitality with people much more likely to come out and spend money if they didn’t have to go to work next day, especially if special events were put on to encourage this.

I remember sitting with her as she cried her eyes out that May looking at the glorious weather and thinking of her closed venue, the plans she had made that would never go ahead, the lost business and earnings she and her staff would never make back. The longer it went on, she told me, the more people would get used to drinking in their own garden and the harder it would be to get them back in. All the hard work building up the business would be for nothing. Many other hospitality venues must have been thinking the same.

I also remember my sister-in-law worrying about whether having her eldest son come to stay to attend the funeral of his brother was a breach of the rules. As if worrying about such a thing is what parents mourning the loss of a much loved son should be thinking about. The idea is grotesque and cruel. But it is what was required. Not just of them. But of very many others denied the comfort of a hug or a squeeze of a hand or the consolation of having people nearby.

I don’t care what Sue Gray finds. I don’t care whether a discredited Metropolitan Police Commissioner finally remembers that her force is indeed meant to investigate retrospective breaches of the law. I don’t care whether all the attendees at all the parties get fined. I don’t care about all the outraged statements which will be made in Parliament and elsewhere. I don’t care if the PM says sorry in his statement, treating us all like one of his long-suffering wives expected to put up with – and forgive – yet another misdemeanour in return for yet another “I really am sorry this time” and an even bigger bunch of flowers.

What I care about that is that the one lesson to be taken from all this is this: in this country right now you’re a mug if you try and do the right thing. You just get taken for a fool. Your hard work doesn’t matter. Your sacrifices don’t matter. When all the fuss has died down, when these here today/gone tomorrow politicians have departed the stage, this is what will be remembered. Why trust any replacement? They will do the same, probably have done the same, it’s just we have yet to find out about it.

Very well then. If those in charge think it OK to find a way round the rules and ignore them because, well, there are always reasons (see any number of excuses being crafted by Tory MPs and others right now), well that’s good enough for the rest of us. No?


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