Tories Hit Back at Opposition and Media Over 'Partygate' Consequences
20:17 GMT 14.01.2022 (Updated: 06:54 GMT 15.01.2022)
With the prospect of a party leadership challenge against PM Boris Johnson seemingly still far off, cabinet ministers and backbench MPs now look to be pulling together to ride out the storm of "Partygate".
Conservatives have hit back at opposition parties and journalists over a push to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign.
After weeks of embarrassing leaked photos and emails showing staff gatherings at 10 Downing Street during the COVID-19 lockdown — finally prompting an apology from the PM on Wednesday — a counter-offensive has begun under Tory ministers and backbenchers.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told reporters on Friday it was time to "move on" from the scandal and let the government get on with running the country while waiting for senior civil servant Sue Gray to complete her inquiry.
"He has apologised, I think we now need to move on and talk about how we are going to sort out issues", Truss said. "I've spent the last 24 hours with the EU, talking about sorting out the situation for the people of Northern Ireland".
The foreign secretary returned to the ministerial script of listing Johnson's achievements since replacing his ousted successor, Theresa May, in 2019.
"We need to look at the overall position we're in as a country: the fact that he has delivered Brexit, that we are recovering from COVID — we've got one of the fastest-growing economies now in the G7 and we're delivering the booster programme", she said.
Other ministers launched a more indirect offensive, pledging to lift the remaining unpopular lockdown measures by the end of the month.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said rapidly falling case numbers
in the past week, following the peak of the Omicron variant, meant "vaccine passports" for large public venues and the recommendation to work from home would not be extended beyond the current 26 January deadline.
Additionally, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said mask mandates for secondary-school children could be cancelled even sooner
Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg in parliament on Thursday ventured that the lockdown may have been "too hard on people" — to jeers from the opposition benches.
So far, only six Conservative MPs
are believed to have written to backbench 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady calling for a no-confidence vote in the PM — far short of the 54 needed to trigger a contest. One of the six, Newton Abbott MP Anne Marie Morris, had the party whip suspended on Wednesday for voting in favour of a Labour motion.
Tory backbenchers, including Richard Holden and Peter Bone, accused the BBC of "bias" in its coverage of the political row.
"This is a clear show of BBC bias but I am afraid the BBC are regularly promoting their own political agenda rather than being an independent broadcaster as they're supposed to be", Bone said. "Whether it's the prime minister or Brexit, they are pushing a particular line".
The conservative press also began to rally round the beleaguered PM after days of splashing on the story.
The Daily Telegraph
, in a he-said-she-said piece, reminded readers that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was caught on camera last May at an office party in County Durham with a fellow MP and staff — just as Johnson did in the Number 10 garden.
presenter Dan Wooton
wrote for The Mail Online
that "lockdown laws are an a** that should be ruled out as an option from the public health playbook forever".
humour columnist, Steerpike
, mused about whether "Partygate" was a "Remainer plot" after Labour peer Lord Adonis tweeted
: "If Boris Goes, Brexit goes".
Labour's attack on Johnson — a purported anecdote from a nurse about a man denied entry to a hospital to see his dying wife during lockdown "for the greater good" — proved ill-judged.
Commentators from both the left and right pointed out that Labour not only supported the restrictions, but demanded the government clamp down harder and longer with pandemic-based health restrictions.
In fact, the Tories, at the time, looked more in danger of being outflanked on the right than from the left.