By Oliver Gibson –
If there’s one trait the Government can’t be accused of having at the moment, it would be openness. We were told in March 2020 that our freedoms would be restored after just three weeks. Yet, eighty-nine and a half weeks later, we are now on course for a wave of new restrictions and some worry of a potential fourth lockdown.
We were told last December that just 15 million jabs would buy our way out of lockdown – and while ninety-seven percent of the population is now vaccinated, Boris Johnson suggested that we should have a ‘national conversation’ about compulsory vaccination. 
We were told that the Government’s roadmap to freedom was cautious but irreversible, and yet the Government hastily sought to implement restrictions to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, which was described by the European Medicines Agency as being ‘mild.’  To this day, there are no known deaths from the Omicron variant, as confirmed by the WHO last week.   
The negative impacts of lockdown upon the economic and social fabric of this country have been known for some time. A recently-published report from Public Health England found that the rise in alcohol consumption in 2020 drove a ‘20% increase in deaths from diseases caused by drinking.’  
However, it now seems that staffers in No. 10, to put it mildly, had quite a different experience during the pandemic to the rest of us. Many spent last Christmas isolated from friends and family due to the Government’s last-minute change of policy – and now it transpires that close to ten parties took place in Government offices across the Winter months.
If that wasn’t bad enough, figures from within the Government, including the Prime Minister himself, then proceeded to deny the parties ever took place before the infamous video of Downing Street staffers discussing the parties surfaced online.
So, has the Government lost the plot? And is Boris Johnson going anywhere?
So far, it is believed that eight parties took place in Government offices last year, with the latest confirmed party reportedly occurring in the Treasury’s offices on the 25 November last year. [8 ] A party also reportedly took place in the Conservative Party’s headquarters on the 14 December that year, meaning that the heart of Government and the Conservative Party top-brass are embroiled in the fiasco. 
It is not yet known precisely who was in attendance, though speculation over this question has been rife on Twitter. According to Dominic Cummings, we may soon be able to identify the party-goers as pictures exist and will apparently be released in the near future.  If Government ministers were present alongside staffers, this would naturally escalate the crisis – as elected officials are directly accountable to Parliament and to the electorate.
Of course, it is possible that someone in the Government knew about the parties. While Downing Street contains a hive of offices, workspaces and apartments, it is implausible that not a single Government minister knew about any of the parties, considering that the Prime Minister’s official residence is an apartment above No. 11.
While this remains a contentious issue, it is important to consult relevant legislation before suggesting that the Government’s actions were illegal. According to Joshua Rozenberg, a solicitor interviewed by the Metro, it is possible that No. 10 was exempt from lockdown regulations under Section 73 (2) of the Public Health Act 1984.  As his language suggests, this has not yet been confirmed, and according to the human rights barrister Adam Wagner the potential defence is ‘obscure.’ 
Readers can find the text of the Public Health Act 1984 here.
With that being said, the Government would not be off the hook even if they successfully argued that they were legally exempt from the rules. This issue runs far deeper than that.
Why the Government should be concerned
In the midst of all the revelations, one can ask if this is a dead cat being thrown into the uproar. The dead cat strategy is a metaphor to describe introducing something shocking or sensational in order to divert attention away from something else.
An interesting insight into Boris Johnson’s awareness of the strategy is that he has explained the tactic in the past. In the words of Boris Johnson: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant.
“The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.” 
Major votes are coming up in Parliament next week, with the House of Commons being set to vote on the Government’s “Plan B” measures, which would extend face mask rules to most public indoor venues and would also tell people to work from home once again, and these will be key tests of Boris Johnson’s power and ability to command the confidence of lawmakers.
MPs are set to vote on the Government’s proposed vaccine passports as well, despite Johnson’s assertion that Britain ‘cannot be discriminatory’ against those who are unable to get the vaccine and Nadhim Zahawi’s comment that the Government had ‘absolutely no plans’ to implement them last January. 
A significant number of Conservative MPs have publicly stated they will vote against these measures. This number continues to grow, and it is plausible that a number of MPs will choose to abstain from those votes as well, lowering the legitimacy of the motion.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into vaccine passport proposals from September also found that ‘the Government still has not set out the scientific case’ for their implementation.  Furthermore, Tom Randall, a Conservative MP who sits on that committee, stated this week that the Government had still failed to put that case forwards. 
These votes could well put yet another strain on the ability of the whips to control the Conservative backbenches – and if the Government has to rely on the Labour Party to pass these Plan B measures, Johnson’s personal authority could well be significantly damaged.
Should his relationship with Conservative backbenchers be damaged even further, it would be possible for Conservative MPs to launch a no-confidence motion in his leadership. This method was utilised by Eurosceptic Conservatives against Theresa May in December 2018.  While May won that vote by 200 to 117 votes, securing a one-year-long exemption from leadership challenges under the Party’s rules, her authority was broken, leading to the no-confidence vote in the House of Commons, which she survived by a slim margin of just nineteen. 
It would also be possible for the Commons to pursue such a vote if enough MPs from across the House believe Johnson misled the chamber in his comments regarding his Government’s breakages of lockdown rules at the dispatch box.
The Government may also be worried about many recent opinion polls, which appear to suggest a substantial swing to the Labour Party. One such poll by FocalData demonstrated a swing of eight percent, while both Redfield & Winton and YouGov’s polls showed a lesser swing of four percent to Labour. 
Could the Government weather this storm?
With all that being said, a poll conducted by YouGov also showed that a huge majority of the public support further powers being handed to the Government. Seventy-six percent of respondents were found to be in favour of extending the mask mandate to most indoor venues,  while just one in ten Britons said they would not follow the rules specifically because of the Government’s reported failure to do the same. 
It is possible that the outrage over the Government’s breakage of lockdown rules could blow over. In May 2020, for example, sixty-eight percent of respondents to a YouGov poll said that Dominic Cummings broke Covid rules and fifty-two percent said that he should have resigned.  While seventy-three percent of respondents believe that the police should investigate the parties that happened on Government property, only time will tell if this issue will fall out of the public mind with time, as did the Barnard Castle incident.
The Government has also manoeuvred its way out of various other fiascos in the past while retaining a lead in most polls. Furthermore, Boris Johnson has been able to fight off various allegations that he lied in the past, such as over Brexit and the Coronavirus. Despite much talk over his personal conduct before he became Prime Minister in 2019, he also managed to secure a greater share of the vote in the general election of that year than Tony Blair did in 1997 or 2001.
So, what will happen?
In summary, this remains a developing affair. All eyes will be on the Plan B votes in the House of Commons next week – and while it appears for the moment that enough MPs will support these measures, should a large enough rebellion occur on the Conservative backbenches, it could spell serious trouble for the Government over the next few months.
If the Government then decide to press on with their Plan C proposals, which have now become a worse-kept secret than the parties at No. 10, this could spark a larger backbench rebellion as well as popular protests given that the Government has so far seemingly chosen to absolve itself of the responsibility of following its own laws.
In short, Johnson’s future lies in his own hands and in the hands of Conservative MPs. The next election remains far off in the distance, and the Labour Party is in no real position to challenge his authority until the country goes to the polls. Even then, given the nature of polling, it is possible that the Conservatives could regain their earlier lead and call an election on their own terms as they did in 2019.