What connects the Partygate scandal and the ongoing response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Through their dismissal of concerns about the No.10 parties, and refusal to engage with the Russian influence on our politics, both expose an elite Conservative mindset. One defined by moral and legal exceptionalism which actively works against the interests of the British people and treats us with total contempt.
This contempt is even at times explicit and makes a mockery of the struggles of living under the Tory regime. If Labour can expose it, it will help drive a wedge between what are self-serving elitist interests and any populist appeal the Tories have cultivated under Boris Johnson.
Fiddling while Rome burned
A clearer contrast cannot be drawn than that between the sacrifices made by the British public and the flagrant and unapologetic hypocrisy of the Conservative elite’s actions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The justifiable disdain as the Partygate scandal emerged was immediate. The Government’s Polling slumped as the public began to suspect they were being taken for a ride.
The suspicion, borne out by some of the pictures, is that partying whilst people’s relatives were dying, alone, did not even register as a concern. We see indications from Matt Hancock, Shaun Bailey and now Boris Johnson that they believe the law applies equally, but to some more equally than others.
Their response perfectly captures the exceptionalist mindset – any remorse was remorse at being found out, any statement was tainted by outright lies, and attempts at rule changes (as in the case of Owen Paterson) and coverups (as in the case of convicted sex offender Charlie Elphicke) are the norm.
Labour must be clear that in Britain today, there is one rule for the elite and another rule for us all (coincidentally also written by the elite).
For a while it looked like public anger meant the party was over. But then Putin invaded Ukraine.
Labour on the offensive
The war makes it extremely difficult to be seen to ‘play politics’. But what I believe Labour cannot do is let the Conservatives off the hook; the democratic accountability we deserve as citizens cannot be ignored.
This is why Labour must look to construct a single narrative to capture the anger of, and maintain momentum from, Partygate moving forward as other instances of the elitist Tory mindset rear their ugly head.
We must show that rather than being an unrelated triviality Partygate is an example of the rot that has set in at the heart of the Tories, as is their dependence on Russian money. The invasion has recast what in many cases we already knew about the deep institutional links between Putin’s people and the Conservative Party. One example of this is the personal friendship between the PM and Evgeny Lebedev, the media tycoon and son of a KGB agent who raised security concerns from MI6 which were dismissed by long-term pal Johnson to shoehorn him into the House of Lords (a chamber which you can join in exchange for a £3 million donation to the Conservative Party).
What this does is expose the corrupt and hypocritical mindset of the Conservate elite which will serve to shatter the illusion of a core populist method, pushing a narrative of the populist being on the side of the people against an alliance of a supposed elite and nativist arguments against the scapegoated “others”.
Labour must push to set the record straight by exposing instances of this mindset, a mindset which views citizens with contempt. These individuals are not on the side of the people, and it is time Labour is bold in pushing this. If done successfully, this will force a split between the populist appeal of “Boris Johnson” and the reality of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
What this does is create a clear, coherent, and concentrated line of attack to retain and reinforce the hypocrisy of the government in the public consciousness. This is one which evokes as much as possible the anger of Partygate and forces people to remember Partygate as the evidence stacks up of the other sins of the Conservative elite.
It should be noted that this is not simply reductive by eliding issues into one and making the Labour line one dimensional. Regarding the former, as these instances are manifestations of the underlying rot of the Conservative Party elite mindset a consistent line can be advanced every time. As for the latter, this in no way precludes Labour pursuing other strategies.
I believe putting energy into this strategy of exposing the elitist Tory mindset will be an effective way to get Labour back in office where it belongs, whether this is at the local level with elections looming or at national level with 2024 in the not-so-distant future.
If you enjoyed this piece you might also enjoy “The Anti NATO Left: A Shameful Legacy” by Paul Richards part of our Paul on Politics series.