Ros Wynne Jones says what happened at Downing Street – vomiting, partying till 4am, utter arrogance and hubris – is only a metaphor for what Johnson and the other Buller Boys have done to Britain
Image: ITV News)
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
When the Sue Gray report finally came today, it could have been written about Tom and Daisy Buchanan in F Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel, The Great Gatsby.
But it’s Boris and Carrie Johnson who presided over the culture at the heart of the most famous real estate in the country.
Downing Street – a place where cleaners and staff were “treated like dirt”. Where – during the biggest crisis to afflict Britain in modern times, and against the laws of the times – a party culture prevailed, and bottles overflowed from bins, and red wine was sprayed up the wall.
Damage to property, intoxicated vomiting, a fight, bottles strewn all over the place. Partying till 4am. Warnings to keep away from the cameras.
All the while the doctors’ and nurses’ faces bore the red scars of their PPE above haunted eyes, and slept alone in case they passed the virus to their loved ones. And grieving wives were told they could not hold their dying husbands. And supermarket staff and bus drivers went terrified to work. And little children were not allowed to play with their friends. And funerals happened on zoom.
And yet Boris Johnson told us who he was. What do we really expect from a Prime Minister who learned his privilege from him at Oxford University’s famous Bullingdon Club?
A private all-male ‘dining society’ for those who had been to the most elite schools and could afford the entrance fee. It was known for drunkenness, vandalism and its utter disregard for ‘small people’.
One alleged stunt – claimed to be apocryphal – involved burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man. At a dinner reported to police in 2010 members of the club had allegedly tried to pull the toilets off the walls.
“I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash,” Boris Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson wrote. “A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging (removing the trousers of) anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men.”
In 2005, Bullingdon Club members smashed 17 bottles of wine, “every piece of crockery,” and a window at the White Hart pub in Fyfield, Oxon. Waitress Nicola Rees, 23, told the BBC: “They were acting out some kind of ritual… They had not come here to eat, they had come to trash the place. Apparently, it’s been going on for years. It’s some kind of tradition.”
Of course, Johnson is not the only inhabitant of Downing Street to be a ‘Buller man’. David Cameron is in the same famous tail-coated picture with him in 1987, and George Osborne was a member too.
And what happened at Downing Street – the vomiting, the partying till 4am, the utter arrogance and hubris – is only a metaphor in the end for what Johnson and the other Buller Boys have done to Britain.
They’ve gone from smashing up country pubs, to smashing up the country.
Years of callousness and carelessness – from the violence of Austerity to an appallingly executed Brexit – have trashed our public services and our global reputation alike.
And now this, partygate, the lowest of low points. A moral compass gone haywire at the height of the pandemic.
At times Sue Gray’s report reads like Gatsby, at other times, a dystopian Bridget Jones’ diary. “Deputy Cabinet Sec Helen MacNamara provided karaoke machine. Excessive boozing and one attendee was sick. There was a fight.”
But Bridget Jones wasn’t eating Krispy Kremes while people died all around.
Today the Prime Minister tried the line ‘I am humbled’, but a tweet from the Prime Minister’s old ally-turned-enemy, Dominic Cummings today said it all. “He doesn’t think he did anything wrong, as he said repeatedly in 2020 ‘Everyone better remember I’m the f*cking Fuhrer around here’.
There was no rose garden for Johnson. The groveling, obfuscating, hair-fluffing Johnson was forced to make his apology to Parliament, like a Buller Boy hauled in front of the College Dean.
Sue Gray wrote: “The senior leadership at the center, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
But they won’t. Johnson has spent a lifetime hiding from responsibility in his personal world as well as in his professional life.
It’s only three years to the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. What a fitting tribute Boris Johnson’s Downing Street years have turned out to be.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.