There’s no defending the indefensible, but unfortunately for Tory ministers bound by collective responsibility – and the Conservative backbenchers who are staunch supporters of Boris Johnson – they’ve had to defend the prime minister from a wave of criticism over Partygate.
The only problem is that they have a tendency of making the whole situation worse.
Much, much worse.
Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter
So much so, in fact, there’s a whole Twitter account ironically dedicated to “showcasing Tories who are being extremely helpful”, titled ‘Tories That Are Helping’.
Here are eight times MP’s have made a massive hole even bigger:
In an interview with Channel 4 News on Tuesday, Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns argued people can “characterise these things in different ways” when it comes to Partygate.
He said: “My understanding of that, from what I know of it, and I know as much as you do or your viewers as home know, the prime minister was out on a visit. He came back, he was working in the cabinet room.
“People came in and presented him with the cake on his birthday, they sang ‘happy birthday’, he was there for about 10 minutes.
The Channel 4 News presenter interjected: “Well invites were sent out.”
“Well he, as far as I can see, he was in a sense, ambushed with a cake. They came to his office with a cake, they sang ‘happy birthday’, he was there for 10 minutes,” Mr Burns added.
#AmbushedByCake would later go on to trend on Twitter as people made a plethora of memes mocking him.
Elsewhere, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell – who sometimes makes headlines for his campaign to have the BBC play the national anthem every day – appeared in the news for a different reason when he suggested “lots of people break the law in small ways”.
He told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “I’m sure there are ministers who get parking tickets and speed fines, too – they broke the [law]. You know, lots of people break the law in small ways, sometimes unintentionally.
“You know, he’s not robbed a bank!”
He may not have robbed the bank Nationwide, Mr Rosindell, but he’s certainly betrayed people’s trust nationwide.
Crispin Blunt, the MP for Reigate, sparked fury after he suggested to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that “most homes” and “most businesses” may not have “kept absolutely to the rules”.
He said: “Some of these rules made more sense in hindsight than others, which probably didn’t achieve very much.
“But these are difficult decisions being made and it may very well be that probably inside most homes and inside most businesses, and inside most places of public administration, people may not have kept absolutely to the rules.”
Mr Blunt then went on to dig an even bigger hole, when he compared a Covid fine or “fixed penalty notice” to a speeding ticket.
“We’ve now got the Metropolitan Police investigating alleged criminality … which would attract a fixed penalty notice.
“No one is suggesting that if the prime minister had been caught speeding that he should be sacked, I hope.
“He shouldn’t be driving himself in any case, but let’s try and get it into perspective,” he said.
The MP’s remarks have since been described by Twitter users as “despicable” and “embarrassing”.
One MP with an affinity for sticking his foot in it is Michael Fabricant, who has also come under fire for his response to Nus Ghani’s accusation that she was fired as a junior minister because of her “Muslimness”.
“She’s hardly someone who’s obviously a Muslim,” he told LBC presenter Andrew Pierce.
Meanwhile, on Partygate, one tweet from Mr Fabricant on allegations a party whip had threatened a fellow Tory MP over a no-confidence letter backfired spectacularly on Thursday.
He wrote: “If I reported every time I had been threatened by a whip or if a whip reported every time I had threatened them, the police wouldn’t have any time to conduct any other police work! What nonsense from WW [William Wragg MP].”
Needless to say many Twitter users were quick to point out how the tweet somewhat suggests that Wragg’s experience, if true, isn’t an isolated incident.
Conservative peer Lord Moylan chose to wade into the debate on Saturday with the helpful contribution that “Johnson doesn’t lie any more than the rest of us”.
Perhaps he later realised how much of an embarrassment the tweet was, as it has since been deleted from Twitter.
Things got really rather awkward in Bishop’s Stortford last week, when the Tory MP for the area, Julie Marson, refused to write about Partygate in her fortnightly column for a local newspaper.
She instead chose to write about the far more pressing issues of “train services for Hertford East passengers and hare coursing”, apparently.
In an explanation published instead of the comment piece, the Bishop’s Stortford Independent wrote: “In the two years since [we offered Ms Marson her column] we have never told her what to write about in her column – until this week and ‘Partygate’.
“On Friday [14 January], we emailed her office: ‘In light of the widely reported events and developments concerning the prime minister this week, I would like Julie’s scheduled column for next week’s Indie to address fully and solely the issues at the heart of these matters, in a similar way to her 700-word statement of May 2020 concerning Dominic Cummings and his Barnard Castle trip, which we published in full.’”
However, in offering up a piece on trains instead, her office explained: “We’ve noted your comment about what you wanted it to be about but take the view that if a paper offers a column slot, then it’s up to the person given that opportunity to decide what to write about. This is normal local newspaper industry rules too.”
As a result, the paper decided not to run the column at all, and asked the office to “forward us the ‘local newspaper industry rules’ that say a columnist should dictate a newspaper’s content to its editor”.
Ms Marson responded to the decision on Twitter later the same day, writing: “Oh sorry editor of Bishop’s Stortford Independent but not true it’s only once you (rudely) told me what I should write about (despite having already commented on it).
“Here’s an email from October 2020 when you tried to force me into writing what you wanted. Jog any memories?”
The email attached to the tweet referenced a request to write about free school meals for school children.
The correction from the editor was published on the Bishop’s Stortford Independent’s Facebook page the next day, and read: “In the 2 years that the Indie has been offering Julie Marson MP a fortnightly platform for an unedited 900-word column, #PartyGate is the second, not the first, time we have directed her – as we similarly do with our other columnists – to address a burning issue.
“We are grateful to her for highlighting the fact that the first time she would not be directed on addressing a burning issue related to her voting against feeding hungry school children in holidays.”
According to Financial Times reporter Jim Pickard, Tory MP Martin Vickers said “even a serial killer gets his day in court” when it comes to Conservatives waiting for Sue Gray’s report before taking any action.
We’re not sure the prime minister would appreciate that comparison.
Not long after ITV News broke the latest scandalous breach of lockdown rules – an alleged birthday party for Mr Johnson in Downing Street in June 2020– culture secretary Nadine Dorries took to Twitter to defend her boss.
“So, when people in an office buy a cake in the middle of the afternoon for someone else they are working in the office with and stop for ten minutes to sing happy birthday and then go back to their desks, this is now called a party?” she asked.
It didn’t go down well.
Still Nadine Dorries
It wasn’t the only time that the culture secretary delivered a bizarre blunder in defence of her colleagues, as the Mid Bedfordshire MP claimed Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, was slow to express support for Boris Johnson over Partygate because of the Wi-Fi in Devon.
“The chancellor was on a long planned visit down to Devon on the coast where, as we all know, the signals – the Wifi and broadband – which is something that the MP for that area that he was with, Selaine Saxby, is constantly lobbying for.
“We know it doesn’t have great signal down there, we know that it’s a pre-arranged visit,” she told Channel 4 News.
We don’t know how strong the signal is in Devon, but we do know that a stronger signal has been sent to Mr Johnson for him to resign.
It seems like a long time ago now, but remember when a photo of staff in the Downing Street garden was a big Partygate issue? At the time, Dominic Raab was wheeled out to defend the photo to the media and he did so by claiming the gathering could not have been a party because people photographed were “wearing suits”.
Somehow we are sceptical of the idea Raab has never been invited to a formal do.
Things went from bad to worse for the Tory party when Jacob Rees-Mogg decided to slam Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish branch of the party and called him a “lightweight”.
It is not like relations with the Union are important or anything…
Enjoyed this article? Then click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help it rise through the indy100 rankings and have your say in our news democracy.