When the the saga surrounding the Oireachtas Golfing Society dinner unravelled in August 2020, to the echo of claims that no rules had been broken, one cabinet minister and one EU commissioner lost their jobs, one newly appointed supreme court judge came close to losing his and six senators lost their party whip.
What Golfgate then and the current Downing Street Christmas party affair demonstrate is a profound disconnect between sections of the political class and the public they are supposed to serve. This is reflected in anger here 16 months ago and in Britain now at a perception of arrogance based on a “one law for them and another for us” style of governance.
On the day Boris Johnson announced that the Cabinet Secretary would investigate a party in No 10 that the prime minister earlier insisted did not happen, and a hapless communications official fell on her sword for how she had addressed a press conference rehearsal, the prime minister also reintroduced important lockdown measures in response to the Omicron variant.
Public trust in Johnson and his political authority as prime minister has never been more important in selling the lockdown message. Instead even many of his own backbenchers have begun to question more openly whether his cheerful rogue persona is fit for purpose and in their political self-interest. An article in the medical journal The Lancet, "The Cummings Effect", echoes the concerns of many scientists in reporting that the breach of Covid-19 rules by Johnson's adviser Dominic Cummings in March 2020 is "having negative and lasting consequences …. for public trust and the risks to behaviour".
Non-compliance and vaccine refusal would be implicitly sanctioned not only by partying in No 10 but by denial and cover-up. The important advice of scientists that new lockdown measures are needed is muddied by the obfuscations and evasions of the prime minister who stands beside them to deliver a message of caution. Trust lost is hard to restore.