Insiders talk of jam-packed lockdown parties at No. 10

LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Staff huddled together, sat on each other’s laps, and party rubbish was left out overnight, according to insiders who attended parties at Downing Street during the lockdown.

Insiders who were there at some of the incidents have informed BBC Panorama in great detail for the first time.

They recall arriving at work the morning after a party to discover bottles strewn about the place, garbage bins overflowing, and empties left on the table.

They also recount situations involving dozens of employees crammed together and parties that lasted so late that some employees had stayed in Downing Street all night.

Staff allegedly insulted others who attempted to stop what was happening.

Three insiders have spoken out anonymously about a world behind No 10’s famed front door, where the country’s lockdown regulations were routinely disregarded and socialising was common, with, they believed, the PM’s implicit assent.

One worker outlines Lee Cain, director of communications’ leaving do, which happened on November 13, 2020, and at which the PM was photographed raising a glass but was not penalised.

Others were found to have broken the law by being there, and they were fined.

Mr. Johnson was present and gave a speech thanking Mr. Cain, but as the party grew, there had been perhaps 30 people in a room, if not more. Everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder, with a few people on each other’s laps.. some one or two people, they said.

They represent a “lively occasion… a general celebration with people dancing around” at the party on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral on April 16, 2021. The crowd became so boisterous that security personnel in the building told them to leave and enter the grounds of No 10.

According to one source, everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,” 

They were sitting around the tables, drinking. There were some who remained the night, they added.

They now admit what happened was “unforgivable.”

Insiders admit that the situation was regular. One says, “They were every week.” “The Friday press office drinks invitations were just glued into the diary.”

The invitation was dubbed “WTF,” which stands for “Wine-Time Friday” and is a play on a less genteel abbreviation.

Drinks were frequently scheduled for 4 p.m. in No 10. Friday drinks, according to sources, have been a Whitehall tradition for some years.

But it wasn’t just Fridays when people drank. One former official recalls frequently arriving at No. 10 to discover “A mess! Bottles, empties, trash – in the bin, but overflowing – and even bottles left on the table were common.”

Another source claims that when a custodian, a Downing Street security guard, attempted to stop a party in full swing, they were insulted.

“I recall when a custodian tried to put a stop to it all, and all he did was shake his head and say, ‘This shouldn’t be happening.'”

People mocked him because he was so stirred up that this party was taking place when it shouldn’t, they said.

Each of them depicts Downing Street as a parallel reality. “We saw it as our own bubble,” one recalls, where the rules didn’t apply.

Everything went back to normal. There was no social distancing. Face masks were not worn. It was nothing like the rest of the world, they said.

Another person characterised the events as a “lifeline” for employees who worked long hours and lived alone.

All three, however, point to the prime minister’s personal culture, implying that he “wanted to be liked” and that employees should be able to “let their hair down.”

Because “He was there,” they thought they had his permission to socialise, even if it meant breaching the regulations.

They say, “He may have just been passing through on his way to his flat since that’s what would happen.” “He wasn’t there to say something like this shouldn’t be occurring.

‘Can everyone split up and go home?’ he wasn’t saying. Can everyone maintain a social distance? ‘Can everyone put on their masks?’

He wasn’t telling anyone about it. He reached for a drink for himself.

One staffer recalls how they felt as they watched the PM deny that anything had gone wrong in the House of Commons.

They were just kind of looking at each other in astonishment while watching it live and wondering like – why?” they explain.

Why was he denying it when they had been around him the entire time, they had known the rules had been broken, they had known those parties had taken place?, they added.

Dozens of employees and former employees have been penalised, including two who spoke out to Panorama, and there is hurt and uncertainty over how they were treated.

According to one former staffer, the younger members of the team did not think they were breaking the regulations at the time because the PM was there, and some of the country’s most senior civil servants were there – and were indeed organising some of them.

Some people feel betrayed and “witch hunted,” while more senior officials and politicians have found it easier to continue.

It had been incredibly distressing and embarrassing, especially given the whole time was really traumatic, working every single day then was really difficult. 

They found out that people had been dying in hospital beds, and that they had been dying needlessly… So it was tough to look back on that time and believe that this was what would define it – not the vaccination programme or the food deliveries for those who were being shielded.

“It’ll be, ‘What were you doing in the garden on May 20?'”

The government is well aware that many members of the public will remember this drama.

Mr Johnson’s future will be determined by their willingness to forgive.