On January 12th, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson admitted to having attended a party during lockdown in May 2020. However, the PM explained that he thought he was attending a work event, given that the gathering took place in the Number 10 garden, which he said is viewed as ‘an extension of the office.’
Johnson said that he went to the garden just after 6pm to thank his colleagues for their hard work, and only remained there for 25 minutes. With hindsight, the PM explained, he should have sent everyone back inside and found another way to thank them. He also stated that, although the gathering could have been said to ‘technically’ fall within the guidance at the time, there would be ‘millions and millions of people who simply wouldn’t see it that way.’
The current inquiry looking into the alleged gatherings held by government officials inside Downing Street and Whitehall over the past year and a half was also referenced during PMQs. Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, is examining evidence around gatherings to decide if they broke coronavirus legislation.
Johnson said: ‘Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer dubbed Johnson’s explanation for having attended the party ‘ridiculous’ and ‘offensive to the British public.’
Following the admission from the PM that he was, in fact, at a party during lockdown, a new Instagram trend began asking users to show a picture of what they were doing on May 20th 2020. The pictures are mostly of people on their one designated walk a day, families sanitising their weekly shop, or playing with their pets. Essentially, the trend was a pointed way of showing that, while the government was partying, we were inside, lonely, and bored, but still following the rules they had set for us.
Where was I on May 20th last year? Unfortunately there are no pictures in my camera roll showing what I was up to that day. So it is safe to assume that I probably wasn’t doing anything at all.
I was back at home, most likely filling out paperwork to try to secure a refund for the months and months of rent paid for student accommodation I wouldn’t be living in because of the pandemic. It was my first year of university and, instead of spending the spring outside in the sun with my friends, working on my degree, and partying like students do, I was inside my bedroom. Alone.
During what was meant to be the best and most formative years of my life, everything was put on hold. My education disappeared completely during the spring of 2020 before evolving to being entirely online, and my social life evaporated into nothing. I missed out on experiences I was promised at uni.
I would argue that I missed out on an entire nine grand’s worth of education, and a year’s rent on a second-year student house I was unable to live in because I was following the rules and trying to protect the vulnerable. But more important than money, I missed my friends, I missed my family, and I had to say goodbye to my grandma while wearing a mask and surgical gloves to protect my elderly grandfather. Meanwhile, a party was happening at Number 10.
‘Beyond a joke’
Final year history student Seth Nobes shared his thoughts with Freshered, and said:
‘It’s beyond a joke that the rules that had an immeasurable impact on student’s mental health, university experience, and education were made by people who allegedly did not follow them. Despite the untold impact Zoom learning had on students, both emotionally and educationally, everyone understood the importance of staying at home.’
Nobes explained that ‘it is clear’ that those in charge feel as though they are above the rules ‘even when people were dying and restrictions meant they weren’t able to mourn or celebrate their loved one’s lives.’
Among students, this opinion is shared widely, and a second year student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, said: ‘I was really struggling with my mental health at the time Boris attended the party. I couldn’t attend uni in person due to restrictions leading me to feel isolated and alone. Boris’s actions have made a mockery out of my experience.’
See also: Students graduating this year face tougher competition for jobs