A toast to one rule for them and another for us (Picture: Channel 4)

Can you be even more angry about the Tories partying in 10 Downing Street during the pandemic? Is it worth making a television programme about it? On the evidence of Channel 4’s Partygate, the answer to both is yes.

It’s not the most sophisticated programme you will ever watch, but it seeks to make basic points and does this well.

It centres on two fictional special advisers. Grace Greenwood is an attempt at a “not too awful Tory”. An enthusiastic supporter of Boris Johnson, she has come to the centre of politics in the hope of “making a difference”. 

Greenwood is from Darlington and didn’t go to public school, so she is an outsider geographically and in class terms. She soon finds endless party-planning duties swamp any other activities.

The other special adviser Annabel D’acre is her opposite, who sums up the elitism of the Number 10 gilded elite. “It’s our job to make the rules, not follow them,” she says.

There are lots of sickening and revealing moments. “Shall I get the karaoke machine?” asks the government’s “director general of the propriety and ethics team”, Helen MacNamara.

Recreation, such as Tory “workers” cramming bottles of champagne into a suitcase in Tesco for their later partying, are effective and almost unbelievable. And throughout the programme, Downing Street revelry is intercut with the real experience of people who could not visit their dying relatives or had only the barest funerals.

There’s very powerful footage of a group of mourners who are stopped from moving their chairs together at a funeral because of the regulations. At the same time there’s a raucous party in Number 10.

Partygate isn’t heavy handed, but uses the official sources well. The moments when you think “Did that really happen?” it flashes up the source such as the Sue Gray report. And it also features the cleaners who had to clear up the vomit-stained, wine-splattered, toff-damaged rooms. 

At one point a drunk sets off a panic alarm and a cop appears, pushing his way through the jigging throng. He does nothing. According to the Met police, it was “impossible to expect” him to realise the party was breaking Covid laws.

It’s not the first attempt at a television play about these events. But in many ways it is better than the much more ambitious This England on Sky last year.

That featured Kenneth Branagh as Johnson. It made the point about ruler-makers as rule-breakers. But it also made Johnson into a tortured character who was overwhelmed by a near-impossible personal and social situation. It might have made some people feel sorry for him.

One day I hope someone will make a drama of these events entirely from the viewpoint of a cleaner. But until then Partygate is worth an hour of any Socialist Worker reader’s time.

Watch Partygate at https://www.channel4.com/programmes/partygate


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