There are pictures from parties in Downing Street during strict COVID restrictions that will “inevitably get out”, the prime minister’s former chief adviser has said – as two polls showed the Tories being overtaken by Labour.
Dominic Cummings, who left Number 10 last November, made the claim about the images on his Twitter account.
Downing Street Christmas parties: How many events are now under investigation and when were they?
He wrote: “There’s lots of pictures of the parties which will inevitably get out. And invite lists beyond No10, to other departments…”
Mr Cummings also alleged, in a Q&A session on his Substack page, that Boris Johnson knew about an alleged party on 18 December but did not attend.
PM’s standing in his party ‘very low’
The claim comes after a week of difficult headlines and pressure on the PM over the exact nature of gatherings in Downing Street last year at a time of heightened COVID-19 restrictions – and the extent to which he was aware of what went on.
Downing Street has announced it has cancelled its Christmas party this year amid the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant and the move to introduce “Plan B” measures.
And Gavin Barwell, a former Tory MP and chief of staff under Theresa May when she was PM, told Sky News that Mr Johnson’s standing with his MPs was “very low”.
“He is going to have to change the way he runs the government and the Downing Street operation if he wants to get through this,” he told All Out Politics.
“The key point is that many of these wounds are self-inflicted, that’s what’s making Conservative MPs so angry.
“You can take, to a degree, difficulties where the government is grappling with a really complex public policy issue. But when you keep shooting yourself in the foot, that MPs find very, very difficult to tolerate.
“Ultimately, his future will be determined by his standing with the public. The Conservative Party has always been ruthless with its leaders.
“Boris Johnson, more than any previous leader, owes his position to the fact they believe he is an electoral asset.
“If, over a prolonged period, the polls show that is no longer the case, then he really is in trouble.”
How has the row unfolded this week?
Mr Johnson has asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate an alleged Christmas party in Number 10 on 18 December, along with gatherings on 27 November and 10 December.
According to sources who have spoken to Sky News, the event on 18 December was a party which took place with around 40 people in attendance.
The crisis deepened when footage emerged of Number 10 aides laughing and joking about a Christmas party.
The footage, obtained by ITV News, is reported to be of a rehearsal for a TV media briefing from 22 December last year – four days after the alleged event took place.
Senior Number 10 aides are heard jokingly referring to a “business meeting” and a “cheese and wine” event.
London had been put into Tier 3 restrictions on 16 December 2020, preventing mixing indoors between households.
Speaking at PMQs on Wednesday, the PM apologised and said he was “furious” at the footage, but told MPs he has been “repeatedly assured” no such gathering took place.
Allegra Stratton, one of the advisers who was seen in the video laughing and joking, announced her resignation later that day.
Since then, Sky News has established that Jack Doyle, Number 10’s director of communications, addressed staff and handed out awards on the night of the alleged party.
The PM’s spokesman has said he has full confidence in Mr Doyle.
Starmer says PM ‘not fit for office’
Amid the furore over the parties, Labour has taken the lead over the Conservatives in two opinion polls.
A survey by YouGov put Sir Keir Starmer’s party four points ahead of the Tories, while a poll by Survation for the Daily Mirror has Labour holding a six-point lead.
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Speaking on Friday, Sir Keir said of the parties: “It’s absolutely important that we get to the bottom of this.
“This is just the latest allegation of dishonesty from the prime minister, we’ve had lie upon lie in relation to the parties going on in Downing Street.
“The prime minister is not fit for office, and people are paying the price for this.”