And this type of reaction, I will learn, is in the very nature of betrayal. This is what betrayal can do to a person. Because after you discover that the one you trusted more than any other in the world is capable of such profound deception it is inevitable that you will seek out further examples of equivalent duplicity. And in doing so every memory that you share or have created with this person is suddenly open to reinterpretation. Every experience that you enjoyed or endured with this individual can never again be completely trusted. Meaningless incidents from your past will now be scrutinised with different eyes and from a different perspective. Your entire personal history will be cast into doubt. Every moment that you spent with this person has potential for untruth. Events which you thought were essential or inessential components of your personal evolution can no longer be taken as written. And the more that you dig the more you unearth. And the more you unearth the less steady becomes the ground on which you tread. And eventually that ground will give way and the foundations of your existence will crumble to nothing. And the hole in your life that remains is what it means to be betrayed.”
The Queen is in the altogether
Why I won’t be watching the royal funeral
More often than not it’s been to my detriment that I happen to have been born with a personality that naively tends to question everything. Rather like that little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson story who refuses to deny the evidence of his own eyes, I tend to blurt things out without thinking if they don’t make sense to me.
I got myself into trouble in junior school, for example, when one morning in school assembly I refused to close my eyes and say the Lord’s Prayer. This was not through obstinacy or childish petulance or a desire to make any kind of stand. Young as I was I had recently begun questioning the existence of God. It had occurred to me that I had yet to see any concrete evidence that such an entity existed. In my innocence, it seemed a little unnecessary and pointless to be saying thank-you to someone or something that was not real.
Prior to this epiphany, like everyone else at my school I had been swept along with the ceremony that accompanied religion. Upon instruction I had dutifully placed my hands together and closed my eyes and prayed to this mighty invisible deity whom everyone seemed completely convinced was a real actual thing. Despite the fact that nobody had ever seen him.
Similarly, I would regularly press my hands together and whisper thanks for the meal that I was just about to eat – even though I was pretty sure that God had made no contribution to the preparation of the food in question. It was usually my mum or my grandma or the man in the chip shop or one of those frightening looking school dinner ladies who cheerlessly served up dribbles of slop and square pieces of pie filled with some kind of meat. If you’re going to be thanking anybody for what you’re about to receive surely it made more sense to be thanking these people?
My punishment for that morning’s premature existential crisis was to be swiftly hauled out of the school assembly hall by a tutting Deputy Head and locked alone in an office with the threat of the cane hanging over me. I was probably about nine years old and the injustice of my predicament did not escape me. In very clear terms I as being told that it was wrong to question. That it was a crime to reach a logical conclusion based on the evidence of one’s own eyes. That there apparently existed certain things which one was forced to believe in no matter how illogical they might appear. Furthermore, any refusal to toe the party line was not to be met with intellectual discourse and debate but with violence.
In other words, believe in the existence of some sort of great invisible deity who happened to be very old, white and male; who was everywhere at the same time; who created and destroyed everything in the entire universe; who governed every decision, large or small, that we made throughout every single day of our lives; who provided us with every meal that we ever ate without ever once making an appearance in the kitchen; who killed innocent children for no reason whatsoever; who made the flowers bloom and the bees sting; who gave you cancer; who caused thunder and lightning and plague and pestilence and war and peace. Believe in an entity that did everything at all times for all people, all animals, every insect that ever crawled in the dirt. Believe that this creature exists or the Headmaster – not God this time, mind you, but the Headmaster – is going to pull down your pants and whack you on the bare bottom with a piece of wooden cane that has been manufactured for the sole purpose of torturing children.
Believe that the emperor who stands before you completely naked with his tiny little cock swinging in the breeze is actually fully dressed in a suit of the finest ermine or we will beat that belief into you. Amen. Praise the Lord.
Fast forward twenty-odd years and that little boy is now a grown man working as a boxing writer and sitting under dazzling ringside lights at the Royal Albert Hall. He is there to report on a world title fight. And just as it was all those years ago there is the sound of tutting in the air. This is because the National Anthem is currently being played and I am refusing to leave my seat.
I’ve been fairly quiet in the days since Queen Elizabeth II died and the country has become gripped by some sort of mass monarchy mourning madness. A period in which every other problem in the world, be it major, minor or catastrophic seems to have been relegated to the foot of the National League while our late monarch sits thirty points clear at the the top of the Premiership. When every second of every minute of every hour broadcast on our mainstream television stations is devoted exclusively to the Queen, the Queen’s family, people who have met the Queen, people who have never met the Queen and people who are willing to queue for 24-hours in order to walk past a box containing the lifeless body of the Queen.
On just two occasions I have bitten the bullet and Tweeted an Angry From Tunbridge Wells type of rant that has earned me a handful of likes and comments. Even so, I’ve tried to be careful. Grief, it goes without saying, is a powerful thing. Most of us have experienced personal grief and it is something that cannot be taken lightly. But on this occasion personal grief seems to have been transmuted into a form of mass public mourning that we have probably not experienced since the death of Diana Spencer some 30 years ago, as it happens another member of the royal family.
But what are we grieving for? Who are we grieving for? While it is true that the late Queen certainly managed to put herself about a bit during her well-travelled 70-year reign, it’s probably safe to say that most people in this country never got closer than 100 yards or so to the royal presence. Moreover, even if they did somehow manage to get within touching distance of the old lady they were lucky if they got so much as a handshake. And yet from the reactions that we are witnessing in the media it is almost as if thousands and thousands of people have lost an actual member of their family. As phenomenons go, this is certainly a puzzling one.
For my part I’ve never met the Queen. I caught a glimpse of Prince Edward and his minder in Soho one evening in the nineties but that’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to sharing oxygen with a member of the Royal Family. I’ve walked past Buckingham Palace on more than a few occasions but never taken a look inside. And although I lived in London for over 30 years I was never once tempted to take my place in the crowd and watch the Changing Of The Guard or any other ceremony which might involve an appearance by our monarch. It never occurred to me to do so. I was always doing something else.
Naturally, I am not unaware of the Queen’s presence in my life. Like everyone, before the advent of contactless I carried pictures of her in my pocket for years and years. Not to mention disks made of copper or silver alloy or aluminium engraved with her likeness. Furthermore, I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve licked the back of her head. Although these days it has to be said that she comes in sticker form, which is more practical but somehow not as satisfying.
Yet even though in the course of my life I’ve probably owned or handled more pictures of this woman than those of my own mother I’ve never been interested in watching her say something to me on the television on Christmas Day. Moreover, I’ve never tuned into any of her special, custom televised speeches that have been commissioned in times of need. Although I did accidentally catch the edited highlights on the News of the ‘annus horribilis’ speech in 1992 after the aforementioned Diana died in a car crash. And in the week since the Queen’s sudden death I’ve also heard recordings of her saying ‘we’ll meet again’ on the TV about 4,000 times. This, we are told in reverential tones by sombre faced TV presenters and studio guests, ‘helped the country get through the pandemic’. Surely Vera Lynn and the Pfizer corporation might have something to say about this? For myself, however, I can only reiterate that I haven’t met her and as such there’s certainly no chance that I’m going to meet her again.
So why haven’t I met her? And why haven’t I wanted to meet her? And why does it set my teeth on edge when I think of her, and her children – he with the angry pen face. And the other one – the one who recently paid £millions to stop an American woman from going on about how he fucked her at a party hosted by a convicted paedophile while she was underage and didn’t really want him to fuck her. Or the youngest, a filmmaker or something, isn’t he? Or the daughter, the one who rides horses. Why does it bother me that members of the public are compelled to bow and curtsy or take the knee in the presence of this plummy-voiced version of the Sopranos?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not unaffected by her death. It is undeniably sad when anybody dies. And it doesn’t matter how rich or posh or privileged you are it hurts to lose a loved one. Grief is real and is not to be mocked. It is not, therefore, my intention to add to another’s grief, be it friend or foe. When one suffers a loss everybody should be allowed to cry it out. Never forget, for example, that some people cried when Adolf Hitler shot himself and his new bride in that Berlin bunker after, one assumes, spectacularly unsuccessful nuptials back in 1945.
(Confession: when the Queen’s death was announced on that damp Friday afternoon for a few moments I found myself welling up. This was because I had previously placed a substantial bet with Ladbrokes that she would live to be 100. (That last sentence is not true. I didn’t do that. It was a tasteless joke thrown in for the purpose of bathos. In truth, I literally have no idea at all why I was on the verge of tears. Discovering the reason for this is, perhaps, partly my purpose for writing this article.))
Although I am not unaffected by her death I am most assuredly affected by her life, as are we all. I am equally affected by the lives of her progeny and the lives of her ancestors. What those lives are and what they represent to what we do and what we achieve in our own lives is important to every single one of us.
Let me try to clarify this by telling you what the Royal Family is not: in common with that God entity thing I was talking about earlier these people are not supernatural. They might tell you that their blood is blue but it is just as red as the blood that flows through your own veins. They are not godly. They are not divine. They cannot walk on water or perform miracles. Their accents may be so posh that they have actually claimed our language as their own (the ‘Queen’s English’ or ‘King’s English’ as I guess it is now known.) but they still have to sit on the toilet and take a shit. And sometimes that shit is runny and probably smells really, really bad with some of the things they have to eat while on tour in some of the less enlightened parts of the Commonwealth. They piss. They fart. They puke. At one point or another most of them have probably left skiddies in their underpants. And I’m sure that they masturbate. They must do. Although perhaps they have someone to do that for them. (“If I might be so bold, your Highness, I believe it’s time for your evening wank…”)
In other words, they’re a fairly unremarkable example of where the Homo Sapien species stands in 2022 after approximately 300,000 years of evolution. Admittedly, their average height is taller than a lot of their contemporaries, on account of generations of hearty banqueting. This advantage, however, is offset by the fact that they’ve all got the baldness gene, perhaps, after all, the proof I had been looking for that there is a God. You can cover them in as much gold and jewels and fur as you like but underneath they are all just like Andersen’s emperor: a little flabby, a little pale, stretch marks, a few liver spots here and there. Quite ordinary really.
Which brings us to what the Royal Family is: Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room. Money. Loot. The Royal family is, of course, very rich. Very, very rich indeed. Let’s not dwell on individuals (although King Charles’ net worth apparently stands just short of £600 million – and he’s never even been in a boy band or kicked a football in anger) but it is estimated that the royal family currently holds some £24billion in assets. That’s a lot of assets. Assets mainly in the form of property and treasure. They even own the ground that we walk on. Freeholders be warned – you don’t really own the land that you purchased; in reality your land is sitting on top of land that is owned by the royal family. So now you know how us leaseholders feel.
And where did all these billions come from? While it is undoubtedly true that a decent chunk of that £24billion has been accrued as a result of legitimate business dealings conducted over the last century or so there is no getting away from the fact that most of it has been stolen. We’re talking here about more than 1,000 years of robbing and stealing and pillaging on an industrial scale. Stealing from other countries. Stealing from other countries whose version of God didn’t quite tally with whoever was on the throne at the time. Stealing from their own countrymen. Stealing from God. (Short of cash at the moment? Need a new wife? Why not invent a whole new sub-genre of Christianity? You can call it The Church Of England. That way you get to loot all the monasteries – you can keep all the gold and the property for yourself. Henry VIII: ‘Splendid idea. But now forsooth I believe it is time for my evening wank my liege…’)
History tells us in no uncertain terms that the royal family is a dynasty built upon a bedrock of misery, of torture, of pain, of exploitation, of blood and unprecedented brutality. Detractors’ intestines cut from their stomachs and their limbs pulled apart by horses. Public burnings. Beheadings. People boiled alive in the royal court as the king casually looked on. If Netflix ever decided to film an accurate version of The Royals the level of violence would render it unwatchable.
But stop. You can’t blame The Queen for all of this. We’re talking about her ancestors. Different times. Different people. The Queen, her subjects will rightly tell you, was never anything but nice and kind and cuddly. She loved to laugh. She had a sarcastic side. She was dutiful. She liked dogs and horses. Why, she once let Michelle Obama touch her. She pledged her life to her people. You can’t blame Charles either. He talks to plants. He cares about the environment. He believes in reincarnation and hopes to return as a Tampon. (Woe betide you, however, if you don’t move that pen in time.)
No doubt all of this is true but it doesn’t stop my nervous tick whenever I see a line of people standing to attention waiting to meet a member of the royal family. Because this one act of subservience means so little but so much. For just like the little boy who all those years ago refused to recite The Lord’s Prayer in assembly I find myself asking questions which need to be answered.
Why are you bowing to that person in the jewels? What has that individual achieved in life that they should demand such respect from you? Why do you feel the need to kowtow to this person? If you were to somehow find yourself alone on a desert island with this person what could he/she bring to the table that you could not?
Scrape beneath the surface and there is really only one answer to all of those questions. And it’s an answer which both defines and condemns the society in which we live: Position.
We bow and we kneel and we curtsy because they are up there and we are down here. That is the simple truth. As an institution the royal family is the ultimate embodiment of cultural nepotism. Or as it is otherwise known, the class system. A system which has evolved over time to ensure that the powerful remain powerful and the weak remain weak. And it’s a system that’s working very well, thank you very much ma’am. It’s a system that is potent enough to induce the kind of mass hypnosis that we are currently witnessing. In which a whole population is looking at the monarchy and seeing what the establishment wants it to see. It is the mirror opposite of a meritocracy. And if our society is not a meritocracy how can we ever hope for it to progress?
So I am still that little boy waiting for the cane. But I maintain that I have nothing personal against any member of the royal family. I don’t know that much about them to be honest and cannot see myself ever being interested in what they have for their dinner or how many grouse they have shot that afternoon. Proponents of the monarchy will argue, of course, that the royal family easily earn its keep in revenue generated by attracting tourists, etc. That it holds the country together. That it helps a lot of underprivileged kids. Arguments such as these are regularly trotted out on demand. But I don’t see France exactly being ignored by tourists. Or other countries falling to pieces for lack of a billionaire figurehead. Similarly, there are still plenty of underprivileged kids to be found in the streets in every corner of the UK.
As this rambling monologue reaches its conclusion I once more stress that this is not a personal attack on any member of the royal family. After all, we are reminded, it’s not as if any of them applied for the job that they find themselves doing. They are born into the establishment and perpetuate it, just as by permitting its continued existence we ourselves perpetuate it. Nothing short of revolution is ever going to put a stop to this patently unjust system.
And for that to happen it’s going to take more than one little boy waving his finger at the emperor’s naked bellybutton. It’s going to take a whole population of people who cried because they thought that Queen Elizabeth II was actually a member of their own family to dry their tears and start polishing their spectacles. More importantly, the emperor himself is going to have to take a long hard look in the mirror and realise that the time for returning those things that were stolen from others is long overdue.
A short showreel of some of the music I’ve produced recently. If you want to hear more there are another 350+ available to download for free at https://sidetrax.co.uk or https://soundcloud.com/user-149883042.
I’m back painting a little more regularly for the first time in about two years.
This is one I did last week of my daughter, Sofia. She was about 3 at the time. It’s one of my favourite photos of her.
This is how you can send spam emails denouncing the war to Russians
This is the address you need to go to in order to send spam emails denouncing the war to 100s of Russians.
Just follow the instructions on the site.
Sue Gray Report
INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED GATHERINGS ON GOVERNMENT PREMISES DURING COVID RESTRICTIONS – UPDATE
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2 INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED GATHERINGS ON GOVERNMENT PREMISES DURING COVID RESTRICTIONS – UPDATE
- On 8 December 2021 the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary to carry out an investigation into allegations reported in the media relating to gatherings in No10 Downing Street and the Department for Education during November and December 2020.
- On 17 December 2021 the Cabinet Secretary recused himself from the investigation as a result of allegations concerning an online quiz held by his private office in the Cabinet Office on 17 December 2020 in 70 Whitehall. It was at this point that I was asked to lead this work.
- The terms of reference for the investigation were published on 9 December 2021 (Annex A). The primary purpose of the investigation was to establish a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings including: attendance, the setting and the purpose, with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time.
- Where there were credible allegations relating to other gatherings these could also be investigated.
- In line with those terms of reference the following events were in scope:
• 15 May 2020; a photograph showing a number of groups in the garden of No 10 Downing Street;
• 20 May 2020: a gathering in the garden of No 10 Downing Street for No 10 staff;
• 18 June 2020: a gathering in the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall on the departure of a No 10 private secretary;
• 19 June 2020: a gathering in the Cabinet room in No 10 Downing Street on the Prime Minister’s birthday;
• 13 November 2020:
a gathering in the No 10 Downing Street flat; a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a special adviser;
• 27 November 2020: a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a special adviser;
• 10 December 2020: a gathering in the Department for Education ahead of the Christmas break;
• 15 December 2020: a gathering in No 10 Downing Street for an online Christmas quiz;
3 • 17 December 2020:
o a gathering in Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall to hold an online Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office; o a gathering in Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall on the departure of a senior Cabinet Office official; o a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a No 10 official; • 18 December 2020: a gathering in No 10 Downing Street ahead of the Christmas break;
• 14 January 2021; a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of two No 10 private secretaries;
• 16 April 2021;
A gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of a senior No 10 official; A gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of another No 10 official.
- There has been widespread public interest in, and concern about, a number of gatherings taking place in No 10 Downing Street and Whitehall during periods of national Covid restrictions, where their necessity for work purposes has been open to question. My task has been to establish, as far as possible, the facts surrounding these gatherings.
- In carrying out my investigation I have been supported by a small team of senior civil servants in the Cabinet Office, who have no connection with the events under examination and who are bound by the requirements of the Civil Service Code. We carried out interviews of over 70 individuals, some more than once, and examined relevant documentary and digital information, such as emails; Whatsapp messages; text messages; photographs and building entry and exit logs. This has also included searches of official records. As such, extensive substantive factual information is now available and has been compiled by me and my team to fulfil my obligation to establish the facts. The investigative work is now essentially complete.
- The Treasury Solicitor and Daniel Stilitz QC have provided independent advice as to the process.
- It is not for me to make a judgment on whether the criminal law has been broken; that is properly a matter for law enforcement. In line with my terms of reference I have been in regular contact with the Metropolitan Police as my work has progressed in order for them to take decisions on the gatherings under examination, including whether to launch their own investigation.
4 10. The Metropolitan Police has now confirmed that as a result of information provided by the Cabinet Office investigation team, as well as assessments made by Metropolitan Police officers, they are investigating the events on the dates set out above with the exception of the gatherings on:
• 15 May 2020
• 27 November 2020
• 10 December 2020
• 15 December 2020
- The police have confirmed that on the basis of the information available the gatherings on these four dates are not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation.
- No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents. The police have also said this does not in itself mean that they will decide to take further action or that there has necessarily been a breach of the regulations.
- At the request of the police I have provided the material compiled in the course of my investigation relevant to the gatherings that they are now investigating. I have also been asked to retain all the other information collected in the course of this work, which I have confirmed that I will do. I will therefore ensure the secure storage and safekeeping of all the information gathered until such time as it may be required further. I will not be circulating the information internally within government, it has been provided in confidence to the Cabinet Office investigation team and it is important that this confidence is maintained to protect the integrity of the process.
- As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigative process, they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating. Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.
- In respect of the gatherings that the Metropolitan Police has assessed as not reaching the threshold for criminal investigation; they have not requested any limitations be placed on the description of those events, however, I have decided not to publish factual accounts in relation to those four dates. I do not feel that I am able to do so without detriment to the overall balance of the findings.
- More generally, I did consider whether it would be better to pause, as provided for in the terms of reference, and wait until the conclusion of the police investigation before publishing anything. However, given the widespread public interest in, and concern about, these matters, and to avoid further delay, I am providing an update on the investigation and I am setting out some general findings now. I have not made comment on whether individual gatherings were in line with the relevant
5 guidance and regulations in place at the time. I did not judge it appropriate to do so given the police investigation that is now underway.
- The outbreak and spread of SARs Covid-19 represented a global public health crisis without parallel in living memory. In the United Kingdom it had a seismic impact on every aspect of life in the country. In response, to help control the spread of the virus and to keep the most vulnerable safe, the UK Government put in place far reaching restrictions on citizens that had direct and material impact on their lives, livelihood and liberties.
- From 26 March 2020 the law in England required everyone to remain in their homes unless certain, very limited exemptions applied. Restrictions were temporarily eased over the summer period in 2020 until most remaining national restrictions were removed on 4 July 2020. Restrictions were then reintroduced in gradations in the autumn culminating in the UK Government announcing from 5 November 2020 restrictions on movements and gatherings in England, essentially requiring people to stay at home. Restrictions on gatherings of two or more people applied in London through December 2020 and the first months of 2021. Indoor mixing of two or more households was not permitted again until 17 May 2021. A chronology of the main changes is at Annex B.
- In line with those rules the vast majority of staff in Government Departments worked from home. The Civil Service, along with the rest of the public sector, went to great lengths to reconfigure the provision and delivery of public services and support for businesses almost overnight. Many private sector businesses and other organisations, large and small, all over the UK, were also working hard to deal with the pandemic both in terms of managing their businesses, their livelihoods and those of their employees, as well as providing vital support to the national effort to respond to the virus.
- A small number of Government officials and special advisers, because of the nature of their jobs directly supporting the Prime Minister and other Ministers, continued to attend their offices for the purposes of work, as permitted by an exemption under the regulations.
- In particular, No 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office were at the centre of the Government’s response to the pandemic. Tight knit groups of officials and advisers worked long hours under difficult conditions in buildings that could not be easily adapted as Covid secure workplaces. No 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office in 70 Whitehall are closely interconnected, with staff moving regularly between the two buildings as part of their daily work. The Prime Minister’s flat and the Downing Street garden are in close proximity to the offices and serve a dual office and private purpose.
- Those challenges, however, also applied to key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health. It is important to remember the stringency of the public
6 health regulations in force in England over the relevant periods and that criminal sanctions were applied to many found to be in breach of them. The hardship under which citizens across the country worked, lived and sadly even died while observing the Government’s regulations and guidance rigorously are known only too well.
- Every citizen has been impacted by the pandemic. Everyone has made personal sacrifices, some the most profound, having been unable to see loved ones in their last moments or care for vulnerable family and friends.
It is with that context in mind that I make the following general limited findings.
i. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.
ii. At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
iii. At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public. There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
iv. The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.
v. The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
vi. Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways
7 for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.
vii. The number of staff working in No 10 Downing Street has steadily increased in recent years. In terms of size, scale and range of responsibility it is now more akin to a small Government Department than purely a dedicated Prime Minister’s office. The structures that support the smooth operation of Downing Street, however, have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion. The leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability. Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.
- The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public. The whole of the country rose to the challenge. Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort. However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.
8 ANNEX A: Terms of Reference: Investigations into staff gatherings in No10
Downing Street and the Department for Education
The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to carry out investigations into:
● allegations made of a gathering in No10 Downing Street on 27 November 2020;
● a gathering at the Department for Education on 10 December 2020; and
● allegations made of a gathering in No10 Downing Street on 18 December 2020.
Where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, these may be investigated.
The primary purpose will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose, with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time.
If required, the investigations will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted.
The work will be undertaken by officials in the Cabinet Office at the direction of the Cabinet Secretary, with support from the Government Legal Department.
The team will have access to all relevant records, and be able to speak to members of staff.
As with all internal investigations, if during the course of the work any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused. Matters relating to adherence to the law are properly for the police to investigate and the Cabinet Office will liaise with them as appropriate.
Any matters relating to the conduct of Ministers should follow the process set out in the Ministerial Code in the normal way.
All Ministers, Special Advisers, and civil servants will be expected to co-operate with the investigations.
Any staff with information relevant to the investigations should provide it to the Cabinet Office investigation team.
Pastoral care and support will be provided to all staff involved.
The findings of the investigations will be made public. Following the long-standing practice of successive administrations, any specific HR action against individuals will remain confidential.
9 Annex B: Timeline of Regulations
26 March 2020: restrictions on leaving one’s home without a reasonable excuse, first announced on 23 March, come into legal effect in England. Very limited exceptions permit travel to work where it is not reasonably possible to work from home. Participating in a gathering of more than two persons is prohibited except where the gathering “is essential for work purposes”.
13 May 2020: leaving or being outside one’s home without a reasonable excuse continues to be prohibited Some restrictions are relaxed to allow meetings outdoors for exercise or recreation with one person from another household. Guidance encourages those who cannot work from home to go back to work. At work, social distancing advice applies with workplaces required “to avoid crowding and minimise opportunities for the virus to spread by maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres (3 steps) between individuals wherever possible”
1 June 2020: England moves to “step 2” of the government’s roadmap in which restrictions on leaving one’s home are removed. Gatherings of two or more persons indoors and more than six outdoors are prohibited. An exception permits gatherings that are “reasonably necessary …. for work purposes”
15 June 2020: Non-essential retail businesses are permitted to reopen and individual prayer in places of worship is allowed again
4 July 2020: most remaining national restrictions are removed as pubs and restaurants reopen. Gatherings of more than 30 persons are prohibited
5 July 2020: despite the removal of most national restrictions, local restrictions are retained and reintroduced during July and August in certain areas, including Leicester, Bolton, Greater Manchester and the North East
14 September 2020: a restriction on gatherings of more than six persons indoors and outdoors (the “rule of six”) is introduced, subject to exceptions which include where “the gathering is reasonably necessary…. for work purposes”
14 October 2020: a tiered system of progressive restrictions is introduced. London is moved to Tier 2 (“High”), from 17 October, in which two or more persons are prohibited from meeting indoors
5 November 2020: a second national lockdown is introduced which requires people to stay at home and which prohibits gatherings with people from other households except for permitted exceptions, including where the “gathering is reasonably necessary …. for work purposes”
2 December 2020: England is divided again into three tiers, with London in Tier 2 in which gatherings of two or more persons continue to be prohibited unless an exception, such as where the gathering is reasonably necessary for work purposes, applies. Government guidance for the Christmas period on visiting pubs and restaurants advises: “although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not
10 have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
16 December 2020: London is moved to Tier 3. Indoor gatherings of two or more persons from different households continue to be prohibited. Social distancing remains the rule at work, with offices advised “to maintain social distancing guidelines (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable), wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work and when travelling between sites”.
20 December 2020: London is moved to a newly-created Tier 4 with much of South East England, to help control the Alpha variant. The “stay at home restrictions” prohibit leaving one’s home except for permitted purposes
6 January 2021: All areas of England are moved into Tier 4’s stay at home restrictions. This is the third national lockdown. The stay at home restrictions prohibit leaving one’s home except for permitted exceptions which include where it is “reasonably necessary …. for the purposes of work” and where it is not reasonably possible to work from home
29 March 2021: All areas of England move to Step 1 and the “stay at home restrictions” are lifted. Gatherings of two or more persons indoors or more than six persons outdoors are prohibited, subject to exceptions which include where a gathering is “reasonably necessary… for work purposes”
12 April 2021: All of England moves to Step 2. Non essential retail businesses and many outdoor venues reopen but the restrictions on social mixing indoors and outdoors do not change
17 May 2021: All of England moves to Step 3, permitting six persons or two households to mix indoors and up to 30 people to mix outdoors
Time lapse photos of seagulls
Don’t ask why. We’re in the grip of a pandemic and I’m getting itchy feet.
Lockdown in St. Leonards #02
Some more photos of St. Leonards-on-Sea taken during the long boring hours of lockdown. Some were taken in Rye, Dover and Eastbourne.
Lockdown in St. Leonards
A selection of photos I’ve taken on my iPhone during lockdown. Post processing all done in Affinity Photo.
Boris and the Tories: It’s time to put up or shut up
The most frustrating thing about this bunch of silver spoon imbeciles running the country is their continuing reactive approach.
So we’re heading towards another lockdown are we? And then what? A couple more months of Eat Out To Help Out? Another clarion call telling us to get our lazy fat arses back to work? Who knows? Certainly not the government.
If we’re to sacrifice our health, our sanity, our livelihoods, and our liberty, how about some semblance of a plan?
We’re weary and fatigued but we’re ready once again to play our part in attempting to tame this virus. But we need Boris and his acolytes to do what we pay them to do and make good on their side of the bargain. To finally show some leadership.
We need a plan, Boris. We need a roadmap that gives us some idea of why we’re doing what we’re being forced to do. And if you’re not able to provide us with such a plan then please do us all a favour and stand down.
Let someone else take over. There’s every chance that they may not be able to do a better job than the one you have been doing. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that it won’t be any worse.