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Partygate lynch mob should ask themselves: would they have eaten the cake?

Read my latest column in the Scotsman, from 14th February 2022.

Never mind the Russian tanks massed on Ukraine’s border, the cost-of-living crisis or rocketing energy prices, for months now, much of the media and body politic have been fixated on Partygate.

With the scent of blood in their nostrils, the pursuit has been obsessive. The broadcast media have been the most attentive. No matter what the subject of the interview was meant to be, faux outrage was everywhere.

When the unfortunate civil servant Sue Gray was handed the internal inquiry, instant results were expected. After all, what was there to investigate, it was surely an open-and-shut case? Then, to howls of anguish, Ms Gray, having uncovered information that an offence may have taken place, passed the inquiry to the police.

This course of events was entirely predictable and routine. When evidence of an offence is uncovered, even a minor fixed-penalty offence, that information must be passed to the police to begin a criminal investigation.

The word ‘begin’ is important, for to investigate properly the police cannot accept statements taken by other people for other purposes. To be done properly, it must be done thoroughly.

Step forward Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey to warn of “a stitch up” and, with no evidence whatsoever, imply corrupt collusion between Downing Street and the police.

Others joined in, perhaps afraid the trail would go cold, allowing their quarry to slip away. All the strident voices had one thing in common. None had investigated a crime in their lives, and wouldn’t know where to start.

It may interrupt the hunt, but it’s hugely important that this investigation is done thoroughly. If you have no sympathy for the Prime Minister and his clique, think about the dozens of junior foot soldiers caught up in the melee.

Here is a multiple choice question. You are a young civil servant working long shifts in 10 Downing Street’s large situation room.

You have been struggling along in your bubble for over a year, tackling the mountains of admin, when late one afternoon your boss pokes his head round the door. “Hey folks, he says, take five and come through to the Cabinet Room for a piece of birthday cake with the PM.”

Would you:

A. Run and lock yourself in the toilet.

B. Take umbrage and stand on your desk, quickly referring to lockdown legislation.

C. Shout “ooh cake” and make a beeline to get a big slice?

I would have plumped for option C , as I suspect would 99.9 per cent of ordinary folk.

Now these unfortunate ‘foot soldiers’ have been caught up in a greater game. They stand to be named and shamed, fined, and perhaps even lose their jobs.

If they are unfortunate enough to have a public profile, or be related to someone who does, then trial by television will probably follow. The lynch mob awaits, their blood lust unslaked.

That is why the police investigation must be thorough no matter how long it takes. The emergency lockdown legislation is not without its loopholes and many ordinary souls, caught up in Partygate, have much to lose.

Something to remember the next time you hear an apoplectic politician sharing their investigative advice. And ask yourself, would you have gone for a piece of cake?

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