Politics is the cruelest of sports. But by the standards of this particular rumble in the Whitehall woods, what happened to the prime minister’s former, unfortunate press secretary, Allegra Stratton, is below the belt.
I hesitate to even say sexist, because I’m the last person to play that particular card; But it’s hard to take it out of the equation.
Certainly, when Dominic Cummings messed up—as he did to a much greater extent with that infamous visit to Barnard Castle—he was more sluggish inside No. 10 than Stratton. Which wasn’t difficult, because he couldn’t find any.
A tearful Allegra Stratton announced that she had stopped offering a ‘deep apology’ for appearing to be making ‘light’ of COVID regulations in a leaked video. Ms Stratton – who quipped over video that she did not attend a Christmas party in Downing Street last Christmas – cried as she read her resignation tonight
Cummings had indeed, clearly, broken the rules. But then he is a man. , , And politics is – still – a man’s world. And they always protect their loved ones. It’s so ingrained that they don’t even know they’re doing it.
That said, Stratton was absolutely right to resign yesterday. After the leak of the video, it became clear that he had no other option.
Not because it was irrefutable evidence of guilt or arrogance or wrongdoing – it was none of those things.
But because living in such a nest of cowards and snakes would have been a great act of suicide. He is much better than that. It might not seem like it now, but once she gets her head out of the pit completely, she’ll realize it.
In fact, she’ll probably see it as the best thing ever.
The clip may have been leaked to ITV by a member of the video production company.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a press conference on the latest COVID-19 updates at the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on December 8, 2021.
But it could also have been one of the group involved in the exercise session – someone who was ready to make it public in the full knowledge it would destroy it. Someone who knew it would divert attention away from the actual story, rather than focus on Stratton. That he should put his face on every front page and humiliate and abuse on social media.
Because the truth is, as a society – in the press, on the internet – we still love to showcase women. Especially if, like Stratton, they are bright, charming, successful and ambitious. It’s like we can’t wait to take them down a peg or two. Just like that old Harry Enfield sketch: ‘Ladies, know your limits!’
We have seen this in relation to Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie, who is referred to as ‘Carrie Antoinette’ and characterized as a mediocre one.
The fact that Stratton never sat well at No. 10. Cummings opposed her appointment, mainly because she felt she would become Carey’s aide – and has since been given more information than in the briefing.
Quite simply, there were many people around the prime minister who didn’t like the idea of a couple of women having that much influence. which still isn’t. Which might explain the leak.
This was one of several training sessions designed to prepare Stratton to take on the tough questions of the press. It was supposed to be a private space in which to practice failing – which it did. Making this public is not only a gross abuse of trust, but it is also very unfair.
In the bombastic video, a Number 10 colleague asks a question about ‘Friday night’s Downing Street Christmas party’, to which Allegra Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’
Much of Stratton’s criticism centered on her laughter during the session, as if she were making fun of the lockdown.
But anyone with a half-brain can see that this isn’t an arrogant laugh – it’s a nervous laugh.
She’s reacting to the awkwardness of the situation, and putting coworkers through their paces in a bizarre fake press conference to clearly say something that’s wrong, but theoretically, it might be her job to defend.
It’s a hesitation, but not the way it’s portrayed. Because what you’re seeing is not someone taking a mickey from the British public: this is a woman struggling to tell a lie convincingly.
In my book, that’s not a bad thing. But that probably also explains why Number 10 was so eager, after all, to throw him under the bus.
The fact that, so far, he is the only member of the team with the balls to take responsibility for this mess, shows us just how wrong they are. Are they not ashamed of themselves at all?
Ed Oldfield in all of this, where is the person who threw him that question? Why is it only a woman who carries the can for men’s mistakes?
Standing outside her home, facing the glare of the cameras, Stratton looked utterly defeated as she delivered her resignation speech.
I recognize that look, I know what it feels like to be defeated. Defeated by a political machine that cuts people out of shape, that distorts their true intentions – and it shows no mercy.