Not a wine and cheese work meeting, not something the government could claim may not have happened, the leaked email provided clear substance to months of allegations that Downing Street hosted indisputable social gatherings during lockdown and the public were furious.
So it was bound to dominate parliamentary proceedings today, as people waited to see what ladders Johnson would build to climb out of his hole. How did he get on?
Starmer: “Well there we have it, after months of deceit and deception the pathetic spectacle of a man who’s run out of road. His defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it's actually offensive to the British public... Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?
So when Johnson admitted he popped into his garden on 20th May, Starmer amped up his language and that’s significant.
Some have suggested he should have called on the PM to resign sooner, but the fact that he waited for evidence shows that calling on the leader to leave office is not a glib attack from an opposition party but something with real political weight.
Keir Starmer says “the party is over” as he calls for Boris Johnson to resign.
Labour leader says PM’s defence wa… https://t.co/FUnZLsZoAD
When the government brushed off suggestions that another garden event was a party it was broadly ridiculed but in this instance, with a widely published email literally saying “it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks” it is clear that this defence takes the public for fools.
Downing Street is quite obviously one of the oldest working institutions in the land - we very much doubt it has the culture of a tech startup where employees sink beers and play ping pong while they brainstorm ideas.
'I believed implicitly that this was a work event.’ #PMQs https://t.co/9qxVLWkHjZ
And Starmer seemed to agree as he relayed stories MPs told in the House yesterday about sacrifices they and their constituents made in the pandemic while Johnson attended a drinks party. “Is the prime minister so contemptuous of the British public that he thinks he can just ride this out?” he asked.
Johnson: “I regret the way the event I have described was handled...he must wait for the inquiry which will report as soon as possible.”
Throughout PMQs, Johnson trotted out the same lines showing that whoever briefed him certainly left him with an earworm. He apologised, expressed regret, yet bizarrely said MPs and the public must wait for the results of the inquiry into Downing Street gatherings, which is being conducted by Sue Gray.
Given he admitted he attended the party, Gray’s job seems like a game of dot to dot but we will await her findings like the rest of the country.
Starmer: “Why does the prime minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him”
Johnson: “He’s paid to try and remove me from office.”
Johnson’s response was frankly ridiculous. Given he may cause the Tories to be the opposition party soon, perhaps he will learn what Starmer is actually paid to do.
Starmer: “Her father died just days before the drinks trolley was being wheeled through Downing Street”
Starmer finished his questions by telling a moving story about a constituent whose father sadly died. He asked Johnson if he understand why the wrongdoing makes him “feel sick”.
Johnson apologised once again before giving himself a quick ill-judged pat on the back about the vaccine rollout.
The tone of this edition of PMQs was remarkably different. A usually easily provoked Johnson made no jokes or jibes back at Starmer and instead - head down - repeated the same mumbled apologies like a schoolboy being reprimanded by a teacher.
How embarrassing that the main plot of Johnson’s government is about parties hosted by people too tight to provide refreshments? How deeply unserious that taxpayer money, media attention, and MPs concern is being channelled into finding out if the leaders of our country had a few nibbles and a chat while people were locked in their homes.
Johnson has disgraced himself and his party so much that Starmer could have bleated random noises or even vomited in the chamber and he would have still come off better in this exchange.
We would give scores on this session of PMQs but safe to say it would be a bit redundant as it would be a whitewash for Starmer who really didn’t have to do much at all, just watch Johnson squirm and dig himself further into a hole.
Here’s what some other people made of it:
What is so tragic about #PMQs is that this country is facing multiple crises - across health, the economy, a societ… https://t.co/LDqZ6LkELH