Downing Street Parties (8)

I have now read Sue Gray’s report (https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/21193251/investigation_into_alleged_gatherings_on_government_premises_during_covid_restrictions_-_update.pdf)

What to make of it ? It seems to be the ultimately dry civil service report, doing what was required of it in as limited a way as possible, very severely constrained by the fact of the police investigation which does not allow her to comment in any detail on the gatherings which may or may not have been legal, which is a matter for Scotland Yard. She makes it clear that 10, Downing Street was pandemonium during the pandemic with no clear lines of responsibility and no leadership, but it is not clear whose responsibility this should have been, not apparently either the Prime Minister or the Cabinet Secretary, neither of whom are mentioned.

So, is everyone let off the hook ? Not exactly, because it is now up to the police to decide whether or not some of the gatherings were criminal.

Besides, it surely avoids the key issue. The key issue is whether or not the Prime Minister lied to the House of Commons when he said that there were no parties, when it now transpires there were at least sixteen, several of which he attended.

And did he lie to the House of Commons when he said that he was as shocked as they were when he discovered that parties had been held, when it now transpires that he had attended several of them ?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then, of course, he should resign for having knowingly misled the House. But he is obviously not going to, so it is the duty of MPs to remove him.

Will they ?

It will presumably depend on a calculation as to whether or not his apparently shameless dishonesty will influence the next election and whether or not they can hold up their heads in front of the electorate for having allowed a liar to remain in office.

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Downing Street Parties (7)

Reading today’s papers, it looks as if the Prime Minister may after all survive.   It is not because people have suddenly decided to believe his lies on all fronts:  lies about the wallpaper, where he said to Lord Geidt that he was not in contact with Lulu Lytle before February 2021, when she attended his birthday party in June 2020; his lies about the evacuation of dogs from Afghanistan, where emails now demonstrate that he did intervene, a view he has described as ‘total rhubarb’;  and his endless lies and obfuscation about parties in Downing Street.   It just seems that at some point boredom sets in.  And proceduralism.   And clever political game-playing.  Helped by the absence of a credible alternative who enjoys enough support.  So MPs are paralysed.  It’s depressing.

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John Wonnacott (3)

I’m looking forward to talking to John Wonnacott on February 16th. having written a book about him during lockdown, so was unable to go and see him and talk to him in person. I know from experience that he talks very well about his paintings and, as has been correctly pointed out, the best bit of the book are his emails where he describes his early life and the experience of being taught at the Slade by Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews:-

https://www.royaldrawingschool.org/lectures-events/john-wonnacott-in-conversation-charles-saumarez-smith/

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Coleman Coffee Roasters

I was in Lower Marsh this morning, pleased to discover that it is full of odd independent stores, including the excellent Coleman Coffee Roasters which has an unexpected back yard so close to the centre of town:-

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Downing Street Parties (6)

I am finding the defence of the Prime Minister’s behaviour nearly as interesting – and revealing – as the behaviour itself.

Nadine Dorries says in a tweet that his behaviour – presumably any behaviour – was justified by the fact that ‘100s of staff were running Covid war room offices’. I guessed that this view might lie behind the behaviour – that anything is justified by being on a war footing. Maybe this is allowed by the emergency legislation, which is always possible, but I would have thought it should have emerged sooner as a justification. Also, the pictures suggest everyone lolling about having a drink in the garden, getting plastered, which doesn’t exactly suggest them being on a war footing.

And then Jacob Rees-Mogg, who can usually be relied to reveal the reality of the situation, reminds Tory MPs that the office of Prime Minister is now more like that of a President, not a Prime Minister, which is an interesting development which would certainly help to explain some of the recent behaviour, roaring back and forth to Chequers with a police escort, when it was forbidden to everyone else. But, again, I don’t remember voting for Johnson as President. Maybe, again, it was contained in the emergency legislation.

Both help to explain why 10, Downing Street has been constructed as a parallel universe, not subject to the laws of the land.

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Kunlangeta

I am recording the word kunlangeta only because I had never heard it used before until this afternoon. According to an article in the New Yorker, ‘The Yupik Eskimos use the term kunlangeta to describe a man who repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, and takes sexual advantage of women, according to a 1976 study by Jane M. Murphy, an anthropologist then at Harvard University. She asked an Eskimo [Inuit] what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, and he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”’. It is said to be coming in useful in Whitehall at the moment.

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A.F. Kersting

One of the pleasures of going to the new Courtauld was the opportunity to see the small exhibition/display of photography by Anthony Kersting, described as ‘the leading architectural photographer of his generation’, although I always thought of him as a double act with Edwin Smith – Kersting for good, straight photography and Smith for atmosphere. He was quite well-to-do and started working in a bank, but switched to photography after taking photographs of Peter Jones while it was under construction. The exhibition shows the photographs he took in Kurdistan after serving in Egypt during the war. Apparently, he always used a plate camera. Many of the photographs for the early Pevsners were supplied by Kersting. Now all his negatives are being digitised, so we will probably see more of them – good and accurate records of buildings as they were in the 1950s.

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Downing Street Parties (5)

You can see the way the Gray Report will be spun in whatever form it is published – probably garrotted – from the way it has been reported in the weekend papers.

It was only a minor infringement of the law. How could the Prime Minister be expected to notice that it was a party when he was under the delusion that parties could legitimately be classified as a business meeting ? Certainly no reason for any further action, let alone the full enormity of resignation, and all the problems that would entail when it was only a minor offence.

But this is surely to miss the point. The law was his law. Many other people have been fined and prosecuted for much lesser offences on the very same day. The home secretary was encouraging people to shop their neighbours and the police to go in hard to enforce the law all over the rest of the country. Oliver Dowden was reminding people on television not to break the law just as the Prime Minister was doing so. The Conservative Party has traditionally been the party of law and order. Why should the Prime Minister be exempt ? He joined the party for twenty five minutes, long enough to realise it was a party.

A temporary (twenty-five minute) lapse of judgment is not normally regarded as a legitimate defence when someone breaks the law.

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The Courtauld

We went to the new and beautifully re-instated Courtauld Institute Galleries, having missed their re-opening and then been deterred by Omicron. 

I was very impressed by the way the galleries, which are not easy spaces, being so strong architecturally, have been hung:  in a very lightly historical way on the first floor where the eighteenth-century decoration of the three Council Chambers is so hard to entirely ignore:  and in a much more studiously neutral way on the second floor, where Samuel Courtauld’s great collection of Impressionists looks surprisingly at home in the Great Room, the site once-upon-a-time of the annual Summer Exhibition. There’s also a wonderful new display in a separate room of Antoine Seilern’s Kokoschkas and a small Bloomsbury room to add variety.

I was perfectly prepared to be critical, as there is a long and tricky history to the way these paintings have been installed in the past, but was completely impressed by the quality of the installation, labelling (slightly more academic than is now normal), hang, choice of paint colours and layout, not to mention the extraordinary quality of the collection.

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Tower Hamlets Town Hall

I was kindly invited to see the new Tower Hamlets Town Hall currently in process of construction in what was the old London Hospital.

The old hospital was an incredibly complex site, beginning with a highly logical Enlightenment ground plan, with staff room at the front and wards behind, then almost immediately being extended with flanking wings. It then grew additively, with a west wing added in the 1830s, the Alexandra Wing in the 1860s, all of it remodelled at the turn of the century with the addition of a chapel and porte cochère at the front, Edwardianising it. When the hospital moved out to a huge new industrial building to the south, the old building was left unloved, but has been bought by the Council as its headquarters – a massive and extremely impressive project, involving keeping as much as possible of the old building to give character to the new. There will be a new Council Chamber, a vast new public reading room, and open plan offices for the staff.

This is one of the big public spaces under construction:-

And the view over Whitechapel High Street from the top floor:-

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