More than a dozen lockdown-breaking parties are now alleged to have taken place across Whitehall, including several within Downing Street that were attended by the prime minister, yet the only one currently being investigated by the Metropolitan Police is the one held by Black politician Shaun Bailey.
The former London mayoral candidate, 50, was forced to quit his role as chair of the assembly’s economy committee this week after it emerged that he had attended a party thrown by his campaign staff at Conservative Party headquarters in London during lockdown in December 2020.
He’d already – rightly – stepped down from his role as chair of the assembly’s police and crime committee last month, when news of the bash first broke, and he had also apologised “unreservedly”.
Among the latest rule-breaking revelations to have hit the government are those concerning two gatherings that reportedly took place at Downing Street on 16 April – the day before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year – prompting an apology from No 10 to Buckingham Palace.
Despite this, a Met Police spokesperson has maintained that officers won’t look into allegations of these get-togethers – or any of the others – because it doesn’t investigate alleged breaches of Covid rules that took place a “long” time ago; however, it will speak to two people who attended Bailey’s party celebrating his mayoral bid, which was even longer ago.
When approached by The Independent about concerns over the Met’s apparently inconsistent approach to the allegations, a force spokesperson said they were “aware of a gathering” at an address in Matthew Parker Street, SW1 (where Tory HQ is based) on 14 December 2020.
“Officers will be making contact with two people who attended in relation to alleged breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations,” the spokesperson said – adding that, in line with the Met’s policy, officers “do not normally investigate” breaches of coronavirus regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place, but that “if significant evidence suggesting a breach of the regulations becomes available, officers may review and consider it”.
Be that as it may, in my opinion the issue is bigger than Bailey – who is a staunch critic of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The point is that the Met cannot afford to erode the confidence of Black people – more than it already has – at a time when trust in policing is extremely low.
The Met has handed out no fewer than 17,000 fines to Londoners for breaking lockdown rules, in a manner that disproportionately penalised Black and Asian people, who were almost twice as likely to be handed fines or arrested for breaches of the lockdown rules than white people.
Black Lives Matter protests swept the UK following George Floyd’s murder in the US on 25 May 2020. Around this time, the Met faced relentless criticism in relation to a string of racial profiling accusations following a series of incidents filmed and shared online. These included vehicle stops involving Team GB athlete Bianca Williams and her Portuguese sprinter boyfriend, Ricardo Dos Santos, and Labour MP Dawn Butler.
Last year, the Home Affairs Committee called for “urgent action” to address “persistent, deep-rooted and unjustified racial disparities” in policing, arguing that the current system for delivering on race equality is “not working”.
It also emerged that the force is more likely to publish a person’s mugshot if they’re Black.
Following this, Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick admitted that her force was “not free of discrimination, racism or bias”. She stopped short of saying it was still institutionally racist, two decades after the Macpherson report labelled it as such.
Warning in March that a race crisis was tarnishing the effectiveness of policing, National Police Chiefs Council chair Martin Hewitt said trust and confidence in policing was 20 per cent lower in the Black population compared with the average.
So yes, Shaun Bailey has apologised for attending the party – and has paid handsomely for doing so, as the only minority ethnic person embroiled in this debacle. After all, aside from Allegra Stratton, who resigned from her role a few weeks ago, he’s the only other individual implicated in the rule-breaking scandal to have lost work. What does that suggest?
The prime minister – still in post; Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds – still in post; education secretary Gavin Williamson – still in post; transport secretary Grant Shapps – still in post; cabinet secretary Simon Case – still in post. Shall I go on?
Commentators have pointed to the inevitability of such an outcome, which seems to indicate that Black people are held to a different standard than our white counterparts. If you want proof of this, then you only have to look – plenty of statistics are available. Some argue that Bailey should have seen this coming.
“Nahhhhhh Shaun Bailey is a fool. He really thought he could participate in these parties and be immune…..did he forget he’s a black man or?” one person posted on Twitter.
Another observed: “The Met Police will be investigating the one party involving a black man. As much as I dislike Shaun Bailey, even he must realise he’s being stitched up!!!”
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a defence of Bailey, or his actions – by any stretch of the imagination. My name is not Allegra, and I am no spokesperson. I am appalled that all of these public office holders were party to such flagrant disregard for the regulations that were foisted upon the rest of us.
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Nor is this piece a definitive conclusion on what may or may not be the motivating factors behind the inquiry into Bailey’s party. I’m not a Met Police officer, either.
But it’s important to consider what we do know, to be objective here and “split justice”, as the phrase goes.
What’s good for the goose has to be good for the gander – and the disparity in the Met’s handling of Partygate doesn’t inspire much confidence in the notion that it doesn’t have a problem with race.