The day Boris Johnson lost the country? The apology that just made things worse
Boris Johnson built his election victory in 2019 on an ability to step outside of the Westminster Bubble and speak to people right across the UK.
After a week of damaging headlines and revelations in Westminster about the many parties which took place in Downing Street during Covid restrictions which banned such events, Mr Johnson will be only too aware that it’s reaction from outside of SW1 which really matters.
To that end, regional newspaper front pages will have made grim reading on Thursday, the day after he issued an apology for attending one party — albeit an apology caveated with the idea that he thought the garden party was a ‘work event’, even though restrictions at the time did not distinguish between the two.
The front page of the Edinburgh Evening News set a tone seen on fronts across the UK, with the story of late war hero Ann Mitchell, a Bletchley Park codebreaker, whose funeral was held on May 20, the day of the Boris-attended party, with just five people allowed to attend.
Such stories appeared across the UK this week.
In Newcastle, ChronicleLive reporter Hannah Graham said: “In May 2020, David Killens stood in a car park outside Joy’s care home on their 36th anniversary. He believes Joy, who had dementia, was also killed by ‘a broken heart’ because he couldn’t visit. Still, they followed the rules.
“David did everything he could to be near Joy, even standing on the road outside her care home singing up at her window. But he didn’t break the rules. When he heard about the Downing Street garden party, he told me it brought all the pain he was feeling in May 2020 back.
“I spoke to David, and in a deeply emotional conversation he said he was angry, not just for himself but for the thousands of others in the same situation.”
In North Wales, the Daily Post splashed on the story of Liam Ashton-Hughes, from Harlech, who died aged just 30 at Ysbyty Gwynedd last year. He spent months alone in hospital due to Covid rules and mum Clare, who is furious at the Downing St lockdown parties, was only allowed to visit him twice. She branded Boris Johnson criminal.
In Grimsby, Boris Johnson was branded a disgrace by heartbroken families who lost relatives in the summer of 2020, including Danielle Cuthbert, whose mum passed away in May 2020, the month when Mr Johnson got confused about whether he was at a work event or a garden booze up.
In Nottingham, the Post heard from a grieving daughter, Dawn Johnson, who buried her mum the day before the Number 10 party. In heartbreaking detail, she described the pain of not seeing her mum for months due to care home restrictions.
There was anger too from within the NHS. The Yorkshire Evening Post led with the anger of nurse Becky Usher, who ended up in a coma after treating a Covid patient in the first wave of the pandemic. While Boris Johnson’s staff were bringing their own booze into Downing Street, Becky was critically ill in hospital.
In Bolton, The News spoke to Dave Scowcroft who watched his daughter die due to a rare brain stem tumour during lockdown, without friends and family present. He felt the PM must go now.
There was little comfort to be found from papers which led on the local political reaction. The East Anglian Daily Times spoke to MPs who felt the apology was too little, too late.
The Journal in Newcastle suggested the PM was drinking in ‘last-chance saloon’, pointing out Mr Johnson was ridiculed in parliament for the inconsistencies in his apology.
Down the road in Darlington, the Northern Echo dismissed Mr Johnson’s comments in Parliament as ‘too little, too late,’ pointing out ‘the NHS is in crisis, care workers are quitting and the region is being left behind.’ Commentary inside did, however, predict Mr Johnson may well ‘weasel his way out of it somehow.’
In Portsmouth, The News declared that ‘sorry just won’t do’ as it reported on the reaction from MPs — and also local readers, who told of their heartbreak and grief as Number 10 partied.
In Weymouth, the Echo rounded up the views of local residents who couldn’t see loved ones during lockdown. Ian McMillan, 74, did not see his grandchildren for five months thanks to restrictions.
It was a similar story in Plymouth, where residents’ reaction was summed with a headline insisting that sorry isn’t good enough. Anger and hurt were the prevailing feelings in the capital of the South West, the paper told readers.
In Southampton, readers were left in no doubt that having to quit was now on the cards for the PM, with the apology doing little to quell anger on the south coast.
But perhaps the harshest front page words from politicians came from the Paisley Daily Express which announced that local figures felt the PM was just a clown and a liar — also reprinting front pages from 2020, a painful reminder of the strict rules the country was living under, if you didn’t have access to the Prime Minister’s back garden.