At the end of a long week, the mood in Downing Street is mixed.
Most are angry but want to move on. They don’t much like Boris Johnson but the cost of living crisis is what really worries them now.
The views are not of Westminster civil servants or Whitehall insiders but the residents of Farnham in Surrey, whose high street bears the name of the most famous cul-de-sac in Britain.
The person in charge at No 10 in this upmarket thoroughfare is not the prime minister but El Harper, the manager of a tattoo parlour called Ministry of Ink.
Harper, it would be fair to say, is no fan of Johnson, though he has been doing good trade selling T-shirts mocking the PM.
On prominent display in the shop window is a black T-shirt with a tattoo-style illustration of Johnson, featuring his iconic floppy hair and the words “Eton” and “Mess” tattooed on to each of his eyebrows.
View image in fullscreenEl Harper works as a tattooist at No 10 Downing Street in Farnham – and has a sideline in anti-Boris Johnson T-shirts. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
Harper said these T-shirts had flown off the shelves but admitted nobody had asked for a replica on their body – yet.
Harper does not consider himself party political and has on occasion voted Conservative but he was emphatic that Johnson would never get his backing. He said his distrust of politicians and the media had been exacerbated by Partygate, not least because he spent lockdown completely alone in his flat.
“We couldn’t work and people were having parties. Everyone’s human and everyone makes mistakes, but he should be held accountable.”
After a turbulent week in which the Sue Gray report detailed all manner of debauchery in government during Covid lockdowns, and then Rishi Sunak announced his plans to help people with their household bills, most people in this safe Tory constituency sounded thoroughly fed up.
They said they were sick of Partygate and felt it was time to move on and tackle the real challenges facing the UK.
Many shared their frustrations that the scandal was continuing to occupy so many column inches when the Ukraine war and the cost of living crisis were making their day-to-day lives difficult.
Brenda Greenhead, a 76-year-old shopping on Downing Street, sought to summarise the feelings of many in Farnham. “We’re fed up of Partygate. Let’s put it behind us, there are more important things in the world.”
View image in fullscreenBrenda Greenhead: ‘I’m sure millions of people had parties but he shouldn’t have done it.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
This did not mean she condoned the prime minister’s actions, she said, as she tearfully recalled her experience of lockdown. “People were struggling. I couldn’t see my sister when she died, we weren’t allowed in the hospital. I’m sure millions of people had parties but he shouldn’t have done it.”
While she wanted politics to move on, she added that Partygate, and her view that pensioners needed more support with price increases, had changed her opinion of the prime minister. She voted for him in the last election and would ideally vote Conservative again “but Boris Johnson and the people around him put me off. They lie.”
One local business owner was less concerned by the parties. “A party is only a party when there’s an invitation, so I don’t regard this as a party. I don’t think Boris Johnson has done anything wrong, he was just passing through, it was just a piece of cake in Tupperware,” she said.
She voted for Johnson in the last election and would again, and believed only an “insular political elite” considered Partygate to be significant. “They don’t listen to the outside world. We care about the Ukraine war, lots of my friends feel the same.”
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Local Labour supporters disagreed. Jonathon Summers-Mileman, a 29-year-old arts marketer, said Partygate mattered because of what it said about the state of UK politics, and that Johnson should resign as a result.
“It’s not the parties, it’s the lying. There’s something wrong with politics when lying forms a major part of government. We’ve never been in a place where someone who broke the law is in charge. The government should lead by example,” he said.
View image in fullscreenJonathon Summers-Mileman: ‘There is a lot of anger and embarrassment here.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
Although he said the local Conservative MP, Jeremy Hunt, had “done lots of good” for the area, he speculated that the Liberal Democrats may threaten the Tories by picking up protest votes in two upcoming byelections – in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton – and the next general election. “There is a lot of anger and embarrassment here.”
He was scathing about the £10bn package of measures announced by Sunak on Thursday to reduce the cost of living pressures. “It feels like we’re being paid off. Politics has become so reactionary. I don’t know what they stand for other than staying in power.”
His views were echoed by Brian Alexander, 85, a retired architect. He thought the cost of living measures “should have been out months ago”, and viewed the giveaways as “buying time and staying in power”.
He added: “It’s a scandal that the Sue Gray report wasn’t published earlier. I’m disgusted Johnson hasn’t resigned, I don’t know what country we’re living in. It’s disgraceful we have a man in charge with no principles. He’s a liar and a cheat.”