2021 has seen no shortage of scandals in government. Image: Pxsphere
It’s fair to say that 2021 was a turbulent year for most. Opening with a third lockdown that made millions of people finally lose their minds, (yes, Jackie Weaver happened this year) the remaining months were spent in a near-perpetual state of uncertainty about Covid restrictions, testing and rules.
Yet there was, of course, one thing that could be relied on for total consistency all year long: government sleaze and scandals.
If 2021 was the year of anything, it was surely the year in which the government figured out that so long as you keep piling additional crises, scandals and sleaze on top of the previous crises, scandals and sleaze, the public will be unable to keep up.
So at the close of the year, what could be more fun or festive than taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting all the scandals that hounded the government in 2021?
From £200m yachts to illegal bike rides and CCTV footage of the former Health Secretary snogging a colleague during lockdown, here’s your 2021 digest.
Ah, January. Famously the month which is so long, cold and dark that a marketing agency invented an entire day (‘Blue Monday’) to dwell on how depressed everyone feels at this time of year.
Luckily, in 2021, we had a full lockdown of indeterminate length to cheer us up as hospitals up and down the country struggled to cope with a fresh surge in coronavirus infections. Happy New Year!
Perhaps embarking on a health kick after a busy Christmas, (more on that later) the prime minister faced his first 2021 accusation of breaching lockdown rules this month after cycling seven miles from his home in Downing Street.
At the time, guidance dictated that people should not travel outside of their local area to exercise.
In what is surely an indication of a well-functioning country, it took a third intervention by 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford to pressure the government into providing proper nutrition for the nation’s children, with a voucher scheme introduced in late January.
As the pandemic raged on, February saw the High Court rule that the government broke the law in 2020 over its failure to disclose details of billion-pound contracts for PPE supplies.
High Court judge Martin Chamberlain ruled then-health secretary Matt Hancock failed to comply with a public procurement law that requires the government to publish contract awards within 30 days. No resignations followed.
Chamberlain had a busy month, also presiding over a case involving the Home Office.
By this point in the pandemic, healthcare workers up and down the country were exhausted, burnt out and traumatised.
Thankfully, the government offered overstretched NHS workers a real-terms pay cut as a token of gratitude, with a 1 per cent pay rise falling generously below the rate of inflation for 2021. Following public backlash, this was later increased to 3 per cent in July.
PMs past and present found themselves embroiled in some of the first big sleaze scandals of the year, with David Cameron investigated over unregistered lobbying conducted on behalf of Greensill Capital.
The current government was accused of treating British taxpayers “like an ATM machine” by the Public Accounts Committee over failed pandemic projects like test and trace which wasted “billions of pounds” of public money.
In late March, Jennifer Arcuri alleged an affair with Boris Johnson during his time as mayor of London, raising questions about public money she was awarded during Johnson’s time in the post.
Former aide Dominic Cummings was blamed for the leak, and retaliated with a scathing blog post about Johnson, claiming the PM tried to quash an internal inquiry into who was leaking information to the press due to a friend of his current wife, Carrie Symonds, being implicated.
Cummings also alleged the PM sought outside donor funding to refurbish his flat without properly declaring it, breaking standards rules.
In most normal jobs, it would probably be this flagrant dereliction of duty linked to the deaths of thousands of people that would get you fired, rather than, say, snogging a colleague in your office – but not so in politics.
June was the month the entire nation was traumatised by grainy footage of Matt Hancock in a “clinch” with colleague Gina Coladangelo in May, when lockdown rules dictated that intimate contact with people outside of your own household was banned.
After extreme public pressure and a reluctance by the PM to fire Hancock, he resigned shortly afterwards.
This month, the UK hosted the G7 leaders summit in Cornwall. The agenda had a strong focus on climate change, so Johnson naturally took a private jet from London to Cornwall instead of the train.
Later in June, the government’s own advisers on climate change warned that ministers are failing to deliver on promises to cut emissions and curb climate change.
Remember the “pingdemic”? Remember how annoying it was when the NHS app repeatedly told you to self-isolate after coming into contact with a coronavirus case?
Conveniently enough, when the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were themselves “pinged” by the service in July, they just so happened to be part of a pilot programme which meant they didn’t have to self-isolate.
Once again, public pressure forced a U-turn on the “pilot”, and both ministers ended up isolating.
July saw the government facing yet more sleaze scandals, with accusations including an elite Tory donors club holding secret meetings with Johnson and Sunak and a “cover-up” over the Greensill scandal.
Johnson then took a firm stance on the allegations by appointing a former friend from the Bullingdon Club to the “sleaze watchdog”, the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August left thousands of Afghan people who had assisted western powers fearing retribution from the Taliban.
Just a month ahead of the climate and environment-focused COP26 conference, MPs faced enormous public backlash after rejecting a Lords amendment to the Environment Bill which proposed strict curbs on water companies dumping untreated sewage into waterways.
A long-awaited Net Zero plan released ahead of the conference was criticised as lacking in ambition and funding, casting doubts on the UK’s ability to lead by example at the conference in November.
Meanwhile, a report from the Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees condemned the government’s early response to the pandemic as one of the “worst ever” public health failures.
MPs are often accused of not working hard enough, but if November taught us anything, it’s that they might be working too hard – just not necessarily in the job they were elected to do.
November saw an explosion of stories about MPs’ second jobs, following Owen Paterson’s resignation over “egregious” breaches of lobbying rules in return for paid work for two companies.
The government then made matters worse by trying to block a suspension of the MP and instead calling for a review into the standards commissioner. Eventually they U-turned and Paterson resigned.
As the second jobs scandal raged, the Conservative Party were fined more than £17,000 for a failure by the PM to properly register the donation used to refurbish his flat at Downing Street.
With Covid putting a stop to festive plans just days ahead of December 25, Christmas 2020 was a downer for people up and down the country – unless, of course, you were a government minister.
In a fittingly Christmassy scandal, December 2021 has seen photos, videos and accounts emerge alleging a string of parties held in Downing Street during December 2020 while the rest of the country was under strict rules on social mixing.
Further evidence has since emerged that ministers and aides were breaking lockdown rules throughout the year, with a picture published by The Guardian showing officials relaxing in the garden of 10 Downing Street with wine during May 2020, when the country was under a strict lockdown forbidding even outdoor mixing.