After two decades of focusing their attention on nude game shows and endless celebrity tittle-tattle, British broadcaster Channel 4 seem to have had something of a wake-up call of late; following on from their scrupulous investigation of their own moral vacuity with a Dispatches show about the irresponsible platforming and institutional covering up for Russell Brand, they’ve entered the political fray directly with Partygate, an hour long dramatization of the permanent state of scandal that eventually brought down Boris Johnson’s sorry piss-up-in-a-brewery government.
Of course, Partygate didn’t effect much more than a cosmetic change, with power handed to the safe pair of hands that was Liz Truss, and then, 49 days later, passed to Rishi Sunak, a man who lives in such obscene Scrooge McDuck wealth that his wife might easily forget to declare such a small sum of £700 million in shares. Once upon a time, any of these matters would be a political dead-end and tombstone for those accused, but in the fake news era, few things stick.
But Partygate did stick in the mind of the British people, and the Conservative/ Murdoch pact that’s held power in the UK on and off for four decades looks shaky for once; this venture from Halcyon Heart Films doesn’t look at the why, but narrowcasts towards the facts of who did what and when. In short, while imposing draconian fines and police state measures to stop the public socialising during Covid, their elected leaders hoped to avoid scrutiny while they did the exact opposite, organising regular parties and pumping up the volume while abusing the staff that cleaned up their trail of red wine and white powder behind them.
Helpful captions pinned down which page of the Sue Gray report the descriptions of each drunken soiree was taken from, the ‘celebration’ of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral for example. The scope was widened occasionally to contrast the kind of fines handed out ordinary people (£13,000+) to the kind of fines given to Johnson and Sunak (£50) after they’d spend months lying to the police and public about what they did. We also got to see how poor people were forced to die alone and say goodbye to their families via ipads while Downing Street lackeys snogged face while dancing, appropriately enough, to The Killers; Covid-19 speeded up societal decline to the point where the divide between the rich and poor becomes visibly lethal.
It’s probably only a matter of time before we’ll be told, in Orwellian fashion, that none of these events ever happened; these abuses of power never took place, these heroic public servants did only their duty and to suggest otherwise is nothing short of treason. So programmes like Partygate are vital in keeping a public record of what government today means; no sense of duty or care to the public, just enriching yourself at the expense of others. In other right-wing governed countries, Trump’s US or Bolsonaro’s Brazil, far worse abuses of power took place during Covid, but for a country that once liked to promote itself as a champion of equality, the coffin nail of Partygate marks yet another scarring shame for the permanently-in-crisis Brexit Britain.