Hours after explosive reports emerged of two lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street last April, the general feeling at a branch of the Co-op where a government staffer allegedly filled a suitcase with bottles of wine was one of disappointment.
The government was accused of being “the most corrupt we’ve ever had” as customers and passers-by reacted to the allegations outside the supermarket on the Strand, near Whitehall.
A pair of former civil servants said they were “disgusted” by the latest allegations of leaving parties being held at No 10 last April, the evening before strict Covid rules forced the Queen to sit alone at Prince Philip’s funeral as she bade farewell to her husband of 73 years.
Speaking outside the supermarket, one man, who wished to be named only as Richard, told The Independent: “I’m pretty disgusted really, because so many people were keeping to the rules, and the people who actually were making the rules decided they could break them.”
Asked whether he thought the prime minister should resign over the string of government rule-breaking allegations in recent weeks, he added: “Yes, he probably should – but as a Labour supporter I’m quite happy for him to be here and to mess things up.”
Richard’s wife Hilary felt it was unfair that the allegations, in her view, appeared to be affecting attitudes towards all politicians.
“We are both former civil servants – we would not behave like that,” she said. “That somebody would offer a meeting with alcohol… It’s completely different rules to when we were civil servants.”
A customer who said he knew Boris Johnson told The Independent he believed it was time for the prime minister to resign.
The man, who did not want to be identified, said his reaction upon learning of the latest allegations was “disappointment at the character of leaders we have nowadays”.
“I have the feeling standards of behaviour amongst senior individuals across a number of areas of life seem to have fallen,” he said. “There seems to be a belief that they can get away with an awful lot of things… and many times they do avoid the consequences.”
Meanwhile, nurse Tracy Thompson said that the current government is “the most corrupt we’ve ever had”.
“If [Johnson] said it was raining you would go outside and check,” she said. “I’m a nurse, and I visited people in care homes who were isolated in their own rooms. It’s just beyond anything.”
Her husband, Tony Thompson, accused the government of showing “no moral leadership at all”.
“It’s not surprising, is it,” he said. “It’s Downing Street, and it all goes back to Johnson, because the fish rots from the head down and he creates that culture around him. He has got to go, and the whole of cabinet with him, because they are all like him.”
The government was also accused of being “out of touch” and of thinking “they are far superior than the public” by another passer-by. “If it’s true, Boris Johnson should resign,” he added.
The woman accompanying him said she was “disappointed”, adding: “It’s not what you expect from your leadership.”
But a man striding past the Co-op on his way to work appeared to echo foreign secretary Liz Truss’s calls for the nation to “move on” from partygate.
Initially reluctant to stop, he said it was “annoying” but “I’m not really outraged”. “Just slap them with a fine or whatever and get on with life,” he added before rushing off.
The mildest reaction came from a Co-op customer who said she couldn’t blame the prime minister for the parties because she also broke the rules to look after her elderly mother.
But the shopper was surprised to hear the claims about a staffer stocking up on wine at the supermarket. The Strand is not the most affordable place to buy booze, she said, and it probably would have been easier for them to go to Sainsbury’s instead.