Spotlight falls on No. 10 comms chief in ‘partygate’ row

No. 10 director of comms Jack Doyle was one of those in attendance at an alleged party in Downing Street on 18 December last year, according to media reports.

Spotlight falls on No. 10 comms chief in ‘partygate’ row

Jack Doyle thanked staff and then handed out certificates to members of the Downing Street comms team as part of a joke awards ceremony, according to ITV News, which broke the new development.

It has not yet emerged which other members of the Downing Street comms team were in attendance along with Doyle, who was deputy director of comms at the time.

In December last year, James Slack had recently taken over leadership of the Downing Street comms operation in the wake of the dramatic departure of former No. 10 comms chief Lee Cain and chief strategist Dominic Cummings.

Doyle was promoted to director of comms in April, following Slack's departure.

Fuel to the fire

The development adds fresh fuel to a reputational crisis for Boris Johnson and the Government which began last week when the Prime Minister’s spokesman was questioned by Lobby journalists about whether a party took place in Downing Street on 18 December last year.

At the time of the reported gathering, Tier 3 restrictions were in place which prohibited work parties or indoor household mixing in social situations.

A week of evasive denials ensued from Downing Street, ministers and Johnson himself, in which the Government declined to confirm whether a party took place, yet also maintained that all COVID-19 rules were followed.

Leaked footage

Earlier this week, ITV News aired leaked footage of Allegra Stratton, who was then Downing Street’s press secretary, during a practice for a televised press conference, joking with her colleagues about how to respond to questions about a Christmas party at No. 10.

The mock press conference was filmed four days after the event in Downing Street is alleged to have taken place.

Johnson made a statement apologising for the leaked footage at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament on Wednesday.

He said he shared the public’s anger at the apparent sight of Downing Street staff joking about whether COVID-19 rules had been followed and promised an investigation, led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

Later on Wednesday, Stratton resigned as an advisor to Johnson and apologised to the public.

The official investigation has since been widened to look at three events last year, on 27 November and 18 December in Downing Street, as well as one in the Department for Education on 10 December.

Public anger

Despite the promise of an investigation, the reputational crisis for Johnson and the Government shows no sign of slowing down.

Public anger about the alleged parties is akin to that during Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle last year.

Now read: Schrödinger’s Christmas party could exceed Barnard Castle for harming Boris Johnson’s reputation

Meanwhile, opposition parties have called on Johnson to resign and there is a mood of deep disquiet among backbench Conservative MPs as to his leadership on a range of issues.

Asked to comment on the attendance of Doyle and the alleged party in December, a Downing Street spokesperson told PRWeek: “There is an ongoing review, and we won't be commenting further while that is the case.”

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