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‘Fridays in Wine Time’ in Whitehall showcase the clan culture that comes from the top

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Good morning. During my first lockdown, I started having drinks on Friday night via Houseparty, the most loved video messaging service, for the New Statesman political table, at 5pm. So it’s official: I’m clearly a tougher boss than Boris Johnson. Many thanks for your very kind emails – however, based on this evidence, it is Georgina who needs sympathy and support. Contact at the email address below.


Inside Politics edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send rumors, thoughts and feedback to [email protected].


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The Friday Wine Time !?

Another day, another set of revelations about Downing Street parties. The Mirror’s political editor, Pippa Crerar got a photo of a table inside number 10 amid a revelry to commemorate the last press conference held by senior assistant James Slack on November 17, 2020 (apparently announced earlier that day with text messages like “Wine Time Tuesday”). At the BBC, Laura Kuenssberg explored more details about life in government buildings for Overview: you can watch it on iPlayer here or Read our article here. Here is the highlight for me:

The drink invite event at the press office on Friday was just nailed to the diary,” one individual told the BBC’s Panorama programme. These are known as “Wine Time Fridays” and are typically scheduled at 4 p.m., but sources told the broadcaster it’s not unheard of to be at work at Number 10 on multiple days. week and found “empty bottles, bins, trash” from gatherings the night before.

I don’t want to sound like a killing game, but even if the whole country was Not being subject to draconian restrictions on our freedoms, I don’t feel like Downing Street officials should be in the habit of going out drinking at 4pm on a Friday. If there is any UK workplace that must have a culture of working long hours and being overly sober, it has to be at the heart of government.

Ends at meRichard Vaughan, Arj Singh and Chloe Chaplain report on the “rage” of some civil servants when they receive multiple fines while the prime minister receives only one:

Sources present at the event told me there were “dozens” of officials angry that they had received fixed penalty notices for attending lock-in drinks in number 10 when the prime minister failed to do so.

An insider who was at the party who left drinks for Lee Cain on 13 November 2020 said they did not feel they were breaking the rules because of the prime minister’s presence.

One of the BBC sources also said they felt they had been given permission by Boris Johnson to attend the gatherings, on the basis that he had been there and was “getting a drink for himself”.

An important part of the Partygate story is the very simple thing that law makers and enforcers shouldn’t violate. But the other important part is what it reveals about the institutional culture in the heart of Downing Street. Officials shouldn’t need the prime minister’s absence to tell them that an organization that arranges drinks in person during the lockdown is against the law and that if it does so at luc 4 pm, they have many other problems going on. And, once penalized, they shouldn’t be thrilled that they’ve received more than one fixed penalty notice while their boss has only received “just” one.

An organization’s culture is largely set by its leader, and many of these issues are about Johnson. But many civil servants feel that the story exposes the flaws of Whitehall: a culture that tends to be clandestine and discourages whistleblowing, to the point where, even if fines are introduced and you have questions, In the BBC story of “Fridays in Wine Time”, the official impulse was to go around the wagons.

It’s a little adventure!

Still image from the movie 'Withnail and I' of the two in the rain, captioned 'We created an efficient way to provide money to households by mistake'

The Prime Minister has called for giving the 5.7 million people who use universal credit an inflation-matched increase next year (still from the movie ‘Withnail and I’) © Stephen Bush / Handmade Films

Rishi Sunak is finalizing a multi-billion pound support package to help households with a cost of living crisis. Like George Parker and Jim Pickard revealed, it could be announced as early as tomorrow. One aspect that stands out is the “how”. The Treasury will consider how to introduce something that looks like a hitchhiking tax, while ensuring that Labor can’t jump down and say ‘they’re doing what we’ve been told’ is what they should do’. There is also another “way” of how to get money into households that is not just an increase in universal credit.

You can complain about the skewed political incentives surrounding the former, but the latter is more interesting: universal credit is a well-designed, efficient benefit created by this Conservative government. What if you don’t love?

The answer, if you’re Rishi Sunak, is that you’ve encountered an evil of time that received a temporary boost during the pandemic’s return and you’ve decided that you won’t be in danger of getting burned. same way twice. I don’t think we should rule out that the demands of the crisis and the flaws in other policy levers available to government mean that sooner or later the government will switch to universal credit. But for now, Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s creation remains a victim of its success.

Now try this

Right now I mostly re-read books shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in Political Writing 2022of which I am the judge (historian David Edgerton is our chair).

All of them are great, thought-provoking books, and I would highly recommend any of them. I also look forward to the appearance of a Star Wars mini series on Disney Plus this Friday.

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