HELL hath no fury like a spin doctor spurned. It was Boris Johnson's former special adviser, Dominic Cummings, who first broke the latest “bring your own booze” lockdown party story. It was in his blog last week. The Government had been quietly hoping that Partygate had been forgotten over Christmas festivities, pending the inquiry by civil servant Sue Gray – a safe pair of hands expected to deliver a mild knuckle rapping to officials for their non-party parties.

Not if The Dom had anything to do with it.

Mr Cummings hasn't forgiven his former boss for the defenestration of Team Dom after that showdown with “Princess Nut Nuts”, as he dubbed the PM's wife Carrie, in November 2020. Since then, he has been conducting a running commentary on the mishaps and misadventures of Mr Johnson – or “the supermarket trolley” as he calls the PM.

Mr Cummings was of course in the dock himself for breaking Covid rules during his infamous family outing to Barnard Castle in 2020. He became public enemy number one for a while after his non-apology in the No 10 garden. That was on May 26 – only days after nearly 100 staffers had been invited to the very same garden for a party that blatantly broke the lockdown laws.

The rest of us were effectively under house arrest at the time: ordered not to leave home except for exercise and shopping. Under that first national lockdown in 2020, we were only permitted to meet one other person, socially distanced, outdoors. That's why the BYOB scandal eclipses all the earlier Partygate stories: it's the Big One, that really could damage Boris Johnson.

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To be fair, Mr Cummings' target last week was not the Prime Minister directly but his Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, who organised the bash. Indeed, The Dom made clear that the "other" party scandal – that picture of the meeting in the Number 10 garden on May 15 at which drink was taken – had not been a breach of lockdown.

Essential workers, like No 10 staffers, were permitted to have meetings during lockdown, as Ms Gray is expected to report next week. Indeed, convening them outdoors, rather than in poorly ventilated offices, was actually deemed safer. Nor was there any rule that such workers could not take alcoholic refreshments, so long as the meeting didn't turn into some kind of orgy.

However, deliberately organising a bottle party for dozens of people was never going to qualify as an essential meeting, even without the booze. It was reckless beyond belief – an egregious breach of the rules and the law. Mr Cummings stuck the knife deeper into Mr Reynolds' shoulders by recording that he, and others, had told him that the May 20 social was out of order. One staffer emailed back: “Is this for real?”

The police are reportedly investigating. There will be no prosecutions, however, because the Met has said it doesn't seek to apply the law “retrospectively”. This will infuriate tens of thousands who have already been served fixed penalty notices for much lesser breaches of lockdown. Such as 82-year-old Maureen Hogg from Eaglesham, East Renfrewshire, fined for holding a birthday party for an elderly friend last year. Or the two Derbyshire women who travelled five miles to a reservoir for a walk and were collared by over-zealous police.

We were effectively in lockdown in May 2020

We were effectively in lockdown in May 2020

Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former Labour leader, was held for 10 hours and fined £10,000 for addressing an anti-lockdown event in central London in 2020. Yet the people responsible for the lockdown laws had been breaking them with impunity only a couple of miles away. Women who tried to organise a Reclaim These Streets protest against gender violence were told that they would be arrested.

As for Mr Johnson's personal responsibility – well, there is wriggle room, even if as seems clear he attended the party. Strictly speaking, he was in his own garden at No 10 and that was within the rules. He could perhaps be called an accessory to breaking the law, but that would be pushing it. However, Mr Reynolds is very definitely on the shoogly peg.

And the politics? Well, there had been signs that voters were getting bored with Partygate. Until now it has been very much a bubble story, civil servants behaving badly, a distraction from far more serious lockdown issues that remain unaddressed. Like the thousands of unnecessary deaths in care homes, dodgy PPE contracts, the financial disaster of track and trace.

The cost of living crisis is what real people are talking about right now. Energy companies advising them to hug their pets this winter if they can't afford to pay their bills. Real inflation, as measured by the Retail Price Index, is already nudging seven per cent. If the wage increases that followed Brexit are simply consumed now by inflation, there will hell to pay from the Red Wall voters who helped Mr Johnson win his near landslide in the 2019 General Election.

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But at the very least, Partygate reveals a deep well of cynicism at the heart of government. No 10 obviously didn't take the draconian lockdown measures seriously or officials wouldn't have invited a large group to bring their own alcohol to a social gathering on the very day the rules were being reinforced and re-broadcast. The civil servants who organised the event obviously thought rules were only for the little people, not the mandarins who govern.

Worse still, the party has served to obscure what should have been the most important positive story of the week for the Government. It looks like Mr Johnson's Christmas gamble has paid off. The “tsunami” of Omicron that Nicola Sturgeon warned about has turned into a manageable high tide. At any rate, authorities like Professor David Spiegelhalter, the John Curtice of Covid risk assessment, are saying that the NHS need not be overwhelmed this winter.

But No Ten is sinking fast. The Boris-baiting Baroness, Ruth Davidson, has wasted no time in condemning this latest scandal in lurid terms. Patience had already been wearing thin on the Tory backbenches. Dominic Cummings is not finished yet. And Mr Johnson's Winter of Discontent is far from over.

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