‘Partygate’ is a reminder that young people lost as much as anyone to Covid

We’ve talked a lot about those who died while Downing Street partied, but what about those who actually should have been partying?

In March 2020 the most draconian restrictions ever enforced on our society were put in place, to protect us from the spread of a devastating virus.

Just over a month later, my younger brother turned 18.

You’re not supposed to admit it, but I was bored of Partygate

On the day of his 18th birthday, he had a couple of drinks in the garden with our parents. Later we had a family Zoom call and then he had another, no-doubt-more-fun Zoom call with his friends.

Then he went to bed.

I understand when people say at this stage that they’re sick of hearing about Partygate. I am sick of it. I’m bored of Partygate. I don’t think you’re supposed to say that, even generally, nevermind as a supposed politics journalist. But try as I might, prior to yesterday, I had become unable to drum up any genuine anger over it anymore.

Contrary to how this very real and somewhat widespread sentiment is sometimes presented by Tory MPs, I think very few people are sick of hearing about it because they don’t think it is bad. Rather, they know it is bad but they also know nothing is going to happen as a result of it.

Throughout the evolution of this scandal, from Allegra Stratton - remember her?! - falling on her sword right through to yesterday and the publication of the Sue Gray report, we have heard much about the sacrifices people made while those in Downing Street flouted the rules.

It is right that we’ve heard so much about loss in relation to this scandal. Hospital bedsides unvisited, last moments missed, goodbyes not said. As a nation, so much of our righteous anger at what those in power got up to during that period has been driven by grief.

And that’s part of the reason you’re not supposed to say you’re bored of it, or that we should all move on.

Maybe I’ve struggled to maintain a righteous fury and interest in Partygate because I didn’t lose anyone to Covid. So while I recognise how galling the whole incident is, it just didn’t press my buttons - I had no dog in the fight.

But what struck me yesterday, as I scanned through the report and noted references to broken swing sets, boozy altercations, people throwing up and the rest, is how little we have mourned the fun and the joy and the frivolity that was lost to the pandemic.

My brother turned 20 last month. Throughout most of those two years, between his 18th and 20th birthdays, there remained unprecedented restrictions on society.

There’s no way to measure what young people lost while Downing Street partied

Those two years, 18 to 20, are just about the most unique years of your life. Having finally reached the legal status of adult, but still being relatively unburdened by the responsibilities of adulthood, those latter teen years are supposed to be care-free and wild and, ultimately, filled with silly, reckless, stupid shit.

But during that time he did as he was told, somehow overriding the ecstatic cries of every teenage hormone in his body, and waited. Following rules designed to limit the spread of a disease which, in all likelihood, would have felt to him no more deadly than a passing bout of tonsilitis.

Like millions of young people in this country, he did what he thought he was supposed to do and as a result he missed out on the best part of two years he will never get back or be able to replicate.

And as they did, while my brother and kids like him were literally sitting indoors waiting patiently for their lives to begin, the corridors of power rang out with the sounds of popping bottles and karaoke - from a machine provided by Downing Street’s head of ethics, no less.

What did it cost them? Impossible to say. Countless laughs; a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes; an infinity of first-kisses.

A whole generation will never know the friends they might have made one night in the smoking area of a terrible discopub - a tragedy immeasurable and unknowable.

There’s no way these things can be returned or reimbursed to the young people who missed out on them, in the same way that people cannot get back those final moments with a loved one, or the opportunity to say goodbye.

All they or any of us can do is try to make up for the lost moments, live in a way that honours those who didn’t make it - and to remember the contents of Sue Gray’s report the next time we’re in a voting booth.