People will put up with a great deal from their politicians, but being treated with contempt is not one of them says Ivor Gaber

The Government is telling us, ‘Don’t go to work next week…unless it’s for a party’.

It’s possibly the daftest statement I’ve heard any government say ever – and over the years I’ve heard a fair few. But they’re in panic mode and when you are, all sorts of daft utterances can be expected. Of course we know why they’re in such a mess – it’s because they rushed through their latest Covid measures - ‘Plan B’ - in a desperate attempt to distract Parliament and, more importantly, the public from the series of damaging revelations about parties at Downing Street last Christmas that broke the Covid rules.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson announces Plan B restrictions - Full list of new Covid rules

Journalists had been briefed to expect a new plan this coming week - after the cabinet had discussed the new plan more fully. But those deliberations never took place. As ‘Partygate’ engulfed the PM the new measures, which put protecting our Christmas, and the hospitality industry, above concerns about public health, were rushed through.

We are clearly in, or close to, another major Covid crisis as the new Omicron variant spreads and, although for the vast majority of the vaccinated, its symptoms appear mild that is not the case for the unvaccinated, so new measures were required – but not this half-baked plan.

You may possibly have heard something recently about ‘dead cats’ and might have been wondering what they have to do with politics, parties or public health. It’s a reference to a tactic that Johnson’s former Australian political strategist, Lynton Crosby, devised: when you’re in the middle of a crisis, advised the so-called Wizard of Oz, throw something else in front of the public to distract them – just as dropping a dead cat on to a table amidst a heated discussion will surely stop the argument dead in its tracks.

That’s the theory, and although it might have worked in the past, I think this time round it won’t.

The fact that Johnson only has a very occasional relationship to truth-telling is not a blinding revelation, but what ‘Partygate’ is telling us is that this tendency to lie has now infected his staff as well, the Downing Steet Press Office, which was one of the main ‘crime scenes’ of this scandal, has continued to insist that there were no such parties, and even if there were, they didn’t break the rules or that they weren’t parties but ‘gatherings’.

But far more seriously – and this is the issue that is really cutting through with the public – is what it all reveals about the attitude of Johnson and his team. They have demonstrated the contempt that they feel for ‘the little people’ – ‘we make the rules and they obey them’ seems to be the order of the day.

Over the past two years Conservative voters, new and old, have been willing to turn a blind eye to the PM’s many faults, because they both liked him and thought he could deliver , whether it was ‘Getting Brexit Done’ or ‘Levelling up’.

But what they clearly aren’t prepared to accept is being treated with contempt, for being seen as mere voting fodder who will put their tick in the right box once every four years and then just shut up, go away, and do what they’re told.

The mood has turned, Johnson will no longer get the benefit of the doubt.

But whether Labour can capitalise on this change of mood is the big question. Certainly the recent changes in Labour’s top team – with the likes of Angela Rayner, Lisa Nandy and Yvette Cheeseman now centre-stage - suggests that they are now landing a few more blows on the government and are beginning to look like an alternative government; but doubts remain. Perhaps the biggest one being the ability of party leader, Keir Starmer, to make sufficient impact so that people begin to see him as a potential prime minister.

I was talking politics with my barber this week – something we rarely do (the Albion’s our usual topic of conversation) - when he said, ‘I’m not impressed with that Labour bloke’ he paused; ‘Do you mean Keir Starmer?’ I asked, ‘Yes that’s the bloke’. After almost two years in office I was struck by the fact that my barber, someone who reads the Sun, the Mirror (and of course The Argus) every day, did not know the name of the Labour leader.

Until that changes nothing will.

Ivor Gaber is Professor of Political Journalism at the University of Sussex and a former political correspondent based at Westminster