It’s been a tough few months for Matt Hancock. Hancock, you will recollect, had to resign as Secretary of State for Health after some lousy sneak in his Department leaked CCTV to the papers showing Matt snogging his aide Gina Coladangelo, in his office, on Government time. Matt snogging Gina wasn’t actually against the law (though it was contrary to guidance). But it made people who had slavishly followed both the law and the guidance furious. 

This week, Matt Hancock could be excused for cracking a wry smile as he sits back on the sofa with Gina and watches the news. The harsh wind of public disapproval that blew him from office has turned into a whirlwind, which has the Prime Minister himself holding on for dear life.

When Matt snogged Gina, we were on our way out of a Covid clampdown and not far from ‘Freedom Day’. On Thursday December 18 last year, we were under heavy restrictions and heading, the very next day, into the Christmas lockdown. Boris, and everyone else in No. 10 Downing Street –from the Cabinet Secretary to Dilyn the dog– would have known that. 

That same Thursday morning Boris was on the telly telling everyone how terribly grave the situation was: ‘It’s vital that from today, you minimise contact with people from outside your household. Everyone must take personal responsibility to avoid passing the virus on to loved ones this Christmas.’ 

The day before, Priti Patel urged people to grass on their neighbours if they weren’t obeying the law. She ordered the police to crack down on house parties, or ‘anything basically that is in breach of the rules that would effectively lead to the spread of the virus.’

Whether or not they would effectively lead to the spread of the virus, on December 18 having a Christmas party was properly, categorically against the law. 

Also on December 18 last year, something went down in the Cabinet Office; the centre of Government and civil service operations which is located at Number 10. It wasn’t, we are told, a Christmas party and Boris has repeatedly assured us that no rules were broken.

That said, it did seem to involve booze, nibbles, tinsel, Michael Bublé on the stereo, Secret Santa and many of the other trappings the public have come to associate with communal festivities in celebration of the birth of Christ. 

We don’t know who sneaked to the press about the party. Perhaps the hidden hand of Dom is at work. But it was genius to sit on the story for a whole year, and leak it out just as a fresh round of Christmas Covid restrictions are on their way. Governments everywhere have fallen back into a panic spiral at the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The Chicken Little of Covid, doom-mongering Professor Neil Ferguson, is running around saying the sky is falling, and only another lockdown will save us all from certain death. Health Secretary Sajid Javid –who it seems has already had every last vestige of Ayn Randian libertarianism stomped out of him by the Whitehall blob– is going along with this nonsense. Plan B is on its way. 

It’s extraordinary that anyone still listens to Ferguson, who (quite apart from being the prototype of Coronazi hypocrisy for ignoring his own unnecessary rules at the height of the first lockdown) has never made a forecast that wasn’t wrong. Paul the Octopus would do a better job of predicting Covid deaths. Ferguson’s name should be held in the same sort of execration as Andrew Wakefield for the damage he has done to public health with his hyperbole and scare stories. 

But with all the Omicron hysteria bringing back horrid memories of waving to loved ones last Christmas through a locked care home window, the effect of the Downing Street party story has been devastating. All that pent-up anger –which bubbled furiously when people read about Neil Ferguson, Dom Cummings and Matt Hancock– has boiled over in a churning cauldron of public rage. 

Boris’s immediate reaction –laugh it off, deny it happened– didn’t work. The press have scented blood and are closing in on the Prime Minister. Even Keir Starmer, at last, is getting properly stuck in: at PMQs on Wednesday he contrasted the festive carousing in Downing Street with the Queen sitting cold and alone at the funeral of her husband of 73 years. 

Although parties were expressly prohibited, a loophole means the Cabinet Office party may not have infringed the law. In fact, there may actually be one law for us, and another for them.

The Coronavirus Regulations are made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and section 73 of the 1984 Act says that the Act doesn’t apply to Crown property like Government departments unless the relevant department has made a specific agreement with the local authority ‘that any relevant provision of this Act specified in the agreement shall apply to the property’. It’s a pretty safe bet that no such agreement between No. 10 and Westminster Council exists, so the Metropolitan Police probably couldn’t prosecute the partygoers even if they wanted to, which they probably don’t. 

The actual legal status of the party is irrelevant. It’s the appearance of contempt for the public that matters. An élite laughing and having fun behind the locked gates of Downing Street; imposing restrictions on everyone else’s lives that they have no intention of following themselves. 

Boris is being hanged from a gibbet of his own construction. Cancelling Christmas last year wasn’t necessary, and the people at the party knew it wasn’t necessary. Just like Neil Ferguson knew that following his own rules wasn’t necessary, and Matt Hancock knew that adhering to his own guidance wasn’t necessary. Despite this, they all kept on hectoring and preaching at the rest of the country.

If it has the result of making more people ignore Covid regulations in the same way that ministers and officials in Downing Street ignore them, so much the better.