18 December 2020

Thanks 2020, that’s plenty: a round-up of the year we’d all rather forget

By Marie Le Conte


The first real Westminster story of 2020 was Dominic Cummings’ appeal for “weirdos and misfits” to come work for him in Number 10, published on his blog, because where else would he publish something like this? I have to say I’d forgotten how wonderfully insane it was, and feel the need to remind you of this part:

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB.”

What a man. In happier news, 2020 also started with the power-sharing coalition returning to Stormont, partially thanks to the work of Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, who did such a good job he was sacked a month later.

Finally, the month concluded with Parliament passing the Brexit bill, which should have been an incredible, tense and historic moment but everyone was so exhausted by then that it largely just happened.


Most of what took place in Westminster in February took place in the same week. First, there was the reshuffle, nicknamed “The St Valentine’s Day Massacre”, because we all love tasteful historical references around here. Out was Sajid Javid and in was the realisation that this Number 10 really did want to control everything.

Because he refused to leave his Spads behind, the Chancellor was forced to resign and replaced by a rising star assumed to be Downing Street’s patsy. It is fair to say Rishi Sunak has, at time of writing, had the last laugh on that one.

A few days later, Dom’s pet “weirdo” Andrew Sabisky left Number 10, after some of his more interesting opinions on eugenics and the IQs of different races resurfaced. Oh, and Westminster got its first confirmed coronavirus case around then too, but is that really important?


Well yes, turns out it is. In a sign that things were starting to take a turn for the worse, Playbook pointed out on March 6 that “England’s chief medical officer is rapidly gaining fans”. On the bright side, said fans were about to see a whole lot more of Chris Whitty. Come to think of it, I am nearly certain I have spent more time looking at Chris Whitty’s face this year than the faces of all my relatives put together,

March was, of course, the month in which Britain thought, debated and dithered, then eventually got into lockdown at least two weeks too late. It was also the month the Cabinet Office said it would investigate bullying claims made by civil servants about Priti Patel, following Sir Philip Rutnam’s dramatic resignation from the Home Office.


Looking back, April 2020 was less of a month and more of a state of mind. It lasted for years and years but every day was the same and nothing felt quite real. Still, it is when the Government became engulfed in multiple scandals around testing and PPE, and it started to look like care homes were not nearly as protected as we’d hoped.

Boris Johnson himself was rushed to hospital then ICU and a terrified-looking Dominic Raab momentarily took his place, and things really did look dire. At the same time, Dishy Rishi was busy doling out money and we collectively started to realise that whatever was coming would be a disaster for the economy.

Oh, and the Labour Party beat the odds and elected yet another white man as their leader, following a contest that felt as interminable as April itself.


The first line in my notes for May reads: “13 – sit on bench”, which means that on May 13th, the fine people of England were once more allowed to sit on a bench outside, with up to one another person. Rejoice!

Elsewhere, George Eustice launched Pick For Britain and encouraged furloughed workers to go pick fruit and vegetables, as the Europeans who usually do it were not around this year, for a mix of pandemic and Brexit-related reasons. If memory serves, the website crashed immediately.

Still, May was really Barnard Castle month, and nothing can eclipse it. From the original story and the rumours he’d gone up north up to four times and the puzzling, absurd press conference in the Rose Garden, Cummings can really be commended for the entertainment he provided us when we needed it the most. I sometimes still think about “I thought I couldn’t see so chucked my kid in the car and went for a drive” and lightly chuckle to myself.


Looking back, June was a very solid month for pointless silliness. First, the important discussions about Black Lives Matter soon transformed into mind-numbingly tedious debates over the various uses of statues and what exactly people get up to on Last Night of the Proms. Then, Jacob Rees-Mogg resisted calls to keep digital voting in the Commons, leading to equally amusing and exasperating pictures of MPs queuing all around the estate, in what was nicknamed “the Mogg Conga”.

Finally, the Government went through the political equivalent of noticing a series of banana skins lying on the pavement and deciding to slip on each and every one of them, by refusing to extend free school meals over the summer while everyone knew they would be caving eventually. They caved eventually.

Oh, and Mark Sedwill announced he would be stepping down after the summer, continuing the subplot about civil servants not having the most tremendous of times working with this government.


Nothing really happened in July? Everything reopened on the 4th and as far as I can tell that was that, everyone rushed outside and did not commit any news for several weeks. That’s nice.


Fans of the free school meals debacle presumably enjoyed its sequel, in which a pugnacious government said over and over that there wouldn’t be a U-turn on A-level results, before announcing that there would be a U-turn on A-level results.

August was also the month of Eat Out To Help Out, in which Sunak paid people to go eat delicious food in restaurants, mere weeks after his boss told us we all had to lose weight. Several studies published afterwards claim that the scheme may have worsened the spread of the coronavirus, but it also gave me the financial incentive I needed to finally try out Barrafina, so the jury’s out on whether it was a good idea after all.


I think it is fair to say that Brandon Lewis admitting that “yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way” about the Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons was the main show in town in September. Sure, Operation Moonshot was launched and there was that weird story from an Italian paper about Boris Johnson being spotted in an airport except it wasn’t him but Tony Blair, but these were largely sideshows.


The two most important stories for October were, objectively, the introduction of the tier system and the Government picking yet another unedifying battle on free school meals over the Christmas holidays.

That being said, I would personally like to make the case for two other events dominating the month. The first was Jeremy Corbyn getting suspended from the Labour Party following his reaction to the EHRC report on antisemitism, purely because no-one thought it would actually happen.

The second – a personal favourite – was the case of Margaret Ferrier. To recap in case you’ve already forgotten or did not follow every twist and turn, the SNP MP:

  • started having Covid symptoms and took a test
  • while waiting for the results, went to a gym, a beauty salon and a gift shop
  • took a train from Scotland to London
  • spoke in the chamber
  • received the results of her test and realised she had Covid
  • took the train back to Scotland the next day.

After all that, and despite everyone desperately trying to make her resign, she is amazingly still an MP. Keep the fine people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West in your prayers.


Ah, that time we got ordered inside again and Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings got ordered out of Downing Street. It was a captivating story, partly because it seemingly came out of nowhere – we’d grown so used to the daily chaos it seemed normal – and partly because it felt like a story from The Normal Times.

Warring SpAds! Neverending Number 10 kremlinology! Briefings upon briefings upon briefings! Everyone wondering why these people don’t have better things to do with their time! It was almost like the pandemic had never happened. Warmed our cockles, it did. Oh and I guess it marked the beginning of the new Boris, whoever he is. We’ve not seen a whole lot of him yet but the Government did stop boycotting most mainstream media, which was nice of them.


Oh, thank God it’s nearly over. Of course, I’m not writing this at the very end of the year so who knows that the last few days of December have in store for us, but so far I’d say December has been a month of swings and roundabouts.

On the one hand – people started getting vaccinated! It was very exciting! On the other, Brexit is back on the agenda. I would say more about it but I don’t want to, and I suspect many of you don’t want to read any more about it either…

On which note – I’m out, see you in 2021!

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Marie Le Conte is a freelance political journalist and author of 'Haven't You Heard?: Gossip, Politics and Power'.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.