Sociological Perspectives on the 2020 Downing Street Christmas Party

There seems to be increasing evidence that around three dozen people attended a party at Downing Street in December 2020, shortly after tier three lockdown restrictions were introduced.

These lockdown rules explicitly prohibited people from having social gatherings (like Christmas Parties) and even prevented people from visiting their relatives who were in care homes or hospitals, meaning, quite literally, that in some cases the government lockdown rules meant some people never saw their close family members again.

And during that time a few ministers and downing street officials were breaking these rules, partying, and laughing about it, as well as now denying it ever happened, despite mounting evidence that this incredible double standard took place.

This Sky News Report below offers a useful summary of the issue and is also particularly damning of those involved, it’s kind of hard not to be!

Clearly this is a deviant act on the part of a small minority of powerful people within government, but how can we apply sociological perspectives to this event?

Functionalism

Errrrr…. I’m struggling with this one.

According to Functionalists, crime is supposed to promote positive functions by increasing social integration and regulation, but that simply isn’t the case here – this just turns people against the supposed leaders of our country, creating a sense of division not only between the public and themselves, but also within the Conservative Party.

This event seems to challenge the relevance of Functionalism – it seems to suggest that for Downing Street there is one rule for the plebs and another for themselves, which isn’t anything to do with integration, won’t help with maintaining social order and just doesn’t sit well at all with the whole Functionalist framework.

Marxism

A key Marxist idea is that we have selective law enforcement. This is certainly the case here.

Some people were prosecuted for holding parties during lockdown 2020, the same time as this Downing Street Party took place, presumably the Home Secretary himself knew this was taking place and yet no one was prosecuted here.

Although now this is out in the open, where the Media are concerned, they are very damning of Downing Street, so there isn’t any Agenda Setting going on atm!

Postmodernism

There is something a bit surreal about this event – it’s taking place largely in the media – how else could it be?

There is also a level of uncertainty about who attended the party, and the government is being very evasive, but maybe that’s not so much postmodern it’s just the government lying like it does so much of the time.

This is also a great example of traditional power structures being challenged by the media.

Having said this one thing that isn’t postmodern is the public reaction – surely no one can support this, people being united against the government’s own deviance. (But this ISN’T support for Functionalism it’s very different to what they envisaged.)

And this also says to people ‘stuff the rules, just do what you want, we did!’

The party at number 10 – final thoughts

This really is just tragic. One rule for them, another for us plebs.

Sociology aside, how can anyone feel anything but repulsion over these double standards?

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

How Did Lockdown Affect crime?

How has the pandemic and the societal reaction to the pandemic (changes in policing practices and lockdown) affected trends in crime?

Some recent research sheds some light on this and offers us a useful update for Crime statistics.

Langton et al (2021) investigated 13 categories of Police Recorded Crime during March to August 2020 to see how they differed from ‘expected’ crime rates based on historical data.

March 2020 was when the first wave of lockdowns began, with the restrictions being eased from July, so the period investigated is really exploring the impact of lockdown wave one on the crime rate!

The research found the following:

  • Antisocial behaviour and drug crimes were the two crimes which had increased during this period. By April, one month into lockdown, ASB crimes were 100% higher than in previous years, but then came back down to ‘normal’ levels as lockdown restrictions were eased in July.
  • Theft and robbery saw the most dramatic decreases during lockdown – they were 60% down in April, a dramatic immediate decrease, but then they ‘bounced back’ – heading back up to near expected levels by August!  This is most likely related to the restricted mobility during lockdown, and then being lifted.
  • Burglary, bicycle theft, criminal damage and arson all fell from 30-40% during lockdown and then gradually increased during summer but remained below usual levels. This is possibly due to the domestic nature of these crimes – more people were at home during lockdown, and even though restrictions had been lifted by August, many people had adapted to homeworking by that point. 
  • Public order offences saw the least change – down 20% in April, but then back up to usual levels.
  • The research also looked at ‘other crimes’ but this is a wide-ranging category so doesn’t really warrant investigation!

How Lockdown Affected Different Crimes

The research displayed its data like this: red is the actual crime rate, the dotted line the expected crime rate based on previous crime trends.

Why did Police Recorded Crime rates change?

The important thing to keep in mind here are that these are just Police Recorded Crime Rates, and policing practices changed during lockdown – new laws meant the police had the power to fine people for just being out for the ‘wrong reason’ or for having too many people at a gathering. So these changes are more about societal changes, NOT underlying changes to the crime rate! This is an important link to the Interactionist/ labelling theory of crime.

Anti Social Behaviour and Public Order offences may have increased/ stayed level because of this – as people ‘protest’ or just break lockdown rules – the police recorded many of these breaches as one of these two crimes.

Having said that, it seems reasonable to assume that some crimes did go down – the fact that people were at home more meant burglaries decreased for example, and bicycle theft as there were less people leaving their bikes around! One also imagines shoplifting declined dramatically!

Limitations of Police Recorded Crime Data

  • As mentioned above, the changes could be due to changes in policing and/ or changes in law during lockdown, not necessarily any underlying changes in the real crime rate.
  • Because of changes to policing and the law (new lockdown rules) it’s difficult to make a comparison of the underlying crime rate during lockdown and previous years.
  • The above analysis doesn’t specifically include two major categories of crime: sexual and domestic abuse, and computer related crimes – two (allegedly) crimes which both increased significantly during lockdown.

Signposting

This topic is part of the A-level Sociology Crime and Deviance module.

%d bloggers like this: