Illustrations by Maria-Ines Gul

Pippa Crerar: ‘Those in positions of power need to fess up and deal with the consequences’

The Daily Mirror’s political editor reveals how she broke the “partygate” scandal
January 27, 2022

The scandal over lockdown parties in No 10 has shaken British politics. Boris Johnson—revealed to have been in attendance at more than one of them—may have resigned by the time you read this. As well as the explosive immediate impact, the reports could have lasting consequences for the public perception of our governing classes.

But what does it take to break news that could topple a prime minister? Pippa Crerar, political editor of the Daily Mirror, is behind some of the biggest scoops of recent times, having jointly broken the story of Dominic Cummings’s visit to Barnard Castle in 2020 and, towards the end of last year, produced a string of revelations about rule-breaking in No 10 that helped set “partygate” in motion. How does one unearth—and then stand up—stories that have left a whole nation reeling?

“I had heard a rumour from someone I know in my professional world that there had been gatherings, or a gathering… in the run up to Christmas 2020 in No 10,” says Crerar, 45, of the initial lockdown party revelations. “I wasn’t able to stand it up. And it became one of those things that I kind of filed away.

“And then about six weeks [later] I was approached by a contact and shown what I would describe as a metaphorical brown paper envelope. A piece of information that… did give me enough evidence to think it was worth my while looking again at that initial allegation.

“Then it was six weeks of hard work of trying to find people that not only were willing to talk to me… but also had been present, and had direct accounts of what had taken place.”

“The sort of picture book grew that No 10, particularly the prime minister… was playing a bit fast and loose with some of the rules. And that there was a pattern of parties and social gatherings in the heart of government at that time.”

The parties revealed by Crerar and her team had taken place just before the Christmas that was “cancelled” for much of the country. Allegra Stratton, the PM’s official spokesperson, was caught joking about one event on camera—footage which Johnson said left him “sickened and furious.” Subsequent revelations, including of a “bring your own booze” gathering at the height of the first lockdown and a party with a DJ the night before the Queen sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral, will have left many members of the public feeling something similar.

“Everybody made some sacrifice when it came to following the rules. Everybody was acting to try and keep the country safe. But the people that were telling us to do that [weren’t], and that’s why so many people are so angry.”

Seeing individuals face the public’s wrath, does Crerar ever feel sorry for the subjects of her stories? “I’m human, of course!” she answers. “I can relate to human fallibility… but when they’re in positions of power I think they need to fess up to [their mistakes] and deal with the consequences.” 

Journalistic good practice means checking allegations with the subject (be it a person or organisation) before publication. Crerar is keen to stress the due diligence that goes into any story of high consequence, including fierce guarding of sources’ identities (she does not even share these with her editor). 

The revelations set in motion by Crerar and her team are still working their way through the system. It is difficult to know how the pieces will settle—but in the meantime, does Crerar have anything else up her sleeve? “Like all of my colleagues, I always have a few things on the go,” she replies, tantalisingly. “I guess people will have to watch this space.”