Downing Street parties: Political rigor mortis may be taking hold in Whitehall as day of reckoning looms
Insiders had started to brief over-optimistically about the progress of the police investigation - but after the latest update from Scotland Yard that assumption has evaporated.
Thursday 12 May 2022 20:51, UK
The unknown is far scarier than the known when it comes to partygate, even on a day when the number of fines issued to people working at the heart of government for pandemic rule breaches doubles.
Number 10 must not be a comfortable place at the moment.
When the investigation began, Downing Street believed they understood the Metropolitan Police to be methodically moving through and investigating events chronologically.
This provided some degree of certainty, an implied timescale and some over-optimistic briefing to some more credulous corners of Westminster.
This assumption has evaporated.
Insiders admit they have no clue about the Met's ways of working anymore, their approach or their timescale.
Questionnaires were still being issued last week. Interviews with witnesses are still going.
And until Whitehall does get a grip on the process, a debilitating cloud hangs over the government with cabinet ministers freely admitting Boris Johnson's future remains uncertain - for all the public bravado they display every morning with Kay Burley.
Almost as significantly for the sound functioning of Whitehall is the cloud remaining over the head of the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
Nominally the most important official in the land, he continues to have to field questions about his own law breaking and whether he's received a fine.
If political rigor mortis properly sets in, as is beginning to take hold, according to some senior civil servants, this will cause untold damage to the functioning of the state.
Mr Case's choice to walk into the Stoke regional cabinet meeting today via the TV cameras, an appearance which descended into a painful shuffle staring at the floor as he faced a barrage of questions about fines, will be noted by ambitious and more cautious colleagues alike across Whitehall.
Cabinet ministers and the Tory party can see this.
There is no decision to unseat the PM. There is not much of a plot. There is no obvious successor.
But there is an unease: each problem is layered on top of the last and cooler heads reject the analysis of the PM as a greased piglet who always escapes the chop.
Quite simply, the day of reckoning is yet to come. No one knows when it will be or - most importantly of all - the outcome.