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While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss continues to dominate the polls in the Conservative Party leadership contest, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak needed a break.

He got two breaks: an interview on GB News and TalkTV’s hustings.

GB News

GB News announced last week that Truss would be the guest of a People’s Forum on Wednesday, August 10 at 5 p.m. She took questions from the public for an hour. I will have more on that in a separate post.

By contrast, GB News allowed Sunak a private interview with MPs Esther McVey, one of his supporters, and her husband Philip Davies.

The couple host a two-hour current affairs programme every Saturday morning.

The interview aired on Saturday, August 6, and was interspersed with other segments on their two-hour show. Judging from the room, it took place somewhere in the Palace of Westminster.

Philip Davies asked a couple of harder questions but his wife dominated the interview, making her candidate look good.

Rishi defended his Gordon Brown policy of raking in tax and giving it back to the taxpayer in insignificant token amounts:

Sunak said how difficult it was for him to resign as Chancellor. He painted it as a moral dilemma. Never mind that he, like Boris, also received a Fixed Penalty Notice for attending a Downing Street gathering. He just happened to be working in that room at the time, as he did often:

He said that he was against a Christmas 2021 lockdown — which didn’t happen, thanks to 101 rebel Conservative MPs — and said he made a special effort to make his opposition known. That said, he would not, like Truss, rule out a future lockdown:

He gave a weak answer on stopping the Channel migrant crossings, which are costing the taxpayer £5 million a day in hotel accommodation. By now, we must be running out of hotel rooms — no joke:

Sunak also said he was appalled by the grooming gangs and said that he would consider introducing a life sentence for child rape and repeated sexual assaults on children.

TalkTV

TalkTV’s Tom Newton Dunn presented a Conservative Party hustings in Darlington on Tuesday, August 9, broadcast as a special edition of his evening show:

As this was a Conservative Party event, the format was the same as in Eastbourne on August 5.

Andrew Stephenson MP, the new Party co-chair, gave the introduction.

Tom Newton Dunn introduced himself. It would have been helpful if he had added he leans towards the Liberal Democrats. Incidentally, he regularly loses in the ratings to GB News, although perhaps his Tuesday show bumped him up a notch or two.

Then Angela Sterling, a Conservative councillor from Durham, went up on stage to pledge her support for Sunak (9:56).

Sunak introduced himself to the audience and spoke for several minutes (16:20). From the moment he appeared, it was apparent he was on home turf. Darlington is just north of his constituency. He had many supporters from Teesside, sporting Ready for Rishi shirts and placards.

Fortunately, he didn’t make the same mistake he did on July 20 and say the city was in Scotland:

Afterwards, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, explained why she was supporting Truss (30:00).

Then Truss introduced herself (35:00).

Sunak’s Q&A session began after that (48:32).

Newton Dunn gave him an easy ride. There was only one tough question from a woman who had paid all her National Insurance stamps but was still not getting a full pension. He asked her to email him and said that he would definitely look into the matter for her.

Some say that Sunak received a hard question from the man who asked about Boris, but the audience took care of that by booing him.

However, we can see from this clip that a negative question can irritate Sunak:

Sunak did mention grooming gangs to the audience and repeated what he told Esther McVey and Philip Davies. The audience applause indicated they were pleased, although Newton Dunn looked visibly uncomfortable.

Guido Fawkes has three more highlights, one involving a delicious regional dish, the parmo (emphases his):

    • Rishi was on home turf this evening in his newly-adopted home of Teesside – “It is so great to be home!”. Within his opening speech we got everything from the Darlington Treasury Campus to parmos, and – to be fair – he got a very warm reception.
    • He even cracked a decent gag: “My parents are staying with us at the moment, and I realised I’d been campaigning a lot when last night I was talking to them – and I started telling them that my dad was a GP and my mum ran the local chemist when I grew up”
    • Among Rishi’s backers in the audience was none other than co-conspirator favourite Tom Harding – Anna Soubry’s former chief of staff who slipped through Sky News‘ debate vetting and laid into LizHe came armed with a massive “Ready for Rishi” poster…

Then it was time for Truss’s Q&A (1:19:00).

Newton Dunn interrupted Truss from the beginning. She handled the situation well and kept her composure, making quips where she could.

He would not even allow her to take a question from one of her own supporters:

I wouldn’t want to make it easy for you.

How petty.

Guido has more. Once again, as it was in Eastbourne, Truss Derangement Syndrome was the order of the day (purple highlights mine):

    • Last night’s husting saw a rather feisty Liz Truss, not least with quite a few barbs at the media
    • There were at least three digs towards the fourth estate, including over their continued use of the phrase “handouts” in regards to her proposed tax reductions
    • She also had a minor bust-up with Tom Newton Dunn when he asked her who was responsible for Boris’s downfall. Multiple members of the audience shouted out “the media”, with Liz laughing along and asking “who am I to disagree with this wonderful audience?”
    • At the end of the session, as she hugged TND, she jokingly apologised for her barbs. TND was caught on mic bitterly saying “it’s cheap and you know it”
    • The press isn’t happy, even calling her jibes “Trumpian”, though every one of Liz’s comments were made in a lighthearted way.
    • Aside from her press scrap she also said she’d vote against continuing the Privilege’s Committee investigation into Boris given the hypothetical that MPs were allowed a say

Guido’s readers appreciated the video montage of Truss’s barbed but witty comments about the media:

Here’s Guido’s video:

His accompanying post says:

At points during last night’s husting it felt like Tom Newton Dunn was getting more of a pasting from Liz than Rishi. During the course of her sit-down interview she – quite rightly – attacked the press for framing her tax cuts as “handouts“; bringing down Boris; proposing a “bizarre” “kangaroo committee” of her, Rishi and the CBI; and for not believing in Britain. Tom was clearly smarting, telling the foreign secretary off when they hugged for her “cheap” attacks. Grow a pair…

I couldn’t agree more. Tom Newton Dunn, who, amazingly, was The Sun‘s Political Editor for many years, is one of the worst offenders.

Although Truss might not have had an easy time of it in Darlington, something positive happened afterwards.

Chris Skidmore was the first backbench MP to switch from Sunak to Truss. He wrote an exclusive editorial for The Telegraph, which the paper summarised:

Chris Skidmore has become the first Conservative MP to publicly switch his backing from Rishi Sunak to Liz Truss in the in the Tory leadership race.

Announcing his defection in an article for The Telegraph, Mr Skidmore said he had became “increasingly concerned” by the Sunak campaign’s “consistently changing position” on policy

He urged other Tory MPs to join him in switching support to the Foreign Secretary, saying: “It is never too late to make the right decision”.

The switch is especially noteworthy as Mr Skidmore, one of the most prominent Tory supporters of Net Zero, is seen as being on the party’s liberal wing, while many of Ms Truss’s most prominent backers are on the traditionalist Right.

A Truss campaign source claimed the “floodgates could open” now Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood and a former universities minister, had flipped support, with other defections possible later this week.

Red Wall MP Aaron Bell followed suit, explaining his views in an exclusive for The Times. Excerpts follow:

It has been a tough campaign for everybody. There has been a lot of in-depth policy debate about the future of our party and country, much of which has been productive and insightful. And it’s important that there has been a contest, because it’s right that the candidates have been tested under pressure — we need to know that our next prime minister has what it takes to lead. But there has been a darker side to the campaign too. The blue-on-blue attacks have been bruising and have left me concerned for the good reputation of our party.

Because of this, I have come to the conclusion that, above all, what we need out of this leadership campaign is unity. The whole party — our members, councillors and activists, and MPs — will need to pull together after the division of the past few months. Without that unity we cannot deliver for our party or our country, and we certainly cannot defeat Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

For years, Newcastle-under-Lyme had been taken for granted by the Labour Party and this came to a head in 2019 when, following our vote for Brexit and the ensuing holdup by the political establishment, my constituents turned to the Conservatives

They watched as big cities and other areas progressed and benefited from serious investment, private and public, while their own town was forgotten and got left behind. In 2019 I pledged, alongside my Conservative colleagues, to turn this around. Indeed, after getting Brexit done, it was to be our government’s guiding mission: restoring not only investment but also local pride in towns such as Newcastle …

We need, with increasing urgency, to deliver on our promises to level up. We have two years until the next election, and if we are to have any hope of beating Labour and continuing to be able to deliver for our country, this is an absolute must. That is why I am supporting Liz Truss to be our next prime minister.

Once Tom Tugendhat, my initial choice, was eliminated, I was leaning towards supporting Rishi Sunak. But, having observed the campaign, I now believe that Liz is the best person to unite the party, deliver on our promises to level up, and beat Keir Starmer in the red wall seats.

Well done!

I will feature Liz Truss’s GB News appearance tomorrow.

Advertisement

This is a follow-up to my post of Friday, February 4, on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to placate his fellow Conservative MPs.

After he met with MPs on Monday, January 31 following his statement on the Sue Gray party report, Boris committed himself to reforming the way Downing Street works.

Several MPs whom I’ve seen interviewed on television have said that Boris does not communicate with them at all. This is especially true for the Red Wall MPs from 2019.

Boris now has to woo every one of his backbench MPs or risk letters of no confidence from them about his premiership.

Sir Graham Brady MP chairs the 1922 Committee for Conservative MPs who are not in the Cabinet.

Disgruntled MPs send their no confidence letters to him. If he receives 54 such letters, he can hold a vote of no confidence among all Conservative MPs. Should the vote not go in Boris’s favour, the MPs can run for party leadership. MPs select a short list of those candidates. The party members across the nation vote on the short list, and whoever wins would become the new Prime Minister.

With the resignation of five civil servants last Thursday and Friday, Boris realises he has to get moving — now.

On Friday, he sent a letter to backbench Conservative MPs telling them of his proposal to involve them more. He has asked them to engage with him in the process of re-establishing backbench policy committees:

Guido Fawkes posted about this development on Friday. Boris says he is now willing to communicate more with MPs (emphases mine):

It is vital that we harness all the energy. experience, and insight from our Members of Parliament. This won’t just help improve existing policy, it will help us deal with the many challenges we will face together in the future.

One of the ways I want to achieve this is by working with Sir Graham Brady MP, and colleagues on the Executive of the 1922 Committee, to re-establish backbench policy committees. I want these policy committees to play an important role in generating ideas and discussion and so I encourage colleagues from across the party to get involved.

Sir Graham Brady MP will write to you with specific details on how the process of forming these committees will work. For them to be a success it is vital that government departments and ministers engage with them properly, and I will ensure that the Cabinet understand the importance of taking them seriously. I will also ask Conservative Campaign HQ to link this work up with the work of the Conservative Policy Forum.

I understand the deep importance of engaging with colleagues in Parliament and listening to your views and that is why I want colleagues to have a direct line into 10 Downing Street. With the appointment of Andrew Griffith MP as Director of Policy we will provide whatever engagement and support is necessary to make this a success.

I promised change and that is what we will now deliver together.

However, it came too late for Aaron Bell who had already made up his mind to write to Sir Graham Brady. Bell had spoken up to Boris last Monday in Parliament about a family funeral he attended during lockdown. He asked if Boris took him for a fool for having obeyed all the rules:

Around the same time as Boris’s letter reached MPs on Friday afternoon, Guido reported on Bell’s letter. Some people replying to Guido’s tweet say that he had allegedly submitted it in late January:

Bell wrote that he had consulted with his constituency’s councillors and council candidates running in May’s local elections. He says he wrote the letter on January 12 after that day’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

The Daily Mail gave the names of seven other MPs who have sent letters to Brady: Sir Gary Streeter, Anthony Mangnall, Andrew Bridgen, Peter Aldous, Tobias Ellwood, Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservative leader) and the long-serving Sir Roger Gale.

Former education minister Nick Gibb followed, filing his letter on Friday.

The Mail says that Brady could have received many more letters:

The true number of letters to have been submitted is thought to be several times higher the eight figure because most MPs do not publicly divulge writing to Sir Graham

The threshold for triggering a vote of no-confidence is currently set at 54 letters and many Tory MPs believe it is now ‘inevitable’ the figure will be reached.   

Mr Johnson’s position in Number 10 is increasingly precarious and some Cabinet ministers believe there is a strong chance he will be forced to quit. 

One Cabinet minister told The Times: ‘It feels like the end, it’s all falling apart. It’s 50/50 in my view at the moment’ …

But a Cabinet minister told Politico: ‘He promised action on Monday night and the action has begun. There’s more planned. The restructuring is on its way. It will unfold over the next 48 hours. He’ll move things up a gear and get some discipline.’

LBC’s article on Bell’s letter refers to what is known as the Pork Pie Plot, involving the new 2019 intake of Red Wall MPs who represent former Labour seats:

He is the latest Red Wall Conservative to turn on the PM amid what has been dubbed the Pork Pie Plot – so-called because one of the ringleaders hoping to oust Mr Johnson is reportedly Leicestershire MP Alicia Kearns, whose constituency includes Melton Mowbray, the town famous for baking the pastry.

Hmm. Alicia Kearns. I hope that is not true. She rather reminds me of the women MPs who turned against Theresa May over Brexit in 2019 and had the whip removed. They were not re-elected in the general election that year and faded into obscurity.

On Saturday, January 5, Downing Street announced changes at No. 10. The Welsh journalist Guto Harri (pron. ‘Gitto Harry’), Boris’s director of external affairs during the first four of his eight years as London mayor, will be joining the team:

Unfortunately, most conservative-minded people outside of London only know Harri — real name Guto Pritchard-Jones — for taking the knee during his brief tenure at GB News last summer on the day of the Euro final in solidarity with the England team. His co-presenter, Mercy Muroki, a staunch conservative, could not believe her eyes:

He was roundly criticised on Twitter and GB News never brought him back on air.

Harri’s Wikipedia entry says:

On 13 July 2021 Harri took the knee on GB News to show support for the England football team‘s kneeling for anti-racism; following backlash from viewers, GB News suspended him indefinitely for failing to maintain the editorial standards expected by the network.[22][23] Shortly afterwards he resigned from GB News,[24] having written in The Sunday Times that the channel was “becoming an absurd parody” that was replicating cancel culture on the far right.[25][26]

In 2018, Harri lashed out at both Brexit and Boris:

Harri is a critic of Brexit.[17][18] After Johnson likened Prime Minister Theresa May‘s Chequers Brexit agreement to a “suicide vest” around the British constitution in September 2018,[19] Harri said: “Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent. Somebody needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s digging his political grave.” He also said Johnson had become “more tribal, and tribal within the tribe, so that he would now be—if he were to become leader—a hugely divisive figure”.[20]

Hmm. Although that was two-and-a-half years ago, how can Boris have the confidence to welcome him to No. 10?

Some conservatives think that Boris hired him because he will be a dab hand at handling the media, lefty to lefty.

But there is something else, a link to Huawei. On Sunday, February 6, the Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole reported:

NEW No10 spin chief Guto Harri lobbied the Government on behalf of toxic Chinese tech giant Huawei, The Sun can reveal.

The controversial firm was banned from building the UK’s 5G network in 2020 because of its links to the Chinese Communist Party and spying fears.

But top-level Whitehall sources have confirmed Mr Harri was directly involved in talks with senior ­officials trying to head off the landmark ban.

Last night Mr Harri resigned from Hawthorn Advisers to become Downing Street’s Director of Communications.

The lobbying firm included Huawei as a major client in the two years that the former BBC journalist worked there. Sources say he had “a hands-on role”.

Friends last night insisted there was no problem with his work for the Chinese company, due to its previous key role providing 3G and 4G coverage to the UK.

And a Downing Street source said: “This is separate to his new role in No10. This Government is committed to removing Huawei from UK 5G networks by 2027.”

Labour will have a field day with this:

Labour said: “We can’t have the revolving door from lobbying to Government see potential ­national security issues arise.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded answers.

I’m also concerned about Steve Barclay, one of the good guys, being able to handle three jobs: MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (formerly Michael Gove’s role) and now Chief of Staff, integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister with the Cabinet Office.

Since everyone is putting names into the hat for the next Conservative Party leader, I’ll add Steve Barclay’s. He has the gravitas and the presence. He could win over the party faithful. You read it here first.

Boris, as ye sow, so shall ye reap. Good luck. You’ll need it.

Sometimes things are not as they appear.

Badgering Boris Johnson to resign over the Downing Street parties during lockdown is an attempt to overturn Brexit.

It is also a sign of envy on the part of the journalists, most of whom are Remainers, attacking him verbally. What journalist — and Boris was one of them for many years — doesn’t have an ‘If I ruled the world’ fantasy? Boris has achieved that dream. They have not.

Here is former Conservative MP Michael Heseltine, a prominent Remainer, saying that Boris’s departure could reopen the possibility of re-entering the European Union:

Heseltine said:

It’s misleading the house, it’s misleading the people and it’s misleading the whole country in a general election because if it were to be established that the PM has been lying then that is going to open a can of worms because very large numbers of people – now the majority of people – believe that the Brexit case was actually a pack of lies… now if he proves to be a liar – to the public, to parliament – what does that do for the very large numbers of people who think it is a catastrophic misjudgement to have severed our good relationships with our European neighbours.

Meanwhile, the general public doesn’t care about the parties, especially his birthday party:

https://image.vuukle.com/2f466225-fc3c-4fc0-bb60-c369b7787913-9ec71789-1d4d-4480-91bf-1846d4f638fe

Police investigation

The eminent civil servant Sue Gray had been preparing a report on the Downing Street parties.

Then, the Metropolitan Police stepped in. On Tuesday, January 25, 2022, Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told the London Assembly, headed by Mayor Sadiq Khan of the news. As such, the Met informed Sue Gray to issue only a summary report so as not to interfere with their own investigation.

GB News has a summary of the social events. Most but not all of them took place at Downing Street, nor did Boris attend all of them (emphases mine):

The Metropolitan Police will investigate a “number of events” alleged to have taken place in Downing Street, Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has said.

Dame Cressida declined to say which alleged parties are being investigated, nor would she put a timeline on when officers could detail their findings.

The gatherings were already under investigation by senior official Sue Gray, and the Cabinet Office said her work continues.

Here is a list of the alleged gatherings, which in several cases have been admitted to.

– May 15 2020: Downing Street garden party …

– May 20 2020: BYOB garden party …

– June 19 2020: Birthday party for Boris Johnson …

– November 13 2020: Leaving party for senior aide …

– November 13 2020: Johnsons’ flat party …

– November 25 2020: Treasury drinks …

– November 27 2020: Second staff leaving do …

– December 10 2020: Department for Education party …

– December 11 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’ …

Mr Johnson was said to have attended a “handful” of these gatherings.

– December 14 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff …

– December 15 2020: Downing Street quiz …

– December 16 2020: Department for Transport party …

– December 17 2020: Cabinet Office “Christmas party” …

– December 17 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head …

December 18 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.

– Run-up to Christmas 2020 …

April 16 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

The Telegraph quoted a No 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.

Strangely, at the time, no one cared:

Now everyone does.

Downing Street has not helped. They are now denying there was a cake:

On January 25, the Paymaster General, Michael Ellis MP, drew the short straw and had to answer an Urgent Question (UQ) from Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner (pictured in the top left photo):

This was the UQ:

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement on the status of the investigation into Downing Street parties following the statement from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

I felt very sorry for Ellis, who had to reply for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, absent from the chamber. The transcript makes for grim reading.

Sir Edward Leigh, one of the first MPs to speak, tried to put things into perspective but to no avail:

When Europe stands on the brink of war and there is a cost of living crisis, can we please have a sense of proportion over the Prime Minister’s being given a piece of cake in his own office by his own staff?

The verbal attacks were many and vicious.

Ellis was able to put one Scottish MP, Pete Wishart (SNP), in his place.

Wishart asked:

Does the Paymaster General not think that it would be a good idea to set up a police special operations unit room in No. 10 Downing Street, because, while the police are looking at this case, they could perhaps look at cash for honours, cash for access, personal protective equipment for pals, paid advocacy, breaking the ministerial code, and all the other general Tory badness?

Ellis responded:

I have to say that a quick Google analysis of the SNP would not be particularly edifying. Despite noises off, this Prime Minister is focused on what matters to the British people and it is right that those matters conclude in an orderly way.

On Friday, January 28, news emerged that the Met told Sue Gray not to publish her report in full:

That day, The Guardian reported that a comedian issued a fake Sue Gray report:

The comedian Joe Lycett, who apparently caused chaos and “mass panic” in government when he tweeted a fake version of Sue Gray’s “partygate” report, has said his social media stunt was motivated by anger after the death of a close friend during the first lockdown.

Lycett tweeted a parody Gray report with a fake Cabinet Office letterhead, titled: “A summary of my main findings”, captioning his tweet: “BREAKING: Leaked Sue Gray report reveals shocking abuse of rules. Hard to see how the PM can cling on after this.”

He later shared a message that he said came “from someone who works for a cabinet minister. Source verified.”

The message, purportedly from someone who works in parliament, read: “Your tweet this morning was read as an actual serious leak from Sue Gray’s report. U had MP staff literally running around panicking from what it said. Panic dialling MPs like we need to discuss this right now.”

On Saturday, January 29, Steven Swinford of The Times reported that Sue Gray was just putting the finishing touches on her report when the Metropolitan Police intervened.

Swinford’s first sentence drew me in. It’s hard not to like an article that begins with this:

Sue Gray had been looking forward to a holiday.

It is unclear why the Met intervened when they did:

The timing of her intervention is said to have surprised Gray and her team of investigators. She had been in discussions with the Met for weeks, sharing information as she went along. Yet the force had declined to get involved until the point when her report was almost completed and ready for publication

“She’s in a horrible position,” a Whitehall source said. “The delay just creates an air of conspiracy. Sue’s integrity is at risk here. If a partial report is produced it will look like she’s been got at. She just wants a holiday, she feels like she’s had enough of it. Very few people could do what she does but she just wants to be on the other side of this one.”

Some think that the Met’s intervention could be good news for Boris:

Johnson’s critics and supporters agreed that the Met’s intervention strengthened his position. One cabinet minister said: “Sue Gray cannot prejudice the Metropolitan Police’s investigation. It would be insane if she went ahead and published the details. The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous it looks. The prime minister is out of the danger zone, the worst is over.”

Or is he?

Sue Gray ‘update’

On Monday, January 31, Sue Gray issued a summary — termed an ‘update’ — of her report.

Guido Fawkes has the update in full.

Gray concluded:

a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.

At 3:30, Boris addressed MPs (see full transcript of the session). He said that he was sorry and that changes would be made in Downing Street.

He concluded with this:

First, it is time to sort out what Sue Gray rightly calls the “fragmented and complicated” leadership structures of Downing Street, which she says

“have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands”

of the expansion of No. 10. We will do that, including by creating an Office of the Prime Minister, with a permanent secretary to lead No. 10.

Secondly, it is clear from Sue Gray’s report that it is time not just to review the civil service and special adviser codes of conduct, wherever necessary, to ensure that they take account of Sue Gray’s recommendations, but to make sure that those codes are properly enforced. Thirdly, I will be saying more in the coming days about the steps we will take to improve the No. 10 operation and the work of the Cabinet Office, to strengthen Cabinet Government, and to improve the vital connection between No. 10 and Parliament.

Mr Speaker, I get it and I will fix it. I want to say to the people of this country: I know what the issue is. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Yes. [Hon. Members: “You!”] It is whether this Government can be trusted to deliver. And I say yes, we can be trusted—yes, we can be trusted to deliver. We said that we would get Brexit done, and we did. We are setting up freeports around the whole United Kingdom. I have been to one of them today that is creating tens of thousands of new jobs. We said we would get this country through covid, and we did. We delivered the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and the fastest booster programme of any major economy, so that we have been able to restore people’s freedoms faster than any comparable economy. At the same time, we have been cutting crime by 14%, building 40 new hospitals and rolling out gigabit broadband, and delivering all the promises of our 2019 agenda, so that we have the fastest economic growth of the G7. We have shown that we have done things that people thought were impossible, and that we can deliver for the British people. [Interruption.] I remind those on the Opposition Benches that the reason we are coming out of covid so fast is partly because we doubled the speed of the booster roll-out.

I can tell the House and this country that we are going to bring the same energy and commitment to getting on with the job, to delivering for the British people, and to our mission to unite and level up across this country. I commend this statement to the House.

It did not go down well with the Opposition benches, nor some of the Conservative MPs.

Theresa May was deeply unhappy:

She said:

The covid regulations imposed significant restrictions on the freedoms of members of the public. They had a right to expect their Prime Minister to have read the rules, to understand the meaning of the rules—and, indeed, those around them him to have done so, too—and to set an example in following those rules. What the Gray report does show is that No. 10 Downing Street was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public, so either my right hon. Friend had not read the rules, or did not understand what they meant—and others around him—or they did not think the rules applied to No. 10. Which was it?

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, followed the former Prime Minister. He cited two of Boris’s contradictions and ended with this:

Nobody—nobody—believed him then, and nobody believes you now, Prime Minister. That is the crux. No ifs, no buts; he has wilfully misled Parliament.

Blackford broke two rules there. First, he said ‘you’. Secondly, he said ‘wilfully misled’.

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, interrupted him:

Order. It would be acceptable to say “inadvertently misled the House”, but “misled the House” is not acceptable. The right hon. Member must withdraw that comment.

Blackford doubled down, concluding:

… the public know that this is a man they can no longer trust. He is being investigated by the police. He misled the House. He must now resign.

The exchange between him and the Speaker continued for some time. Blackford refused to withdraw his remark.

At that point, the Speaker was ready to suspend him, but Blackford left voluntarily:

Order. Under the power given to me by Standing Order No. 43, I order the right hon. Member to withdraw immediately from the House

Another MP said:

He has left anyway!

Here’s the video:

Hoyle concluded:

It’s all right; we do not need to bother. Let us move on.

Aaron Bell MP spoke later on. Although he is Conservative, he made a good point, asking if Boris was trying to make a fool of him for obeying the restrictions at a family funeral:

Not surprisingly, the Mirror (Labour) picked up on it:

Boris was at the despatch box for a little over two hours.

That evening, he met with a group of Conservative MPs, wherein he pledged to reform how Downing Street operates. Guido’s colleague Christian Calgie said it went well:

Meanwhile, Labour MPs and the media hit the bar:

Incidentally, while Boris was giving his afternoon statement to Parliament, one of the bars there re-opened for business.

The next day, Mark Harper MP gave a good interview to Julia Hartley-Brewer at talkRADIO:

Labour’s Chinese spy story ignored

In mid-January, news emerged that a Chinese operative had donated £500,000 over a period of several years to a Labour MP. Yet, apart from GB News, no one in the media was — or is — talking about that (Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is pictured, not the MP involved):

Subplots

There are two important subplots running through this sorry saga: Boris’s mention of Labour leader Keir Starmer’s record as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with regard to Jimmy Savile (a celebrity paedophile) and the revelation of ghastly text messages by members of London’s Metropolitan Police, casting doubt on the force’s investigation of the Downing Street parties.

Metropolitan Police

The Metropolitan Police are investigating the Downing Street parties, which is interesting, since the organisation said initially that they would not be doing so, as the events happened too long ago.

One wonders, however, how credible any investigation would be since Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has come under fire for her leadership. Some constables in the Met have been texting violent and vicious messages that are misogynistic and hateful.

Although Dame Cressida cannot be expected to know everything that her constables are doing, these text messages could cast doubt on the credibility of the investigation.

Furthermore, it is interesting that Dame Cressida announced the Met’s investigation of Downing Street at a meeting of the London Assembly, headed by the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan (Labour).

Sir Jimmy Savile

On Monday, January 31, Boris gave the House of Commons an update on Sue Gray’s inquiry into the Downing Street parties.

The Metropolitan Police allowed the civil servant to write a summary report pending their own inquiry, which is still ongoing.

As such, there is no conclusion as to whether Boris should resign.

However, Labour and the other Opposition parties have been pushing for Boris to stand down for weeks now.

On Monday, in response to Boris’s statement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said:

Conservative Members can heap their reputation, the reputation of their party, and the reputation of this country on the bonfire that is the Prime Minister’s leadership, or they can spare the country a Prime Minister totally unworthy of his responsibilities. It is their duty to do so. They know better than anyone how unsuitable he is for high office. Many of them knew in their hearts that we would inevitably come to this one day and they know that, as night follows day, continuing his leadership will mean further misconduct, cover-up and deceit. Only they can end this farce. The eyes of the country are upon them. They will be judged by the decisions they take now.

Boris replied:

There is a reason why the right hon. and learned Gentleman said absolutely nothing about the report that was presented by the Government and put in the Library of this House earlier today. That is because the report does absolutely nothing to substantiate the tissue of nonsense that he has just spoken—absolutely nothing. Instead, this Leader of the Opposition, a former Director of Public Prosecutions—although he spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can make out—chose to use this moment continually to prejudge a police inquiry. That is what he chose to do. He has reached his conclusions about it. I am not going to reach any conclusions, and he would be entirely wrong to do so. I direct him again to what Sue Gray says in her report about the conclusions that can be drawn from her inquiry about what the police may or may not do. I have complete confidence in the police, and I hope that they will be allowed simply to get on with their job. I do not propose to offer any more commentary about it, and I do not believe that he should either.

The Speaker objected:

Boris’s mention of Starmer’s failure to get the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to investigate Savile ran all week long. Conservative MPs also objected to it. It is unclear why that is; after all these years, someone needed to speak up:

Boris’s opponents call it a ‘far-right conspiracy theory’, although Starmer was in charge of the CPS at the time Savile’s activities came to light. Starmer even issued an apology for the oversight at the time:

More recently, when Starmer ran for the Labour leadership, he said:

Hear me out: I had 8,000 staff for five years as the director of public prosecutions. And I acted, I hope, in the right way with them, which is when they had victories I celebrated victories on their behalf, I picked up awards on their behalves. When they made mistakes, I carried the can. I never turn on my staff and you should never turn on your staff… I will carry the can for mistakes of any organisation I lead.

Starmer’s biography states he was responsible for all criminal prosecutions in England and Wales:

Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg rightly defended Boris’s remark on Thursday, February 3:

In any event, that day, four Downing Street staffers resigned.

Munira Mirza, who had worked for Boris for 14 years — since he was Mayor of London — was the most prominent. The former policy chief said that she took strong objection to her boss’s mention of Savile:

Guido posted part of Mirza’s resignation letter:

I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice. There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse. You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.

In a second post, Guido said that Boris asked Mirza to hold off until he gave a briefing to the media. The briefing only caused her to confirm her resignation:

When the pool clip came without an apology, more of a clarification, she confirmed her resignation via an email which concluded:

Even now, I hope you find it in yourself to apologise for a grave error of judgement made under huge pressure. I appreciate that our political culture is not forgiving when people say sorry, but regardless, it is the right thing to do. It is not too late for you but, I’m sorry to say, it is too late for me.

The public do not understand what the problem is with the mention of Starmer’s indirect failure to investigate Savile:

Furthermore, we all understand that Boris wasn’t implying that Starmer was personally responsible. However, he was the head of the CPS, so he bore responsibility for it, as Boris told the media:

Let’s be absolutely clear, I’m talking not about the Leader of the Opposition’s personal record when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions. I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole.

Too right.

One of Guido’s readers summarised what Boris was saying in Parliament and to the press. It concerns double standards, wherein Starmer expects the Prime Minister to take responsibility for Downing Street activities but not for his own sins of omission at the CPS. This is a good get-out rationale from Guido’s reader paraphrasing Boris:

I was not aware of event X being organised or taking place, and so while I apologise it happened under my watch and plan to change systems to avoid such events in future, it is not reasonable for me to resign over it. That is entirely consistent with the Leader of the Opposition’s own behaviour while DPP over the Savile issue.

In any event, three more Downing Street staffers resigned after Mirza did, including Martin Reynolds, who issued the email about one of the parties, requesting that people bring their own alcoholic beverages:

It is unclear why the other three left. Some say that they are afraid of being investigated. Others say it was an excuse for Boris to clean house.

Of the three additional resignations, GB News reported:

Martin Reynolds is one of the most senior officials in No 10 but had largely avoided the limelight until the emergence of his email inviting colleagues to “socially-distanced drinks” during England’s first coronavirus lockdown.

As Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, he played a key role advising the Prime Minister on a wide range of issues, but resigned from the role on Thursday alongside three other senior Downing Street aides …

Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings previously said the influence wielded by the principal private secretary within Downing Street was not widely appreciated.

“The PPS exercises far more influence and actual power over many issues than Cabinet ministers,” Mr Cummings said.

“He can nudge policy, he can nudge vital appointments (real power). He can and does walk into the PM’s office and exclude all political people ‘on security grounds’.”

A leaked photograph of the Prime Minister and officials drinking in the No 10 garden on May 15 2020 – five days before the “bring your own booze” event that Mr Reynolds invited colleagues to – showed the PPS sitting at the same table as Mr Johnson …

Mr Reynolds offered his resignation on Thursday alongside Downing Street chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, hours after policy aide Munira Mirza and director of communications Jack Doyle both quit.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “Dan Rosenfield offered his resignation to the Prime Minister earlier today, which has been accepted.

“Martin Reynolds also informed the Prime Minister of his intention to stand down from his role as principal private secretary and the Prime Minister has agreed to this.

“He has thanked them both for their significant contribution to government and No 10, including work on the pandemic response and economic recovery.

“They will continue in their roles while successors are appointed, and recruitment for both posts is under way.”

As I write on Friday morning, an aide to Munira Mirza has also resigned:

Tom Harwood adds that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been keeping his distance from the Prime Minister and did not defend the remark about Keir Starmer and the Jimmy Savile case.

One of the commenters makes an excellent point about civil servants finding the Savile remark more offensive than what happened to 60+ million people for … a virus:

Those people live in their own bubble.

Interestingly, Boris has appointed an MP rather than a civil servant to succeed Mirza. Andrew Griffith represents the Arundel constituency on the south coast of England. He seems to have a truly Conservative voting record.

Therefore, it seems as if Boris is cleaning house, which can only be a good thing for him. The civil servants do not seem to have been doing him many favours.

In more positive news for the Conservatives, Anna Firth won the by-election in Southend West, served by Sir David Amess until he was stabbed to death last October:

Because of the nature of Sir David’s death, Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not put up candidates to run against Anna Firth, although minor political parties did.

Therefore, although she won 86% of the vote, only 24% of the electorate went to the polls.

The party debacle is far from over. This will run and run and run.

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