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Our Creator broke the mould when he made Lee Anderson.

Of all the Red Wall MPs, he is the most candid and colourful.

Lee Anderson represents his home constituency of Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, which, since its inception in 1955, has always had a Labour MP, except for a brief period between 1977 and 1979, when it had a Conservative MP because of a by-election.

Lee Anderson was Labour born and bred. He was a card-carrying Party member. He served as a local councillor for Ashfield’s Huthwaite and Brierley ward from 2015 until 2018. He also actively campaigned for his parliamentary predecessor, Gloria De Piero, in 2015 and 2017.

De Piero decided not to run for re-election in 2019, having been Ashfield’s MP for nine years at that point. Prior to entering politics, she was a presenter on ITV’s breakfast show GMTV (as was) and is now a presenter on GB News at lunchtime.

Another famous Labour MP representing Ashfield was Geoff Hoon, who served between 1992 and 2010. He is a former Defence Secretary, Transport Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons and Government Chief Whip.

Returning to Lee Anderson, he was a strong supporter of Brexit and backed the Vote Leave campaign preceding the June 2016 referendum.

In 2018, he left Labour for the Conservative Party. In May 2019, he was elected as Conservative councillor for the Oakham ward in nearby Mansfield. It was a position he held until early 2021, when he resigned.

In December 2019’s general election, he won Ashfield with a majority of 5,733 votes. An Independent candidate placed second, with Labour a distant third.

Maiden speech

Anderson gave his maiden speech on Monday, January 27, 2020 during an NHS funding debate.

Emphases in purple mine below.

As is customary, he paid tribute to his predecessor and pointed out that Nottinghamshire had voted Conservative:

I am bursting with pride as I stand here as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Ashfield, but I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Gloria De Piero, who was the MP for Ashfield for nine years. I am sure everybody in the Chamber will agree that she was well respected on both sides of the House. I also want to pay respect to my seven colleagues in Nottinghamshire, who were all elected on the same day as me last month. They did a fantastic job …

Also customary is to praise one’s constituency and throw in a few quips. Note that Anderson worked as a miner for some time, partly because of Labour’s abysmal education policies:

Ashfield was once voted the best place in the world to live—by me and my mates one Sunday afternoon in the local Wetherspoons. It really is the best place. Ashfield is a typical mining constituency. To the south of the constituency we have Eastwood, birthplace of D.H. Lawrence, to the north we have Nuncargate, birthplace of our most famous cricketer, Harold Larwood, and further north we have Teversal, which is where D.H. Lawrence wrote probably his most famous novel, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”—a book I have read several times. We have many other great towns and villages in Ashfield, such as Sutton, Kirkby, Annesley, Selston, Jacksdale, Westwood, Bagthorpe and Stanton Hill, but the place that is closest to my heart in Ashfield is the place where I grew up, a mining village called Huthwaite.

Like with many villages, when I was growing up in the 1970s most of the men in Huthwaite worked down the pits. I went to a school called John Davies Primary School, and I was always told at school in the ’70s, as many of us were, “Work hard, lad, do well, take the 11-plus, go to grammar school and you’ll not have to go down the pit like your dad and your granddad and your uncles.” Unfortunately, a couple of years before we were due to take our 11-plus, the Labour Government at the time withdrew it from our curriculum, so I was unable to go to grammar school, and none of our school went as a consequence of that. Just a few years later I was down the pit with my dad—working at the pit where my granddad and my uncles had worked. I did that for many years and I am sure my dad, who is watching this right now—a decent, hard-working, working-class bloke—did not want me down the pit. He wanted better for me, but that was taken away. I cannot help but think that, had children in my day had the chance to go to grammar school, they would have had more opportunities and probably a better life. Because I am telling you now, when I worked down those pits in Nottinghamshire, I worked with doctors, with brain surgeons, with airline pilots, with astronauts—with all these brilliant people who never a chance. The Prime Minister is quite right when he says that talent is spread evenly across this country but opportunity is not, and my constituency is living proof of that.

People of Ashfield are a straight-talking bunch—a bit dry, a wicked sense of humour, a bit sarcastic sometimes—but that is borne out of our tough industrial past. You have to remember that we were the people who dug the coal to fuel the nation. We were the people who sent our young people—our young men and women—to war to die for this country. We were the people who made the clothes that clothed the nation. And we were the people who brewed the beer that got us all persistently drunk every single weekend.

In 1993, under a Conservative Government, we reopened the Robin Hood line in Ashfield, and all through the county of Nottinghamshire, which created endless opportunities for passengers to travel for work, for play and for jobs. Standing here as a Conservative MP in 2020, I am proud to say that this Government are once again looking at extending our Robin Hood line to cover the rest of the county. They are also looking at reopening the Maid Marian line, which will again carry passengers to the most isolated and rural areas of our country. It is all well and good having good education and good training, but transport means just as much to the people in my community.

My friends, family and constituents have asked me every single day what it is like to be down here in Westminster. I say, “It’s brilliant—amazing. We’ve got great staff—the doorkeepers.” Every single person who works here has been absolutely brilliant to me. It is an amazing place. I have met all these famous people—I have met MPs, Lords and Ministers—but the best moment for me was last Wednesday night, when I got invited to Downing Street, to No. 10, for the first time ever in my life. I walked through that door and there he was, the man himself—Larry the Cat. [Laughter.] Told you we were funny.

I was born at the brilliant King’s Mill Hospital in Ashfield. King’s Mill was built by the American army during world war two to look after its injured service personnel. After the war, the American Government gave King’s Mill Hospital—the buildings and equipment—to the people of Ashfield as a thank-you gift. What a wonderful gift that is from our American cousins—absolutely stunning. I cannot praise the current staff and management at King’s Mill highly enough. They have really turned things around. Just 20-odd years after the American Government gave King’s Mill Hospital to the people of Ashford, I was born there, and later my children were born there.

It is not just our hospital in Ashfield that means a lot to me; it is the fact that it has saved my wife’s life for many, many years now. My wife was born with a condition called cystic fibrosis. She was not diagnosed until she was 18, and for anybody, to be told that they have cystic fibrosis is like getting an early death sentence. But undeterred, my wife—my beautiful wife—went to work for a year. She then went to university, she studied, she became a teacher and she taught for 10 years, until she got to her early 30s, when she could not really carry on any more and gave up work. All that time, our brilliant NHS staff looked after her and kept her alive—I cannot thank them enough—but things got really bad in her mid-30s and she had to go on the list for a double lung transplant. She was on that list for two years, and we had five false alarms before we finally got the call on 19 December 2016. The operation was 14 hours and she spent three days in critical care. I thank my lucky stars for our brilliant NHS. They looked after her, they have kept her alive, and last year she was elected as a Conservative councillor in our home town.

I am incredibly proud, and when people say that this party is a party of privilege, I say to them, “I’m privileged to be in this party.”

Cost of living crisis

Two years later, Anderson was still firmly in the Conservative camp. In the January 11, 2022 debate on Household Energy Bills, he skewered Labour:

Now then, if Labour Members really wanted to help the poorest people in society, they would not come to this House with a motion to cut somebody’s bill by £61 a year. There were Labour MPs drinking in the Terrace bar last night who spent more than that on a round of drinks.

Do I want VAT removed from our energy bills? Of course I do. Everybody does. That is why last week I signed a letter to the Chancellor, asking him to cut the VAT on bills. I also want the removal of levies on domestic energy, which are nearly a quarter of an electricity bill. That sort of saving is a real saving, which would make a real difference to the people in Ashfield and Eastwood, but of course there is not much of an appetite for that in this place as we strive to be net zero in record time.

No one disagrees with what we are trying to do to save the planet, but a lot of us are sat here on over 80 grand a year—and some people have second jobs—and we are telling poor people that they must pay more to heat their homes. Frankly, when it comes to heating homes, people do not care where their gas or electricity comes from, in the same way as they do not care where their petrol or diesel comes from when they go to fill up their cars. All people want is to be able to afford their bills—that is all.

Labour Members are trying to play politics with people’s lives so that they can get a cheap social media clip saying, “The nasty Tories are voting against a cut in VAT.” They rely on the great British public not knowing how the process works in this place. It is a pitiful way of conducting themselves.

Let us be honest, this is not a vote to help poorer people pay their bills. It is a vote to take over the Order Paper so the Opposition can return us to the disastrous days of a few years ago that almost cancelled Brexit. There is no doubt that people are struggling and the cost of living is increasing with the increase in fuel prices, but who is to blame for that increase? We cannot just blame the pandemic, as we are all to blame. Successive Governments have never taken this seriously. We closed all our pits and we do not produce gas like we used to. Both Conservative and Labour Governments, let us be honest, have ignored this for years.

I see Labour Members shaking their heads, but they are not really interested in helping people in places like Ashfield, which has been ignored for decades. Ashfield has had no investment at all, but so far under this Government we have had £70 million, two new schools coming and hopefully a new railway line. We have millions of pounds coming to Ashfield, and what is Labour’s answer to levelling up Ashfield? A saving of £1 a week on energy bills. That is absolutely disgraceful, and Labour Members should hang their head in shame.

Labour and the SNP

Few MPs are as outspoken about Labour and Scotland’s SNP as Lee Anderson.

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021 — St Andrew’s Day — the Opposition Day debate was all about Boris. The Downing Street parties had just come to light: ‘Conduct of the Right Hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip’.

As expected, Labour and the other opposition parties painted themselves whiter than white, including Annelise Dodds MP, who led the debate. She said, in part:

the current Prime Minister is, unfortunately, falling short, the Conservative Government are failing to get a grip, and working people are paying the price.

Anderson intervened:

The hon. Lady talks about honesty and integrity. Could she please confirm how many Labour MPs have ended up in the nick over the past 10 years?

Dodds brushed over the intervention, but Anderson was undaunted. He signalled the answer:

Here’s Guido’s video:

He also launched broadsides at the SNP, the Commons’ third largest party. For months — and well over a year now — the SNP have refused to say what has happened to £600,000 from their donors. At first it was ‘ring fenced’ (their words), then it seemed to have gone into other funds. However, what actually was done with the money remains a mystery.

Anderson said:

On this happy St Andrew’s Day I have had haggis, Irn-Bru and an SNP debate; I can recommend two out of the three any time of day.

Since arriving here in Parliament in 2019 it has always struck me that the SNP is just a one-trick pony, ignoring its own failings on health, education and the economy to put its own selfish case forward for independence. But it is losing the argument—we know that by the poll results—so SNP Members have adopted a new tactic: to besmirch the good name of our great Prime Minister. Maybe they should tell us where the missing £600,000 is and explain why senior members of their party stood down from its national executive committee earlier this year. Their own MPs are asking difficult questions yet the leadership remains silent. Maybe they should apologise to the people of Scotland for the state of their education system, which is failing thousands of Scottish children while they bang on about leaving the Union and rejoining the European Union. Maybe they should explain to the people of Scotland why, despite being in power for 13 years, they have the worst health statistics in the world. Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves, instead of wasting parliamentary time on a pointless debate that will achieve nothing, and they should explain why after 13 years in power Scotland is going backwards.

A back-and-forth with SNP MP Marion Fellows followed. Fellows objected to Anderson’s allegation about Scotland’s health statistics.

He came back with this:

I might make a slight correction here: perhaps I should have referred to the drug deaths, which are the worst in the western world.

What we need to chat about is the Westminster leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has been very quiet about the £270,000 he has rinsed from outside earnings since he was elected to Westminster in 2015. It would take the average worker in Scotland 11 years to earn that much money yet he stands over there every single Wednesday talking about poverty when his greedy snout is firmly in the trough; and remember this is on top—

He ended up having to apologise for mentioning another MP — Ian Blackford — in debate without his permission.

However, Anderson returned to Labour who previously mentioned they wanted the British military to turn into a gentle peace-keeping force:

I am going to stop picking on the SNP, because I want to talk about the massed ranks of the Labour party. I am struggling to see them at the moment. Despite pretending to be bothered, they could not be bothered to turn up today. They seem to think that there is a war raging in France at the moment and that it is acceptable for thousands of illegal migrants to cross our channel every single day. They really need to get a grip.

Another sign that the Labour party has lost the plot is that it wants to replace our armed forces with “human security services”—a shift from the classic armed forces to a gender balanced, ethnically diverse human security services tasked with dampening down violence. Imagine that, Madam Deputy Speaker: a peace-loving British tank

Madam Deputy Speaker put a stop to Anderson’s interventions and called on another MP.

One week later, on Wednesday, December 8, Anderson openly criticised Labour’s Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, former chairman of the Labour Party and, before he entered politics, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers. This was during a debate on Rail Investment and Integrated Rail Plan:

Guido Fawkes had the highlights and the video (red emphases in the original):

Lee Anderson returns to once again slap down misbehaving Labour MPs in the chamber … Lavery kept his jeering off-mic, interrupting Anderson’s speech by calling him “a scab“. Anderson returned the favour by reminding Lavery he could help miners get a “fair deal” by “handing back the £165,000 he stole from them”…

This relates to a news story from 2017. On October 20 that year, the BBC reported (bold emphasis in the original):

MP Ian Lavery received £165,000 from the 10-member trade union he ran.

We have learned this from the trade union regulator which has now released a report into Mr Lavery’s actions as general secretary of the NUM Northumberland Area.

He will now face questions on his record over a number of disputed payments by the union he ran.

Mr Lavery, who is the chairman of the Labour Party, denies any wrongdoing.

Ian Lavery is a coming power in the land, Jeremy Corbyn’s general election joint co-ordinator and chairman of the Labour Party. If the Conservatives fall, he’s most likely destined for high office. But, perhaps, for one thing: his refusal to answer a simple question asked by BBC Newsnight last year: “Did you pay off the mortgage?” BBC Newsnight asked him nine times without getting a reply.

The answer, it turns out, is no. He didn’t pay off his mortgage. The union of which he was general secretary for 18 years, the NUM Northumberland Area, paid it off and paid him much more besides.

Last year, both Jeremy Corbyn and the parliamentary watchdog cleared Mr Lavery. He denies any wrongdoing.

The reason we know more about Mr Lavery’s peculiar mortgage arrangements is because the trade union regulator, the Certification Officer, Gerard Walker, examined the books after investigations by BBC Newsnight and the Sunday Times. Mr Lavery ran the NUM Northumberland Area for 18 years until he stepped down in 2010 to become the MP for Wansbeck.

The regulator’s findings are available online

I’ll leave it to readers to get the rest of the story, which involved a lot of money over various periods in time.

Ian Lavery is still a big deal in Parliament.

This is what Lee Anderson said in the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) debate:

Let us remember that until a few years ago, the red wall seats like Ashfield had several things in common. They had above-average deprivation, failing town centres, lower life expectancy, poor transport links and lower aspirations; but the main thing that places like Ashfield, Mansfield and Bolsover had in common was Labour MPs and Labour-run councils. What a shocking track record that is. [Interruption.] Rather than chuntering, Opposition Members should be ashamed of the legacy that they have left us new Conservative Members in places like Ashfield. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) might want to concentrate on giving back the £165,000 that he stole from the miners on his own patch. He is an absolute disgrace.

What does this world-class plan mean for the people of Nottinghamshire? It means a high-speed line from the west midlands to the east midlands, providing direct high-speed rail services to Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, and Sheffield. Journey times from London to Nottingham will be cut by a third to just 57 minutes. Journey times from Sheffield to London will be cut by a quarter, to just 1 hour 27 minutes. Journey times from Nottingham to Birmingham will be cut by two thirds, to just 26 minutes. Even Labour in the north is backing the plan. According to the leader of Rotherham council, “It is a victory for common sense”.

It is a pity that that lot have no common sense.

This is all good news. The Mayor of Doncaster welcomes the plan, and even the next Labour leader, the Mayor of Manchester, welcomes it. It would appear that the members of the parliamentary Labour party are out of touch with their friends in the midlands and the north, who back the IRP. It is a good job that Conservative MPs are sitting here today speaking out for the Labour voters of yesterday.

As the furore about the Downing Street parties raged, and despite Boris’s apology to MPs in the chamber in mid-January, then-Conservative MP Christian Wakeford, who represents Bury, crossed the aisle just before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 to sit with Labour MPs.

Anderson was disgusted. His former boss, Gloria De Piero, interviewed him for GB News:

I have much more to write about Lee Anderson, one of the most refreshing Conservative MPs we’ve had in ages.

To be continued …

To follow this series, it is helpful to read parts 1 and 2.

We left off on Sunday, May 8, 2022. That day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had cancelled an appearance at an Institute for Government event on Monday in advance of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.

Labour’s campaign beer and curry event took place on April 30, 2021. The Sun made it public soon afterwards, but it did not get traction from other papers, namely The Telegraph and the Mail, until January 2022. Durham Constabulary only decided to really investigate it on Friday, May 6, 2022. Starmer took legal advice and cancelled his public appearance on Monday, May 9.

Journalists and pundits noted the length of time between the event, its wider coverage, the internal memo about the event leaked to the Mail on Sunday and Starmer’s reaction to the press coverage it received. No one forgot Starmer’s spending from December 2021 to May 2022 calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation over Downing Street events:

With the shoe being on the other foot, Labour supporters wanted Starmer’s event, held in Labour MP Mary Foy’s Durham office, to disappear from the public consciousness. Didn’t we know there was a war on in Ukraine? Didn’t anyone care about the cost of living crisis? Suddenly, breaking coronavirus restriction rules was something no one should care about unless it had to do with Boris and Downing Street.

Mail on Sunday journalist Dan Hodges noted the hypocrisy:

A YouGov poll published on Monday showed that the public thought Starmer should stand down if he gets a fine:

Guido Fawkes has YouGov’s breakdown of the public’s opinion on both Starmer and Boris. Not surprisingly, more people think that Boris should resign. That said, Conservative voters are more forgiving of Starmer than are Labour voters. That’s because most Conservatives believe in repentance.

Guido says a majority of the public think that Starmer broke the rules:

The general public is firmly of the view that Starmer should resign, at 46% agreeing versus 32% opposing. They also comfortably believe Starmer either did definitely or probably break the rules (54%) to probably didn’t or definitely didn’t (21%).

Guido conducted his own poll on Monday, May 9. Just under 50 per cent thought that the Labour leader — and Leader of the Opposition (LOTO) — should resign using the same standards that he applied to Boris:

Earlier on Monday, Starmer decided to issue a short statement to the media at 4 p.m. that day. By the time Guido closed his poll, there was a half hour left before that small, select event took place.

Guido’s post on the poll says (emphases in the original):

With Sir Keir expected to make a statement on Beergate at 4pm today, Guido asked co-conspirators how they’d advise Starmer if they were by his side in the LOTO office over the weekend. Resign right away? Wait for the police investigation? Tough it out…?

Thousands voted, and it turns out readers are divided. Half (49.6%) think Starmer should resign at the podium today – given he called for Boris’s resignation the moment the police launched their inquiry – 28.9% think he should resign only if fined, with a further 21.5% saying he should tough it out regardless of the police outcome. Guido’s own view is that the latter choice is politically impossible given his approach to Partygate. Demanding Boris and Rishi resign over a birthday cake set the bar incredibly high for his own behaviour – a bar he hasn’t met. If he’s not going to resign today, then his only real option is to promise he’ll go if Durham Police whack him with a fine…

Starmer invited only three journalists to hear his statement.

He said he would resign if fined.

Guido analysed that statement and said there was more to it than one might think:

Seeing as Charles — now Lord — Falconer is advising Starmer, Blairite tactics could come into play:

Sir Keir has just confirmed he will resign in the event of being given a fine, an unprecedented announcement from a Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition … Guido can see another obvious tactic at play from the pound shop Blair wannabee

In 2007, when under investigation for the Cash For Honours scandal, Tony Blair’s team warned the Metropolitan Police that the PM would have to resign if interviewed under caution, forcing them to back off under such immense political pressure:

Sources close to the inquiry said that there were difficult discussions before a political intermediary made senior detectives aware of the serious implications of treating the Prime Minister as a suspect.

“Make no mistake, Scotland Yard was informed that Mr Blair would resign as Prime Minister if he was interviewed under caution,” said a source. “They were placed in a very difficult position indeed.”

On Saturday, when Guido exclusively revealed Lord Falconer has been tasked with putting together out Sir Keir’s legal defence, he didn’t expect Blair’s Justice Secretary to copy the tactic used by his old party boss so like-for-like. Unfortunately for Starmer one of his team accidentally explained the quiet bit out loud to ITV’s Daniel Hewitt, briefingit puts some pressure on Durham Police who are being leant on in one direction”. Former DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] Sir Keir knows a thing or two about letting police forces fudge an investigation and letting the culprit get away…

Hmm:

It will be interesting to see how a campaign team can justify alcohol at a notional working event, especially as a few overdid it:

Guido was referring to a Politico article by Alex Wickham, who wrote that he received no denials of the following account containing mentions of drunkenness:

On Tuesday, May 10 — Day 13 of Beergate — the Mail led with Starmer’s alleged piling of pressure on Durham police:

That day, fallout followed Starmer’s cosy Monday afternoon session with only three journalists.

The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole was left out in the cold. ‘Lobby’ refers to the media:

Guido said this was but another episode in a long-running period in which Labour have not been transparent with the media:

Guido has been tracking this issue for some time:

Guido’s campaign to get Labour to publish their shadow cabinet meetings with media proprietors and editors, as pledged following Leveson, seems to be going nowhere, despite repeated promises from Labour HQ to pull their finger out. Yesterday Labour’s relationship with press transparency got colder, when Sir Keir invited just three tame broadcasters into the room, blocking any hacks who may have asked difficult questions from attending. GB News’ Tom Harwood was told this was due to “limited space”. Guido is old enough to remember when the Lobby was collectively outraged when only selected broadcasters were invited by Lee Cain [Boris’s former Downing Street Director of Communications] for a briefing… 

Now Guido’s spotted another press frontier on which Labour’s dropping the ball: publishing press releases. Labour’s website hasn’t published a press release in over 40 days, the most protracted period of policy publishing paralysis since Starmer took over …

Perhaps not a good look when even the Labour-supporting press is starting to suggest Sir Keir needs some policies to win, not just claims of personal sainthood…

That day, YouGov published a new poll taken on May 5 and 6 that shows the Conservatives were one point below Labour. Other polls still show Labour in the lead, but here is YouGov’s take:

Guido wrote:

Margin of error territory as the public no longer perceives Sir Keir as “Mr Rules”. One poll so far so will be intrigued to see if this is a trend…

Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s Speech that morning for the State Opening of Parliament.

In the afternoon, both the Commons and the Lords began separate debates on the 38 proposed bills in the Queen’s Speech.

In the Commons, at least, the week-long debate, called the Humble Address, begins jovially, and it is an honour to be the MP selected to open it.

The lucky MP was Graham Stuart (Conservative), who represents Beverley and Holderness.

He cracked a joke about Keir Starmer as he reviewed Labour’s dominance in the North of England prior to the Conservatives’ breaking through the Red Wall in 2019 (emphases in purple mine):

Robert [Sir Robert Goodwill], of course, won selection in Scarborough. He then went on to overturn Lawrie Quinn’s 3,500 majority, and was, I think, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the only Conservative candidate in the whole of the north of England to take a seat from the Labour party at that election. The Leader of the Opposition must wish it was so today. Instead the only thing opening up for him in the north is a police investigation. [Laughter.]

Guido has the video. Look at Starmer’s painfully forced smile:

Stuart had another go when discussing the corruption in his constituency in the 18th and 19th centuries:

Obviously the law did change. Free beer and cash inducements were the electoral controversies then, rather than, say, beer and curry today. Never in the history of human conflict has so much karma come from a korma.

Some time later, it was Boris’s turn to speak, introducing the important bills. Labour MPs intervened until he put a stop to them.

Of the energy bill, he said:

The energy Bill will create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs, taking forward this Government’s energy security strategyit is about time this country had one—with £22 billion—[Interruption.] Labour did not want a single nuclear power station. Come on, be honest. Look at them, the great quivering jellies of indecision that they are. Our £22 billion UK Infrastructure Bank is supporting the transition to net zero and vast new green industries, in which our United Kingdom will again lead the world.

Boris quickly moved on to the economy and the Channel crossings of illegal migrants, during which he added a quip:

We are using our new freedoms to control our borders, with a new plan for immigration so that we can fix our broken asylum system, tackle the illegal immigration that undermines the legal immigration that we support and crack down on the vile people smugglers. I know that the Leader of the Opposition—perhaps I should, in deference to his phrase, refer to him as the Leader of the Opposition of the moment—likes to claim he opposes these plans …

Guido has the video, which is much more entertaining than reading the transcript. Boris was at his best:

That evening, The Guardian reported that Labour MPs were already talking about a change in leadership. Speaking personally, so far, Wes Streeting is the strongest candidate they have:

The majority of shadow ministers said they were grimly resigned to Starmer’s pledge – but said there were likely to be internal consequences. “I think once you start talking up the prospect of your own resignation you are on dangerous ground,” one said.

Another veteran MP, a Starmer loyalist, said they suspected ulterior motives from some shadow cabinet members. “If you fancy Keir’s job, this is win-win,” they said.

Rule changes pushed through at last year’s Labour conference mean a fifth of MPs must nominate any candidate for the party leadership in order for them to be put to a members’ postal vote – a higher threshold than under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and a move that was seen by those on the left as intending to disadvantage their candidates.

One MP said a snap leadership contest would put ascendant shadow cabinet ministers such as Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, in an advantageous position. “[Starmer’s] disappearance now would obviously benefit the Blairite right – [the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy] Burnham couldn’t stand, Sadiq Khan [the London mayor] couldn’t stand, Angela would be out of the picture for the same reason as Keir because if he goes on this she has said she will go too.”

If both Starmer and Rayner are forced to resign, there is no obvious interim leader. The most senior members of Starmer’s shadow cabinet – Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor; Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary; David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary; Streeting; and Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary – are all potential candidates in a contest. The party’s national executive committee would have to vote to designate an alternative member of the shadow cabinet.

A source close to Starmer said he was relaxed about the ambitions of his shadow cabinet. “I don’t think anyone is actively trying to undermine him. It says a lot about our party that there are so many potential candidates – look at the contrast again with the Tories. If people are ambitious, let them be.”

An ally of Streeting said: “Wes was on the media batting for Keir three times over the weekend and into Monday. He’s one of Keir’s most loyal and vocal supporters. After a great set of a local election results there is everything to play for at the next general election thanks to Keir’s leadership. This is no time for introspection.”

Senior figures in the Labour leader’s team are understood to have felt reluctant to advise Starmer he should raise the prospect of his own resignation.

On Wednesday, May 11, The Sun criticised Keir Starmer’s response to the Queen’s Speech. When responding to Boris on Tuesday, Starmer had no Labour policies to present. He merely criticised the Government at length and ended with this:

It does not have to be this way; it will not always be this way. A Labour Government would tackle the cost of living crisis head on, get Britain growing again after 12 years of failure, and improve public services so that they deliver for the people paying for them. A Labour Government would rise to the moment where this Government have badly failed.

The Sun‘s editorial, ‘Holey agenda’, said (bold in the original):

IS Keir Starmer chasing the wrong job?

He has no ideas anyone can detect, as his vacuous response to the Queen’s Speech proves. He clearly thinks it’s enough to be ‘decent’ and ‘honourable’.

Tribal Labour voters may lap up his preening sanctimony. Millions of others prefer leaders with vision and drive.

You’re auditioning for PM, Mr Starmer. Not Archbishop of Canterbury.

That day, digging around, Guido raised the matter of an early pandemic violation in Durham: that of Boris’s then-adviser Dominic Cummings at Barnard Castle in the Spring of 2020.

Durham Constabulary said at the time that there was nothing to investigate. They also stated that they did not issue retrospective fines.

As punishment, Boris made Cummings hold a lengthy televised press conference to explain himself. It lasted well over an hour and was most peculiar. At the end, after having asked many questions, one by one, reporters and broadcasters walked up individually to Cummings’s table to tell him what they thought of him.

Cummings’s press conference was his public penance.

Then again, parts of it were theatre for the public, most of whom didn’t know he is friends with many of those journalists, as is his wife. He addressed only one by his full name: Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 News.

Two years on with Starmer — and other Labour MPs in the frame — the Party’s ire was rising in Durham.

Mary Foy MP, who hosted the Durham gathering in 2021, had written a lengthy letter to Boris on May 28, 2020 about Cummings, who is pictured below in the background. The letter beneath it is recent. It is from the leader of Durham’s Labour Party to Red Wall Conservative MP Richard Holden, who had written to Durham Constabulary a few weeks ago to enquire as to whether they would investigate the 2021 Starmer event:

Mary Foy’s letter would have been better addressed to Durham Constabulary. It was up to them, not Boris, to take action against Cummings.

However, Foy took issue with Boris’s refusal to sack Cummings. In the event, he resigned a few months later for other reasons and was gone by the end of 2020.

Guido wrote about Foy’s letter, which can be viewed in its entirety on his post:

Now that Sir Keir is feeling the heat from his boozy lockdown curry night, Labour MPs are bending over backwards to explain why their leader’s Covid rule-breaking is somehow completely different to Boris’s, and why it’s right that Starmer remains in post provided he isn’t fined. One particular MP who might have some trouble with this is none other than the Honourable Member for Durham, Mary Foy…

Foy is probably best known for hosting the Beergate bhuna session in her constituency office, laughing and drinking merrily with her colleagues while the country was still in stage two of lockdown. She then went on to scream at Richard Holden for his asking Durham Police to reinvestigate the event. It turns out, however, that when Durham Police announced they wouldn’t fine Dominic Cummings over the infamous Barnard Castle trip, Foy had a few ideas about what should happen next. None of which involved Cummings keeping his job…

Here’s what Foy wrote in a public letter to Boris after the Cummings story:

The vast majority of constituents who have contacted me have expressed the view that Mr Cummings’ actions have been insensitive and unacceptable at best, and many feel that they warrant further investigation by the police.

While I understand today’s decision by Durham Police to take no further action, many of the constituents who have written to me would like Mr Cummings to resign or be sacked. Clearly, whether you stick by him or not is a matter for you, but the perception from my constituents, and I would hazard a guess that this is a common view across the North East, is that you are currently putting the interests of your chief adviser above that of the people of the region and the country as a whole.

Even though Cummings received no fixed penalty, and the police decided they’d take no further action, Foy still took the time to write a two-page letter informing the Prime Minister how upset her constituents are, and politely suggested Cummings lose his job. Presumably her office is inundated with similar letters now, all demanding Sir Keir does the honourable thing…

Labourites criticised Times Radio’s Lucy Fisher for mentioning Cummings and Starmer in the same tweet:

However, it would be wrong to think that Durham Constabulary never issued any fines — fixed penalty notices — for coronavirus violations.

On Thursday, May 12, The Times informed us of a fine Durham Constabulary issued to a bereaved woman in November 2020:

Some of Starmer’s supporters have assumed that detectives would not issue a fixed-penalty notice because they decided not to take retrospective action against Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former adviser.

However, the force’s approach appeared to harden later in the pandemic and it issued a £10,000 fine to a woman who organised a balloon release in memory of her father-in-law, who died of Covid.

Vicky Hutchinson held the gathering on November 11, 2020, in a field opposite a church in Horden, Co Durham, where Ian Stephenson’s funeral was due to take place a few days later. Her £10,000 fine was reduced to £500, based on her ability to pay, when she attended Peterlee magistrates’ court on April 23 last year, a week before the Starmer incident.

A court report by The Northern Echo revealed that Hutchinson, in her mid-thirties, had urged friends and family to wear masks and stay socially distanced at the balloon release. It said that police did not attend the gathering of about 30 people and there was no disorder.

However, it appears that there was a retrospective investigation after a complaint. Durham police analysed a livestream video of the event before issuing the fine, the report said.

The approach to Hutchinson’s case raises fresh questions about how the Durham force might handle the case of Starmer, who has denied wrongdoing …

Durham police did not respond to requests for comment.

Also on Thursday, Guido returned to Dominic Cummings, specifically what Keir Starmer said about the incident in 2020:

Guido has the quote:

Here’s what he said of Cummings back in 2020 – before the police had even launched their investigation:

This was a huge test of the Prime Minister, and he’s just failed that test. He hasn’t sacked Dominic Cummings, he hasn’t called for an investigation, and he’s treating the British public with contempt… that’s not a reasonable interpretation of the rules, and the Prime Minister knows it. One rule for the Prime Minister’s advisers, another rule for everyone else… If I were Prime Minister, I’d have sacked Cummings.

One rule for the Prime Minister’s advisers, another for Sir Keir…

And finally, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that they have now issued more than 100 fines for Downing Street events. Neither Boris nor his wife Carrie received one in this tranche:

Guido wrote:

A month on from their last update on Partygate, paused thanks to the local elections, the Met’s confirmed “more than 100″ fixed penalty notices have now been handed out. Downing Street say Boris has not received another fine…

Later that afternoon, GB News’s Colin Brazier and his guests discussed the Met’s issuing of fines to people who were at Downing Street gatherings.

It’s a bit rich for Brazier’s contributors to say that the Met want to channel their resources elsewhere. There are few police forces these days, including the Met, who want to investigate actual crime. This massive dispensing of fines also looks rather selective:

There is also the issue of double standards which irritate many members of the public:

Personally, I think the way the pandemic was handled was dystopian. I don’t know what to think about these fines. Part of me wants to see all of them refunded and any related criminal record for violations erased.

On the other hand, it seems only right that, if Labour have done wrong, they, too, should be fined.

So far, only the Conservatives have been. The Met have made them look positively criminal. Well, that’s par for the course in Labour-controlled London.

I’ll update this in due course.

End of series

My last post on Labour’s 2021 election campaign meeting in Durham is a week old.

The intrigue continues and so much more has happened.

It is important to reiterate that while many on social media say it did not break the coronavirus rules …

… there were specific rules for the 2021 election campaign, some of which differed from regulations for households.

Indoor campaign meetings were banned in 2021:

Let’s recall how Labour told an untruth about Angela Rayner’s not being at the April 30, 2021 event in Durham when she clearly was. Labour had to own up:

The Daily Mail reported that Labour claimed it was an honest mistake (emphases in purple mine):

Labour last night admitted it had lied about an event at which Sir Keir Starmer is alleged to have broken lockdown rules. 

In a sensational U-turn, Labour acknowledged that Angela Rayner was also at the event on April 30 last year at which Sir Keir was filmed enjoying a beer with officials at a time when indoor socialising was banned.

A Labour spokesman said last night: ‘Angela was present.’ A party source claimed the previous denials had been ‘an honest mistake’. 

It directly contradicts assurances given to the Daily Mail over the past three months that Mrs Rayner was ‘not there’

The admission came only after this newspaper confronted Labour officials with video evidence that Mrs Rayner had joined Sir Keir at an online rally for activists filmed in the Durham offices of Labour MP Mary Foy where the party leader was later seen drinking

The extraordinary revelation raises questions about whether Labour’s deputy leader also broke lockdown rules.

Recall that, for months, Labour, including Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, have been braying for Boris Johnson to resign:

Incidentally, once given a fixed penalty notice (fine) for one of the Downing Street events, Boris paid his promptly as did Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

With regard to Durham, their only Conservative MP, Richard Holden, wrote to Durham Constabulary to enquire about Labour’s indoor event.

Durham MP Mary Foy, who appears to have hosted the event in her office, took strong exception to Holden’s letter. She accosted him in Parliament’s Strangers’ Bar at the end of April:

Guido Fawkes had the story (emphases in the original):

The pressures of beergate are obviously getting to Labour MPs more than they’d like to admit: Labour MP Mary Foy launched into a furious drunken tirade against Richard Holden in the Strangers’ Bar on Tuesday night, after Holden asked Durham Police to reinvestigate Starmer for his lockdown beer drinking. Which isn’t exactly surprising, given the infamous event took place in Foy’s own constituency office…

Foy allegedly grabbed Holden’s arm and hurled so much abuse at him that her staff had to pull her away. Having had a skinful, she growled “how dare you name me and my office in this?” as apologetic staffers tried to calm her down. A witness told the Daily Mail she was “feeling the pressure”. Guido can’t imagine this morning’s revelations about Angela Rayner will do much to soothe her…

Holden threatened to take the matter to the Speaker unless she apologised the following morning. Lo and behold, on Wednesday morning Holden found “I unreservedly apologise for my behaviour on the terrace last night” in his inbox. Holden tells Guido she then went on to talk about how they could work together as Durham MPs …

The Daily Mail reported:

Three witnesses told the Daily Mail that Mary Foy vented her fury at Richard Holden on the Commons terrace on Tuesday night.

She is said to have verbally abused him for asking Durham Police to reopen the investigation into footage of the Labour leader having a beer with officials in her office on April 30, 2021.

Witnesses claim the City of Durham MP grabbed Mr Holden by the arm with both hands and tried to drag him across the terrace before staff restrained her.

Each witness said the former charity worker, 54, appeared to have been drinking heavily when the incident took place at around 10pm as MPs waited for late-night votes.

Goodness me. Being boozed up while waiting to vote on legislation? Unbelievable.

Anyway:

Mr Holden confirmed he had received a written apology from Mrs Foy the following morning. He said: ‘Mary has apologised for her totally unacceptable, drunken behaviour on the terrace and I want to leave it at that.’

A Tory source said Mrs Foy’s behaviour suggested the ‘pressure is showing’ on Labour as Durham Police face calls to finally launch a proper investigation into Sir Keir.

Mrs Foy declined to comment on the allegations when contacted yesterday and referred all questions to Labour’s press office. A party source confirmed she issued a personal apology.

The source said the pair had been drinking together in a group where there was ‘a bit of back and forth on politics generally’.

They added that it was ‘incorrect’ to say Mrs Foy had grabbed Mr Holden’s arm, but did not comment on claims she was drunk.

But several witnesses said they were shocked by the ferocity of her tirade.

More happened that day, Friday, April 29.

BBC Breakfast‘s review of the newspapers left out the Daily Mail‘s aforementioned front page with Angela Rayner on it, although reporter Iain Watson later soft-pedalled Labour’s claim that it was an honest mistake:

Guido rightly observed that the nation’s broadcaster had not afforded the Conservatives such gracious treatment:

When they finally got around to discussing the exposé, political correspondent Iain Watson was at pains to emphasise Labour’s absurd line that it was just an “honest mistake”, incredibly kind framing Guido’s sure Downing Street would not receive. The Metropolitan Police decided to U-turn and investigate No. 10’s parties after months of media pressure; now Labour’s been caught out, the establishment media is doing its best to downplay the rule-breaking. Labour must be thanking their lucky stars…

At lunchtime, Guido posted Sir Keir’s detailed timeline, complete with photos and videos, up North in Hull and Durham:

At the end of the timeline, Guido reminded us of what Angela Rayner had said only a week earlier:

April 20, 2022: Angela Rayner is asked “If Keir Starmer, had been fined for the beer and sandwiches that he had or was perhaps it was just beer. Should he have resigned?” Rayner replies “If Keir Starmer had broken the law, then Yes.”

This was the Mail‘s front page on Saturday, April 30. It was a newsy day, especially with disgraced now-former Conservative MP Neil Parish:

That was also the first anniversary of the event in Durham:

The next day, the Mail on Sunday called Starmer a hypocrite, something a Sky News presenter quizzed him about (video here):

Keir Starmer avoided the BBC that morning. Instead, one of his MPs, David Lammy, went on to chat with Sophie Raworth (videos here and here). By now, the public were catching on that Labour had been obfuscating for nearly five months:

On Tuesday, May 3, The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole reported that Starmer’s security detail from London’s Metropolitan Police were in Durham on the night in question. Hmm:

Cole wrote, in part:

Witnesses suggest dozens of MPs and aides gathered at Miners’ Hall, with the police car still there late into the evening.

One bystander who walked past at 11pm said: “The place was still lit up and busy and Keir’s car was still outside.”

The Sun has also revealed that £200 was spent on takeaway curry for dozens of MPs and aides at the bash.

That day, The Spectator‘s Patrick O’Flynn wrote that Starmer should be careful about his situation, given he has been running roughshod over Boris, clamouring constantly for his resignation:

Starmer called for both Johnson and Sunak to quit over their fixed penalty notices despite knowing that the full truth about his own campaign-trail gathering had not come out.

For starters, Labour said its deputy leader Angela Rayner was not at the event when she was. This according to Starmer was a simple ‘mistake’ made in good faith. But has he ever conceded Johnson could have made simple mistakes in good faith about what constituted unlawful gatherings? Of course not

Can Starmer be said to have ‘come clean’ about his own lockdown socialising? Hardly. He is still being evasive now about what exactly the ‘work’ was that his team supposedly returned to after beer and pizza had been consumed around 10 p.m. on a Friday night …

When Starmer was first questioned about beergate, back in January, he told the BBC’s Sophie Raworth: ‘If you’re trying to persuade anyone that stopping to have some food when you’re in the office all day working is a breach of the rules, it’s just not going to wash.’ Yet hasn’t such thinking been at the heart of his own relentless attacks on Johnson?

Starmer the lawyer may think he has winning answers to these questions. Were he a better politician, he would see immediately that he does not. He has been hoisted by his own petard and may soon crash land against some particularly unforgiving ramparts.

The Mail‘s Stephen Pollard also posted an editorial on Starmer. Pollard, by the way, is a member of the Labour Party. However, he abhors the hypocrisy of Starmer’s handling of the Durham event compared with his verbal harassment in the Commons of Boris and Rishi:

the holes in his story get bigger by the day. Sir Keir also says he had no choice but to eat with his colleagues because he couldn’t get a meal at the hotel he was staying in.

The Mail has shown this is nonsense – the hotel made a point of offering room service for law-abiding guests who were following the rules by eating alone in their room. Sir Keir could remove all doubt about the truth of his story if he gave a full account of what happened backed up by evidence. In the absence of such evidence, however, it looks to be no more and no less than a social meal and a drink with colleagues after work – and so not remotely ‘necessary’. In other words, illegal under the Tier 2 rules.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was fined for turning up to a scheduled work meeting in the Cabinet room to find that a gathering was taking place, and not walking out. For that, Labour demanded his resignation. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Sir Keir plainly thinks he can keep saying nothing and the fuss will die down. But the one thing voters cannot stomach is a politician who lies – so Sir Keir needs to come clean. It is difficult to imagine why he would let this story fester if he really has done nothing wrong and can prove it by answering questions, so it may well be he is covering up his own lawbreaking.

If that is the case then – on his own merciless standards – surely he must resign.

Or does he believe that the rules don’t apply to him?

Also on that day, we found out who took the videos and photos of the Durham event — students at Durham University. The Mail reported that the Met’s vehicle piqued their curiosity:

Students who filmed the Labour leader drinking in the office of one of his MPs while indoor socialising was banned also photographed an unfamiliar black Land Rover Discovery parked outside.

If it was one of the official police protection vehicles issued to Sir Keir in his role as a senior politician, it would raise the prospect that officers guarding him can help definitively solve the questions which continue to swirl around the night’s events.

One of the students who filmed the gathering at Durham Miners Hall on April 30 last year said: ‘We had never seen a black Land Rover parked there before, it really stuck out. We took a picture of it because we were convinced it was the car in which he had been driven there.’

Last night a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on protection matters.’ Labour did not respond to requests for comment.

Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick was previously forced to defend officers on duty in Whitehall as questions were raised on how potentially lockdown-breaching gatherings were able to take place at a site with a heavy police presence.

Speaking in February, she said the officers were there to provide ‘protective security’ but refused to be drawn on ‘anything they may have seen or heard’.

The Leader of the Opposition is one of a small number of senior politicians given round-the-clock protection by police

Officers would know everywhere the ‘principal’ is going during a visit and have a rough idea of timings, a source said last night.

The Mail did not name the students, but Guido knew who one of them was back in January 2022:

On January 18, Guido revealed the student’s identity once the images of the Durham event had reached The Sun, The Telegraph and The Mail:

… the person who snapped the incriminating footage – James Delingpole’s son, Ivo – is just as angry with the Tories as anyone else. Taking to Instagram yesterday he reacted to the Mail’s splash with pleasant surprise:

Bit strange to have a video I filmed… on the front cover of a newspaper. I didn’t make any money from it and didn’t send it to them, but glad the hypocrisy was outed nonetheless

However he followed up:

It was last year and just outside my university house… I hope this in no way helps the Prime Minister defend himself from critics, and that he gets no respite from the questioning and criticism [he] deserves …

But even that splash in three newspapers didn’t stop Starmer. In fact, he doubled down, as we can see in this tweet from January 31:

Returning to last week, Wednesday, May 4, the day before the election, the Mail had the following front page on the seventh day of Beergate. Someone should write a song …

Starmer appeared on ITV1’s Good Morning Britain that day. Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley interviewed him. Things did not go spectacularly well, even if Reid is left-of-centre politically:

Guido had the story and video:

For the seventh consecutive day, Starmer is battling the headlines over Beergate. This morning the Sun reports Starmer and Labour aides spent £200 on takeaway food on the night the infamous photo was taken – enough curry to feed 30 people for what Labour still insists was just a quick meal during important campaign work. That line is becoming increasingly untenable, as Starmer’s appearance just now on Good Morning Britain attests…

Speaking to Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley, Starmer trotted out the boilerplate excuses Labour have been using for a week, much of which was irrelevant waffle about how many camera pieces he recorded that day. Not once did he deny reports it turned into a £200, 30-person feast …

He recorded some video messages on a laptop – doesn’t require 30 people, beer and curry late on a Friday night to do that. When Susanna Reid asked why any of this was actually relevant, Starmer claimed:

We were on the road, at the end of the day, we were in the office preparing. Now, that evening, from memory, we were doing an online event for members… at some point, this was in the evening, everyone is hungry. A takeaway was ordered… in Durham all restaurants and pubs were closed.

Of course, that last part is untrue: hospitality reopened for outdoor service on April 12, and the Durham event took place on April 30. Still, at least Starmer confirmed the police haven’t been in touch yet, something he couldn’t say yesterday for some reason. If Starmer’s finding all this scrutiny unnecessary, Guido would just remind him he called for Rishi to resign last month for singing ‘happy birthday’. Or was that just pointless mudslinging?

Guido’s tweet about Good Morning Britain had a response about why Labour might not have wanted to put Angela Rayner in the frame until they were forced to:

That day, the Mail‘s Andrew Pierce looked at the possible people helping Starmer obfuscate. We already know about Mary Foy MP and I covered Joy Allen, the head of Durham Constabulary, in a previous post. She was not at the event.

The others follow — Allen’s deputy, the curry house and the other Labour MP for Durham:

PCC Allen’s second-in-command is Nigel Bryson, who happens to be a long-standing friend of hers. They met, inevitably, through the Labour Party and she has attracted criticism for appointing him without advertising. Challenged over this failure to vet anyone else, she said: ‘I’ve got somebody who knows everything about me as a candidate… I could go through the process but it would just be possibly going through the motions.’ So that’s all right then.

The Capital is one of Durham’s finest Indian restaurants and this week it emerged its delivery driver had dropped off a ‘£200’ feast for the gathering, including biryanis, tikka masalas, rice and naan breads. The driver initially told the Daily Mail there were ’30 or so people’ inside – but bizarrely later insisted he had no recollection of making the delivery.

Yet the curry house has been known to have friendly relations with Durham’s Labour machine.

In May 2020, during the first lockdown, local MP Foy hailed it for supplying meals to NHS workers and posed for photographs with head chef Syed Islam.

Bordering Foy’s constituency is North Durham, with MP Kevan Jones. He has also remained silent about the night in question – and this isn’t surprising.

A leading figure in the local Labour community, Jones himself has broken lockdown laws – not once, but twice. The first breach came on May 7, 2020, when he took part in a group photo shoot in his constituency, promoting artwork in praise of the NHS. A noble cause – but the rules about socialising were clear. Jones committed another breach three days later.

A video shows him attending an indoor party for 100-year-old veteran Frederick Herron, allegedly attended by about 40 people. Who would begrudge a hero centenarian a fitting celebration? Nobody – except Starmer and Labour have consistently claimed that the law should have been upheld.

Asked yesterday about his lockdown breaches, Jones said he would ‘rather not comment’.

The plot thickened and the intrigue continued.

More tomorrow, beginning with what the papers said on Election Day.

The State Opening of Parliament is always a grand affair.

Now that I am retired, I have been able to watch three of them, thanks to Boris Johnson. We had the first of the three after he erroneously prorogued Parliament in the autumn of 2019. The second followed the election in December that year and now there was today’s, on Tuesday, May 10.

In my April 29 post, I wondered whether the Queen would give the speech about the upcoming legislation (emphases mine):

The new session will begin on Tuesday, May 10, with the Queen’s Speech. One wonders if she will be there in person or delegate Prince Charles to deliver it for her.

I was not wrong:

ITV’s Royal Editor, Chris Ship, explains how this delegation works:

Even PARLY, which covers all things going on in the Palace of Westminster, missed that one:

The first photo was from the last State Opening of Parliament. Note the thrones. Today, Tuesday, May 10, the Queen’s throne was removed and Prince Charles read the speech from the Consort’s throne.

The Government writes the Queen’s Speech, even though it is read in the first person. As Charles was reading it, they changed ‘My Government’ to ‘Her Majesty’s Government’.

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived at the Palace of Westminster together:

Prince William arrived separately:

Although the Queen was not present, the usual regalia — showing the Head of State’s authority — arrived and were placed on the dais in the House of Lords after having been examined in the Robing Room:

Chris Ship, posted the following Twitter thread.

Black Rod — Sarah Clarke — walked behind Charles and Camilla for part of the procession:

Prince William followed. However, the crown, hat and maces were at the head of the procession:

Once the procession has finished, Black Rod goes to summon the House of Commons. This dates back to centuries ago when there was animosity between the Lords and the Commons. Black Rod used to have the Commons door slammed shut in his face after knocking the first time. That response was to show that MPs were in charge of making law rather than hereditary peers (as they were back then), but they leave that part out now:

The Speaker of the House of Commons and MPs then follow Black Rod out of the chamber to the House of Lords, where they stand in back to hear the Queen’s Speech.

Meanwhile, peers are comfortably seated and wearing their formal robes.

The following tweets are highlights from the Queen’s Speech:

And we can’t forget levelling up, which continues in the new session of Parliament:

Finally, there was a mention of this year’s Platinum Jubilee:

Afterwards, MPs return to the Commons for a week-long debate on the Queen’s Speech. The debate is known as the Humble Address. A different aspect of proposed legislation is discussed each day:

There are two other arcane traditions, also relating to ancient history when MPs were occasionally at serious loggerheads with the monarch:

On another historical note, the first image from the 19th century shows Queen Victoria in the old Palace of Westminster which burned down some years later. The second image shows the current one, built afterwards:

In closing, there are 38 proposed pieces of legislation for this session of Parliament. However, there is no obligation for the House of Commons to bring each one to fruition. Often, that does not happen.

Critics have complained that the Queen’s Speech was too vague, but the Government does not wish to be too prescriptive and be held to every jot and iota. This is particularly true of sensitive issues such as the Northern Ireland Protocol and other Brexit issues, which are part of a process.

As they say, a week is a long time in politics often driven by unforeseen events. Better too vague than too specific. Details of necessary legislation can be ironed out later in parliamentary debates.

Continuing my series on Red Wall MPs, today’s concludes the Stoke-on-Trent trio with Jack Brereton, who was the first Conservative MP elected to represent Stoke-on-Trent South in 2017.

Brereton’s two neighbouring Conservative MPs are Jo Gideon and Jonathan Gullis.

Brereton is 30 years old but got involved in politics at the tender age of 18. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for councillor in the East Valley ward in the Stoke-on-Trent City Council election. Undeterred, and studying for his degree in Politics and International Relations at the local Keele University, he ran again in 2011 and held the Baddeley, Milton and Norton ward for the Conservatives.

He completed his degree at Keele in 2012 and was re-elected as councillor in 2015, after which he served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the City Council as part of a Conservative/Independents ruling coalition.

In February 2017, he ran unsuccessfully in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. However, a snap general election was called that June, under Theresa May’s leadership, and the Conservatives selected him to run for Stoke-on-Trent South.

Brereton defeated Labour’s sitting MP Rob Flello, who had represented the constituency since 2005. Aged 26, he was the youngest MP in the 2017 Conservative intake.

He continued to serve as a local councillor until June 2019, when he announced that he would not be standing for re-election.

In Parliament, Brereton served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Education in 2018. Between September 2019 and January 31, 2020, he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department for Exiting the European Union. Afterwards, he became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence.

From this, we can see that he has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for politics and for his constituents, most of whom voted to leave the EU.

He has also found time to study at University College London and divides his time between the capital and Stoke-on-Trent, where his wife and son live.

Maiden speech

The most interesting speeches in the Commons are the maiden speeches. One learns so much about our beautiful nation from them.

Jack Brereton gave his maiden speech on July 18, 2017. That day, the Stoke Sentinel reported (emphases mine):

Jack Brereton’s win in Stoke-on-Trent South last month, which ended decades of Labour domination, was one of the most notable results in the General Election.

Indeed. Stoke-on-Trent South voters had been loyal to Labour since the constituency was established in 1950.

He showed his love for his home town and the Potteries in his maiden speech, excerpted below:

It is an absolute honour to be able to make my maiden speech and to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in this place. Stoke-on-Trent is the city that I grew up in and where I have lived my whole life. Nothing could make me prouder than serving the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in Parliament.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Rob Flello. I thank him for his commitment to Stoke-on-Trent South over the past 12 years. He will be remembered as a dedicated community activist in Stoke-on-Trent and was respected here for his campaigning on a number of national concerns, particularly those relating to the road haulage industry, in which he played an active role.

Stoke-on-Trent is a unique place with a strong cultural identity. It is a city founded on its industrial heritage, with those industries now resurgent and a hotbed of innovation. The potteries were born out of industry and our culture flows from that

Stokies are especially known for their friendliness, and many visitors to the city remark on how welcoming the local people are. What makes us most distinctive, however, is our geographical make-up, following the coming together in 1910 of six different, individual towns to form one body. Two of those towns, Fenton and Longton, are in my constituency. However, we did not gain city status until 1925, in what was a rare modern occurrence of royal intervention in which the monarch countermanded the Government. Having initially been refused city status by the Home Office, Stoke-on-Trent made a direct approach to His Majesty King George V and became a city on 4 June 1925.

Surrounding the pottery towns of Fenton and Longton, my Stoke-on-Trent South constituency includes a diverse slice of north Staffordshire. We have the only grade 1 listed building in Stoke-on-Trent, the Trentham Mausoleum, which is the final resting place of the Dukes of Sutherland. They were significant philanthropists in the area, particularly in Longton, Normacot and Dresden, giving land and paying for many of the important public buildings and facilities that we see today. They include the fantastic Queen’s Park, the first public pleasure park in the potteries, which was opened to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. It was once a lone oasis in an otherwise smog-filled urban area, but today we are one of the greenest cities in the country, with more than 1,380 hectares of parks and open space. One of the most important natural sites, Park Hall country park, is in Weston Coyney in my constituency. It is a site of special scientific interest and the only national nature reserve in Stoke-on-Trent.

Where once stood thousands of bottle ovens in Stoke-on-Trent, only 47 now remain. They are protected, of course, and I am pleased to say that half of those iconic structures are in my constituency, with the largest number in Longton. My constituency has no shortage of first-rate architectural gems, both old and new. Many of these important historical sites have now been converted, with a number becoming enterprise centres to host thriving small businesses. They include the Sutherland Institute, St James’s House, CoRE and now also Fenton Town Hall, which has been reborn as a centre for business and industry by the grandson of the original builder and benefactor, William Meath Baker. There is a tremendous spirit of resourcefulness and renewal in my constituency, and it gives me great optimism that so many of our heritage landmarks will continue to find new uses in a new age

Stoke-on-Trent has been a global city, designing wares and products to fit every taste and market. We have been exporting and trading products around the world for centuries, and that has never been more true and important than it is today. We have some of the most advanced steel manufacturing in the world. Just like pottery, steel manufacturing has strong roots in Stoke-on-Trent. Goodwin International, which is based in my constituency, is a world leader in mechanical engineering, producing some of the most intricate steel components, both large and small. It works in partnership with Goodwin Steel Castings in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent Central, which has been producing machined castings since 1883—one of the 10 oldest companies listed on the stock exchange. Goodwin’s products are of the highest standard and are used right around the world in energy production, bridge construction and armed forces equipment.

Today in Stoke-on-Trent our industries are becoming more diverse and more innovative than ever before. Rated nationally as the second-best place to start a new business, it is the No. 1 city for business survival and the ninth-fastest growing economy in the UK. Productivity has increased by over 25% since 2010. It is ranked fourth for employment growth and has one of the fastest-growing housing markets, and our big ceramics businesses have increased production by over 50%.

People are waking up to what Stoke-on-Trent has to offer as one of the best connected places. We have kept ahead of the digital curve with some of the best broadband connectivity, and we are rated as having the best 4G download speeds in the country, not only making Stoke-on-Trent a key hub for some of the leading brands in distribution and logistics, but putting the city at the forefront of a revolution in digital and advanced manufacturing.

Our clay-based industries in particular have become more diverse and are expanding into new sectors. Whether healthcare, tourism, high-tech materials or construction, ceramic products are becoming ever more essential in the modern world. That has been exemplified by recent investment in the Wedgwood factory and visitor centre in my constituency. The fully refurbished factory site manufactures some of the finest wares in the world, and the World of Wedgwood visitor centre is a must see for any tourist. Most recently, we have seen the opening of the brand-new Valentine Clays facility in Fenton, which is continuing the growth of the industry and supplying clay and raw materials to potters around the country.

Our growing economy and industry are supported by strong academic institutions. Staffordshire University is now rated one of the best nationally for some of its digital courses, such as gaming. We also have Keele University—I should declare an interest in that my wife and I are both Keele graduates—which is renowned nationally for its academic strength and has won numerous awards for the quality of its academia, including being ranked top nationally for student experience and student satisfaction and most recently being awarded gold in the teaching excellence framework. Importantly, the universities play an active part in the community and economy of north Staffordshire and have a critical role in the innovation and development of our local industries.

The businesses and people who have invested in Stoke-on-Trent South are rightly proud of what we have achieved. As their strong voice in Parliament, I am determined to work to create better jobs that will spread the net of opportunity wider. Critical to that will be securing the best possible deal from leaving the European Union, guaranteeing trade and ensuring ease of access to markets throughout the world. That is what people in Stoke-on-Trent South overwhelmingly voted for in the referendum and what people were saying to me on the doorstep during the general election campaign. I will be calling on the Government to advance trade agreements around the world as part of a more global Britain that supports businesses in Stoke-on-Trent South to sell their products abroad. This is about creating prosperity for every household in Stoke-on-Trent South, driving up skills and increasing local people’s wages. We need to see not just more jobs in Stoke-on-Trent South but better jobs that pay higher wages and take full advantage of the talent that Stokies have.

We need to see investment in our infrastructure that ensures businesses in Stoke-on-Trent can continue to thrive and local people are not blighted by sitting in daily traffic jams. It will mean improving our transport network to be fit for the future, improving rail and road connections to my constituency to help address congestion and ensuring that we see better local rail services to Longton station and improved connectivity to Stoke-on-Trent from across the country.

For our industries to grow and create the jobs we need locally, we must also ensure greater energy security, with infrastructure that matches the needs of our manufacturing sectors. As a city made up of towns, we need to ensure that our town centres are healthy and that our high streets remain relevant to the local communities they serve. I want to see Longton and Fenton town centres become stronger, with new housing and businesses moving in. Those are my priorities as Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South.

I began by speaking of our heritage and culture in Stoke-on-Trent. I could not be more delighted that our city has been shortlisted for UK city of culture 2021. Stoke-on-Trent is the world capital of ceramics, which is an industry and art that has not only shaped my constituency but has left its stamp on our national culture. Many Stokies, like me, are proud of the products we see around the world that are back-stamped “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” and “Made in Britain.” A Stokie can often be spotted apart turning over a plate or a mug to check where it was made.

The Palace of Westminster, like many of the greatest buildings across the country, is filled with products manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent. From the tableware to the Minton tile floors, each piece is an ambassador for Stoke-on-Trent. I was a little disappointed to find that the ongoing floor restoration works in Central Lobby are using tiles manufactured in Jackfield, Shropshire. However, I was reassured to discover that the powder used to produce these fantastic tiles is sourced from Stoke-on-Trent

This debate is about drugs policy. The use of psychoactive substances in particular is increasing, which is ruining lives and is a significant cause of crime on our streets. That not only affects police services but puts pressure on our national health service, which has to deal with much of the human cost of drug abuse.

Far too many ordinary people in my constituency have felt the impacts of drug use and told me they do not feel safe in our communities. I will be working with Staffordshire police and Matthew Ellis, our police and crime commissioner, to ensure that we continue to see drug use decline and we act against the associated crimes. Much progress is being made by local partners and communities; putting in place a public space protection order in Longton has made a big difference. I have particularly seen the fantastic work put in by volunteers such as Street Chaplains locally in my constituency. Significant work has been done to help ensure people feel safe and welcome when visiting the town centre, and in directing people who need help to get the right support.

Often the misuse of drugs can be linked to mental health problems, and I have been pleased to see Staffordshire leading the way to ensure that people with mental health problems get better support. Local services, the police and the voluntary sector continue to work more closely in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to help people get better support to tackle addictions and change their lifestyles. I want to play my part in ensuring that we continue to tackle these issues in our communities, so we continue to see drug-related crimes reduced and people with addictions get the right support.

In the end, Coventry won the 2021 bid for the UK City of Culture.

However, Brereton remained a strong supporter of Stoke-on-Trent.

Channel 4 relocation

On October 17, 2017, Brereton put forward a Ten-Minute Rule Bill proposing that Channel 4 move their offices out of London, in the way that the BBC moved many of their operations north to Salford.

Excerpts follow:

Being in public ownership means that Channel 4 has a responsibility to the nation, not just in the innovative and boundary-probing programming that it rightly produces, but in the way in which it is organised and run. Truly, it must be operated for the benefit of all parts of our country, throughout all the nations and regions that make up the UK. We should consider the effects of the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays, with the creation of MediaCityUK. The regeneration that comes from such investments has a much wider ripple effect beyond the transfer of the headquarters, staff and offices. With the right location, such moves can significantly boost prosperity across a whole region and help support thousands of jobs. As the Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week, more people are employed at Salford Quays today than there ever were when they were docks. That is a direct effect of a public service broadcaster fulfilling its remit in its most inclusive sense.

Channel 4 could have a significant transformative impact on a new location, with the potential to anchor wider regeneration and deliver jobs over and above those which move out of the capital. Very careful consideration must be given to location in order to maximise and extract value. There could be an open competition to decide on the new location, allowing interested areas and sites to put forward their case, ensuring that the site that delivers the greatest impact and fulfils the needs of Channel 4 is selected. This is not just about the benefits a move could have on a specific area; many organisations could have a similar impact from relocating their headquarters. There is greater significance in and much wider benefits from helping to rebalance the institutions of broadcasting within the UK to reflect much more effectively the diverse communities in our constituencies across the country, and to bring a fresh perspective.

The realities faced on a daily basis by my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South and those in many constituencies throughout the UK are very different from those experienced in London. As I said, Channel 4 produces some phenomenal programmes that are greatly valued, but this could be so much better. If Channel 4 relocated out of London, the organisation and its employees would experience directly the true vibrancy and diversity across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. The programmes it produces could be drawn from a much more diverse palette, giving a much greater scope, depth and quality to what we see on our screens.

As a commissioning organisation, Channel 4 has huge potential to support the wider broadcasting and creative sectors across the countries and regions of the UK. Many small and medium-sized businesses right across the country could contribute significantly to diversifying the content produced by Channel 4, but currently all the decisions are made in London and many companies and organisations are not getting a fair chance. A move would have much greater knock-on benefits across the industry, helping to support and create more highly skilled jobs outside London. Location is hugely important not only to extract the greatest benefit from our media, but to ensure that there are the skills available in the workforce to match the demands of the organisation.

There are a number of extremely interesting suggestions for a potential future location for this national broadcaster. They come from a number of areas across the country, including from my area, Stoke-on-Trent. Many parts of our country have the wealth of skills and creativity— both in industry and academia—needed to support the relocation. I know from visiting Staffordshire University that our academic institutions across the country have state-of-the-art digital and media facilities. For example, Staffordshire University is now rated the best in the country for computer gaming.

Industries and universities right across the country are leading the way in the digital and creative sectors. The move of Channel 4 out of London would further support this success and mean that more of those skills could be retained in other parts of the UK. This is the critical point: we are currently seeing a brain drain of skills and employment opportunities from across our country towards London. The Bill aligns with the Government’s industrial strategy to help to rebalance the economy, driving prosperity right across the country. I hope that all hon. Members can support that aim.

The further benefit that a move could realise is to counteract the consequences of an overheating property market in London. Land is much cheaper and more freely available outside London, particularly in areas like mine, meaning that the costs of development and moving have the potential with the right location to be significantly lower. Much of the cost of the move could probably be made back from the sale of Channel 4’s current headquarters site on Horseferry Road.

The cost of property also has an important effect on the likely quality of life of those working for Channel 4. Outside London, workers are likely to be able to afford a much better quality of life. The average house price in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in quarter 1 of 2017 was £1,275,000 compared with £122,150 in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South. The Bill does not specify a location to which Channel 4 should move, but it secures the principle of a move away from London and would allow for the process in selecting a new location and facilitating the move once a location is agreed.

I encourage Members on both sides of the House to back this Bill and ensure that Channel 4 can continue to improve the quality and range of its broadcasting to reflect the entire UK.

Question put and agreed to

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2018, and to be printed (Bill 111).

The bill was successful. One year later, on October 31, 2018, Channel 4 announced that it would be moving 25% of its staff to Leeds, meaning that half of its programme budget will be spent outside of London by 2023.

Transport

It is not surprising that having served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Jack Brereton has a keen interest in improving public transportation links in his constituency.

One of the ongoing issues is the reopening of the Stoke-Leek railway line, more about which below.

First, however, was his debate from January 23, 2020 on improving local bus routes, excerpted below:

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and I made clear to the Minister’s colleague Baroness Vere recently, bus services are too few, too slow and too infrequent. Indeed, a survey I conducted in a number of communities in my constituency resulted in many hundreds of replies saying just that. We now have communities that lack any service, with elderly and vulnerable people left cut off. The removal of evening and weekend services has also had a major impact on people’s ability to get to work and get around the area.

At the same time, local train services—they are almost non-existent and are often overcrowded—have been under a slow process of decline. Little more than 100 years ago, north Staffordshire had an excellent local rail and tram network. Old maps reveal that we had one of the most comprehensive public transport networks in the country. Since then, local rail lines and local train stations have been lost. The tram network has gone altogether and the bus has risen and fallen as a replacement. It is on bus services that I will focus most of my remarks today …

The six historic market towns in Stoke-on-Trent share a north Staffordshire identity that is more than merely geographical with the other historic market towns around the city, including Newcastle-under-Lyme, Kidsgrove, Biddulph, Leek, Cheadle, Stone and Stafford, which are home to many commuters to and from Stoke-on-Trent. Improving and enhancing the public transport links between all those towns is important for our economic growth. Sadly, bus use in the Potteries has declined by more than 10% in the past year alone, with more than 1 million fewer bus passenger journeys in 2018-19 than in 2017-18. The number of journeys fell from 10.4 million in 2017-18 to 9.3 million. Compounding the disappointment is the fact that bus use had at least seemed to have levelled off from the previous decline. The 10.4 million journeys reported in 2017-18 were an increase on the 10.3 million reported in 2016-17. However, at the start of the decade, more than 15 million journeys were recorded.

Since 2010, the relative cost of travelling by car has decreased considerably. Fuel duty has rightly been frozen and even for those who are entitled to free bus passes, the falling marginal cost of driving has disadvantaged bus services in relative terms. Relative price signals have often been compounded by the enhanced marginal utility of driving instead, particularly as cars have improved in personal comfort over the decade relative to buses. Once a decline in bus services begins, it all too often feeds on itself as the relative convenience of just jumping in a car becomes ever more pronounced. Against a backdrop of less frequent bus services, passenger utility is reduced even further. With the reduction in demand comes more cuts in supply.

In north Staffordshire, journey times by bus can be more than double those by car—sometimes easily treble or worse—due to the loss of direct cross-city routes. No doubt that story is familiar to Members in all parts of the country. I have raised the situation in north Staffordshire in particular because, as our local newspaper The Sentinel has highlighted, the decline in the Potteries has been much faster than in England as a whole

Currently, very few buses run straight through the city centre, meaning that almost all passengers face waiting times for connecting services at the city centre bus station if they want to get from one side of the city to the other. Operators have been reluctant to provide through services, because it is much harder to guarantee their reliability. That, in turn, adds to the congestion at the city centre bus station, with two short-route buses needed to complete what could have been a single-bus through journey.

The required interventions are a mix of low, medium and high-cost schemes, ranging from relatively simple traffic management measures, such as the widening of bus lanes, to more complicated redesigns of junctions to give buses priority. As an initial step, three cross-city routes are being developed, but a number of additional cross-city routes have also been identified to create a truly north Staffordshire-wide network …

The second key element is improved frequency. A turn-up-and-go service requires a frequency that does not exceed 10 minutes between buses. Even that frequency would be regarded as poor in London. A 10-minute interval is considered to be one of the downsides of some parts of the Docklands Light Railway, and it certainly would not be tolerated on the London underground. Yet in Stoke-on-Trent a 10-minute frequency is exceptionally good; currently, only four bus services operate at that frequency. The frequency of other services is generally 20 or 30 minutes.

Introducing all the proposed cross-city lines with a weekday daytime frequency of at most 10 minutes would cost some £4.8 million per annum. There would be a further capital cost of £1 million for purchasing additional vehicles. It is important to note that in certain important corridors in the city, such as between the railway station and the city centre, frequencies would be much closer to five minutes than to 10 minutes, with the exception of early mornings, night-times and Sundays …

There are other, smaller operators, which run a limited number of services, mostly using buses smaller than the standard single-decker ones prevalent in the First Potteries and D&G fleets. The current operators run a multi-operator ticket scheme. One such ticket is called Smart, which is focused on Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, and another is called The Knot—after the Staffordshire knot—covering the whole of Staffordshire. There is also a PlusBus scheme covering the Smart zone.

That brings me on to the third key element: the price cap. The current standard adult fare for one of the most popular tickets, the Smart day ticket, is £5.90, and the proposal is to cap it at £3 per day, resulting in a ceteris paribus revenue loss of £3 million per annum. However, it is, of course, expected that all things will not be equal, and the price cap, together with congestion-busting road traffic management for bus services, should result in a substantial increase in ticket sales.

Indeed, the uplift is expected to be such that the city council has warned that operators will need to be prepared for boarding delays caused by the volume of people wanting to buy the £3 day ticket. That would have been much more of a concern only a year ago, when contactless payment was still far from widespread across north Staffordshire buses. Thankfully, operators have now invested in contactless technology that speeds up the boarding process

Let me be quite clear: what is envisioned is nothing short of a revolution for road traffic planning in Stoke-on-Trent, with a radical reordering of highway space and junction prioritisation in favour of buses. By removing the worst pinch points and installing bus priority measures, we can improve passengers’ level of confidence that buses will run smoothly and to time. The measures envisaged would mean that timetables could provide for faster services running over longer distances across north Staffordshire. We would once again be able to boast one of the best and most comprehensive public transport networks, just as we did over a century ago. I hope we will receive the Department’s full support, and the Minister’s support today.

Nusrat Ghani, replying on behalf of the Government, said:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher [Chope MP], in this incredibly collegiate and productive debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing it and giving me the opportunity to provide some answers that will please both Government and Opposition Members …

When I appeared before the Select Committee on Transport a while ago, my hon. Friend was robust in challenging me on bus strategy. However, he and I wanted the same thing, and we have got it—we have a win here. First, we have had the announcement of an ambitious and innovative £220 million bus package and, secondly, we are putting together the first ever national bus strategy, which will revolutionise bus services across England

Members are keen to ensure that they are doing their bit to secure funding from the transforming cities fund. The Government are investing £2.5 billion to support the development and creation of new and innovative public transport schemes, which will improve journeys and tackle congestion in some of England’s largest cities. Stoke-on-Trent has been shortlisted for an upgrade to its public transport links. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) was spot on; she put forward a fantastic case. At the Department we welcome the business case put forward by Stoke-on-Trent and supported by hon. Members. It will improve connectivity across the region. I am afraid I cannot say anything more right now, but an announcement on the outcome of the process will be announced in the next few months. The strength of this debate will no doubt be recognised when that decision is made …

Thanks to the Stoke-on-Trent MPs’ pressure, the latest news from the Stoke Sentinel on April 6, 2022 is that bus pass prices will be noticeably cheaper and that some routes will cut across the city:

Stoke-on-Trent bus passengers will be able to snap up all-day tickets for just £3.50 as part of a £31.7 million Government deal for the city. People currently have to shell out £5.20 for unlimited day travel within the city.

The cheaper fare – available across multiple bus operators – is expected to come into force in September. It’s not yet known whether other types of bus tickets could also be discounted.

It comes after the Department for Transport (DfT) awarded Stoke-on-Trent the funding to transform bus services over the next three years. Other plans include having more evening and Sunday services to boost the night-time economy and help commuters get home from work.

And a bus route which was split in two several years ago is to be ‘re-linked’ so people travelling from the north to south of the city no longer have to catch several buses. Coupled with bus priority changes, it will mean quicker journey times.

Nigel Eggleton, managing director of bus operator First Potteries, said: “We are delighted with the announcement. Ourselves, other bus operators and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have put in a lot of work compiling this bid.”

He hopes it will attract more people onto the buses and make some of the changes commercially sustainable after the Government funding runs out. But he admitted there could be ‘anomalies’, particularly if people are travelling outside the city boundaries into Newcastle or the Moorlands.

Staffordshire County Council has not been awarded a single penny through the DfT’s latest announcement, even though it submitted a bid for £112 million of bus service improvements.

Mr Eggleton added: “We will need to look closely at the terms and conditions to see what we can and can’t do across boundary journeys. But we will try our best.”

The 113 comments following the article were highly critical of the bus company and bus routes.

Now on to the Stoke-Leek railway line, debated on July 20, 2021 which was secured by Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands. All three Stoke-on-Trent MPs took part.

Maggie Throup MP, responding for the Government, said:

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on securing this debate on the proposals for reopening the Stoke-Leek line—or, as she said, the Leek-Stoke line. I thank all Members who contributed. My right hon. Friend is a committed advocate of this scheme, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), who have spoken passionately with one voice in today’s debate. Their collective campaigning to reinstate the Stoke-Leek line is second to none. I am sure the description that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands gave of her constituency will definitely have put it at the top of the tourist map for those who are listening to the debate. I also pay tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members who have sponsored applications to restore rail lines and stations in their own constituencies. I know just how much these schemes mean for local communities. Those Members are great advocates for the restoration of their railways.

This Government are committed to levelling up the country, and a strong, effective railway is central to that ambition. As part of that levelling-up agenda, in January 2020 the Government pledged £500 million for the Restoring Your Railways programme to deliver on our manifesto commitment to start reopening lines and stations. This investment will reconnect smaller communities, regenerate local economies and improve access to jobs, homes and education. The Beeching report led to the closure of one third of our railway network—2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of track were identified for closure. Many places that lost their railway connection have simply never recovered. For the towns and villages left isolated and forgotten by the Beeching cuts, restoring a railway line or station has the potential to revitalise the community. It breathes new life into our high streets, drives investment in businesses and housing and opens new opportunities for work and education. Ilkeston station, in my constituency, which reopened in 2017 after more than 50 years of closure, is a proven example of this positive impact …

As my right hon. Friend explained, the proposal details the many benefits that restoring the Stoke-Leek line would bring to the area—she was so graphic earlier about all the benefits—including providing residents of Leek with direct access to education and employment opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent and the opening up of Staffordshire Moorlands to the tourist trade. The assessment process for those bids is currently under way. The Department expects to announce outcomes over the summer. Decisions on bids are made by an expert panel, which the rail Minister chairs. It is informed by analysis from the Department for Transport, technical advisers and Network Rail. The standard of the applications is, as ever, very high.

In nearby Meir, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, a proposal to reopen the railway station has already been successful in the ideas fund. This scheme used the funding awarded to create a strategic outline business case, which the Department will be considering soon. If delivered, the scheme would reconnect the people of Meir to the rail network for the first time since 1966, giving them access to new educational and economic opportunities, making new housing developments in certain areas viable and levelling up a region that suffers from poor productivity relative to the rest of the UK …

Beeching destroyed the railway network in the mid-1960s. It will take a long time, if ever, to restore it.

With regard to the Stoke-Leek line, £50,000 was granted on October 27, 2001 for a feasibility study. One can only hope for its success.

No doubt, Jack Brereton will continue to press ahead with these and other local issues with his usual passion and enthusiasm.

I wish him every success in his parliamentary career. He richly deserves it.

Considering that Parliament is currently prorogued and that this past weekend was the May bank holiday, one would think that nothing political happened.

One would be very wrong indeed.

In fact, a Conservative MP stood down and Labour’s indoor 2021 election campaign meeting in Durham attracted more attention.

Labour’s 2021 do in Durham

My April 29 post has the background to Labour’s 2021 election campaign do in Durham.

April 30 was its one year anniversary:

I couldn’t agree more.

The Mail on Sunday‘s Dan Hodges agrees on Labour’s hypocrisy:

Many Labour supporters say that the Durham do did not break any rules, however, it probably did. Below are the rules for the 2021 election campaign:

Furthermore, it is possible that, despite the fines (fixed penalty notices), the Downing Street gatherings did not break the rules, as the address is part of the Crown Estates.

On April 27, the Conservative Post published an article on the lefty activist QC (Queen’s Counsel) advising senior civil servant Sue Gray in her report on the gatherings. The article says that they were perfectly legal (emphases in the original):

One might ask is this QC holding an almighty grudge?

Is this why Sue Gray / the Met Police haven’t looked at section 73 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984? Do they even know about it?

Surely a bipartisan advisor would have pointed out this important law of the land?

The Act clearly states that pandemic regulations, at all times, never applied to Crown Land (which includes No.10). 

Granted, one rule for them and another for the rest of us seems a bit unfair but it also makes sense.

Steven Barrett, a leading barrister at Radcliffe Chambers who read law at Oxford and taught law at Cambridge explains:

In the eighties lawmakers decided that it would be better to allow the government to function during any future national pandemic without having to worry about being caught up in quarantine regulations. The thinking was that by making the government effectively exempt in law, the government could continue to function.

In addition to the 1984 Act, there were also specific regulations that applied at the time of the alleged “parties” the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020.

According to these rules, gatherings were allowed in all public buildings, or parts of them ‘operated by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body.’

So whatever happened in Downing Street was legal. 

How has a QC / Civil Service Advisor not made this clear to Sue Gray? If he had surely no-one at Downing Street would have received a fine at all.  

One would also have thought the Civil Service would check who is advising them.

Can someone let Sue Gray and the Met Police know please before any more incorrect fines are issued out? It’s important rules of the land are adhered to. 

But, butand it’s a BIG BUT:

The matter came up in the House of Lords on December 14, 2021, shortly after the controversy broke. Good grief, that is now six months ago.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Jenny Jones, Green Party) asked:

whether Number 10 Downing Street is a Crown property; and, if so, whether regulations made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 apply there.

Lord True, replying for the Cabinet Office, said that the regulations would have applied to Downing Street, despite its being part of the Crown Estates (emphases mine below, except for Guido Fawkes posts):

No 10 Downing Street is a Crown property. Regulations under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 which relate to the activities of people, apply regardless of whether those activities took place on Crown property or not.

Hmm.

Back to Labour’s Durham do, which has been trending online as Beergate and Currygate:

Durham Constabulary said a long time ago that there was nothing to investigate. Durham is a Labour area, so no surprise there.

However, the clamour over the weekend thanks to Conservative MP Richard Holden’s letter to them was such that perhaps the police have decided to have another look.

On Tuesday, May 3, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Martha Kearney, Keir Starmer refused to say (audio here):

This leads pundits to assume that Durham Constabulary might have been in touch:

Another development over the weekend was confirmation that Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, was also in attendance.

Guido Fawkes posted the following on Friday, April 29:

After months of questioning, it can finally be confirmed Angela Rayner was present at Starmer’s lockdown beer party in Durham. Despite refusals to confirm, video evidence dug out yesterday morning reveals Angie’s attendance, who shared a chair with Sir Keir for a “Get out the vote rally”  on Facebook an hour before the video of Starmer’s unlawful socialising was filmed. Oh. Dear.

Rayner can be heard saying “And being here at the Miners Hall in Durham, I’ve got to start with, you know, the past we inherit, the future we build.” She and Starmer sit in front of a window identical to that Starmer was filmed through an hour later swigging beer, contrary to Covid rules.

Earlier this week, Guido forced a denial from local Police & Crime Commissioner Joy Allen, who said she wasn’t present at the ‘essential campaign event’ after social media rumours began circulating that the female head seen at the bottom of the Starmer beer frame was hers.

Labour claim that there was no other place to go for food and drink, however:

Also:

On Sunday evening, May 1, Mark Dolan of GB News rightly took aim at Labour’s sanctimonious and hypocritical posturing:

However, things weren’t going well for the Conservatives, either.

Neil Parish stands down as MP

Neil Parish stood down as MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon after admitting he was looking at indecent images on his phone while in the Palace of Westminster.

He claimed that he had been searching for tractors on the first occasion and accidentally arrived at an indecent website. On the second occasion, he confessed that he deliberately visited the same website again.

I was somewhere between surprised and shocked. He always seemed like such a level-headed individual.

This video clip is from March 14, 2019, around the time I began watching BBC Parliament regularly. Tension about Brexit had been ramping up since January that year:

In June 2020, he led a debate on the BBC’s axeing of local and regional political coverage:

More importantly, he had headed the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee since 2015. He came from a farming family and left school at the age of 16 to help run his family’s farm.

Last week, rumours had been circulating about a Conservative MP looking at indecent images during parliamentary proceedings.

On Friday, April 29, Guido reported that the Conservatives removed the whip from Parish:

The hunt is over: Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, has lost the whip this afternoon after being revealed as the Commons’ mystery porn viewer. Following conversations with the Whips’ office today, Parish has reported himself to the Standards Committee of the House of Commons for investigation. The Tories had previously referred the claims to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, so Parish is now under investigation by both bodies…

A spokesperson from the Chief Whip’s office said:

Having spoken to the Chief Whip this afternoon, Neil Parish MP is reporting himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Mr Parish has been suspended from the Conservative Whip pending the outcome of that investigation.

Guido included an interview Parish had given to GB News that afternoon. It was clear Parish had no intentions of resigning at that time:

I think the whips’ office will do a thorough investigation and we will wait and see that result… I think you’ve got some 650 Members of Parliament in what is a very intense area, you are going to get people that step over the line. I don’t think there’s necessarily a huge culture here, but I think it does have to be dealt with, and dealt with seriously. And that’s what the whips will do in our whips’ office.

There was a time when someone could be sacked on the spot for looking at indecent images at work. Granted, this was in the private sector.

I knew of one such individual in the mid-1990s. His dismissal was also shocking, as he was the last person I would have expected to engage in such activity and was a senior manager who was very good at what he did.

However, it seems that such behaviour is becoming normalised, according to The Telegraph. It extends to viewing such things on public transport. Ugh.

Early on Saturday, The Telegraph posted an exclusive interview with Parish:

Suspended from his party and facing public ridicule, Mr Parish is at the centre of a maelstrom. But now that the accusation is “out in the open,” Mr Parish said on Friday night, “it’s almost as if a weight is lifted off me” …

Over the course of the interview, conducted in Mr and Mrs Parish’s sitting room in front of a warm hearth, the MP confirmed he had referred himself to the parliamentary standards committee, apologised to his constituents, and suggested that, even if cleared, he might step down.

It was late on Friday night when The Telegraph called. The couple’s eight-year-old labrador, Kitty, was dozing in front of the fire. Mr Parish, after a long day, was wearing a dressing gown. The MP is a farmer by trade, and the couple’s home is the family farmhouse. Their sitting room is bedecked with books and family photos. It is typical for MPs embroiled in scandal to flee their homes, but the Parishes, who have two adult children and two grandchildren, have stayed put …

Earlier in the day, Mr Parish, 65, said he had opened pornographic material “in error”, but he declined to give further details. Asked what happened, Mr Parish said: “I think it’s all going to have to go through the inquiry, and then I will give them all the evidence I have, and it’ll be for them to make the decision. And then I will make my mind up as to what I do, whether I remain in Parliament or whether I leave.”

He had not spoken to the Prime Minister, he said. Asked if he had a comment for his constituents, Mr Parish said: “That I very much enjoy being their MP, I’ve worked very hard, and I will continue working for them. I apologise for the situation – the whip is withdrawn – but I am still their MP. And at the moment I’m still the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, and I take that job very seriously. And I will carry it on for as long as I have it.”

Mr Parish faces an ignominious end to a 12-year parliamentary career in which he has won increasingly large majorities and worked on a broad set of issues within farming and rural affairs. Local elections are coming up and he is now seen as a liability, with fellow MPs calling for his resignation

Mrs Parish, 66, said she had first learnt of the allegations from a journalist who rang her for comment. “I didn’t know anything about it until he rang and said, ‘Oh, you know what I’m ringing about…’

“I didn’t know who was more embarrassed, actually, me or him!” said Mrs Parish. “Poor chap.”

It seemed that the couple had discussed the matter between them and that it had been explained to Mrs Parish’s satisfaction.

“Yes,” said Mrs Parish, without hesitation.

“My wife is amazingly loyal and better than I deserve,” said Mr Parish.

“That’s for sure,” said Mrs Parish, chuckling.

At the end of the interview, Mr Parish took a phone call from his brother, Rod. They chatted briefly, with Mr Parish thanking his brother for what sounded like a supportive call. Mr Parish, having swapped his dressing gown for a shirt and jacket, then politely assented to having his picture taken …

By Saturday afternoon, Parish had resigned:

People did not believe the tractor excuse …

… but there is good reason to accidentally see something indecent when searching for tractors:

Guido wrote:

Neil Parish has told the BBC he’s quitting after being accused of watching porn on two occasions while performing his MP duties in Parliament. With bizarre detail he claims “the first time was accidental after looking at tractors, but the second time was deliberate”. 

24,239 majority in his seat of Tiverton and Honiton. If this by-election ends up being remotely interesting, the Tories are in deep trouble…

A by-election upset in a similar constituency took place in the staunchly Conservative North Shropshire which now has a Liberal Democrat MP after Owen Paterson was forced to stand down late last year.

On May 1, The Sunday Times confirmed that two female MPs had seen Parish looking at indecent material online:

Parish, 65, said the first time he had watched pornography was accidental, insisting he had been looking at tractors on his mobile phone before straying onto a website with a “very similar name”. He said he watched the video “for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done”.

On the second occasion, however, the married father of two admitted he had looked at porn deliberately while waiting to vote at the side of the chamber. “What I did was absolutely wrong,” he told the BBC.

Parish, who chaired the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee, issued a “full apology” to the two female MPs who had seen him watching the pornography, but insisted it was “not my intention to intimidate”.

It marked a significant U-turn in 24 hours. At first he had defied calls to quit and said he would await the findings of a parliamentary investigation. A growing number of Conservative MPs made clear that his position was untenable, however, and that he should resign immediately rather than prolong the controversy days before the local elections on Thursday

His departure means that the Conservatives are now facing the prospect of having to defend two by-elections in short succession.

Imran Ahmad Khan, who was elected MP for Wakefield in 2019, tendered his resignation last week after being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. Labour is widely expected to win back the seat.

Conservative Party insiders are also braced for a third by-election. They are awaiting the outcome of the investigation into David Warburton, who had the Tory whip withdrawn last month after it was alleged that he sexually harassed three women.

Although Parish’s constituency has returned a Conservative at every election since its creation in 1997 — and the party has a majority of 24,000 — Tory insiders fear that it shares parallels with North Shropshire, the seat lost to the Liberal Democrats in December after the resignation of the disgraced MP Owen Paterson.

Last night a Lib Dem source said: “As we saw in North Shropshire, there is a real backlash against Boris Johnson from rural communities who are fed up with being taken for granted.”

What a shame.

Also on Sunday, The Telegraph confirmed rural communities’ disillusionment with the Conservatives. One woman running for the local council in North Frome, Somerset, says that locals are tearing down her campaign posters and handing leaflets back to her.

The paper refers to these communities and counties as the Blue Wall, historically Conservative areas:

The election is a key test for Boris Johnson, who is facing a difficult mid-term contest after months of criticism of his leadership from Tory quarters over partygate, tax rises and the cost of living crisis.

Many of the English council areas, including Somerset, Hertfordshire and Hampshire, are places the Conservatives have traditionally considered to be strongholds.

Now, they are increasingly thought of as part of the “Blue Wall” – containing millions of wavering Tory voters who are disgruntled with Mr Johnson and could “flip” to Labour or the Liberal Democrats

Voters in Somerset demonstrate what strategists in all parties have identified – that there has been a shift away from the Conservatives among people who live in the countryside.

New research from Parliament’s all-party group for rural business and the “rural powerhouse” suggests the Government has a “chronic under-appreciation for the economic and social potential of the countryside,” and that businesses in rural areas are on average 18 per cent less productive than the country at large.

Many voters who have always lent the Tories their trust feel that southern rural areas have suffered at the expense of “levelling up” – the Government’s plan to improve high streets and fortunes in neglected Northern areas traditionally represented by Labour.

Meanwhile, a Conservative promise to deliver next-generation broadband speed by 2025 is unlikely to be met, the parliamentary spending watchdog has said.

Countryside voters, who are often keen to protect the natural beauty of their homes, say plans to rip up the planning system to build more houses and erect new onshore wind farms are a direct attack on their way of life.

Paul Moody, an antiques dealer who lives near Shepton Mallet, said his faith in the Conservatives’ commitment to the countryside is being challenged by “horrendous” new “T pylons” near his home and the threat of solar panels carpeting the fields.

“They march across the countryside and stand out all across the Somerset Levels” he said.

“I would prefer more nuclear power stations than ruining the countryside.”

Answering a survey conducted for The Telegraph by Redfield and Wilton Strategies this week, just 19 per cent of voters said the Conservatives cared about rural areas, while 28 per cent said Labour did. Almost half of voters (46 per cent) say “levelling up” does not inspire them.

Other national polling shows Labour has increased its lead over the Conservatives by three points since April 12, when Mr Johnson was fined over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

While ministers have repeatedly suggested that the public does not care about partygate and would prefer to see the Government focus on making domestic policy, Tory sources admit privately that the polling shows that idea is “for the birds”.

It’s all falling apart for Boris at the moment.

Ukraine loves Boris

On Tuesday, May 3, Boris made history by becoming the world’s first leader to address Ukraine’s parliament:

Also on Tuesday morning, he gave an interview to Left-leaning Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

It did not go well …

… and not knowing who ITV’s queen of breakfast television, Lorraine Kelly, is unforgiveable. She’s only been on the network for over three decades:

Maybe the man has a point, but it still helps to play to the audience, most of whom probably stay tuned for Lorraine’s show, which follows Good Morning Britain.

It’s a shame that Ukraine’s enthusiasm for Boris doesn’t translate here at the moment, but I cannot blame Conservative voters for being disillusioned.

The UK Parliament was prorogued early Thursday afternoon, April 28, 2022.

The new session will begin on Tuesday, May 10, with the Queen’s Speech. One wonders if she will be there in person or delegate Prince Charles to deliver it for her.

We will have one news story to watch, however, besides local elections on Thursday, May 5. Durham Constabulary is said to be reconsidering re-examining their decision not to investigate Keir Starmer, who appeared indoors at the Labour offices at the end of April 2021 after election campaigning, when indoor election meetings were forbidden because of coronavirus.

This decision by the Durham Constabulary is in response to Conservative Red Wall MP Richard Holden’s letter to the Chief Constable about the matter. Holden represents Durham North.

On Wednesday, April 26, Guido Fawkes tweeted about the re-examination and someone helpfully posted a video of Starmer, MP Mary Foy and other Labourites enjoying beer one evening:

And there’s this further down in response to Guido’s tweet about Starmer, whom his detractors call Keith rather than Keir, for whatever reason:

The letter from Durham Constabulary to Richard Holden is below. Based on the wording, one wonders exactly how much will be reconsidered:

If it weren’t for Guido and Holden, this issue probably would have never resurfaced.

Guido has a great GIF compilation of Starmer on the campaign trail. It alleges that he might have committed as many as seven violations of the campaign restrictions last year. The second tweet features Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner MP. Hmm:

Twitter has a new trending topic, #durhampartygate :

Here is a selection of tweets on #durhampartygate :

In other Labour MP news, Liam Byrne has been suspended for two days, meaning he will lose pay for those days:

Now onto the prorogation. Thanks to Boris Johnson’s premiership, I have seen three since 2019:

The order paper for the House of Commons was brief, in expectation of a Royal Commission, whereby Black Rod would officially summon the Commons to go to the House of Lords. All of that takes place in rather elegant language:

The mood around 11:30 a.m. was light, almost festive. Even the Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, fluffed his lines:

One part of the proceedings is spoken in Norman French: ‘La Reyne le veult’, or ‘The Queen wills it’. This tweet shows the five most senior Lords entering their chamber in formal robes:

Until 1967, every time a law was passed, proceedings in the Lords were briefly suspended to allow for an announcement of new legislation, followed by ‘La Reyne le veult’:

Since 1967, a simple announcement has been made to the Lords of Royal Assent to new legislation:

The King or Queen used to preside over prorogations in person. Queen Victoria was the last monarch to do so. That was in 1854:

You can see Black Rod coming in to summon the Commons at 12:27 p.m. on this video. The prorogation in the Lords starts at 12:30 p.m. on this video. Afterwards, MPs return to the Commons. Go back to the first video to find the Commons Speaker confirm to MPs what was read out in the Lords, even though they had heard everything there themselves minutes earlier. When he finishes, he instructs MPs to leave the chamber:

True. It finished at 12:52 p.m.

The Lords’ business was thin on the ground. Their session began at 11:07 a.m.:

This thread summarises a prorogation:

In a time of emergency, the monarch can recall Parliament during prorogation.

It’s a highly formal ceremony and well worth watching.

Now on to the May 5 council and Northern Ireland Assembly elections, which should be interesting.

Following on from yesterday’s UK news in brief, the fallout continued into the weekend.

The Opposition

Some viewers of parliamentary proceedings thought that last Wednesday’s PMQs was tense.

Guido Fawkes said that Boris looked ‘rattled’ as Keir Starmer asked Boris some difficult questions:

Boris came across rather rattled at PMQs today as a calm Keir Starmer attacked the PM on a number of topics, including why Allegra Stratton resigned, Rwanda and his reported comments about the BBC during last night’s 1922 meeting.

When questioned by Labour’s Keir Starmer, at one point, Boris said:

He must be out of his tiny mind!

Guido has the video:

The day before, in responding to Boris’s second apology for the fine — for pedants, fixed penalty notice — for a Downing Street gathering, Starmer took the opportunity to mention a constituent of Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, who thought there should be a bar in Downing Street (see yesterday’s post).

Guido Fawkes has the story.

This is what Starmer said (emphases mine throughout, except for Guido’s in red):

This morning I spoke to John Robinson, a constituent of the hon. Member for Lichfield, and I want to tell the House his story.

When his wife died of covid, John and his family obeyed the Prime Minister’s rules. He did not see her in hospital; he did not hold her hand as she died. Their daughters and grandchildren drove 100 miles up the motorway, clutching a letter from the funeral director in case they were questioned by the police. They did not have a service in church, and John’s son-in-law stayed away because he would have been the forbidden seventh mourner. Does the Prime Minister not realise that John would have given the world to hold his dying wife’s hand, even if it was just for nine minutes? But he did not, because he followed the Prime Minister’s rules—rules that we now know the Prime Minister blithely, repeatedly and deliberately ignored. After months of insulting excuses, today’s half-hearted apology will never be enough for John Robinson. If the Prime Minister had any respect for John, and the millions like him who sacrificed everything to follow the rules, he would resign. But he will not, because he does not respect John, and he does not respect the sacrifice of the British public. He is a man without shame.

When I heard that, I couldn’t imagine what Starmer was going to say about Fabricant. Fortunately, he said nothing about the MP. Starmer used the constituent’s story to make a point about Boris’s breaking the rules during coronavirus restrictions.

However, it is not the done thing to interfere in or visit someone else’s constituency without letting the relevant MP know.

Guido discovered that John Robinson had his unfortunate lockdown experience published in The Guardian‘s letters page on April 14. His letter reads much the way Starmer presented it to the Commons, although it ended with this:

Johnson flouted his own laws and rules. He partied his way through them. Am I angry? Anger doesn’t even touch the sides of how I feel about this pathetic excuse for a man, and I suspect that the majority of us little people share my views, will never forget and will never forgive.

Even so, it seems to me that Starmer had some nerve to contact him.

Fabricant appeared on GB News on Wednesday, April 20. He said:

The saddest thing of all, I think, is the way Keir Starmer and other politicians have chosen to weaponise the personal tragedies endured by people like John Robinson and you know I would have thought, actually, that was pretty beneath them.

Me, too.

Imagine if a Conservative MP had done that. Labour would have banged on about it for weeks, if not months.

Migration and the Rwanda policy

The Archbishop of Canterbury used his Easter 2022 sermon to rail against the Home Office’s plan to transfer illegal immigrants, especially those crossing the English Channel from France, to Rwanda for processing.

The Archbishop may also take issue with Denmark, which is pursuing the same policy. We pipped them to the post, but, apparently, Rwanda can capably deal with any number of migrants and for more than one country:

Guido reminded readers that the EU were also considering Rwanda as far back as 2019:

An awkward moment this morning for all the lefty hacks and opposition MPs who’ve turned their noses at the government’s illegal migrant plans, as Denmark has announced it is also now outlining plans to send adult asylum seekers to Rwanda. The Archbishop of Canterbury will need to have a lie-down…

In a statement released this morning, Danish Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye confirmed the country has entered discussions with the Rwandan government:

Our dialogue with the Rwandan government includes a mechanism for the transfer of asylum seekers… [the deal will] ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterises migration across the Mediterranean today …

In 2019 then-European Commissioner Neven Mimica also announced a similar plan for the EU:

While in #Rwanda, happy to announce a 10M€ project to support efforts of the Government to receive and provide protection to about 1500 #refugees and asylum-seekers who are currently being held in detention centres in #Libya.

When the PM announced the Rwanda policy he predicted many other countries will soon follow suit – this is much sooner than expected though…

Our deal with Rwanda isn’t due to start for another few weeks, but it’s already had an effect on the Channel-crossers, as some Red Wall MPs have noticed:

Correct, but it’s working before it’s even started.

Bassetlaw’s MP tweeted:

The Daily Mail article about migrant men in France is a must-read:

Standing beside a row of shabby, small shelters amid a hum from massive industrial units and passing lorries, Hamid Karimi, 34, sums it up: ‘I’m not going to the UK if afterwards I’m sent to Rwanda. I’m staying here. I’m not going to Rwanda.’

Others in the group nod in agreement. Referring to the Prime Minister, one jokes: ‘Johnson go to Rwanda!’

Boris Johnson has said the scheme drawn up by Home Secretary Priti Patel will serve as a ‘very considerable deterrent’ – and that appears to be the case here.

Announcing the Rwanda scheme on April 14, the PM said tens of thousands of asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by ‘irregular routes’, such as small boats or hiding in lorries, will be sent 4,000 miles to the African nation.

Arrivals will be processed and screened in the UK, with those deemed suitable flown to Rwanda on planes chartered by the Government

They will be then given accommodation and the opportunity to apply for asylum there – but cannot return to the UK. The change in tack from Hamid and his fellow Iranians is one adopted by many migrants in northern France since the announcement.

A few miles away, near another camp in Calais, a group of mostly Sudanese men told of their fear of being beaten or even killed if they are sent to Rwanda.

‘We came from Africa – we don’t want to go back,’ said Mohammed Noor, 34. ‘Nobody wants to go to Rwanda. If I go, I will finish my life. In Rwanda I won’t get a good life. I have come here for Europe and for the UK.’

… The Government wants the first flights to leave next month. Channel crossings have continued in their hundreds since the announcement, but early indications show that numbers are in decline. On April 14, 562 crossed in small boats. On Tuesday, the figure was 263.

It is too early to say if the apparent decline is a result of the plan, but ministers will certainly hope so. They say the policy is intended to ‘take back control of illegal immigration’ and undermine people traffickers who profit from it. 

The decline continues:

Yes, it is possible that the weather — wind — could have been a factor, but the Mail‘s article supports the premise that the deterrent is working.

However, Home Secretary Priti Patel has run into trouble with civil servants — ‘mandarins’ — assigned to her department. They do not want to implement the Rwanda plan:

Guido has an exclusive on the ‘rebellion’, complete with screenshots of anonymous tweets from upset civil servants:

Home Office civil servants used an officially organised online consultation this afternoon to discuss the recently-announced Rwanda policy, asking how to potentially block the move, comparing themselves to Nazis “only obeying orders”, proposed going on strike and questioned how to deal with their mental health in light of the policy. It shows conclusive evidence of the scale of left-wing opposition facing Patel and the government from within the civil service. It follows news from the weekend that Patel had to issue a ministerial direction to force the policy through …

This is the scale of opposition Priti Patel is facing at the moment from the enemies within, despite her and her fellow ministers being the only people in the department with democratic mandates. While Jacob Rees-Mogg and Simon Clarke are publicly promising to cull the number of civil servants, Guido can see a very obvious place the start…

On April 21, The Guardian reported that Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary to the Home Office, attempted to reassure civil servants that they will not be breaking international law or be guilty of racism if they send migrants with unsuccessful refugee status claims to Rwanda:

Amid growing anger from the department’s workforce, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary, faced questions at an online staff meeting asking if the home secretary’s policy of giving people a one-way ticket to Kigali was racist, while others demanded to know if the new policy was within international law.

Rycroft told staff they had to implement ministers’ decisions, and reminded them of the civil service’s neutral role, sources said.

The scheduled online meeting was held the day after it emerged that Home Office staff had threatened to strike and had drawn comparisons to working for the Third Reich over Patel’s plan.

One source said Rycroft was “bullish” about the government’s claim that the nationality and borders bill would not have to be passed into law before the policy could be implemented.

The article says that Rycroft did not sign off the plan initially, hence, as Guido wrote, Patel’s ministerial direction to do so:

It emerged on Sunday that Rycroft had refused to sign off Patel’s plans, claiming that he could not be sure it would provide value for money to the taxpayer. However, sources said he was “fully supportive” of the policy in the online meeting while flanked by other officials. He criticised leaks of the questions posed by staff, saying it was a breach of the civil service code.

This is the principal sentence from the ministerial direction:

I am therefore formally directing you as Accounting Officer to take forward this scheme with immediate effect, managing the identified risks as best you can.

Brendan Clarke-Smith, the Conservative MP for Bassetlaw, tweeted his empathy for the Home Secretary:

On Monday, April 26, during Home Office questions in Parliament, Marco Longhi, Conservative (and Red Wall) MP representing Dudley North, asked for the Rwanda plan to proceed. Tom Pursglove MP assured him that it would.

The human traffickers must be stopped. By the way, Labour have no alternative plan. They just don’t like this one:

There is another wrinkle to this saga. Guido reports that the Home Office is fending off criticism that some journalists were not allowed to be part of the press corps on the Government’s recent trip to Rwanda:

Guido’s post says, in part:

Guardian, Mirror and Financial Times hacks are complaining in Press Gazette that they were “blocked” from attending Priti’s Rwanda trip this month, with the Guardian going as far as to accuse the Home Office of trying to “avoid public scrutiny“ …

Strangely, however, Guardian hacks were actually invited on the trip… their reporter just happened to fall ill right before leaving.

The Guardian put forward a substitute journalist, but the Home Office declined the offer.

Ultimately, only so many reporters can go:

Guido’s departmental co-conspirator says the whole row is “silly“, as they can’t offer tickets to everyone, everywhere, at all times. They also point out how both the BBC and PA were on-hand throughout the entire trip – so those that couldn’t attend could get straight wire copy. In fact, even the picture used in the Press Gazette report came from PA…

It’s ‘get Boris’ time

It is becoming painfully obvious for those who voted Conservative in 2019 that the police are not applying the coronavirus rules equally.

As I have said before, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the only government leader in the UK to receive a fixed penalty notice for his birthday ‘party’ — if you can call a 10-minute gathering of staff and a closed Tupperware container of cake a party.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also received a fixed penalty notice for being at the same gathering.

Meanwhile, no one in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland has received anything more than a polite reminder from the police.

So, let’s look at Labour.

In May 2021, we had a local election in England along with regional elections in Wales and Scotland. We will be having local elections this May as well, including a regional election in Northern Ireland.

Going back to last year, there were coronavirus-specific campaign requirements and restrictions. Pictured is Labour leader Keir Starmer at the Labour offices in Durham at the end of April 2021:

On May 1, 2021, The Sun reported on Starmer’s visit:

LABOUR have dismissed an election ‘booze row’ after Sir Keir Starmer enjoyed a beer after a day on the campaign trail.

He was seen mixing with party workers in a constituency office in Durham on Friday night …

Tory co-chair Amanda Milling said: “Keir Starmer has continually and rightly called for people to follow the rules designed to keep us safe, but it’s now in question whether he is following them himself.

“People will rightly be asking questions about this.”

But a Labour source tonight said: “This is pathetic. The Tories’ clearly haven’t read their own rules.”

The local police concluded that there was nothing to investigate. Last weekend, some people wondered whether Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner was present at the gathering:

Richard Holden, the Red Wall MP who represents Durham North, wrote to the Chief Constable of the Durham Constabulary to ask whether the coronavirus restrictions during the campaign had been followed in this particular instance:

Last Sunday morning, Starmer told the BBC’s Sophie Raworth that he had nothing more to add about the gathering.

On Monday, April 25, Guido contacted the press officer for Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen. The response he received did not put the matter to rest in his opinion:

Following Holden’s letter, multiple social media users began questioning whether Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen – a longstanding Starmer supporter – was at the event, and whether that could have played a role in the police force’s decision to find in the Labour leader’s favour. Following the rumours, Guido contacted her press office…

The Office of the Durham Police and Crime Commissioner has been informed that neither Joy Allen, the then candidate for Durham PCC, or Nigel Bryson, attended the event involving Kier [sic] Starmer during his visit to Durham at the last local election.

Leaving aside the phrase “has been informed” rather than a first-person denial, Guido’s intrigued by the formal implication this is being considered a local election event, rather than a business meeting. As the rules stated at the time, campaigners could only go indoors “to meet the committee room organiser in order to collect election literature or drop off telling slips…”

It is against the law to meet socially indoors with anyone not in your household or support bubble.

Did Starmer’s own Police and Crime Commissioner just accidentally dob him in?

Nothing more will happen. Apart from Richard Holden’s constituency, Durham is Labour, through and through.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer is deeply disappointed that London’s Metropolitan Police will not issue further fixed penalty notices until after local elections in early May:

What does the average Briton think about what has been dubbed ‘partygate’? A co-presenter of GB News’s The Political Correction said on Sunday that people were tired of hearing about it:

If we’re fed up with it, imagine the confusion in Ukraine where, believe it or not, a Times reporter asked a woman there what she thought about Boris’s birthday party plight.

On Monday, April 25, Guido reported:

From today’s Times:

The details of Carrie Johnson’s birthday cake “ambush” were explained to them slowly, and when they understood the full extent of the scandal, they said they did not much care.

“Niet. niet.” Raisa said. “I don’t know about this birthday party. That seems to be normal human behaviour. But he was the first man who stood with us and helped us in our struggle. He is the best, I tell you, the best, the best, the best.”

Conclusion

Opposition MPs have been railing against Boris since he became Prime Minister in 2019, generally attaching some superlative such as ‘worst’ to their opinions.

Veteran reporter and broadcaster Colin Brazier, who presents an excellent show on GB News, suggests that we could always have had a worse leader. What about Oliver Cromwell, who was born on April 25, 1599?

Local elections take place on Thursday, May 5. We’ll see what the fallout looks like then.

There was little of an Easter recess for some British parliamentarians, especially Boris Johnson.

That said, the relatively short break proved once again that a week is a long time in politics.

The Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter sermon continued to rattle cages last week. Boris was the last to chime in on Tuesday, April 19, when he spoke to Conservative MPs after making another apology in Parliament for being fined in relation to a Downing Street lockdown gathering.

The Times reported that Boris defended the new policy of flying illegal immigrants to Rwanda for processing (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson took aim at the Archbishop of Canterbury last night as he criticised senior members of the clergy for having “misconstrued” the policy of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Sources close to the prime minister said he told Conservative MPs in a private meeting that it was a “good policy” despite some “criticism on the BBC and from senior members of the clergy”.

Johnson said that some clergymen “had been less vociferous in their condemnation on Easter Sunday of Putin than they were on our policy on illegal immigrants”.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, used his Easter Day sermon to condemn the policy, in which some migrants will be flown to Rwanda on a one-way ticket. He said it raised “serious ethical questions”, contradicted Christian values and would not “stand the judgment of God”.

On Wednesday, The Times reported that the Church of England fired back:

John Bingham, the Church of England’s head of news, said: “If true, a disgraceful slur.” He highlighted Welby’s recent criticism of the invasion as a “great act of evil”. Some of the country’s most senior clerics today joined Welby in condemning the Rwanda policy.

Why is it a ‘slur’ and a ‘disgraceful’ one at that? Boris’s words were polite enough.

The Times article also said that Boris was critical of the BBC. Hmm, I wonder:

At the private meeting of Tory MPs Johnson was also critical of the BBC’s coverage of the asylum plans, claiming it had misunderstood the proposal to send migrants on a one-way flight to the African country as early as next month.

The Telegraph put the story of alleged criticisms of the BBC on their front page, which Keir Starmer picked up on at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding between reporters and Downing Street:

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, a practising Catholic, explained why some sort of policy was necessary, particularly to stem the daily multiple Channel crossings to England from France:

Certainly, as the reading that preceded the Gospel in the service today [Easter] makes clear, ‘God has no favourites’. By this was meant Jews and Gentiles, but by all means, make the point that asylum seekers are of equal worth to Spectator readers. But it doesn’t follow that this prescribes any particular asylum policy. When the Archbishop says that the deportation to Rwanda policy ‘cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values’, he’s being a little disingenuous. When Britain was far more overtly Christian than it is now – say, a couple of generations ago – it actually had a far more restrictive approach to immigration and asylum. The concept that anyone who wanted to come, should be able to come, is pretty well a product of the Blair government’s opening the floodgates from 1997, 25 years ago. Before that, yearly immigration levels were in the tens of thousands; asylum claims were far lower than now but were probably dealt with more individually than at present.

As I say, declaring that ‘the details are for politicians’ leaves an important question hanging: should anyone who wants to come to Britain, and can get to Britain, be allowed to stay? Who should be returned? Of the 600 a day who arrive here by boat alone (leaving out of account every other means of entry), only two per cent have passports; should they by virtue of abandoning their identity documents automatically be granted leave to remain? When is it right to return people either back to where they came from, or indeed to Rwanda? (He doesn’t suggest they will be persecuted there.) And what about the EU countries on the frontline of the asylum influx (on a scale that far surpasses Britain); are they ever justified in turning back boats? How many people must European countries admit? And if the Archbishop thinks there can be no sending back asylum seekers or economic migrants, he must say so. But he must also acknowledge the consequences for the host countries.

I am not so stupid as to suggest that clergy should stay out of politics; the Archbishop was speaking in Canterbury cathedral where Thomas Becket was killed for taking issue with the king. But the Archbishop – like Pope Francis in other contexts – is being disingenuous in criticising a government policy as unChristian without any attempt to acknowledge the scale and nature of the problem it is designed to address.

And there is no denying that the C of E is political. GB News’s conservative commentator and former teacher Calvin Robinson is an Anglican ordinand in the Diocese of London, which claims it cannot give him an assignment, even though he has had offers:

Here’s an interesting exchange on that tweet:

On Easter Monday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s name came up on Dan Wootton’s GB News show, and one of the panellists, Emma Webb, nominated Calvin Robinson for Greatest Briton. Patrick Christys, filling in for Dan, chose Nathan Dunne, who is raising money for charity by walking across the country barefoot:

The Prime Minister

On April 12, Tuesday in Holy Week, Boris Johnson received a fine from the Metropolitan Police for an event during lockdown nearly two years ago. So did the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Both men paid their fixed penalty notice — ‘It’s not a fine!’ — promptly.

Naturally, Boris had to apologise before the House of Commons again, as he did earlier in January this year.

There was a feeling of déjà vu about it all:

let me begin in all humility by saying that on 12 April, I received a fixed penalty notice relating to an event in Downing Street on 19 June 2020. I paid the fine immediately and I offered the British people a full apology, and I take this opportunity, on the first available sitting day, to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House. As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister, and I repeat that again in the House now.

Let me also say—not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explains my previous words in this House—that it did not occur to me, then or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. I repeat: that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly. I respect the outcome of the police’s investigation, which is still under way. I can only say that I will respect their decision making and always take the appropriate steps. As the House will know, I have already taken significant steps to change the way things work in No. 10.

The only difference was the mention of the Ukraine conflict:

I travelled to Kyiv myself on 9 Aprilthe first G7 leader to visit since the invasionand I spent four hours with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the indomitable leader of a nation fighting for survival, who gives the roar of a lion-hearted people. I assured him of the implacable resolve of the United Kingdom, shared across this House, to join with our allies and give his brave people the weapons that they need to defend themselves. When the President and I went for an impromptu walk through central Kyiv, we happened upon a man who immediately expressed his love for Britain and the British people. He was generous enough to say—quite unprompted, I should reassure the House—“I will tell my children and grandchildren they must always remember that Britain helped us.”

But the urgency is even greater now because Putin has regrouped his forces and launched a new offensive in the Donbas. We knew that this danger would come. When I welcomed President Duda of Poland to Downing Street on 7 April and Chancellor Scholz the following day, we discussed exactly how we could provide the arms that Ukraine would desperately need to counter Putin’s next onslaught. On 12 April, I spoke to President Biden to brief him on my visit to Kyiv and how we will intensify our support for President Zelensky. I proposed that our long-term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine to the point where Russia will never dare to invade again …

This Government are joining with our allies to face down Putin’s aggression abroad while addressing the toughest problems at home, helping millions of families with the cost of living, making our streets safer and funding the NHS to clear the covid backlog. My job is to work every day to make the British people safer, more secure and more prosperous, and that is what I will continue to do. I commend this statement to the House.

The Commons was lit, especially the Opposition benches, more about which below.

Going back to June 19, 2020, grateful conservatives were happy that Boris was even alive to celebrate his birthday, which The Times reported on the following day. No one said anything negative at the time.

Boris had survived coronavirus but was far from well. It took the rest of the summer for him to recover. Even in September, he still looked and sounded somewhat peaky.

Furthermore, some pundits and MPs have said that Downing Street is a Crown estate, thereby exempt from the rules.

We will have to see what transpires from the Metropolitan Police and civil servant Sue Gray’s respective reports.

The Opposition

After Boris apologised on Tuesday of Easter Week, a number of MPs on both sides of the aisle were talking animatedly.

Keir Starmer responded for the opposition benches, which agitated his side even more:

What a joke!

Even now, as the latest mealy-mouthed apology stumbles out of one side of the Prime Minister’s mouth, a new set of deflections and distortions pours from the other. But the damage is already done. The public have made up their minds. They do not believe a word that the Prime Minister says. They know what he is.

As ever with this Prime Minister, those close to him find themselves ruined and the institutions that he vows to protect damaged: good Ministers forced to walk away from public service; the Chancellor’s career up in flames; the leader of the Scottish Conservatives rendered pathetic. Let me say to all those unfamiliar with this Prime Minister’s career that this is not some fixable glitch in the system; it is the whole point. It is what he does. It is who he is. He knows he is dishonest and incapable of changing, so he drags everybody else down with him. [Interruption.] The more people debase themselves, parroting—[Interruption.]

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, interrupted:

Order. I cannot hear what is being said because there is so much noise.

There were also cries of disagreement about Starmer’s labelling Boris dishonest:

Withdraw!

The Speaker agreed:

Order. What I will say is that I think the Leader of the Opposition used the word “dishonest”, and I do not consider that appropriate. [Hon. Members: “Breaking the rules!”] We do not want to talk about breaking rules, do we? I do not think this is a good time to discuss that.

I am sure that if the Leader of the Opposition withdraws that word and works around it, he will be able—given the knowledge he has gained over many, many years—to use appropriate words that are in keeping with the good, temperate language of this House.

Starmer accepted the Speaker’s direction and said:

I respect that ruling from the Chair, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister knows what he is.

Starmer then launched an attack on the Conservative MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, without naming him. If you wish to mention an MP by name, you must ask their permission beforehand:

Last week, we were treated to a grotesque spectacle: one of the Prime Minister’s loyal supporters accusing teachers and nurses of drinking in the staff room during lockdown. Conservative Members can associate themselves with that if they want, but those of us who take pride in our NHS workers, our teachers, and every other key worker who got us through those dark days will never forget their contempt.

Casting our minds back to January — and Boris’s first apology — Michael Fabricant suggested resurrecting an idea of Tony Blair’s: an Office of Prime Minister, which would allow Boris to control No. 10 the way the US president does the White House. The context of Fabricant’s intervention was in response to Boris saying that he was going to improve the way Downing Street is run:

On Tuesday in Holy Week, Fabricant suggested that Downing Street get a bar so that staffers would not need to wheel luggage to the local shops in order to bring alcohol back to No. 10:

Guido Fawkes had the story and accompanying audio:

Expertly reading the room, Michael Fabricant used an interview on 5 Live in the wake of Boris, Rishi and Carrie receiving pre-notices to defend staffers wheeling in suitcases of booze to Downing Street during lockdown:

There is no bar in Downing Street… That’s the only way you can actually get any alcohol into Downing Street.

He then went on to argue the suitcase claims makes the argument for a bar being installed in No. 10, like there is in the Houses of Parliament.

It seems reasonable enough, provided the room is under lock and key until after hours.

The next day, however, Fabricant went further, which is what Starmer was talking about:

Guido’s tweet brightened my day. It goes so far in explaining why the UK and Ireland used to be so much fun, once upon a time. Unfortunately, that fun ended by the mid-1990s as we imported an increasingly American mindset.

A terrific exchange followed his tweet, with others recalling similar memories of secondary school:

But I digress.

I don’t remember how many times Boris apologised after MPs’ comments.

Earlier that day, the Speaker announced that Starmer had approached him about Boris’s fixed penalty notice, the lockdown ‘parties’ at Downing Street and the issue of parliamentary privilege:

Before we come to today’s business, I wish to make a short statement. I have received letters from a number of hon. and right hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, requesting that I give precedence to a matter as an issue of privilege. The matter is the Prime Minister’s statements to the House regarding gatherings held at Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown. The procedure for dealing with such a request is set out in “Erskine May” at paragraph 15.32.

I want to be clear about my role. First, as Members will appreciate, it is not for me to police the ministerial code. I have no jurisdiction over the ministerial code, even though a lot of people seem to think that I have. That is not the case. Secondly, it is not for me to determine whether or not the Prime Minister has committed a contempt. My role is to decide whether there is an arguable case to be examined.

Having considered the issue, and having taken advice from the Clerks of the House, I have decided that this is a matter that I should allow the precedence accorded to issues of privilege. Therefore, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras may table a motion for debate on Thursday. Scheduling the debate for Thursday will, I hope, give Members an opportunity to consider the motion and their response to it. The motion will appear on Thursday’s Order Paper, to be taken after any urgent questions or statements—hopefully, there will not be any. I hope that this is helpful to the House.

Incredibly, the Speaker — a Labour MP — granted five and a half hours of debating time. Some weeks back, the Opposition benches were allowed a generous two or three hours of debating Boris’s suitability for office in light of these ‘parties’.

How much debating time does one need?

It started at 11:30 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m., so, five hours in length. Here‘s the transcript. I saw about a third of it. Again, much like Boris’s second apology, this was much like listening to the other debate from earlier this year.

What more can they reasonably say? Not a lot.

Most people I know would like for the media and the opposition to leave Boris alone. As I said above, he wasn’t well at that point in 2020, was taking advice from other people upon whom he relied heavily — rightly or wrongly — and would have trusted the person(s) who said that having a short birthday get together was permissible.

It lasted around ten minutes, apparently, and the cake was left unopened in its Tupperware container.

Returning to last Thursday’s debate on privilege and Boris. A division — vote — was expected, but, in the event, none took place.

The end result was that the matter will now be referred to the Committee of Privileges pending the release of the Metropolitan Police report. Chris Bryant (Lab) chairs the committee, which is cross-party:

Resolved,

That this House

(1) notes that, given the issue of fixed penalty notices by the police in relation to events in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, assertions the Rt hon Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has made on the floor of the House about the legality of activities in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office under Covid regulations, including but not limited to the following answers given at Prime Minister’s Questions: 1 December 2021, that “all guidance was followed in No. 10”, Official Report vol. 704, col. 909; 8 December 2021 that “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 372; 8 December 2021 that “I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 372 and 8 December 2021 “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 379, appear to amount to misleading the House; and

(2) orders that this matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges to consider whether the Rt hon Member’s conduct amounted to a contempt of the House, but that the Committee shall not begin substantive consideration of the matter until the inquiries currently being conducted by the Metropolitan Police have been concluded.

It should be noted that no other British political leader or minister serving during the pandemic has been fined or censured for breaking lockdown or violating other coronavirus restrictions: Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland, twice); Vaughan Gething (Wales, once), Michelle O’Neill (Northern Ireland, once) or Mark Drakeford (Wales, once).

Only Boris, our Prime Minister, is in trouble.

And that trouble could become very deep, indeed.

A week really is a long time in politics.

More to follow tomorrow.

Continuing my series on Red Wall parliamentarians, this week’s MP is Jo Gideon, who represents Jonathan Gullis‘s neighbouring constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Stoke-on-Trent Central, like Gullis’s Stoke-on-Trent North, was created in 1950. 2019 was the first time a Conservative had been elected to represent the constituency when Jo Gideon narrowly defeated Labour’s Gareth Snell on December 12 that year.

Gideon, 69, had made two previous unsuccessful attempts to unseat Labour MPs. The first was in 2015, when she lost to Labour in Scunthorpe. The second was in 2017, when she lost to sitting Labour MP Melanie Onn in Great Grimsby. Gideon was third time lucky nearly three years ago.

Her maiden speech, which she delivered on January 23, 2020, was a triumph.

She told us in detail about The Potteries, part of which she represents (emphases mine):

I am absolutely determined to focus on the economy and jobs in Stoke-on-Trent Central, and I am extremely grateful to have been called to speak today.

Stoke-on-Trent is on the up—confident about Brexit, proud of our industrial heritage and committed to a manufacturing future. It is an incredible honour to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central, and I thank them for sending me to this House. The city is, as my predecessor Gareth Snell rightly put it in his own maiden speech, “vibrant, welcoming and proud”. I pay tribute to him for championing the ceramics industry and its continued place at the heart of the Potteries’ economy. Gareth was always protective of the industry in this House, at every stage of the process—from bringing in the clay by freight train, to getting the finished product out into the world so that plate turners everywhere could flip their tableware and see the uniquely reassuring back stamp, “Made in Stoke-on-Trent”. There will be no change there from me.

Stoke-on-Trent is six historic market towns in one. Tunstall and Burslem are ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and Longton and Fenton by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). Stoke-on-Trent Central is made up of Stoke-upon-Trent, commonly known as Stoke town or simply Stoke, and Hanley, which is often seen as the city centre, although not necessarily by everyone in Tunstall, Burslem, Longton, Fenton or Stoke. Our city is polycentric and rich with history, a fascinating place to visit and a wonderful place to live. The last time that either Hanley or Stoke town were in Conservative hands was back in the 1930s, and then only for one term. Much as I am proud to follow in the footsteps of Harold Hales and Ida Copeland in being a Conservative elected by the people of Stoke-on-Trent, I shall be looking to replicate the success of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South in being re-elected by the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

She talked about her constituents’ support of Brexit and what it could do for the local economy:

The House may think that this was a Brexit election, but it was not just a Brexit election. It was a “Brexit and” election; it was a “Brexit so that” election. We are not just going to get Brexit done. We are going to invest in our NHS, schools, police, roads and infrastructure. With the right support, we can make Stoke-on-Trent an even better place to live and to visit. To do that, we must relentlessly improve education standards and skills, and revolutionise the public transport provision to cut ​congestion. Productivity is too low, exports do not match comparable cities such as Coventry and the city does not quite do what it says on the tin. We need more Stoke and we need more Trent.

Stoke town needs every penny of the heritage high streets money it has been promised, and it needs clearer and more direct pedestrian routes to Stoke-on-Trent railway station. I will work with anyone who can preserve our heritage while taking us forward. For too much of its course through the city, you would not know the River Trent was there. I will learn lessons from anywhere as to how to improve public access to watercourses. Although I welcome the Government’s fund for new pocket parks, I will lobby relentlessly to get more funds into historic parks too.

She told us more about the ceramics industry in this treasured part of Staffordshire:

Our identity as a city is closely linked to the ceramics industry, and preserving the authentic Potteries landscape must be part of our tourism offer, but the ceramics industry itself must always be allowed to move into the newest processes at the cutting edge of technology. I want to see the successful Ceramic Valley enterprise zone expanded, and the plan for an international research centre for advanced ceramics to materialise in my constituency. This would allow for the expansion of world-class innovation by companies such as Lucideon, where I recently learned about advancing sintering, which is a process that enables materials to handle the heat—something that we know all about in this House. In fact, on Friday I saw some scintillating sintering in Stoke with the Secretary of State for International Trade. The research centre will also be supported by Staffordshire University, the world’s leading centre for masters level ceramics and the successor body to the Burslem and Hanley schools of art that gave the Potteries such pioneers as Susie Cooper, Edith Gater and Clarice Cliff. Still today, international ceramicists who could base themselves anywhere in the world choose to locate in Stoke-on-Trent because it is the authentic capital of ceramics, and it must remain so.

However, as the ceramics industry has been in long decline, the local high streets of The Potteries have suffered:

Stoke-on-Trent is increasingly a centre for the logistics industry, and over many years retail has been important to the six market towns. But the internet is threatening to harm our marketplaces and high streets even more than they have already been harmed by 1960s traffic schemes and 1970s architects. We need radical reform of retail business rates, and we need to make the high street a more relevant and attractive place to be, with more local residents living in town centres and more international tourists and buyers exploring our city.

She also spoke of the importance of realising one’s personal aspirations:

The entrepreneurial spirit that made the Potteries great must be unleashed again—unleashed and nurtured.

I set up and ran my own business from scratch. I did not have a business background, which probably helped me because I did not worry about the unknown—rather like the feeling I had when I first set foot in this place as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Enterprise has no educational barriers, only barriers of self-belief. It must be the business of Government to enable more people to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and we need to include enterprise in the school curriculum. Ambition must be encouraged, supported and rewarded, and your background should never hold you back. Let us back those who have no family history of setting up a business, let us nurture those in business who have never yet exported a product ​and let us encourage those entrepreneurs who are yet to be employers to take on their first member of staff. For my part, I will gently encourage the Government at every turn to invest in the infrastructure and services of Stoke-on-Trent.

She discussed the need for better bus and rail transport. A mid-1960s rail network redesign by Richard Beeching saw many stations and branch lines close. A few of these closures are now being reversed across Britain:

Most urgently, that means nothing short of a transport revolution across the city to cut congestion for private vehicles and speed up services for bus and rail users. Beeching did not so much swing an axe in Stoke-on-Trent as wield a chainsaw. Too many branch lines were lost and too many stations were closed—and it got worse still. As late as 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority shut Etruria station, and dug it up completely in 2008. Stoke-on-Trent is crying out for better public transport. We need a big share of the transforming cities fund, the bus fund, the reverse Beeching fund, and more, to make up for the decades of under-investment in Stoke-on-Trent when we missed out on our fair share. I really hope that we will be a pilot scheme for the superbus project, as our geography of six towns in one city can offer best practice for places elsewhere.

Jo Gideon has participated in many House of Commons debates.

In a debate on geothermal energy on September 15, 2021, she discussed how and why The Potteries developed and how their energy system could be used today:

This topic is really important to me as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. We are a pioneer city, at the forefront of exploring the geothermal option. I am delighted that this debate places a spotlight on geothermal, which is more environmentally friendly than conventional fuel sources, provides a more reliable clean energy source than other renewable options and offers an operational lifespan of more than 100 years. In addition, geothermal supports the transferability of skills and jobs from the oil and gas sector and provides development opportunities in regions such as the Midlands, bringing new jobs and investment to areas that do not currently benefit from renewables such as wind power.

Crucially, the technology supports our transition to net zero. As we look to reduce our carbon footprint through a circular economy based on the principles of reducing, reusing and recycling, it is fitting that Stoke-on-Trent is at the forefront of this movement. The Potteries, home of pots and pits, retains a huge underground maze of former mine tunnels. The coal from those mines fired the kilns and the steelworks, and blackened the skies across the city at the height of its heavy industrial past. We are now powering our city up again, but this time as part of a new green industrial revolution, reducing pollution by investing in improved public transport, growing our nature recovery network, reusing the infrastructure of a former polluting industry to deliver new, clean energy, and recycling the hot water within the mine tunnels through our district heat networks.

Several factors make Stoke-on-Trent an ideal location for the development of this technology. First, the area has ideal geological conditions. Its geothermal gradient, which shows how much the temperature increases as we dig deeper, is greater than expected due to an ancient volcano deep beneath the surface providing untapped potential. We are leading the way with the Stoke-on-Trent district heat network. I thank the Government for providing £20 million for this pilot project. The district heat network features 18 km of piping and has led to affordable and clean energy for a community in the city and the first dedicated skills academy.

The project led by GT Energy to develop a deep geothermal heat plant in Etruria Valley in the city already has planning permission. The development would be the first of its type in the UK and would comprise the initial drilling of two deep exploration boreholes to a depth of approximately 4,000 metres. I believe it will be the first in the world to feed into a district heat network. The proposed development has the potential to bring a host of benefits to the local area, including creating green economy skills and jobs, reducing carbon emissions by 11,000 tonnes per year and generating heat equal to the energy needs of around 4,000 homes.

At the end of the debate, the minister replying on behalf of the Government said that work could begin in 2022 — with funding available now, in fact:

I thank all Members who have spoken today and who continue to bring their enthusiasm and passion to the debate. Stoke-on-Trent is extremely well represented by amazing advocates in my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon)—the latter is a fantastic saleswoman who sees Stoke as the potential centre for the new geothermal revolution that is coming. We were hard-pressed not to know her passion, and I thank her for that …

In answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, geothermal heat projects are expected to be in scope for the £270 million green heat network fund that will open in April next year. I hope that that helps those who are looking to bid in that space to get going now.

Gideon is also concerned about animal welfare, not only concerning domestic pets but also livestock standards. This is what she had to say on February 4, 2022 about Andrew Rosindell’s (Conservative, Romford) Private Member’s Bill on the subject:

I fully support the aims of the Bill, which will mean that penalty notices can fill the enforcement gap between taking no action and seeking criminal prosecution. I am delighted that today’s debate provides us with the opportunity to discuss how we can go further to improve animal health and welfare in this country.

Several of my constituents selflessly volunteer at Animal Lifeline in Stoke-on-Trent. It is a fantastic charity that has cared for dogs for more than 40 years, with approximately 100 dogs in care at any one time. Each year, the charity rescues and rehomes around 300 dogs and puppies and it has saved more than 11,000 over the years.

A volunteer recently shared with me concerns that have arisen as a result of covid. The pandemic has hit animal charities hard financially due to charity shops having to close and kennels not being able to hold their usual open day fund-raising events. Animal charities across Stoke-on-Trent and the county have had to take in more animals than usual

I praise local animal charity staff, who have been amazing. Many have taken cuts in wages and found innovative ways to reduce costs. The cost of living challenges are also pushing up the cost of essentials such as dog food, vet bills, utility bills, fuel and wages. With all that in mind, we should all consider the options to provide sufficient support to charities to ensure that they can continue to provide a vital service to our local communities.

I have been involved in the national food strategy. Within that, we look at a range of recommendations for improving animal welfare with regards to food production. The Government are looking at that at this time. Thankfully, the UK already leads the world in animal welfare and livestock husbandry. The same cannot be said of many of the countries that we import from. Allowing cheap imports from such countries not only undermines our own standards, but undercuts our farmers. This is an issue that many people feel strongly about, with 94% of the public wanting existing food standards to be maintained in future trade deals.

The national food strategy argues that, when making new trade deals, the Government should only agree to cut tariffs on products that meet our core standards. As such, I am pleased that the Government recently launched a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will inform parliamentarians and the public about how new free trade deals are consistent with UK laws on animal welfare. The Government must go further, however, and draw up a list of core minimum animal welfare standards that they will defend in future trade deals. I am pleased that when they announced the Australian deal, they said that they would include measures to protect our standards. It is reassuring that the deal contains a chapter on animal welfare, and I urge the Government to come forward with more details as soon as possible to allow Parliament to sufficiently scrutinise that part of the deal.

Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford on bringing forward the Bill, which I am delighted is fully supported by the Government and the Opposition. I look forward to continuing my support for this legislation as it passes through the House, in addition to championing animal welfare causes in years to come, whether by calling for more support for local animal charities or for more animal welfare protection in future trade deals.

On that topic, she expressed her concern about diet and obesity in her constituency on February 8, 2022:

There are plenty of fast food outlets in Stoke, but it is quite difficult to find nutritious options. It is not about eliminating all unhealthy choices or making us feel guilty about eating them: it is about increasing the choices available and ensuring that everyone can easily find and afford good food. I am reminded of the words of Lord Woolton, the Conservative party’s food Minister in the 1940s. He said:

“Feeding is not enough, it must be good feeding.”

Those words are as true today as they were back then.

Many colleagues have commented that my social media includes many posts of me eating a variety of what Stoke has to offer, from oatcakes—which are an important part of our culture and heritage—to healthy Sunday roasts. I have been surprised how popular the posts are. I do them to show food choices in our city and to promote local businesses and organisations through the medium of food. Food is central to our society, communities and daily lives. Food brings us together and allows us to share stories, ideas and cultures, and build wonderful memories, but food should not make us sick.

Currently, four out of five leading risk factors for disability, disease and death are related to poor diets. In other words, the British diet is making us sick. While the average percentage of adults living with obesity or excess weight is 62% in England, it is 72.8% in Stoke-on-Trent.

She wants to see a national food strategy as part of the Government’s levelling up plan. Her perspective sounds a bit nanny state-ish, although one can appreciate the importance of good food at a reasonable cost:

This must set out a bold, brave and ambitious set of immediately actionable policies to help everyone in Britain to eat well. The six non-negotiable actions include the “eat and learn” recommendation that includes mandatory accreditation for food served in school to ensure that high-quality and nutritious food is not a postcode lottery; school curriculum changes such as reinstating the food A-level and Ofsted inspection of such lessons; and mandatory reporting for large food producers and manufacturers so that we know the proportion of healthier versus unhealthy food that companies are selling, as well as other metrics such as food waste.

We need to look at the sugar and salt tax. We need to look at public procurement so that those in our public sector buildings get the healthy food that they deserve. We need to introduce a good food Bill. We need to ensure that all these strategies feed into each other making sure that we are the healthiest we can be. That is absolutely part of levelling up.

Well, she can start by visiting school canteens in France, if that’s allowed. They have excellent menus in schools, most of which read like lunches made by one’s grandmother.

In another debate on February 4 this year, she extolled the importance of meaningful employment for people with Down syndrome:

I would like to mention a very interesting and important project that I was involved with a few years ago in a very isolated community in the Brecon Beacons [Wales] called Myddfai. The challenge was to create sustainable employment and regenerate a very isolated village. As part of the project, we created a trading company, and within that trading company we were able to employ a number of young people. I am glad to say that, eight years on, there are still young people employed there today, some of whom have Down syndrome. Members can see if they look on the website, myddfai.com, how happy they look in the photographs. It is really satisfying to see how the right employment can fulfil.

On January 25, in a debate on a trade union levy, she responded to Labour’s John Spellar, whose contributions I normally like but think he went a bit over the top with this remark. However, this was when details emerged of lockdown parties in Downing Street. In response, Boris’s advisers launched Operation Red Meat, a series of policies designed to keep Conservative voters on side:

I declare that I have been for 50 years a member of the Unite union and its predecessors—in that time, I have been a branch chair, a branch secretary, a delegate to the trades council and a national officer of the union—and I am proud to be a trade unionist today …

One of the questions we have to address is, “Why now?” Why, particularly, is this coming up now? It has been four years or so in the making. Is this part of Operation Red Meat to throw something to the rabid, foaming Back Benchers of the Tory party, whose leitmotif—one of their articles of faith—is their hatred of trade unions to the benefit of employers, because they know that workers organised will recognise that they need to advance through politics too?

Jo Gideon intervened to say that she, too, had been a member of Unite:

I would like to challenge the statement “hatred of trade unions”. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and several other hon. Friends have already spoken about their massive support for trade unions, and I declare that in a previous role I was a member of Unite and was supported fantastically through that union. Making statements like that does not help us to have this discussion in a professional manner.

However, her most illuminating contribution was to highlight the criminal aspect of waste disposal, which she said on February 1, is more lucrative than the trade in illegal drugs and people trafficking:

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this vital debate secured by my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell). He has made a strong and clear case for the need for more action to tackle the blight of criminal activity in the waste industry. This appalling activity is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk across the country.

In my constituency, I have been fighting for a lasting solution to one such waste crime, which had the potential to be a national disaster. Yet, as the site in question is being cleared, up and down the country unscrupulous criminals are filling warehouses or plots of land next to residential properties and littering our countryside with waste that presents a real threat to the health and safety of surrounding communities.

I wrote to the Prime Minister and multiple Departments last year to highlight the urgency of clearing a site that has been a significant risk in Stoke-on-Trent Central since 2014, and I am delighted that my campaign has resulted in clearing the Twyford House site of an excess of 30,000 tonnes of illegal and combustible commercial waste. I thank the Minister for her support in making that happen, so that the danger that has been there since 2014 can finally be removed.

My hon. Friend’s tireless work to tackle the environmental disaster at Walleys Quarry landfill is an example to us all. Although the quarry is in his constituency, the consequences of the activities at that site are suffered by my constituents too, and I have also been persistently raising their concerns with the Environment Agency and Ministers. The pace of progress to resolve the problem has been a frustration to us all. Does the Minister agree that there is a clear need for the separation of regulation and enforcement authorities?

The current approach to the regulation of more than 180,000 waste carriers, brokers and dealers is leading to record levels of crime, which may well spike later this year when the increased cost of red diesel will mean many looking to cut corners to make savings, for example through the use of exemptions codes. It is a sad fact that waste crime is more lucrative on the basis of risk-to-reward ratios than human trafficking or drug dealing.

This is not a victimless crime. Public health and public safety are dependent on stopping the serious waste industry criminals. We must have better regulation and tougher sentences.

Wow. Who knew?

One of the things I like most about Jo Gideon is her ladylike demeanour. Although most female Conservative MPs conduct themselves in a similar manner, Jo Gideon stands out in her dignified, poised and professional presentation of various issues being debated in the House of Commons.

I wish her well and hope that she is re-elected at the next general election.

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