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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quickly going from hero to zero.

Lately, he has been beset by scandals, some from other Conservative MPs but others which can be laid only at his door.

At least he has a new baby daughter to provide some distraction.

N.B. Some tweets below come from a Boris parody account, such as these:

Downing Street flat refurbishment

Carrie Johnson wanted to refurbish the Downing Street flat.

Most PMs’ wives have done it on a careful budget. Samantha Cameron redid the flat when her husband David was PM between 2010 and 2016. Unlike the other PMs’s wives, she spent £100,000, which included a brand new kitchen.

Theresa May was more prudent when she redecorated further.

According to Tatler, Theresa May’s taste was too ‘John Lewis’, so Carrie enlisted the help of interior designer Lulu Lytle.

On March 1, 2021, news emerged that, before Carrie Symonds married the Prime Minister, her fiancé wanted to set up a charity to fund the costs, as the White House does. The Daily Mail reported  (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, it has been claimed.

The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art.

The presidential charity is bankrolled by private donors – and the proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors.

It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest if it is seen as a back-door way of providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson has complained the cost of the refurbishment by Carrie Symonds was ‘totally out of control’, the Daily Mail has been told. He reportedly said during one meeting that the sum amounted to ‘tens and tens of thousands’. On another occasion he said it was ‘over a hundred grand’.

He is said to have told one minister he was particularly alarmed by the cost of wallpaper chosen by Miss Symonds, saying she appeared to have ordered ‘gold wall coverings’.

Mr Johnson has asked multi-millionaire financier and Tory peer Lord Brownlow, who has close links with the Royal Family, to run the charity. It is believed that an application to register it with the Charity Commission is under way.

The official purpose of the charity is to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 Downing Street for the nation on heritage grounds.

But insiders say the proposal stemmed from the soaring cost of a makeover of the No 11 flat, which is preferred by prime ministers with families because it is bigger than the No 10 flat …

The Charity Commission said it was not aware of any application to set up a Downing Street charity.

Conservative Party HQ, the Cabinet Office, Lord Brownlow and Miss Lytle declined to comment.

The article includes photos of the newly decorated room which looks as if it came out of a harem. What were they thinking?

The hallway is better but is still an acquired taste.

On March 12, the cost came up for discussion in the House of Lords. Journalist John Rentoul put together a graph from the figures that Lord True gave to the Lords:

When this came up earlier this year, it seemed like revenge at Boris for Brexit.

On Wednesday, April 28, the left-leaning Electoral Commission announced a formal investigation into the refurbishment.

Guido Fawkes reported that the Commission’s spokesperson said, in part (emphases in the original):

We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.

“The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the Commission and whether such funding was reported as required …

Guido pointed out that Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) took place that day:

Incredibly awkward timing ahead of PMQs…

Sure enough, it was awkward for Boris, facing Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer at the despatch box, as Guido later reported, complete with a video (emphases mine):

Boris ended his PMQs spar with Sir Keir visibly furious after four questions about who paid for the No. 10 flat renovation. The PM copied the CCHQ strategy of relying on the specifically-worded phrase “I paid for [the] Downing Street refurbishment personally”Asked whether Lord Brownlow paid the initial refurbishment invoice, Johnson dodged the question, saying “I think I’ve answered this question several times, the answer is I have covered the cost.”

The session finished with an incredible rant from the PM, which resulted in [Speaker of the House] Lindsay Hoyle having to ask him to Calm it down a little.”

Guido and his team discussed the issue on Friday, April 30.

Around that time, Tatler published the text of an email from Lord Brownlow regarding a donation:

The Mail claims that the email appears to prove that the Tories planned to claim the £58,000 was paid not by Lord Brownlow but by a ‘soon to be formed Downing St Trust’ that did not exist – and still doesn’t, officially.

The email, sent by wealthy donor Lord Brownlow last year, on 14 October was marked ‘Donation’ and reads: ‘Hi Mike … further to our conversation I am making a donation to the Party. It includes the £15,000 you and I have agreed – plus £58,000 to cover the payments the Party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed “Downing Street Trust” – of which I have been made chairman, as you know.’

Prime Ministers typically receive about £30,000 of public money to redecorate but Johnson is reported to have complained to advisers about the high costs he incurred for his upmarket interior design project.

A Conservative spokeswoman told the Times : ‘All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission.’

On August 26, Conservative Party headquarters provided an update. Guido reported that the following was buried in the footnote of page 25/26 of the annual report (emphases in the original):

The Conservative Party officially say they provided a “bridging loan” of precisely £52,802 “in relation to the renovation of the Prime Ministerial residence in Downing Street” in anticipation of the formation of the PM’s now-abandoned “Downing Street Trust”. Conservative Central Office was then invoiced by the Cabinet Office in June 2020. Lord Brownlow then reimbursed the party…

CCHQ continues, “In March 2021, the Prime Minister personally settled the costs incurred by Lord Brownlow”, before pointing to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests review, which found the loan provided by CCHQ constituted financial support to the PM. The full stop at the end of the long-running row?

No, that was not the end of the matter. Yesterday, Thursday, December 9, Guido updated us with the news that the Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party £17,800:

It just one thing after another for No. 10 this morning, as the Electoral Commission fines them £17,800 for failing to “accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record” in regards to the Downing Street flat refurb:

The investigation found that the party failed to fully report a donation of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited in October 2020. The donation included £52,801.72 connected to the costs of refurbishment to 11 Downing Street. The full value of the donation was not reported as required in the party’s Q4 2020 donation report.

The Commission also concluded that the reference in the party’s financial records to the payment of £52,801.72 made by the party for the refurbishment was not accurate.”

It never rains but it pours…

Sleaze

A sleaze scandal involving Conservative MPs erupted in November, resulting in the resignation of Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire. A by-election for his successor will be held on Thursday, December 16.

However, as I was on the subject of flats, the Political Editor of The Sun reports that, even though it became an issue in 2012, it appears that MPs buy London flats to rent out then reclaim the expense for the flat:

Guido exposed the practice in 2012. It allegedly involved at least one Labour MP and the then-Speaker of the House John Bercow covering it up (emphasis in purple mine):

The first and most simple method of rent-swapping involves the MPs who make money renting out their own previously taxpayer-funded properties while claiming expenses to rent out homes nearby. According to The Telegraph Chris Bryant rents out his mansion flat in Bloomsbury while claiming £2,000 expenses for rent on another London property. We have repeatedly asked him for an explanation this morning without receiving any reply. The Speaker claims the truth cannot be released because it would pose a security risk. Laughable, Guido and anyone else who wants to know, already knows where he lives.

The second, far more serious, category of rent-swapping covers a handful of MPs suspected of renting out properties to each other, effectively an “I’ll pay yours if you pay mine” scheme. MPs are banned from renting homes to relatives but a loophole in the rules allows them to trouser huge sums of money by renting out properties to other current and former MPs. Bercow cites security reasons for not revealing the address or names of landlords, but there is absolutely no reason why he cannot release the names of the MPs involved in this form of rent-swapping. It is a cover up.

There is also potentially a third category: the so-called “phantom” rent swap. This involves the possibility of MPs telling the authorities they have moved when in reality they have not, and then swapping their rent on the quiet.

If these people were claiming housing benefit “Rent Swapping” like this would fall into the category of benefit fraud plain and simple, it is in the parlance of welfare fraud investigators a “contrived tenancy” punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Now on to the big Opposition sleaze attacks from this year.

In April, Labour and Scotland’s SNP MPs accused the Conservatives of cronyism when obtaining last year’s emergency PPE and equipment contracts to fight the pandemic. On April 26, Michael Gove responded:

  • Only 0.5% of PPE wasn’t up to scratch …
  • The Dyson texts were about securing ventilators for the frontline …

In November, the Owen Paterson controversy broke. Paterson had been working for the Northern Irish healthcare company Randox, whilst he was Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. That was before the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took office in May 2010. In 2015, he began working as a consultant for the company. By 2019, he was earning £8,333 a month for a monthly commitment of 16 hours in that role.

In 2020, the Government awarded two contracts to Randox for producing coronavirus testing kits. The first contract, awarded in March, was worth £133 million. In April 2020, Paterson represented Randox in a call with Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for awarding contracts. Unusually, no minutes of the call were available. Later that year, Randox won another contract worth £347 million. In neither case were other companies allowed to bid for those contracts.

Owen Paterson also worked for another company based in Northern Ireland, Lynn’s Country Foods Ltd. They paid the then-MP £12,000 per annum for 24 hours of work.

In October 2021, on Political Correction, Nigel Farage interviewed Paterson on GB News. Paterson said that he had been under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for many months. Paterson told Farage that, in June 2020, his wife, Rose, asked him one weekend how long the investigation would go on. He replied that he did not know. Little did he know that she was preparing to take her own life in the days that followed. She committed suicide on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. She had been so concerned for him that it was taking a toll on her mental health. Paterson and their three children were devastated.

In October 2021, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards concluded her investigation. Wikipedia states:

The Commissioner said Paterson had “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the house into disrepute” and that “no previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests”.

Paterson told Farage that at no time was he allowed to present his case to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The Commons Select Committee on Standards recommended that Paterson undergo a 30-day suspension from Parliament. That length of suspension could have triggered a recall of the MP from his constituency, resulting in a by-election.

In order to avoid that situation — and because some Conservative MPs thought Paterson had suffered enough through his wife’s suicide brought on because of the pressure of waiting for the investigation to conclude — Andrea Leadsom MP brought forward an amendment to the motion to suspend him. It involved delaying consideration of the suspension until a new proposed cross-party committee of MPs could investigate the disciplinary process for MPs. The Government supported Leadsom’s amendment and appointed a three-line Conservative whip, obliging the party’s MPs to vote for it.

The amendment passed: 250–232. Paterson was able to vote for it.

On November 3, Paterson thought he would be able to clear his name. The Guardian quoted him as saying (emphases mine):

The process I was subjected to did not comply with natural justice.

No proper investigation was undertaken by the commissioner or committee.

The standards commissioner has admitted making up her mind before speaking to me or any witnesses.

All I have ever asked is to have the opportunity to make my case through a fair process.

The decision today in parliament means that I will now have that opportunity.

After two years of hell, I now have the opportunity to clear my name.

I am extremely grateful to the PM, the leader of the house and my colleagues for ensuring that fundamental changes will be made to internal parliamentary systems of justice.

I hope that no other MP will ever again be subject to this shockingly inadequate process.

That night, there was outrage among MPs, including Conservatives, and in the media.

Early in the afternoon the following day, Boris Johnson reversed his support for Paterson.

The Guardian reported:

MPs are expected to get another vote “as soon as possible” on suspending the Conservative MP Owen Paterson from parliament, after Boris Johnson made a U-turn and ditched immediate plans to overhaul the standards system.

Following a wave of anger from within his own party and allegations of Tory sleaze, the prime minister retreated. He signalled that he would not go ahead with a new committee chaired by a Conservative MP to review the case and wider sanctions policy, given that opposition politicians had vowed to boycott it.

A motion trying to reverse Wednesday night’s vote is expected to be debated next week before the Commons goes into recess, when further details will be set out of how changes to the standards system will be taken forward on a cross-party basis.

Early that evening, Paterson announced that his resignation as MP for North Shropshire.

The Guardian said:

There is a Westminster joke about how eventually everyone gets let down by Boris Johnson, and the U-turn meant that Paterson – who yesterday enjoyed the full support of the No 10 machine – was today facing inevitable suspension from the Commons, and a possible recall election too … Johnson’s U-turn makes the government less vulnerable to the toxic charge of corruption and cronyism than it was, but the episode must have caused some reputational damage and Tory MPs who loyally defended what the government was doing yesterday are looking particularly exposed.

The Paterson controversy resonated with many Britons who remember the MPs’ expenses scandal that The Telegraph exposed more than a decade ago. Most of us have a dim view of Parliamentarians anyway, with the word ‘trough’ popping up more often than not in any mention of either House, Commons or Lords.

Interestingly, on November 30, Guido reported that Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, cleared another Conservative MP, Geoffrey Cox (purple emphases mine):

of using his Commons Office during a Zoom call for his second job , on the grounds there is insufficient evidence to justify beginning an inquiry. Despite screenshots and videos having him bang to rights…

Stone’s limp-wristed decision sets an alarming precedent, arguing the rules on the use of taxpayer-funded parliamentary offices should be operated with a degree of proportion. While this creates an absurdly subjective grey area, Guido confesses he worried this would be the outcome. As the scandal played out last month, he spotted that while the 2010 MP’s handbook had explicitly said Commons Offices must not be used for non-MP work, this rule had been written out of the guidelines come the 2017 update

Unfortunately, this means that Labour MPs using their offices and equipment to campaign for their candidates in by-elections are well in their rights to do so:

Far from this decision only impacting Geoffrey Cox, it also jettisons Guido’s campaign against five Labour MPs he’d caught using their parliamentary offices to campaign in by-elections: Matt Western and Catherine West for Batley & Spen; Helen Hayes and Vicky Foxcroft for Old Bexley & Sidcup; and Kate Green for both.

Guido wrote to all five last Friday asking why they thought it an appropriate and fair use of taxpayer-funded resources, unsurprisingly receiving no reply from any. Guido reckons Kathryn Stone must be one of the few taxpayers in the country happy to fork up her cash for MPs like Cox et al to abuse the system and let them get away with it…

Of course, Conservatives hardly have a monopoly on sleaze. There are Opposition MPs who are also raking it in with second jobs. That’s another subject for another day.

The result of the sleaze revelations was that Boris and his Government began slipping in the polls. In recent weeks, Labour have taken the lead in some of them.

Therefore, it was hard to see how Boris could manage to make things even worse for himself or the public.

On November 22, Patrick Christys of GB News said that Boris would be unlikely to survive anything further:

But what happened next?

Amazingly, Boris initiated Plan B coronavirus restrictions for England.

Find out why on Monday in Part 2.

Hint: his reason has nothing to do with health.

In 1995, a Church of England scandal made national news.

Reading an update on it this week reminded me of the Corinthians, whom St Paul reproved for becoming debauched. Their carnal attitude permeated their church services: babbling nonsense ecstatically ‘in tongues’, which was part of pagan worship, and drunken Communion services.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, something similar happened to a church in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there were no senior Church of England clergy to censure the vicar. As it happened, they encouraged a programme about which they knew little.

This week, The Times recapped what happened at St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield at what was called the Nine O’Clock Service, or NOS.

The NOS was held every Sunday.

A young Christian rock musician — and ex-nightclubber — Chris Brain, led the NOS, which The Times describes as:

a radical mix of rave culture, social and environmental campaigning and religion that drew queues of black-clad young followers for its weekly gatherings.

Instead of reminding Chris Brain of pertinent chapters of 1 Corinthians, the clergy wanted to extend the NOS throughout the United Kingdom (emphases mine):

The hierarchy was buzzing at the prospect of a vibrant model of service that might be copied around the country to attract new congregations.

Chris Brain, the charismatic young Christian rock musician who had emerged as leader of the NOS, met Dr George Carey, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later recalled: “He said to me, ‘I’d be very happy to see an NOS in every town and city in the UK’.”

Carey, who met Brain in 1990, was interested in getting more converts, and rightly so. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he declared the 1990s to be the Decade of Evangelism. He is best remembered for propagating the Alpha Course nationwide. Alpha started at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. It has been an international phenomenon for many years.

Returning to the NOS, in 1989, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev David Lunn, had confirmed 100 people — nearly all NOS attendees — at St Thomas’s. That is an extraordinary number of confirmands for any church at any one time:

It was a moment of great excitement for the church hierarchy because they were almost all young people, usually thought of as being out of reach.

As a result, Brain became a diocesan star of sorts, seen as being ideal for the priesthood:

Brain was fast-tracked for ordination and invited to contribute to the archbishop’s collection of essays on evangelism. Lunn told the BBC that the NOS had a “permanent significance” and was a “new development in the way we understand the Christian religion”.

The church authorities were either unaware of, or happy to turn a blind eye to some more disturbing aspects of the movement.

Brain’s ordination in 1992 was rather extraordinary:

When Brain was ordained in 1992, the NOS borrowed at considerable expense the robes worn by Robert de Niro in the film The Mission for the service.

He became St Thomas’s vicar.

Behind the scenes, however, carnality prevailed with Brain and some NOS adherents, particularly women. It was turning into a cult:

There were allegations of controlling behaviour and followers handing over thousands of pounds while cutting themselves off from their friends and families. Young women were enlisted as “postmodern nuns” in Brain’s Homebase Team. Some allegedly gave massages and engaged in sexual activity when putting him to bed.

Brain rationalised their behaviour, as one woman later recalled:

One member of the group, interviewed by the BBC, said: “He would talk about how we were discovering a postmodern definition of sexuality in the church. It’s just language — language covering up the fact of what was really going on: one bloke getting his rocks off.”

Things started getting out of hand in 1992:

There had been consternation in 1992 when an NOS service at a Christian festival included a troupe of dancers in black Lycra bikinis cavorting in front of 15,000 people.

A few laypersons and clergy complained to church authorities, but nothing was done until 1995:

Church leaders finally listened in August 1995 after disclosures by three whistleblowers:

One woman claimed that there was bullying and people were “blurring boundaries sexually”. She worried about how money was spent. The NOS charity, the Nine O’Clock Trust, recorded an income of £272,000 in 1994.

That amount of money is something an average Anglican church can only dream of.

Church authorities suspended Brain’s ministry. A month later, he tried to downplay the extracurricular activities of the NOS:

In a September 1995 interview with a Sunday newspaper he said that the sexual contact he had with women followers was “heavy petting” but “non-penetrative”. The Homebase Team had been created to help his wife at home because he was so busy with his work. “It was like any other vicarage, you always get ladies helping the vicar’s wife. They set up a rota but the idea of handmaidens is ridiculous,” he said.

Brain added: “These were relationships which began 10 or 12 years ago when I was part of the nightclub scene. When I became a priest, I should have done something about them . . . I didn’t and that was wrong.”

He said that his ordination never should have happened:

He claimed that it was “utterly ridiculous that I was made a priest . . . I was the breakthrough for the church but it changed everything for me. Everyone became dependent on me.”

Yes, congregants depend a great deal on their vicars. They expect spiritual leadership and guidance. He is their shepherd.

The Times is revisiting this story because, after 25 years, former NOS members are now seeking compensation:

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The current Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev Pete Wilcox, said that:

the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

More ex-members could be coming forward:

to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One member explained that the reason for waiting a quarter of a century to come forward was because the Church of England advised them to stay silent:

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The article says that the hierarchy even gave the NOS financial backing.

The ‘postmodern nuns’ wore unusual habits and had unorthodox duties:

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”.

Fast forwarding to the present, Brain is now 63. The article says that he has changed his first name from Chris to James. He is currently:

co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

The Times reported that he did not respond to their attempts to contact him.

The NOS, The Times says, had between 300 to 500 members. A number of them forsook family and friends for the movement, filling its coffers with large sums of money.

At the time the scandal broke, the then-Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Lunn, said that:

the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The current incumbent, Bishop Wilcox, is taking a much different stance:

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

A large law firm, Slater & Gordon, is representing the former members. One of their solicitors (attorneys), Richard Scorer, said:

The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.

I remember when the story broke. It was in the papers for several weeks. Even the atheists I knew at the time expressed their shock and said that priests should not act like that.

The Times has done an admirable job of returning this harrowing story to the spotlight.

I hope that settlements can be reached and that the Church of England learns an important lesson from this.

However, I have a few old bookmarks on the Nine O’Clock Service, which say that Chris Brain’s departure did not end the movement. Furthermore, The Independent reported at the time that Bishop Lunn was quick to demand that Brain resign as vicar and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from performing priestly duties.

More to come on Monday.

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