Beginning to See the Light: Return of the Rat.
‘They better confess,
Well, they better confess,
They started this mess..’
In February 2020, this columns predecessor produced an article entitled ‘Dominic Cummings – Machiavelli, Rasputin, now he’s the Malcolm McLaren of politics’.
Cummings has almost unwittingly assumed the role of ‘kingmaker’, as Richard Neville 16th earl of Warwick (1) did during the War of the Roses. It was Cummings whose political nous engineered both the Brexit ‘leave’ vote of 2016, and the Tories crushing majority in 2019. I would venture forth that Cummings, along with Nigel Farage, has been one of the key figures in British politics over the last decade.
It was reported that Cummings ‘left’ his role as Boris Johnson’s (‘the PM’) adviser in November, a more accurate description would be that he was kicked-out in a power struggle with Johnson’s fiancé.
As Johnson’s government continue to battle with mounting allegations of sleaze and cronyism, Dominic Cummings has launched an unprecedented and extraordinary attack on the PM, alleging that he tried to quash a leak inquiry as it implicated an ally, and hatched a ‘possibly illegal’ plan for donors to pay to renovate his flat.
Cummings has almost unwittingly assumed the role of ‘kingmaker’
Cummings remarks were in response to anonymous No. 10 sources claiming that he had leaked private text messages between Johnson and the billionaire James Dyson.
In a lengthy post on his personal blog, Cummings denied being the source of any leaks, and went on to accuse Johnson and his team of a series of wrongdoings, saying the PM had behaved in a way he considered ‘mad and totally unethical’, and warned that he would happily give evidence under oath to an inquiry.
‘It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,’ he wrote.
In perhaps the most potentially devastating allegation in his blogpost, Cummings claimed that in a meeting after a leak about C-19 policy, the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, told him and Johnson that ‘all the evidence’ pointed to Henry Newman, then an adviser at the Cabinet Office, who has since moved to No 10. Newman is known to be close to Carrie Symonds, Johnson’s fiancé.
Cummings wrote: ‘The PM was very upset about this. He said to me afterwards: ‘If Newman is confirmed as the leaker, then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends … [pause] Perhaps we could get the cabinet secretary to stop the leak inquiry?’
‘I told him that this was ‘mad’ and totally unethical, that he had ordered the inquiry himself and authorised the cabinet secretary to use more invasive methods than are usually applied to leak inquiries because of the seriousness of the leak. I told him that he could not possibly cancel an inquiry about a leak that affected millions of people just because it might implicate his girlfriend’s friends.’
Continuing with Carrie, Johnson is being asked lots of questions about the flat they currently share. As PM, Johnson receives a yearly public grant of £30,000 which he is reputed to have used to redecorating the flat.
However, reports from newspapers suggested that he could have spent up to £60,000 renovating the flat using money from donors, something which isn’t allowed if not declared.
The Electoral Commission, which is the organisation that oversees what happens with political donations in the UK, has said it has launched a formal investigation into how Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat renovation was funded. The commission says it has been in contact with the Conservative Party since March over the refurbishment, but it has now confirmed it has ‘reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred’.
‘it has now confirmed it has ‘reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred’
In his blog, Cummings said the PM had once planned to have donors ‘secretly pay’ for the work on his flat which he described as ‘unethical’, ‘foolish’ and ‘possibly illegal’. He also said this ‘almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended’.
All of this is just part of the ongoing sleaze that surrounds Johnson government.
Last week there was the release of WhatsApp exchanges between the prime minister and Sir James Dyson in which Johnson promised to ‘fix’ a tax issue for the Brexit-supporting vacuum cleaner salesman.
Johnson seems to see nothing wrong in the fact that you can directly negotiate tax policy with the head of government if you are a billionaire fortunate enough to possess the PM’s phone number. In fact, Johnson said that he will make ‘absolutely no apologies’ for agreeing a tax waiver to engage Sir James’s company in the project to build more hospital ventilators.
This seemingly ‘anything-goes-in-an-emergency’ defence is regularly wheeled out by the government to counter any charges of special favours for friends of the PM and his party. For example, it was also used when it became clear that a good percentage of lucrative Covid-related contracts ended up in the hands of chums of Tory ministers, MPs and peers, who were granted access to a ‘VIP lane’.
So blatant was the chumocracy that the National Audit Office found that bids using this privileged priority channel were 10 times likelier to win business. Safeguards against abuse were relaxed and more than £10bn of contracts were awarded without competitive tender.
‘more than £10bn of contracts were awarded without competitive tender’
The respected monitoring group, Transparency International, has just published an analysis that concludes that one in five of the Covid contracts signed between February and November 2020 raised one or more red flags for potential corruption.
Despite enjoying public support for the success of the C-19 vaccination, sleaze is beginning to impact the electorates view of Johnson’s government.
The latest Opinium poll for the Observer shows that 37% describe Johnson as mostly or completely corrupt, compared with 31% who say he is clean and honest. Even more, 38% ,say the Conservative party is corrupt, with 31% saying it is clean and honest.
Stories about sleaze have dogged this government, not helped by a previous Tory PM, David Cameron, and his lobbying for government support for Greensill as it was in the process of going bankrupt. Unfortunately, ‘Dave’s’ desire to help his friends didn’t stop there.
The Guardian has revealed that Dave introduced an old schoolfriend from Eton, Hugh Warrender a former hedge fund manager, to the influential Tory ‘fixer’ Andrew Feldman, who at the time was working as a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), with an offer to sell Covid-19 testing kits to the UK government.
Feldman confirmed to the Guardian that he had ‘passed to officials in DHSC’ details of the supplier’s testing kits, saying officials ‘were aware of the source of introduction’.
DHSC officials subsequently advised that these tests did not meet MHRA published specifications and could not be used.’
Cameron once described Feldman as ‘one of my oldest and best friends’. The pair met at Oxford University and Cameron elevated the businessman to the House of Lords in 2010. He was reportedly the first Tory chairman to have his own office in 10 Downing Street.
You must understand, it is wheels within wheels, they just cannot help themselves, lobbying and cronyism is almost bred into them.
urged to reveal whether he signaled his endorsement of the European Super League (ESL) when he met the chief executive of Manchester United
Returning to our current PM there have been more revelations about his newly discovered love for the beautiful game, football, as he being urged to reveal whether he signaled his endorsement of the European Super League (ESL) when he met the chief executive of Manchester United, one of the English football clubs leading the breakaway, in Downing Street days before it was unveiled.
Readers may remember that after the ESL plan was officially announced Johnson spoke out against the idea and threatened a ‘legislative bomb’ if the English clubs proceeded with the proposal.
However, it was later revealed that Woodward was invited for a meeting with the prime minister’s chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, in No 10 days before the announcement, and briefly spoke to Johnson. The Sunday Times reported that sources said Woodward departed with the wrong impression that Johnson was in favour of the proposal, Labour has said the prime minister has ‘questions to answer’.
‘urged to reveal whether he signaled his endorsement of the European Super League (ESL) when he met the chief executive of Manchester United’
Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary said: ‘Yet again, Johnson’s integrity and honesty are in question,’ adding: ‘The public has a right to know what exactly was promised to Manchester United by both officials and the prime minister. If Johnson gave the European Super League his backing and then publicly turned on the plan then the British people deserve a full, clear and immediate explanation and apology.’
From Manchester United we move to Newcastle United, where an investor in the planned takeover of the club received high-level support from Johnson last year is a major Conservative party donor who has personally funded the PM’s constituency office and leadership campaign.
Jamie Reuben, 34, his father, David, and uncle Simon, who own the Reuben Brothers property development empire, were co-investors with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), and the financier Amanda Staveley, in the £300m bid to buy the Premier League club from Mike Ashley.
The deal stalled last May as the Premier League reportedly pressed PIF, whose chairman is the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, for clarity about its structure, and whether it is a government entity.
According to leaked messages reported by the Daily Mail this month, Prince Mohammed privately contacted Johnson in June, complaining about the delay and warning him that if the Premier League blocked the takeover, it would have ‘a negative impact on both our countries [sic] economic and commercial relations’.
The consortium ultimately withdrew from the deal on 30 July, blaming the ‘unforeseeably prolonged process’.
Under the league’s ‘owners and directors test’ there were potentially deal-breaking concerns about a Saudi state entity owning a club, following the finding that persistent piracy of international football TV rights had been carried out from Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi takeover of a Premier League club was also hugely sensitive following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, in which Prince Mohammed has been implicated by the UN and other official reports.
In September, according to the leaked messages, Johnson asked his adviser Edward Lister to investigate the chances of the deal being revived. When Lister told the prime minister that he was hopeful it was back on, Johnson reportedly replied: ‘Brilliant.’
Before concluding we should remember what Johnson is reputed to have said about the lockdowns that saved so many lives last year; ‘no more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands’ after reluctantly approving the second England-wide lockdown late last year, really cannot be clearer in his views.
Irrespective of whether this was said in anger or borne out of frustration it is a sad indictment of him.
As Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: ‘[Johnson has] degraded the office he holds with rampant and overwhelming sleaze. But making light of the more than 127,000 deaths that happened on his watch and then trying to cover it up is a new low. This must now end.’
Nothing will alter the character of Johnson’s government; sleaze stories will continue to come along with the regularity of a London bus. As with many things, the influence and behaviour for those below is set by the person at the top. Johnson has made a career out of his erratic behaviour.
His contempt for the norms of decent behaviour and a career history of behaving as if he can get away with anything is well documented, therefore it should come as no surprise that the government reflects his amoral character.
Perhaps there is nothing that sums up this government’s priorities more than the fact that Cummings was not sacked for his lockdown-busting excursions around Durham, but for falling out with the PM’s fiancé.
This must indeed end now!
‘This wheel’s on fire,
Rolling down the road,
Best notify my next of kin,
This wheel shall explode!’
Given the headlines this week, Tory sleaze was always going to be a key thread to Philip’s column this week, and given that he appears front and centre in most of the individual outrages, Boris seems to personify the ancient proverb that the fish rots from the head.
I’m not sure if anyone has coined the phrase ‘Hell hath no fury like a SPAD scorned’ but it does seem that Mr Cummings is pledged to make things more than a little uncomfortable for his erstwhile co-conspirator; the irony that it is Cash for Cushions rather than an opthalmic excursion that provided the flashpoint is not lost.
Even by its own sorry standards, Tory HQ trotted out some pretty unimpressive studio fodder, and as an opening gambit ‘the public’s not really interested’ is pretty lame; watching Therese Coffey flapping around like like one of Mr Rees-Moggs happy fish was pretty unedifying.
The GBP should be greatly interested, but the fear is that such has been the regularity and brazenness of its lies, this government has lowered expectations of honesty and decency to such a low level that it can almost get away with anything; if Boris is found to have acted illegally he’ll surely pledge to have ‘strong words’ with himself at his own enquiry.
Should we get bent out of shape about a five-grand drinks trolley? Maybe not in isolation, but as one of a thousand cuts, maybe there is a lady of size out there practicing her scales. Nobody seems to think for a second that Mr Johnson didn’t talk about letting bodies pile up apart, of course, from the BBC which managed to serve up a slightly anodyne version apparently in line with its new charter.
I’d not heard that Boris had offered his tacit approval for the ESL before seeing the opportunity to publicly vilify it and wave to those working-class northern types, but the idea of him sporting a reversible scarf would surprise nobody.
Meat and drink then for Sir Kier? Well, no not really, Labour is still languishing in the polls, and whilst it is predicted that Boris will be given an electoral cuff round the ear in Hartlepool, Sir Keir is expected to get one as well for being, well, bland.
Even when Boris bit at being dubbed ‘Major Sleaze’ Sir Keir didn’t possess the gumption to deliver a killer blow – probably because the far from rapier sharp put down was the result of a focus group and what was left after having been through a PC filter.
So, a bad week for Boris, but a worse week for those hoping for a return of the halcyon days when politicians actually gave us something to respect.
Did anybody have a worse week? Hell yeah – Tony Blair’s barber; and if the ex-PM looked in the mirror and said ‘yes, that’s fine’ he makes Boris appear like George Washington.
Two tracks this week, just for fun – Nirvana with ‘Return of the Rat’ and Siouxie and the Banshees’ rendition of ‘Wheels on Fire’.
Quite – enjoy!
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s