Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago 

Yes, it’s a real scandal. Despite the apparent absurdity of a Westminster village obsessing over soft furnishings and the precise class connotations of the John Lewis brand, there is a hard offence underneath all those cushions and throws. By refusing to tell us who first paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, Boris Johnson is denying us – his boss – the right to know who he owes and what hold they might have on him.

Jonathan Freedland www.theguardian.com

Offence is the right word because, even before the Electoral Commission determines whether the law on political funding was broken, Johnson’s failure to come clean may well be, by itself, a breach of the ministerial code. That bars not only actual conflicts of interest between ministers’ “public duties and their private interests” but even the perception of such conflicts. In refusing to tell us who first paid that bill for overpriced wallpaper, or to give full details of who paid for his December 2019 holiday in Mustique, Johnson has offended the public trust.

So yes, this is a scandal. But do you know what else is a scandal? That while Johnson was racking up an estimated £200,000 on home decor, his government was pushing through a post-Grenfell fire safety bill that threatens ordinary leaseholders with financial ruin, saddling them with the cost of ridding their homes of potentially lethal cladding and other hazards: one woman is facing a bill of £70,000 to make her one-bedroom flat in Bristol safe. That is a scandal.

Or that by breaking his 2019 manifesto pledge and slashing the UK’s aid budget, Johnson has cut our contribution to the UN effort on HIV/Aids and to lifesaving water projects by 80%, and to the UN family planning programme by even more – money that could have prevented maternal and child deaths in the world’s poorest countries. That, too, is a scandal.

A coronavirus death toll of 127,500 that remains the highest in Europe, alongside the deepest economic slump in the G7. The mistake Johnson made three times over in 2020, delaying lockdowns in March, September and the following winter. The seeding of Covid in nursing homes. The decision to keep the borders open even during the height of lockdown, as smart as putting a double bolt and extra chain on the front door while leaving the back door swinging wide open. Johnson’s absence from the first five Cobra meetings on Covid, preferring to flick through swatches at his weekend home at Chequers. They’re all scandals.

The VIP lane for ministers’ pals when the PPE contracts were being doled out, when so many politicians’ chums looked at Covid and saw a commercial opportunity. The £276m contract that went to P14 Medical, run by a Tory donor, or the £160m deal with Meller Designs, also run by a Tory donor, both revealed just this week. The staggering sum of £37bn committed to a test-and-trace programme that never really worked. Johnson’s support for Dominic Cummings, even as he torched the most important public health policy in a century and insulted the country’s intelligence with a tall story about an eye test on wheels. Every one a scandal.

The failure to sack Robert Jenrick, even after he rushed through an “unlawful” planning decision that would save Richard Desmond, yet another Tory donor, £45m in local taxes. The failure to sack Priti Patel, even after she’d been found to have broken the ministerial code. The failure to sack Gavin Williamson, even after he’d presided over an exams fiasco that threatened to damage the life chances of tens of thousands of young people. The appointment of Gavin Williamson, not two months after he’d been fired by Theresa May for leaking sensitive information from the national security council. That, too, is a scandal.

Johnson’s Brexit protocol that put a border down the Irish sea, even after he’d vowed never to put a border down the Irish sea, thereby imperilling a union he swore blind he would protect. His proposal of an internal market bill that proudly declared its intention to break international law, prompting the UK’s top legal civil servant to quit – one of a disturbing number of mandarins driven to resignation on Johnson’s watch.

His illegal suspension of parliament, overturned as a violation of fundamental democratic practice by unanimous verdict of the supreme court. The lies that led to that moment: the £350m on the side of the bus or the scare story that Turkey was poised to join the EU and that Britain would be powerless to stop it. Siding with Vladimir Putin to suggest that the EU had provoked the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Scandals, all.

The blame he bears for wrongly saying, when foreign secretary, that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran, further condemning a woman who this week was sentenced to yet another year as a prisoner in that country. His quip about clearing away “dead bodies” in Sirte, Libya, a phrase that makes all too plausible the multiply-sourced claim that he told a Downing Street meeting on Covid he was happy to let the virus rip and “let the bodies pile high” rather than impose another lockdown.

His record as mayor, spaffing Londoners’ money up the wall on failed vanity projects that were either unused or unworkable, yet somehow managing to boost the entrepreneurial efforts of his lover, Jennifer Arcuri, cosy in her very own VIP lane with Johnson as the recipient of £126,000 in public money. That, too, is a scandal.

His racist musings about a “half-Kenyan” Barack Obama, his casting of Muslim women as “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”, and Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. His running of a Spectator editorial that falsely accused “drunken fans” of causing the Hillsborough calamity, and suggesting that the people of Liverpool wallow in “vicarious victimhood”. His firings from the Tory frontbench and the Times newspaper, both times for lying.

They’re all scandals. So is a system that makes the prime minister the ultimate arbiter of the very code that he has broken, so that Johnson decides when and whether to investigate himself, making him judge and jury in his own case. Not much better is an opposition party that was walloped by him in 2019 and struggles to lay a glove on him now.

Or maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago. Americans got rid of their lying, self-serving, scandal-plagued charlatan 100 days ago. They did it at the first possible opportunity. Next week, polls suggest we’re poised to give ours a partial thumbs-up at the ballot box. For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.

  • Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

Senior Tory says Boris Johnson should resign if he breached ministerial rules

And pigs might fly!

In Owl’s opinion, based on experience (think Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitkin and, locally, Graham Brown) the Tory party doesn’t root out sleaze unless forced to by the electorate, and not always then.

[The charge sheet follows in the next post, to which a few more can now be added.]

Rajeev Syal www.theguardian.com 

One of the UK’s most senior Conservatives has broken ranks and called for Boris Johnson to resign if he breached ministerial rules over the refurbishment of a Downing Street flat, amid new claims that undeclared donations have been sought to fund the prime minister’s lavish lifestyle.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said on Sunday that Johnson should “of course” quit if he is found to have breached the code by failing to be honest about cash payments from a Conservative donor sought to redecorate his official residence.

His intervention, which caught No 10 by surprise, came after Johnson was accused of successfully obtaining funds for the flat from a second donor, while a third was alleged to have been asked to pay for his one-year-old son’s care.

It comes as the party attempts to move on from a torrid week and gears up for elections across the UK on Thursday. Labour has narrowed the Tories’ lead since the barrage of sleaze allegations began.

Appearing on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Ross was asked if Johnson should stand down if found to be in breach of the ministerial code.

“Of course, I think people expect the highest standards of those in the highest office of the land,” he said. “That’s why I think people are looking at the investigations that are currently ongoing and waiting for the answers.”

The new standards adviser, Christopher Geidt, is investigating whether Johnson has breached the ministerial code, which sets out the conduct expected of ministers and how they discharge their duties.

Johnson would be expected to show that his behaviour was consistent with the code, which makes clear there should be “no actual or perceived conflicts of interest”.

His former chief aide Dominic Cummings reignited the row over the flat renovation after claiming the prime minister had sought donors’ cash in an “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal” scheme.

Money from the Tory donor David Brownlow was allegedly used to fund part of a £200,000 renovation in the flat above No 11 Downing Street where Johnson resides with his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, and their son, Wilfred. It is alleged that Symonds had described the flat as “a John Lewis nightmare” when they moved in after Theresa May left.

The Sunday Times reported that there was a second invoice settled by a third party – believed to be another Conservative donor – directly with the contractor. Downing Street refused to comment on this claim.

Yet another Tory donor has claimed that they were asked to foot the bill for a nanny for Wilfred, the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times claimed. The donor is alleged to have said: “I don’t mind paying for leaflets but I resent being asked to pay to literally wipe the prime minister’s baby’s bottom.”

Former Downing Street insiders claim that Johnson’s finances are a mess and are a reflection of the way he runs the government. He earns £157,372 a year as prime minister but he is said to have told friends that he requires £300,000 to keep afloat.

Johnson has retained the power to frustrate any inquiry by Geidt into his behaviour. He remains the “ultimate arbitrator” of the code and gets the final say on whether he broke the rules, a situation Labour says allows him to be his own judge and jury.

Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned in November after Johnson overruled his inquiry, which found evidence that the home secretary, Priti Patel, had bullied staff.

Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and former chair of the public accounts committee, said the prime minister and his government were not maintaining the standards needed to maintain a healthy democracy.

“If you’re taking money in this secretive, private way, how is it influencing how you are approaching the issues of state?

“This is a really dangerous point in which our democracy could be undermined,” she said.

“Is it the tip of an iceberg and are there other ways in which the funding of his rather lavish lifestyle has been dependent on individuals giving him cash and what do they want in return?”

The Electoral Commission this week launched an investigation into whether any donations or loans to pay for the refurbishment of his residence in No 11 were properly declared.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was asked to defend Johnson on Sunday, but declined to say whether he should resign if he is found to have broken the law.

“I think the right thing for me to do is respect the integrity of those reviews and let them run their course,” he said.

Raab also declined to deny a claim that a second invoice for renovations may have been settled with the supplier by a Tory donor.

Asked about the suggestion that a Tory donor was asked to pay for a nanny, he said: “I have no idea, you don’t have conversations like that with the PM,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Although earlier polls suggested the sleaze allegations were not significantly denting public support for the Tories, two new surveys indicated they could be having an effect before the local elections in England and votes for the parliaments in Scotland and Wales.

The Conservatives (42%) fell to a five-point lead over Labour (37%), according to the Opinium poll of more than 2,000 adults between Wednesday and Friday.

In separate polling, Focaldata put Labour on 39%, one point behind the Tories, who previously had a healthy lead, according to the Sunday Times.

A No 10 spokesperson said the prime minister “has covered the cost of all childcare”, but did not respond when asked if he paid for the original bill himself or had reimbursed somebody else.

Johnson has denied breaking any laws over the refurbishment of his residence and insisted he has paid “personally” for the works.

Cranbrook has changed drastically while no one else in Devon was looking

[Except Owl]

If you go to what will eventually be Cranbrook’s town centre, you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The signs adorning the green field outlining that this will eventually be the heart of the new town looks exactly the same as they did back in 2017, with the only difference being the length of the grass.

But across the town, things are changing. The number of new homes being built continues to grow, with parts of the town unrecognisable and new estates springing up compared to this time last year. Work has begun on the next phase of the district heating network rollout.

And even the ‘town centre’ may soon be set to finally look different in the near future after the agreement as to how it will be developed and delivered was reached between East Devon District Council and the East Devon New Community Partners in January this year.

Devon Live takes a look at where Cranbrook is now and what is planned for the future.

Cranbrook currently has around 2,350 homes, equating to approximately 5,500 residents, as well a primary school and a secondary school, a railway station, a parade of local shops, the Younghayes Centre, a country park, a medical centre, and the Cranberry Farm pub, which will eventually be right at the centre of the town.

But plans set out in the East Devon Local Plan and the draft Cranbrook Plan are to grow the town to around 7,740 homes – an additional 4,170 homes from those already consented and/or built – which will give a population of just over 18,000 people.

Planning applications have been submitted for more than 1,000 of these additional houses and associated community facilities, with additional applications for some of the other identified expansion areas anticipated for submission later this year.

The expansion plans will also include two new primary schools, a SEN school, a sports hub, community centre, two new neighbourhood centres and large areas of open space, amongst other items.

The Cranbrook Plan is going through its examination by an Inspector appointed on behalf of the Secretary of State and a ruling is expected to be made before the Autumn of 2021.

WHERE WILL THE EXPANSION AND DEVELOPMENT TAKE PLACE?

Development parcels outlined in the plan are at Bluehayes, to the west of the existing development, Treasbeare, south of the existing development and south of the old A30, Cobdens, to the east of the existing development, and Grange, to the south of Cobden and south of the old A30.

Any business or other use that is permitted within these areas must be of an appropriate scale to the mixed use area and mainly serves the needs of the immediate neighbourhood and must not undermine the vitality and viability of the town centre.

The four expansion areas of Cranbrook

The four expansion areas of Cranbrook

BLUEHAYES

40 hectares of land at the Bluehayes Expansion Area is allocated for a mixed use development, which will include:

  • Around 960 new dwellings
  • Land capable of accommodating a community building and a range of business premises
  • Formal open space recreational land
  • A 420 pupil place primary school (in the event that Bluehayes is delivered before Treasbeare)
  • Formal play space with facilities for children and youth
  • Allotments totalling an area of 0.55 hectare of land

The Bluehayes expansion area will comprise a mix of housing, community and commercial uses that will provide a key route through the town linking the Cranbrook railway station with the Treasbeare expansion area, Skypark, Exeter Airport and existing development at Broadclyst Station.

TREASBEARE

62 hectares of land at the Treasbeare Expansion Area is allocated for a mixed use development, which will include:

  • Around 915 new houses
  • Land capable of accommodating a community building
  • A neighbourhood centre to provide at least 1500 square metres gross of groundfloor floor space, including shops and a range of business spaces
  • A 420 pupil place primary school (in the event that Treasbeare is built before Bluehayes)
  • Formal open space and recreational land
  • Formal play space with facilities for children and youth
  • A sports hub which delivers two senior rugby pitches, two junior rugby pitches, two football pitches, three junior football pitches, an all-weather pitch, four tennis courts, a sports pavilion, changing facilities and a club room
  • Employment land
  • Allotments totalling an area of 0.54 hectare of land.
  • A Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space
  • Land for an extension to the District Heating Energy Centre
  • Five serviced permanent pitches for gypsies and travellers

The Treasbeare expansion area will comprise a mix of housing, education, community, sport, employment and commercial uses (together with safeguarded land for the energy centre) that importantly will provide a key location for activity in the town and act as a hub for education and sporting facilities in this area. The sports hub in Treasbeare will be the main hub in Cranbrook and provide a wider range of facilities than at the Ingrams Sports hub further to the east.

Coloured circles (shape are not accurate) to represent roughly where each of the new neighbourhoods as part of the Cranbrook expansion would be built

Coloured circles (shape are not accurate) to represent roughly where each of the new neighbourhoods as part of the Cranbrook expansion would be built

COBDENS

110 hectares of land at the Cobdens Expansion Area is allocated for a mixed use development, which will include:

  • Around 1,495 new houses
  • A neighbourhood centre to provide at least 1250sq m gross of groundfloor floor space, including shops and a range of business spaces
  • A 630 pupil place primary school, 80 place early years provision and a room for community use
  • A 50 pupil place Special Educational Needs school
  • Formal open space recreational land
  • Formal play space with facilities for children and youth
  • An extension to the existing sports hub at Ingrams, through the provision of 1x youth 9v9 football pitch
  • Allotments totalling an area of 0.88 hectare of land
  • Ten serviced permanent pitches for gypsies and travellers
  • Serviced land suitable to accommodate a place of worship and parsonage
  • Serviced land (of at least 1 hectare in size) for a cemetery
  • Development of the Cobdens expansion area of Cranbrook will require the undergrounding of the 132kv high voltage power line that crosses the site as indicated in the Cranbrook Masterplan.

This Cobdens expansion area will contain around 1,490 new homes and social and community facilities. It will include provision for a neighbourhood centre and associated mixed and meanwhile uses as well as a large area of Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS).

GRANGE

30 hectares of land at the Grange Expansion Area is allocated for a mixed use development, which will include:

  • Around 800 new houses
  • A community building
  • A neighbourhood centre to provide at least 1,600sq m gross of groundfloor floor space, including shops and a range of business spaces
  • Formal open space
  • Formal play space with facilities for children and youth
  • Allotments totalling an area of 0.47 hectares of land

The Cranbrook Plan allocates land for comprehensive development for the Grange expansion of Cranbrook. Lying south of part of the Ingrams sports pitches serving the existing town and existing development to its north western edge, the area has a good relationship with the existing town and the Cobdens development proposed to the north.

New play areas, a skate park and a sports pavilion for the Ingram sports pitches are also set to soon come to fruition after a deed of variation to the Section 106 agreement is to be finalised and signed, with Cranbrook Town Council taking on responsibility for delivering these important community assets.

A second area of allotments are also due to be provided in the east of the town, adjacent to Southbrook Lane, to complement the existing Crannaford allotments on Rush Meadow Road.

THE TOWN CENTRE

Plans for the town centre are progressing in line with the Cabinet agreement made in January 2021, with the final details of the Memorandum of Understanding outlined in that report moving toward agreement.

The ‘hard-fought deal’ with developers will bring forward multi-million pound plans which include land that could be used for a leisure centre, a hotel and retail units.

Confirmed uses as part of the proposals include a 2,500 square metres Morrisons supermarket, around 350 town centre homes, a town square, a town hall, and a children’s centre, youth centre and library in a single building.

Cranbrook from the air

Cranbrook from the air (Image: EDDC)

The next stage is for the developers to seek planning permission for the supermarket, the town square, a parade of shops and a childrens’ day nursery. Subject to permission being granted, the developers say that these facilities could be open by late 2022.

As part of the deal, the town square, the town council facility, library and youth facilities will also be delivered much sooner than after the previously required trigger point of 3,450 homes built, with deal also seeing about 350 additional new homes in the town centre area provided.

The cabinet decision means that the council will be investing heavily in Cranbrook’s future to the tune of millions of pounds as it can buy land to build areas of the town centre itself.

Councillors had twice rejected accepting the offer from the East Devon New Community Partners (EDNCp), including once just before Christmas, but after further negotiations over the holiday period, further movement to make the offer for Cranbrook more acceptable had been made, including issues around viability, restrictions on offer food stores within the town being relaxed, and increasing the size of the town square.

An East Devon District Council spokesman added: “We are having regular discussions with Henry Davidson Developments to finalise the plans for the supermarket, high street retail units, town square and children’s nursery, with the expectation being that planning applications for these facilities will be made once the Memorandum of Understanding is signed by all parties.

“We are negotiating a land value for the purchase of additional town centre land for non-residential uses and are exploring delivery options for that land.”

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development management, said: “It is fantastic to see Cranbrook really taking shape and becoming a great place to live with such a strong community spirit. A town of this size needs to be a great place to work, socialise and enjoy leisure time, if it is to be the self-contained and sustainable town that we have always envisaged.

“In the last year, we have made great progress on these issues and we continue to work really hard to ensure that the town centre provides the social, community, retail and business spaces that the town needs and the community want. The current situation makes this very challenging and I understand the frustrations the community feel as these facilities are taking longer to deliver than many thought but I really hope that it will be worth the wait.”

And East Devon District Council is looking to continue with the roll-out of a District Heating Network for the expansion of the town and have bid for government funding toward a major project which will take waste heat from a planned Energy from Waste plant at Hill Barton and use it to provide heat and hot water to homes and buildings across the Cranbrook and Monkerton networks.

The district energy network will aim to meet a zero carbon standard, rather than rely on fabric and renewable energy measures on each home, will serve the region, and will ultimately connect 12,000 homes and 2m sqm of commercial space, and underpin the ambition to support the delivery of zero carbon development at Cranbrook.

There is a requirement for all homes to be connected to a district heating network became a key part of the planning strategy for Cranbrook and the neighbouring Skypark commercial development, with all homes tied into a contract with EON.

Together there are now over 100km of heat pipe in the ground, while the first permanent energy centre at Skypark was commissioned in 2013 and a second energy centre, currently under construction at Monkerton, is due to be commissioned later this year.