Tory backbenchers can no longer ignore that a liar is sitting at the heart of government

The most pithy comment so far – Owl

It’s all falling apart for them. You can see it in the faces of the Conservative parliamentary party, as they sullenly watch Boris Johnson defend himself over Partygate. You can see it on the empty benches, as they scurry from the Chamber rather than defend the indefensible. The Government has entered a period of sustained decay. It is a moral decay. But it is also an electoral decay.

Ian Dunt inews 1 day ago www.msn.com

If those MPs were honest with themselves, they would have found a reassuring truth in the Chamber today: the Conservative party’s interest and the national interest are perfectly aligned. The Prime Minister must be removed from office. He is a threat to their election prospects and his continued presence in Downing Street degrades the basic legitimacy of British governance.

Sue Gray’s report was finally published today, after months of waiting. It confirmed, in forensic detail, the stories we’ve seen emerging from journalists since Partygate broke. Late night parties in No 10 and the Cabinet Office during lockdown. Vomiting, fights, karaoke sessions, red wine spilled all over the walls, broken children’s swings in the Downing Street Garden. Security and cleaning staff treated with sneering disdain by staff.

They knew what they were doing and what people would think about it. “A 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of No 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment,” Lee Cain, No 10 director of communications, emailed his colleagues on 20 May 2020. After the party, Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, was pleased to have escaped any media scrutiny. “A complete non story,” he said, referring to some other issue, “but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with)”.

A culture had taken root in Downing Street. It was one of boozing and misbehaviour, sure. But far more importantly, it was a culture of lawbreaking. A kind of feudal court, in which the rules which apply to others do not apply to the leadership caste.

Cultures like that come from the top. But when Johnson arrived in the Commons an hour later, he told a different story. It was lawyered to within an inch of its life. It sounded like a defence barrister casting doubt in the jury’s mind about whether the defendant was close to the scene of the crime.

No 10 is a big building, he said. 500,300 metres square over five floors, excluding the flats. He’d attended the birthday party in the Cabinet room and been fined. But the other events were leaving parties for members of staff, which he only popped in on. “I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership.”

He’d had nothing to do with the late evening debauchery that followed and wasn’t even aware it happened. “I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House,” he said. “I have been appalled by some of the behaviour.”

By some miraculous turn of events, he had not heard these parties as they happened, despite the report stating that during one gathering: “people working elsewhere in the No 10 building that evening heard significant levels of noise”. He had not been informed they happened, despite repeated communication about them from senior members of his staff. And he had not realised they were against the rules, despite the people around him clearly joking about it in written communication.

And anyway, reforms had now been put in place. The No 10 operation was being rejigged. “The entire senior management has changed,” he said proudly. Everyone, that is, except him.

This was operation “Save Big Dog” – reportedly the name he himself gave the rescue operation for his career. First, he denied the parties ever happened. Then he lied about it. Then he insisted he could not talk about it because of the Gray report. And then finally, once it was published, he was prepared to speak about it only for as long as it took him to misrepresent it. After that, as he said at the close of his statement, it was time to “move on”.

A few Tory MPs dutifully got up to lip-sync No 10’s position. Most trooped out in the early stages of the debate. There were just a few brave souls on the government benches prepared to grapple with reality.

Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood spoke directly to his colleagues. “Are you willing, day in and day out, to defend this behaviour publicly? Can we win the general election on this current trajectory?” He was breaking the omerta. He was refusing to go along with the conspiracy of silence and inaction. So they tried to shout him down. “I’m being heckled by my own people,” he said desperately.

They should have listened carefully, because amid a spectacle of lies here was one man who was prepared to speak the truth. Johnson’s excuses were literally unbelievable. He would sacrifice anyone for his own advancement. He was bringing his office into disrepute and disgracing the party he leads. But it is not a truth the Tory party is prepared to hear.

Instead, they go grimly on. A zombie party, knowing what has happened is intolerable, and yet unable to admit it or act upon it. Every day they fail to do so, they take Johnson’s moral culpability and slather it on themselves.

Tory MPs suspect cover-up over ‘Abba party’ in Boris Johnson’s flat

Conservative MPs fear a “cover-up” over potentially the most damaging event of the Partygate scandal after Sue Gray admitted she did not fully investigate an alcohol-fuelled gathering in the flat shared by the prime minister and his wife.

Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com 

The six-month inquiry concluded with an acknowledgment from Gray that little was known about what took place in the flat above 11 Downing Street on 13 November 2020, with food, alcohol and loud Abba music reported.

Gray said it would not have been “appropriate or proportionate” to continue her inquiries into the gathering after they were paused to make way for a Scotland Yard investigation.

Her report said a “meeting” was held in the Downing Street flat involving Johnson and five political special advisers to discuss the resignations of two senior No 10 aides that day – Johnson’s chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, and the director of communications, Lee Cain.

‘Absolutely shameless’: MPs grill Boris Johnson over Sue Gray findings – video

Gray said the meeting began after 6pm and Johnson joined at about 8pm, and the discussions “carried on later into the evening” with food and alcohol available.

But she admitted her knowledge of the gathering was limited because she had only just started collecting evidence about it before the Metropolitan police announced its own Partygate investigation in January, prompting her investigation to stop to avoid prejudicing officers’ inquiries.

When the Met’s Operation Hillman came to an end last week, with 126 fines handed out, Gray said she “considered whether or not to conduct any further investigation into this event but concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so”.

One senior Tory MP told the Guardian they believed it amounted to a cover-up. Another said it had the potential to be “the most damaging event of the bunch for Johnson personally” and suggested it was highly suspicious the event had not been looked at, given several of the people present are believed to be friends of Johnson’s wife.

A frontbench Conservative MP also said they were disappointed the Gray report “doesn’t clear up what parties did or didn’t happen in his flat”, and added: “I think he’s getting away lightly.”

Another Tory MP argued: “The report makes clear the PM attended party after party in his frat house.

“While he partied in his, others were domestically abused or isolated in theirs. The failure to investigate the infamous Abba party is a failure of courage and duty on the part of Gray.”

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and chair of the Commons standards committee, said he was “mystified why this hasn’t been investigated by Sue Gray”.

Several MPs tackled Johnson directly about it in the Commons chamber. Justin Madders, a former shadow minister, asked: “Can he confirm for the record everyone who was there that evening and [that] there was no alcohol, no music, or anything else that people might reasonably conclude constituted a party?”

Johnson declined and said he had “nothing to add” to Gray’s findings.

Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, also said she was “puzzled as to why the Abba party in the prime minister’s flat had never been investigated either by Sue Gray or the Met police”. She added: “So can I ask the PM what can be done by way of an independent investigation to assure me and my constituents that the Met police have not been nobbled?”

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In response, Johnson told her to “look more closely at Sue Gray’s report because I think she will find the answer she needs”.

Pressed further on the flat party at a press conference on Wednesday, Johnson said Gray had pointed out the Downing Street flat had a “dual use”. He added: “Historically, prime ministers have used it for meetings. The event in question was a work meeting and the Metropolitan police did investigate it and that was certainly the outcome of their investigation.”

Major plan for eight mile route near Exeter

A public consultation has been launched over plans to create a new eight-mile scenic trail between Topsham and West Clyst. The route through parkland and river valleys will be accessible for walkers, cyclists, mobility scooters and, where feasible, horse riders.

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com 

More than 40,000 people will be able to benefit from the Clyst Valley Trail which will link Pinhoe in Exeter with the Exe Estuary Trail. It will also connect to 12,000 new homes and businesses near the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone, as well as nearby towns and villages including Clyst St George, Clyst St Mary, Sowton, Clyst Honiton and Cranbrook.

East Devon District Council is currently in the early stages of designing the multi-use route. It will enable people in and around Exeter to enjoy the new Clyst Valley Regional Park and East Devon. The consultation will run until Friday, June 10.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, cabinet member with responsibility for cycling, said: “The Clyst Valley Trail is a high priority route as part of the delivery of Devon County Council’s multiuse trail strategy and this consultation is a good opportunity for people to have their say and help us refine the proposals at this stage. The trail will promote leisure trips to the East of Exeter which will support local tourism, recreation and hospitality businesses.

“It will also encourage sustainable commuter travel, providing health and well-being benefits to local communities and supporting carbon reduction targets.”

The Clyst Valley Trail would be delivered in three sections. The route will be well served by bus with West Clyst, Clyst Honiton, Clyst St Mary and Topsham all having several buses per hour into Exeter. There are also railway stations at Pinhoe, Cranbrook, Digby Sowton and Topsham, which are all within 2km of the trail.

The proposed Clyst Valley Trail route towards the Exe Estuary

The proposed Clyst Valley Trail route towards the Exe Estuary (Image: DCC)

Councillor Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “I am really excited to see the plans for the Clyst Valley Trail. As a ‘multiuse’ trail it will benefit everyone: walkers, people with disability, cyclists, families and horse riders too.

“The trail will take people from their front doors into work, places of historic interest, our fabulous countryside and country pubs. So, if you’re young or old, or need the help of an e-bike (like myself!) please support the creation of this new trail and enjoy the benefits it will provide.”

Part of the proposed Clyst Valley Trail from Clyst St Mary to Topsham

Part of the proposed Clyst Valley Trail from Clyst St Mary to Topsham (Image: DCC)

The consultation team will attend a parish council meeting Bishops Clyst (Clyst St Mary and Sowton) on Wednesday, June 1, at 7pm at Clyst St Mary Church. Other meetings have previously taken place.

Following the consultation, the scheme plans will be updated before approval is sought through the county council’s cabinet and East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committees.

To comment on the proposals complete the online consultation survey. Paper copies of the consultation leaflet, maps and survey can be requested by emailing transportplanning@devon.gov.uk or by writing to: Transport Planning, Devon County Council, Matford Offices, County Hall, Topsham Road, Exeter, EX2 4QD.

“Old Muck Spreader” explains why he’s not standing

“I was just a lilttle bit worried that somebody might come in from London that would not be suitable for Tiverton and Honiton because not only do you need a good parliamentary representative in London, it’s a seat that wants a good local representative as well and I tried to be that over the years.”

(Of course! – Owl)

Neil Parish not standing for re-election

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

He’d worried about national candidate entering fray

After much speculation, otherwise, disgraced former Neil Parish MP, who resigned following revelations that he had watched pornography in the House of Commons, will not be standing in the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

Speaking with the Local Democracy Reporting service Mr Parish said he had had “a lot of support” from constituents including more than 100 letters to his house and lots of emails but said he now feels “happy” with the Consevative candidate, local ex-headteacher Helen Hurford.

He continued: “I was just a lilttle bit worried that somebody might come in from London that would not be suitable for Tiverton and Honiton because not only do you need a good parliamentary representative in London, it’s a seat that wants a good local representative as well and I tried to be that over the years.”

Mr Parish said he would be “very happy” to campaign with Ms Hurford but added that it would be a will be a decision for her and the Conservative Party.

“But I am here,” he continued. “ I will be talking to people that have supported me in the past.

“I’m very happy to introduce her to people if she wishes me to do so but I’m entirely really now in the hands of the party.

“Naturally It’s her decision very much how she runs her campaign  and I do wish her every success.”

Mr Parish said it is important to have a female candidate, partly “because of the circumstances” of his own exit.

He added: “I think it’s probably quite fitting now that after 12 years of a man representing the constituency it’s really good to have a very able woman.” 

He said the quality of the Conservative candidate is the main reason why he won’t be running for his old seat as an independent. 

Mr Parish explained that he and his wife feel he has contributed a lot to his local constituency and to parliament, adding: “I think what I need to do now is let somebody else get on with that work and I need to concentrate on my family, my wife, who’s been so supportive, and also I can do some more farming.” 

Mr Parish wants to “keep his brain alive” by focusing on food production, farming, animal welfare, the environment and farming charities. “[There’s] lots of things I get my teeth into” he added.

Mr Parish continued: “I’ve really appreciated the support that I’ve been given in the constituency. I tried to work hard over the last 12 years and I hope that’s paid off and I really have been glad of the support.

He said he was sorry he had to leave his post “in such circumstances.” 

The former MP now expects his role in the Conservative Party to be “very limited, especially to start with” but does see a more background role for himself in the future “once the storm is over – and the storm is dying down now.”

The Tiverton & Honiton by-election will be held on Thursday 23 June.

As well as Helen Hurford for the Conservatives, businesswoman Liz Pole, who also ran in 2019,  will stand for Labour, and former army major Richard Foord,  will be the Lib Dems’ candidate.

Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party, have named Andy Foan as their candidate.

The Conservatives are defending a majority of more than 24,000 votes from the 2019 general election.

‘Disgraceful’: voters in key byelection seats respond to Sue Gray report

Appears to be uncertainty in Tiverton and Honiton – Owl

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

Wakefield

Walking towards Wakefield’s medieval cathedral, lifelong Conservative voters Pat Spawforth and her husband, Peter, were in no mood to forgive Boris Johnson after watching his apology to the Commons over Partygate.

“It’s disgraceful,” said Spawforth, 80. “Disgusting,” added her husband. The prime minister’s refusal to resign following the excoriating Sue Gray report was evidence, he said, that the Conservative leadership was “rotten to the core”.

Pat Spawforth, who has voted Tory in most elections since she was 18, said she would not back the party in the forthcoming Wakefield byelection, which was triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. Peter, who has always voted Conservative, said he was undecided.

“Boris was in charge; he should have stopped it. He should go,” said Pat. “He consistently seems to twist the truth, shall we say. That’s not how we’ve been brought up and it’s not what I approve of.”

The Conservatives are doomed if the views of these two party loyalists are reflected across Wakefield on 23 June. The West Yorkshire constituency has a Tory majority of only 3,358, having turned blue for the first time in 87 years in 2019.

Labour is odds-on to take the seat back in a key test of public opinion in a vital electoral battleground, although the next general election will not happen until May 2024 at the latest.

Smoking a roll-up outside Costa, Jeff Thomas, 77, was one of many Wakefield residents who voted Tory for the first time in 2019.

Like many who lent their vote to Johnson three years ago in protest at Labour’s direction, he said his vote was up for grabs next month. “Whether I’ll vote for them again, I’m undecided, but a lot of people won’t. I think Labour will get in. A bit will be down to Partygate but a lot of people didn’t vote last time who would this time.”

Thomas, a former construction manager, felt the parties in Downing Street were “wrong” but that it was “trivial” compared with issues such as the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine.

Allan Jones, a 69-year-old stallholder, agreed that it was time to move on from Partygate even though he was angry about it. “The first three months [of lockdown] was torture. Everybody suffered. You can’t make the law up then break it yourself,” he said, petting his yorkshire terrier, Albert. “He ought to be in a circus, that Boris. He’s a full-class berk.”

Several voters said they were sick of hearing about the lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street. Some also expressed fatigue with the early days of the byelection campaign.

Tidying up at Karpaty bakery, Anna Zach said it was obvious the prime minister should step down. “I’m disappointed. We stayed at home and we closed,” said Zach, 34. “Of course he must resign.”

Tiverton and Honiton

Two hundred and fifty miles south, in the Devon town of Tiverton, Nicholas Page was strolling through the pannier market in tweeds and green wellies, looking every inch a West Country Tory supporter, but even he admitted he was feeling less sure.

“I’m a lifelong Conservative voter,” he said. “And I’ll probably vote for them again but it’s only a probably this time. Boris Johnson should have just admitted what had been going on. Instead it’s been all obfuscation and prevarication. His relationship with the truth is tenuous, to say to the least.”

But Page, a former farmer and now a self-employed countryside contractor in his 60s, said he could not see who could take over from Johnson. “He’s surrounded by useless yes men. I don’t know who’d be better.”

Nneka, 18, a college student, said she was disgusted by the Partygate scandal. “While the rest of us were following the rules, they were having a good time. They should be role models. They have failed and Johnson should resign.”

One of the elements of the Gray report that hit home for Nneka was the poor treatment of cleaners and security staff. “That’s terrible. They are powerful people who clearly don’t care about ordinary workers. We know Johnson is a racist with his remarks about watermelon smiles and letterboxes. I’ll never vote for them.”

Theresa Kelland, who runs the fruit and veg store in the town’s pannier market, recalled being stopped by the police during a lockdown when she was delivering supplies to vulnerable people. “The police were keeping an eye on people like me but not the prime minister,” she said. “They were partying when people were dying.”

Sweeping from Exmoor in the north to Lyme Bay in the south, Tiverton and Honiton has returned a Tory MP since its creation in 1997. The disgrace of Neil Parish, who resigned after being caught watching pornography in the House of Commons, may let in another party.

The Lib Dems were in Tiverton as the Gray report was published, drumming up support as they try to make inroads into the Tories’ 24,000 majority on 23 June. Hannah Kitching, a Lib Dem councillor from South Yorkshire who was spending her holiday on the campaign trail, said she had knocked on more than 200 doors.

“We’re finding a lot of discontent, disappointment, anger. People are really angry and hurt that Boris Johnson was breaking lockdown rules while they were doing everything they could to follow them.”

At the Independent Coffee Trader cafe, the owner, Leigh Parker, said she usually voted Tory but wasn’t sure who she would opt for in next month’s byelection. “I’m on the fence at the moment,” she said.

However, she added that she was fed up with hearing about Partygate. “I’m ready to move on,” she said. Parker is more concerned about the cost of living crisis. She has run her cafe for seven years but does not take a wage for herself and works two other jobs – as a venue manager and private paramedic – to make ends meet.

“My electricity bill for this cafe has gone up from £110 to nearly £300 a month. That’s what is really on my mind.”

Tory MPs should reflect on Boris Johnson’s character if they want him to lead them

“The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen … The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.” (Ms Gray)

www.independent.co.uk 

Rarely has a report by a civil servant been so eagerly awaited. For five months, ministers and Conservative backbenchers have deflected questions about Boris Johnson’s future by saying they were “waiting for Sue Gray”.

When she delivered her 37-page report about Partygate on Wednesday, Ms Gray gave Tory MPs plenty to think about and handed them plenty of bullets; they should use them rather than continue to put off their big decision about the prime minister.

Ms Gray said: “The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen … The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”

Mr Johnson’s allies will be relieved Ms Gray did not produce new revelations about his involvement in the Downing Street parties. But she paints a damning picture of a partying and drinking culture, which repeatedly breached the Covid laws the participants had imposed on a public that made huge sacrifices in obeying them.

Inside No 10, officials were worried about the optics of their parties: one spoke of a “comms risk”.  A key figure in this sorry saga is Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s former principal private secretary, who told a colleague “we seem to have got away with” a party in the garden. Mr Reynolds has left No 10 under the shake-up trumpeted by Mr Johnson and praised by Ms Gray. But he has returned to the Foreign Office and is likely to land a plum ambassadorial post. That would hardly be the senior civil service taking “responsibility” for this scandal in the way Ms Gray rightly wishes to see.

Similarly, in his Commons statement, the prime minister accepted “full responsibility”, insisting he was “humbled” and had learnt lessons. But he did not display the contrition the occasion demanded and the report deserved. Instead, he told MPs he was “as surprised and disappointed as anyone else” by the revelations because (like Macavity the cat) he was “simply not there” because he had already left before “subsequent proceedings” took place.

He had the temerity to claim that his view he was attending work events had been “vindicated” because he had been fined only for a single event – his birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room. The Gray report offers no such vindication and Tory MPs should remember that.

At his press conference, Mr Johnson refused to speculate on disciplinary action against individuals. As Ms Gray hinted, it would be wrong if very junior officials were thrown under the bus. Some of those fined attended parties because their superiors, and the prime minister, were there. Some owned up to attending parties to Ms Gray on the basis that there would not be a police investigation, and then found their evidence handed to Scotland Yard.

Johnson’s handling of the inquiry’s publication has been woeful and has further damaged him. It was crass for his so-called friends to claim the widely respected Ms Gray was “playing politics” and “enjoying the limelight a little too much”. The claims are baseless. Downing Street was wrong to insist she asked for a meeting with Mr Johnson to discuss her forthcoming report – it was later admitted that No 10 requested it.

Tory MPs should reflect on his character as they decide whether they want Mr Johnson to lead them into the next general election. A majority of backbenchers sit uncomfortably in a middle group that wants neither to defend Mr Johnson nor to depose him. So the completion of this act of the Partygate drama is not the end of the affair as he would wish.

Mr Johnson now faces an inquiry by the Commons privileges committee into whether he knowingly misled parliament by arguing that the rules had been upheld at all times. The “knowingly” caveat on when resignations should happen under the ministerial code might save him, but he first has a lot more questions to answer.

If Tory MPs continue to lack the courage to move against Mr Johnson now, the final Partygate inquiry could yet prove his biggest hurdle. If the Commons judges that he knowingly misled MPs, even his much-vaunted ability to defy political gravity would be tested to the limit.

Sue Gray report paints Johnson as cruise ship captain, in charge but not in control

Boris Johnson is a laissez- faire prime minister running a laissez- faire administration – Owl

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com (Extract)

Perhaps the most accidentally telling line of Boris Johnson’s apology-meets-explanation in response to the Sue Gray report came when he outlined recent personnel moves inside Downing Street: “The entire senior management has changed.”

Aside, of course, from the man at the very top. And while Johnson insisted he took “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch”, the Gray report eloquently chronicled what has been a refrain of Johnson’s political career – the sense of a man officially in charge, but not necessarily in control.

For many Johnson supporters, this characteristic is portrayed as a strength. He is, they argue, more chairman than chief executive, the visionary and salesman who leaves tedious detail to diligent if less talented underlings.

This way of working was perhaps most beneficial when Johnson was mayor of London, a sometimes ceremonial role with the bulk of the granular decisions devolved to subject-specific deputy mayors.

In central government, things become more difficult. The string of social vignettes set out in Gray’s report portray Johnson less as a central point of power than a sort of gilded spectre, guided between meetings and stumbling across parties, making a brief speech or raising a glass in a toast before being led off again.

If being prime minister is to captain a ship, the Johnson of the Gray report commands a cruise vessel, one where the main task involves being amiable to passengers at the dinner table…..

Tiverton and Honiton by-election: Eight to stand in poll

Even without “Indy” Neil, there will be a lot of potential for vote splitting, including on the right. – Owl 

www.bbc.co.uk 

Eight people are standing in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

The Parliamentary poll was triggered by Conservative Neil Parish standing down.

Representatives from the three main political parties – the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – are being fielded.

They will joined by candidates from the For Britain Movement, the Green Party, the Heritage Party, Reform UK and the UK Independence Party, the official list of candidates said.

The poll is due to be held on 23 June.

  • Jordan Donoghue-Morgan, Heritage Party
  • Andy Foan – Reform UK
  • Richard Foord – Liberal Democrats
  • Helen Hurford – Conservative
  • Liz Pole – Labour
  • Frankie Rufolo – The For Britain Movement
  • Ben Walker – UK Independence Party
  • Gill Westcott – Green Party

All the candidates had to submit their completed nomination papers by 16:00 GMT on 25 May.

A deposit of £500 was also required, which is returned if they get more than 5% of the votes in the election.