Latest: Tory candidate for Tiverton and Honiton “all but invisible since selection”

Owl would be delighted to receive reports of any sightings of the elusive Helen Hurford.

The Conservative candidate for the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election has been ordered not to speak to the media by senior party officials because they fear she will be asked about partygate, insiders say.

Tory by-election candidate ‘told to stay silent because of partygate’

Colin Drury www.independent.co.uk 

Parish councillor Helen Hurford has been selected to fight the seat after former Tory MP Neil Parish resigned following revelations that he had twice watched pornography in parliament.

But the former headteacher is said to have been told not to speak to press – because CCHQ think she will struggle to deal with questions about Boris Johnson’s lockdown lawbreaking.

One local Tory says that anger about Downing Street shindogs (sic) is now so widespread in the rural Devon constituency that it has been decided Ms Hurford’s best chance of victory is to remain largely silent and hope the party’s current 24,000 majority carries her to victory.

Strategists are said to have spent time workshopping a response to difficult questions but even the favoured option – to suggest the prime minister got things wrong but it is time to move on – is considered likely to antagonise voters in an area where integrity is expected to come as standard.

The result is that Ms Hurford has been all but invisible since being selected as the Tories’ candidate on Monday. Requests to speak to her by The Independent went firstly unanswered and were then declined with no reason given.

The order for silence is said to have even been extended to local Conservative councillors who have been informally told not to discuss the by-election with media.

Asked in a WhatsApp message if such an instruction had been given, one councillor Colin Slade replied: “I couldn’t possibly comment!”

Another, who asked not to be named, added that members had been told they should “button up”.

Responding to the revelations, a source with the Lib Dems, who are considered the main challengers here, said: “It’s sad that Tory bosses have now effectively gagged their candidate. How can voters trust her to speak up for them if she isn’t even allowed to speak?”

It all comes after Sir Roger Gale, the MP for North Thanet, said Ms Hurford had been chosen as a “electoral sacrifice” amid growing fears the Tories could lose the contest.

“I asked in the tea room this morning if we had actually selected an electoral sacrifice to fight…and I’m told that we have,” he told BBC News on Wednesday.

Yet how well the tactic of eschewing scrutiny will work is yet to be seen.

A similar playbook was used in the Hartlepool, Batley and Spen and North Shropshire by-elections last year when Conservative candidates were labelled invisible for their lack of media engagement.

While it worked in Hartlepool, it proved a disaster in Batley and Spen and North Shropshire where the Tories lost despite being favourites.

The Conservatives have been approached for comment.

Second and third home owners to scoop almost £700 million in windfall

Further to Owl’s earlier post:

The Times www.thetimes.co.uk estimates about 772,000 households with two homes will receive an £800 discount on their energy bills (£620 million windfall).

With about 61,000 people owning three homes in line for payments totalling £1,200 ( a further £73 million windfall).

The Tory MPs calling on Boris Johnson to resign – and what they said

Includes two Devon MPs – Owl

Here is the full list of Tory MPs who have urged the prime minister to stand down, though some say they have not written letters to Brady. Several other critical MPs say they will not reveal whether they have sent a letter – so the true number is likely to be higher.

Jessica Elgot http://www.theguardian.com 

Boris Johnson was warned he would face a string of no-confidence letters after the Sue Gray report into Partygate concluded. In order for a vote of no confidence to be triggered, the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, must receive letters from at least 54 Conservative MPs – 15% of the parliamentary party.

No confidence in the PM

William Wragg

Hazel Grove

I cannot reconcile myself to the prime minister’s continued leadership of our country and the Conservative party. I say this by means of context, so that everyone, particularly my constituents and colleagues, can understand my position, without hiding my views with ever more elaborate disguises.

Gary Streeter

South West Devon

I cannot reconcile the pain and sacrifice of the vast majority of the British public during lockdown with the attitude and activities of those working in Downing Street. Accordingly, I have now submitted a letter seeking a motion of no confidence in the prime minister.

Anthony Mangnall

Totnes

Standards in public life matter. At this time I can no longer support the PM. His actions and mistruths are overshadowing the extraordinary work of so many excellent ministers and colleagues. I have submitted a letter of no confidence.

Tobias Ellwood

Bournemouth East

I have made my position very clear to the prime minister: he does not have my support. A question I humbly put to my colleagues is: are you willing, day in day out, to defend this behaviour publicly? Can we continue to govern without distraction, given the erosion of the trust of the British people? And can we win a general election on this trajectory?

Peter Aldous

Waveney

After a great deal of soul-searching, I have reached the conclusion that the prime minister should resign … Whilst I am conscious that others will disagree with me, I believe that this is in the best interests of the country, the government and the Conservative party.

Roger Gale

North Thanet

It’s absolutely clear that there was a party, that he attended it, that he was raising a toast to one of his colleagues. And therefore, he misled us from the dispatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer.

Steve Baker

Wycombe

Having watched what I would say was beautiful, marvellous contrition … the prime minister’s apology lasted only as long as it took to get out of the headmaster’s study. That is not good enough for me, and it is not good enough for my voters. I am sorry, but for not obeying the letter and the spirit of the law – we have heard that the prime minister knew what the letter was – the prime minister should now be long gone. Really, the prime minister should just know that the gig is up.

John Baron

Basildon and Billericay

Parliament is the beating heart of our nation. To knowingly mislead it cannot be tolerated, no matter the issue. Whether or not the prime minister is an asset to the party or the country is of less importance. Having always said I would consider all the available evidence before deciding, I’m afraid the prime minister no longer enjoys my support – I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.

Aaron Bell

Newcastle-under-Lyme

I wrote my letter following PMQs on 12 January, when I could not square the prime minister’s words from the dispatch box with his previous statements to the house before Christmas. Subsequently I have also struggled to reconcile assurances given directly to me with the implications of Sue Gray’s interim findings.

Karen Bradley

Staffordshire Moorlands

I am proud of the British values of democracy, individual liberty, mutual respect, tolerance and the rule of law and have been privileged to promote those values around the world as an MP and during my time as a government minister. But we will lose the right to promote those values if we do not uphold them ourselves. I do wish to make it clear that if I had been a minister found to have broken the laws that I passed, I would be tendering my resignation now.

Nick Gibb

Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

The prime minister accepted the resignation of Allegra Stratton for joking about a Christmas party that she hadn’t attended, but he won’t take responsibility for those that he did attend. I am sorry to say that it is hard to see how it can be the case that the prime minister told the truth. To restore trust, we need to change the prime minister.

Mark Harper

Forest of Dean

I have formally submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister to Sir Graham Brady MP. This was not an easy decision for me – I have been a member of the Conservative party since I was 17 years old and will remain in the party I love until my dying day.

Tim Loughton

East Worthing and Shoreham

The reason for my conclusion in calling for him to stand down is the way that he has handled the mounting revelations in the last few weeks. Obfuscation, prevarication and evasion have been the order of the day when clarity, honesty and contrition was what was needed and what the British people deserve.

Nigel Mills

Amber Valley

He’s been fined, I don’t think his position is tenable. I think people are rightly angry that at a time when they were observing the very strictest of the rules people who were making the rules didn’t have the decency to observe them.

Andrew Mitchell

Sutton Coldfield

I think this is a crisis that is not going to go away and is doing very great damage to the party. It is more corrosive, in my judgment, than the expenses scandal was, and it will break the coalition that is the Conservative party.

Caroline Nokes

Romsey and Southampton North

I have been very clear that I believe the PM’s conduct fell far short of what my constituents have every right to expect. I do not need to write a letter of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee – mine was in a very long time ago.

David Simmonds

Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

It is clear that while the government and our policies enjoy the confidence of the public, the prime minister does not. It is time for him to step down so that new leadership can take forward the important work of the government in ensuring that our people and country prosper.

Julian Sturdy

York Outer

It is clear discussions about parties in Downing Street remain a damaging distraction at a time when our country faces massive challenges with war returning in Europe, a global cost of living crisis and our recovery from the pandemic being more important than ever. This is clear a time when we cannot have any doubt about the honesty, integrity and personal character of the prime minister.

Stephen Hammond

Wimbledon

I am struck by a number of my colleagues who were really concerned that it’s almost impossible for the PM to say I want to move on, as we cannot move on without regaining public trust and I am not sure that’s possible in the current situation. All I can do as a backbencher is speak out and submit a letter… I have said for several months I already have done all I can as a backbencher.

Calls to resign – but say no letter sent

Neil Hudson

Penrith and The Border

The situation is untenable moving forward. That said, I do not believe it would be prudent or responsible to change the leadership of the government in the midst of the international crisis. I will therefore be looking to the prime minister to show the statesmanship he has been showing with Ukraine, and outline a timetable and process for an orderly transition to a leadership election as soon as the international situation permits.

David Davis

Haltemprice and Howden

I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain. “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.”

Craig Whittaker

Calder Valley

It is my belief that they should both [Johnson and Rishi Sunak] resign. The PM and chancellor should not be an exception to the rules they set to protect us all. I’ve been asked by many of my colleagues and constituents whether I will submit a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. The answer is “no”. I believe it should be down to the British people, and the British people alone.

Unclear if letter sent

Angela Richardson

Guildford

Trust has been broken and it saddens me that the culture in No 10 and the length of time the inquiry has taken has eroded trust in your political representatives. It reflects badly on all of us. Sue Gray reflects many people’s view when she says: “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility.” I am clear that had this been a report about my leadership, I would resign.

Letters withdrawn

Andrew Bridgen

North West Leicestershire

It would be an indulgence to have a vote of no confidence at the time of an international emergency, and this is not going to go away quickly.

Douglas Ross

Moray and Scottish Conservatives leader

I’ve said previously that the prime minister’s position was untenable, and I’ve only changed that because of the situation in Ukraine. Sadly, since the report has been published, the situation in Ukraine has not changed.

Quote of the week

Sir Keir Starmer at PMQ:

“What is it about the Sue Gray report that first attracted him to a U-turn this week?”

The previous week Boris Johnson had ordered his MPs to vote against the idea of a windfall tax on fuel profits. This included our own “Jumping Jupp Flash”.

How do you explain yourself Simon?

Rishi Sunak offers tax incentives to fossil fuel firms despite climate emergency

More unintended, or should that read intended, consequences of the latest screeching U-turn? – Owl

Rishi Sunak has been accused of risking Britain’s reputation as a climate leader by announcing tax relief measures that will encourage energy firms to invest in fossil fuel extraction during a climate emergency.

Saphora Smith www.independent.co.uk

Climate groups and opposition politicians rebuked the chancellor for incentivising oil and gas extraction when climate scientists, the United Nations and the International Energy Agency have made it clear that the world needs to stop new investment in fossil fuels.

“It’s bone-headedly stupid, even by this government’s low standards, not only to allow but in fact to incentivise the production of new climate-wrecking fossil fuels, rather than keeping them firmly in the ground where they belong,” Green MP Caroline Lucas told The Independent.

“This measure will not only make absolutely no difference to families’ soaring energy bills, [but] any new fossil fuel production acts as a wrecking ball to our net zero climate targets, and makes us an embarrassment on the world stage, particularly while we still [retain] the Cop26 presidency.”

Rishi Sunak announces £15bn package for cost of living crisis

The incentive came as part of a package of announcements to tackle the cost of living crisis in Britain, which included a temporary 25 per cent windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies to help support struggling households.

In order to ensure that companies are not deterred from investment by the new levy, Mr Sunak announced that those that invest in oil and gas extraction will be entitled to hefty tax relief on that spending.

“The UK government’s position breaks the pledge it made at the climate talks last year to phase out subsidies for oil and gas projects,” Tessa Khan, director of Uplift, a group that campaigns for a just and fossil-fuel-free UK, told The Independent.

“It is also completely contradictory when it comes to both heading off the climate crisis and tackling the cost of living crisis,” she said. “Fossil fuels are at the heart of both, and yet the chancellor is doubling down and encouraging companies to extract more.”

Analysts and oil executives suggested the measure wouldn’t fundamentally change energy companies’ investment strategies, as the investment tax break, along with the tax on their profits, is due to expire in 2025.

“That’s quite a short time for companies looking at investment in the North Sea,” said Sam Alvis, head of economy at Green Alliance.

An energy company executive who spoke to The Independent on the condition of anonymity said the announcement wouldn’t change the course on net zero in a big way because the firm’s investment horizons are mostly five or 10 years.

Nevertheless, the executive described the move by the government as “messy” and “confusing”.

“We are trying to sell a message to our shareholders – that investment and dividends will have to be shaped by, focused on, ensuring a net-zero-compatible future,” the executive said.

“This muddies the waters, with a mixed message on where investment should be focused from the government.”

Companies can get tax relief for investment in renewables through the super-deduction mechanism. This gives businesses tax breaks on investment in physical capital.

However, the mechanism can also be used to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure, according to Mr Alvis.

Ami McCarthy, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, described the tax break announced on Thursday as “utter stupidity”. “The Chancellor is either in the pocket of the oil and gas industry or is simply happy to see the world burn,” she said.

Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that in order to reach net zero, the country needs to go “hell for leather for renewable power”.

“We should be cracking down on new exploration because it’s not needed,” he said. “If you were serious about getting to net zero, if you were serious about protecting us from climate change, if you were serious about making sure our country was independent of Russia and other people, you would go far more into renewables. So why aren’t they doing that?”

A Shell spokesperson said that the company had “consistently emphasised” the importance of a stable environment for long-term investment. “The chancellor’s proposed tax relief on investments in Britain’s energy future is a critical principle in the new levy,” they said.

The spokesperson confirmed that Shell still intends 75 per cent of its planned £20-25bn investment in the UK energy system to be in low- and zero-carbon products and services, including offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture utilisation and storage, and electric mobility.

A spokesperson for BP said: “As we have said before, we see many opportunities to invest in the UK, into energy security for today, and into energy transition for tomorrow.

“Naturally we will now need to look at the impact of both the new levy and the tax relief on our North Sea investment plans.”

The Treasury declined to comment.

U-turn on energy profits flags up Sunak’s lack of long-term plan

“He’s out-Laboured Labour” was the verdict of one upbeat Tory aide after Rishi Sunak announced £15bn worth of handouts to UK households in what was, to all intents and purposes, an emergency budget.

Heather Stewart www.theguardian.com 

The scale of the package was larger than many in Westminster had expected. But when Sunak decides to do a U-turn, he tends to go big.

The “temporary targeted energy profits levy” – don’t say windfall tax – raises significantly more than Labour’s would have. And the cost of living payments were more targeted, and much more generous, than the measures in the spring statement.

As Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, put it: Sunak’s overall approach – taking this announcement along with other recent outings – is “hugely redistributive, taking from high earners and giving to the poor”.

After the punishment beating Boris Johnson’s Tories have taken over Partygate, the announcement will have done him no harm with backbenchers fed up with having no answer to constituents struggling to heat their homes or feed their kids.

Backbench MPs from across the party had been putting pressure on the Treasury to act and in the absence of a clear steer, floating their own widely differing plans for tackling the crisis.

Johnson was widely ridiculed earlier this month when he responded to a heartbreaking story from a Good Morning Britain viewer, Elsie, about riding around on buses to save on energy bills by boasting about the Freedom Pass.

Next time he is asked, Sunak’s package will give the prime minister something concrete to say.

After many months of being the leading contender to succeed Johnson, Sunak’s ham-fisted spring statement, combined with negative stories about his personal tax affairs and those of his super-rich wife, had led many to write off his leadership chances.

But the blizzard of slick social media messaging that poured out alongside the statement – complete with Sunak’s signature – suggested the one person who hasn’t written off his chances is the chancellor himself.

The lofty tone of his speech in the chamber harked back to Sunak’s greatest political hit, the furlough scheme, as he promised, “this government will not sit idly by whilst there is a risk that some in our country might be set so far back … they might never recover”.

Yet when you look back on the past six months, the overwhelming impression is of a government without what George Osborne used to call a “long-term economic plan”.

They were against a windfall tax, now they have implemented one. Sunak claims to be a tax-cutting chancellor, but the tax burden is rising. He thinks tackling the deficit is a “moral responsibility”, but two-thirds of Thursday’s £15bn package is unfunded or, in other words, paid for by increased borrowing. And he repeatedly implements policies that are partly – or fully – reversed, sometimes just a few months later.

The £20 universal credit uplift was scrapped, but then part of the cut was handed back to low-income households with a cut in the taper rate. The hard-fought health and care levy was partly handed back with the increase in the NICs threshold. And a widespread backlash has led Sunak to cancel plans to claw back October’s energy bill rebate –while doubling its value. Putting it politely, he’s all over the place.

Cabinet ministers put these zigzags down partly to wrangling between Sunak and Johnson, who are very different Conservatives without a shared political project – if indeed Johnson has a project at all, aside from keeping himself in No 10.

But many Conservative MPs say they struggle to discern what it is the chancellor stands for either, aside from burnishing brand Rishi. Thursday’s statement, embracing a policy he had previously scorned, and all but conceding that the spring statement fell way short of the scale of the crisis, did little to change that.

Windfall for second homers

They get second dibs on the £400 household fuel discount because there is no way of distinguishing them.

Is this an illustration of “unintended consequences” from a government caught unawares, having to devise support policies overnight?

Or, perhaps not…..

From a government ideologically opposed to increasing targeted redistribution mechanisms such as universal credit and having a strong personal interest in second homes; think “Three homes” Jenrick.

(This windfall will be part funded by a TTEPL “temporary targeted energy profits levy”)