Who paid for “Fizz with Liz”?

Liz Truss is embroiled in fresh controversy after a leaked email left her facing questions over why she did not declare thousands of pounds spent on schmoozing Tory MPs in the run up to her bid to succeed Boris Johnson.

Simon Walters www.independent.co.uk

Around a dozen Conservative MPs attended a so-called “Fizz with Liz” champagne dinner hosted by the foreign secretary at Mayfair members club 5 Hertford St last year.

The event was paid for by club owner, multimillionaire aristocrat Robin Birley.

When The Independent asked why Ms Truss has not declared the function – worth an estimated £3,000 – in the Commons register, where MPs are obliged to disclose hospitality worth more than £300, her spokesperson denied she had organised it.

It had “nothing to do with her,” they said. Ms Truss was merely one of a number of Conservative MP guests invited by “organiser and host” Mr Birley, the spokesperson said.

However, this account is disputed by other MPs present who told The Independent that she was the host and not Mr Birley, who “turned up briefly to say hello”.

The invitation sent to MPs suggests the event was organised by Truss’s office

( Supplied)

Moreover, they said they were invited by Ms Truss. Their version of events appears to be borne out by a copy of the invitation obtained by this newspaper.

Sent from her Commons email address, it said: “Liz Truss MP is delighted to invite you to attend a dinner at 5 Hertford Street on 26 October at 7.30pm. Most grateful if you could confirm attendance by 10 October. Best wishes, Office of Liz Truss.”

A source close to Boris Johnson told The Independent that he was informed that at the time that Ms Truss had met a group of Tory MPs at 5 Hertford St in October last year and that she appeared to be “on manoeuvres”.

Former cabinet minister David Davis, who is supporting Mr Sunak, said: “We have just lost one prime minister after he broke the rules and couldn’t bring himself to tell the whole truth to the House of Commons. It would be a tragedy if a would-be prime minister did the same before they even got into Downing Street.”

Parliament’s code of conduct says MPs must declare in the Commons register of financial interests any gifts, benefits or hospitality with a value over £300.

This includes “‘any benefits which relate in any way to their membership of the House or political activities… hospitality, including receptions and meals”.

In addition, donations worth more than £1,500 must be declared to the Electoral Commission watchdog.

Declarations to the Commons register and the Electoral Commission must be made within a month.

The “Fizz With Liz” row comes hours after Ms Truss was forced to scrap plans to save up to £11bn per year from civil service pay reforms after claims that it would mean cutting the wages of nurses and teachers.

She said there had been “wilful misrepresentation” of her initiative but critics said she should “stop blaming others” for the muddle.

The 5 Hertford St club is popular with wealthy Tory donors and Brexit backers, showbusiness celebrities and royals.

It is not the first time Ms Truss’s links to the club, where membership costs £2,850 a year, have attracted attention.

She clashed with Foreign Office after insisting on hosting an official £3,000 lunch there last year for a US trade envoy. She spent hundreds of pounds on wine and gin alone, according to a Sunday Times report in January.

She reportedly described suggestions of a cheaper and less party political option as “inappropriate”, said the newspaper. The £1,400 bill was picked up by taxpayers after the Foreign Office negotiated a price cut.

This followed reports in December that 5 Hertford St had become “ground zero for anti-Boris plotters”.

The club was reportedly being used by Ms Truss for “Fizz With Liz” functions to “schmooze MPs and potential financial backers for a leadership bid”.

The Independent has spoken to a number of MPs who attended a dinner they say was hosted by Ms Truss at the club on 26 October.

“Liz was centre of attention, in great form and we discussed all sorts of things,” said one. “We had champagne, cocktails, wine and a lovely three-course meal. Mr Birley turned up briefly to say hello.”

Another MP said: “Liz said it was time to stand up for Conservative values. She didn’t talk about the leadership but we all knew why we were there. She wanted our support.”

Approached by The Independent about the event, Ms Truss’s team changed their account several times.

Initially, her spokesperson said Ms Truss paid for the event personally, which would mean there was nothing to declare.

They later said it was paid for by Mr Birley but said there was no need to declare it.

Ms Truss was merely “an attendee,” a guest of Mr Birley, said her spokesperson, and the value of her dinner was “below the £300 threshold for Commons declarations”.

The spokesperson was adamant that the event had “nothing to do with her”. “It was not organised for her, on her behalf or by her. She was invited by Robin Birley with loads of MPs. It was put on by Mr Birley to discuss low tax and deregulation.”

Asked to explain the email from her Commons office inviting MPs to the event the spokesperson said later: “I am aware of the email but it was not her event. We are sticking with the line. We have had very clear advice

“A declaration would only need to be made if there was a benefit to Liz, or it was above the threshold for individual declarations for MPs’ register of interests. Liz was one of a number of MPs in attendance.”

Mr Birley, who donated £20,000 to Boris Johnson in 2019, and who is a half brother of environment minister Zac Goldsmith, said last September that he had lost faith in the government. Mr Birley told The Times: “I do not see this government as particularly pro business. I am terribly depressed about the situation.”

Despite recent gaffes, Ms Truss remains the strong favourite to defeat Mr Sunak in the Tory leadership contest. The latest YouGov poll put her 34 points ahead among Conservative members.

Most local MP’s not on the same hymn sheet as their members

But whatever song they are singing, Tories are consumed with their own in-fighting and not concentrating on the real issues facing the country. – Owl

From today’s Western Morning News:

Rishi Sunak has won the backing of the majority of Westcountry Tory MPs.

Ed Oldfield reports

A majority of MPs in Devon and Cornwall are backing Rishi Sunak as the next Prime Minister – against the polling of party members, which puts Liz Truss way out in front.

Six of the eight Tory MPs in Devon are backing the former Chancellor to be Conservative Party leader and succeed Boris Johnson. They include Central Devon MP Mel Stride, who is running the campaign for the former chancellor.

In Cornwall, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary and MP for Camborne and Redruth, and Steve Double, the St Austell and Newquay MP, have also thrown their weight behind Mr Sunak, who was accompanied by North Cornwall MP Scott Mann – also a supporter – on a visit to Launceston this week.

Mr Sunak made a bid for the rural vote when he spoke at the Westcountry hustings event at the Great Hall at University of Exeter on Monday. He said he would make sure post-Brexit international trade deals do not penalise farmers, and said fields should be used for food production not solar panels.

Mr Stride, speaking after the meeting, said suggestions that Ms Truss was in the lead with party members was not proving to be the case, and said Mr Sunak had “everything to fight for” because there were a large number of undecided voters. He added: “He is the best person to beat Labour – the central thing is, he can beat Keir Starmer.”

The other declared supporters for Mr Sunak in Devon so far are Torridge and West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox, Selaine Saxby in North Devon, Simon Jupp in East Devon, South West Devon MP Sir Gary Streeter, and Anthony Mangnall in Totnes. Torbay MP Kevin Foster outlined his support for Liz Truss in the initial stages of the contest, while Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris backed Tom Tugendhat, who has since backed Ms Truss.

Mr Foster and Ms Morris attended a meeting on Monday in South Devon with Ms Truss, and the Torbay MP tweeted afterwards: “She will deliver on her pledges and unite the party behind her to do so”. Both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss pledged to win back the Tiverton and Honiton parliamentary seat, which was lost to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election in June after the resignation of Neil Parish for watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber.

After Monday’s meeting, Devon County Council leader John Hart said he had come to listen and was still undecided, but added: “I was very impressed with Rishi.” How he dealt with a question about loyalty following his resignation from the Cabinet, which was one of the triggers for the departure of Boris Johnson, impressed Mr Hart.

Mr Sunak told the audience: “The Government found itself on the wrong side of yet another ethical debate that I found it hard to defend.” That related to what Mr Johnson knew about misconduct allegations against deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. Mr Hart said the response from Mr Sunak had “cleared the air”. Such opinions will be seen as an important factor as Conservative Party members make their decision about who to support in the postal ballot during August.

Who MPs support will affect their promotion prospects, when the winn­er is announced on September 5 and appoints a team of ministers.

It emerged on Tuesday that the Conservative Party has delayed sending out ballot papers for the leadership election over security concerns. The party has made changes to its process on the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, following warnings that hackers could change members’ votes.

Devon’s leader warns local authorities could go bust

Chickens coming home to roost for low tax, small state, austerity Conservatives – Owl

Some local authorities could go bust as income fails to keep up with cost pressures and inflation, the leader of Devon County Council has warned.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Devon recently predicted a potential overspend in this financial year of up to £40 million, with its finance chief saying the council has “never before faced a combination of demand growth and price shock pressures of this scale.”

Conservative councillor John Hart, leader since 2009, says demand has gone up “far higher than we really anticipated” in children’s and adult services, while soaring inflation is “something we didn’t budget for” at the start of 2022.

It means some of the council’s bills, particularly for highways projects, are now around 20 per cent higher than it expected last year.

“We have a choice,” Cllr Hart said. “We live within in our means or we go bust.

“The more local authorities that go bust, the biggest problem the government’s got. And it’s got quite a lot of local authorities that are warning at the present moment that they have financial troubles.”

While Devon is not one of them at the moment, Cllr Hart admitted the council does have financial troubles – due to a separate overspend on caring for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The government has told councils to put SEND overspends into separate ring-fenced accounts for three years, which ends next April, while it develops a new funding plan.

Devon’s share – effectively debt – is projected to rise to £119 million by the end of the arrangement, roughly the same amount it will have set aside in reserves based on current estimates.

But the council, along with a number of others, are still waiting to hear from the government about what will happen with the overspends.

Unlike the government, local councils have to balance their budgets by law every year and Cllr Hart predicts that a number of authorities “will go bust”

He adds: “There are a number that are getting very serious warnings at the present moment from their auditors.”

In 2018, Northamptonshire County Council effectively went bankrupt twice, leading to it and seven district councils being merged by the government into two unitary authorities.

“I think we have a problem with local government funding,” Cllr Hart said, “in as much [as] government has reduced its grant aid to local government and we have had to become much more reliant on council tax and business rates.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been responsible for the business rates and the council tax. We have been controlled, though, by government as to how much we could raise.

“So, that in itself means you aren’t giving us the money in cash. You’re not giving us the money we possibly would want in council tax because you’re telling us we have to restrict it to one-to-two per cent.

“We were able to take some extra money for social care [one per cent], and this council has always taken it because we do have an elderly population and we do have a very large social care bill, but that doesn’t actually help the general run of everything.

“75 to 77 per cent of what we spend now is on care of some sort – looking after a very small proportion of the people of Devon ….that doesn’t give you much flexibility, then, to actually help the general public.”

Last month’s financial report to Devon’s ruling cabinet said: “Immediate action [is] being taken to safeguard the financial sustainability of the authority.”

A panel of senior officers is looking at options – work labelled as top priority. It could mean services are remodelled to save money and major building projects are delayed or cancelled.

Cllr Hart added: “I would like to think that we will be in a position by Christmas [or] early new year to have reduced our pressures for this year, which makes next year’s budget a lot more saleable.”

“Oxfordshire 2050” goes the same way as GESP

Councils ditch £2.5m Oxfordshire 2050 housing plan

A £2.5m plan that Oxfordshire councils had hoped would shape how much new housing would be built for decades has been abandoned.


Oxford City Council and four district councils signed up in 2018 to work together on Oxfordshire 2050.

But there is disagreement amongst them as some, including the city council, want more homes to accommodate growth and others want fewer.

The councils will now use their own plans to decide their housing numbers.

Only Labour-led Oxford City Council and Conservative-led Cherwell District Council, which are in favour of accommodating more homes, are controlled by the same political parties which led them in 2018.

Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils, which are led by the Liberal Democrats and a Lib Dem-Green coalition respectively, have opposed housing targets. Both were previously led by the Conservatives.

West Oxfordshire District Council was also led by the Conservatives in 2018 but are now led by a Lib Dem-Labour-Green coalition.

In a statement, the authorities said it was “with regret” they were “unable to reach agreement on the approach to planning for future housing needs”.

“The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 work programme will end and we will now transition to a process focused on Local Plans. The issues of housing needs will now be addressed through individual Local Plans for each of the city and districts,” they said.

“The councils will cooperate with each other and with other key bodies as they prepare their Local Plans.”