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Tory Party co-chairman resigns after by-election drubbings

This is one of the relatively few times when "after" in a headline does signify causality:

Oliver Dowden

My letter of resignation to the Prime Minister.

The Tories' spare co-chair is businessman, nephew of Prince Charles, and Russian donor-shepherd Ben Elliot, who was already on shaky ground of his own before these election results, this from back in March:

Conservative MPs call for party to oust Ben Elliot as co-chairman over 'contaminating' Russian links

* During a meeting last week, it was suggested the party was "contaminated" by Russian donations.

* Bernard Jenkin told Insider the role should be held by a member of government for accountability.

Conservative MPs have criticised Ben Elliot and called for the party to oust him as co-chairman over his links with Russian donors and his luxury concierge business Quintessentially.

At a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee last week, several Tories spoke out about Elliot, who was appointed as co-chairman by Prime Minister Boris Johnson just as he took the reins in July 2019.

The Conservatives have faced significant political pressure over Elliot's fundraising role within the party, and Labour claims almost £2 million from people with links to Russia have been raised since Elliot joined CCHQ. His luxury concierge business Quintessentially had a Moscow office until recently, boasting of 15 years experience working in Russia.
Julian Lewis, chairman of the intelligence and security committee, echoed the view that Elliot "shouldn't be there, and [Johnson] should make it part of the work he needs to do to shore up the party," as part of leadership troubles caused by so-called partygate, the source added.


As might be expected, Dowden was a champion of the "stick with Boris because we're stuck with him" horde during the recent vote of no confidence in the 1922 Committee:

He was also enthusiastically stumping for the Tory candidates in yesterday's by-elections.

Meanwhile, Johnson is holed up in the relative safety of Rwanda at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, possibly adjourned to a fridge. It remains to be seen whether his route home will detour via the even safer Ukraine. He may be in no hurry to get back. Here's the Tories' house newspaper (which Johnson has referred to in the past as his "boss" ):

1922 committee treasurer hints no-confidence rules could be changed in wake of by-election defeat
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said Boris Johnson will have to set out his stall to convince MPs he can still win a general election

The Treasurer of the 1922 Committee has suggested that the rules on holding a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson could be changed in the wake of two by-election defeats.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Tory MP for the Cotswolds, said on Friday morning that the party would be forced to make “difficult decisions” after the results, which includes the biggest by-election defeat ever and the loss of a Red Wall seat first won by the Tories in 2019.

The current rules of the Committee state that a sitting party leader cannot face another confidence ballot in their leadership within twelve months of winning the first.
Some Tory MPs now think that the rules should be changed to allow Mr Johnson to be removed from office if a majority can be reached.


Tories lose both Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield parliamentary by-elections

Lib Dems sweep to victory in Tiverton and Honiton by-election in major blow to Boris Johnson

The Liberal Democrats have swept to victory in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election in a crushing defeat for Boris Johnson’s Conservative party.

Former army major Richard Foord managed to overturn a gargantuan margin of 24,239 votes to become the Liberal Democrats fourteenth MP. His historic victory is the first time since the seat was created in 1997 that Tiverton and Honiton has not been blue.

It also represents the largest majority - in votes not percentage swing - ever overturned at a by-election, defeating a previous record set in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935.

Mr Foord secured 22,537 votes. Tory candidate and former local headteacher Helen Hurford came in second with 16,393 votes.


Hurford wasn't short of hubris before the election, but this was her tonight before the declaration:

Theo Usherwood

The Tory candidate Helen Hurford in the Tiverton by election has just locked herself in the dance studio at Crediton sports centre.

She was in there for quite a while - much to the annoyance of the media, as the room was supposed to be available as an interview space.

Meanwhile ...

Labour wins Wakefield byelection regaining seat from Conservatives
Simon Lightwood elected as MP in symbolic victory in the ‘red wall’ seat won by the Conservatives in 2019

Labour has regained Wakefield from the Conservatives in a byelection triggered after a Tory MP was imprisoned for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy.

The new Labour MP, Simon Lightwood, is an NHS communications executive who used to work for the previous Labour MP. Lightwood won with 13,166 votes, a majority of 4,921 votes. The Tories’ Nadeem Ahmed came in second with 8,241 votes.


We're talking about a country where a paediatrician was victimized back in 2000 by a mob

who thought she was a paedophile:

Doctor driven out of home by vigilantes

Self-styled vigilantes attacked the home of a hospital paediatrician after apparently confusing her professional title with the word "paedophile", it emerged yesterday.

Dr Yvette Cloete, a specialist registrar in paediatric medicine at the Royal Gwent hospital in Newport, was forced to flee her house after vandals daubed it with graffiti in the middle of the night.

The word "paedo" was written across the front porch and door of the house she shared with her brother in the village of St Brides, south Wales.

Dr Cloete, 42, confirmed she had left the property after the "distressing" attack. "For the time being I have moved out of the area because when something like this happens you just cannot feel safe in your own home.

"We removed the graffiti within hours, but what happened was terrible and it has been extremely distressing."


How receptive do you think mobs like that will be to any explanations after such an allegation has been spread, whatever the truth or lack of it behind it?

Framing: Sky News's Kay Burley loses it while interviewing RMT union leader Mick Lynch

Mic Wright

Kay Burley made herself look quite unhinged by the end of this line of questioning. Mick Lynch didn’t budge from being polite.

[Twitter video]

Burley reduces herself to blatant spluttering goading, masked by her repeated overpolite use of "Mr Lynch", when responding to Lynch's reasonable answers to her repeated questions about what his members would do if people tried to cross their picket line - "That's a picket line there - that's what they'll do." She eventually resorts to invoking the miners' strike as a possible model. Lynch is having none of it.

She tried to spin the exchange in a tweet after the event:


Kay Burley - not at all unhinged or flustered

Maybe Lynch was lucky it was a remote interview, and not in person. As one Twitter user observed in the replies, Burley has some experience of public affray when a lot less was at stake:

'Black eye' Kay Burley may face legal action after grabbing photographer by the throat

After the battle of Uxbridge court, Sky anchor goes to Ascot as ‘victim’ visits hospital

Sky News presenter Kay Burley could face legal action after she allegedly grabbed a photographer by the neck.

Friends of Kirsty Wigglesworth say she is taking advice from lawyers amid claims that her throat was injured in what her bosses described as ‘an unprovoked and inexcusable attack’.
During the scrum, a camera accidentally hit Miss Burley on her right cheek.

She then grabbed Miss Wigglesworth around the throat in the middle of the astonished Press pack.


Carriegate: No 10 admits pressuring The Times to drop Carrie Johnson story

If No. 10 and the Times and Mail thought that spiking yesterday's revelations about Johnson's failed attempt to land his wife a £100,000-a-year Foreign Office post would be the end of the matter, they couldn't have been more wrong. With the story by now having gone utterly viral, finally the Johnsons' "spokespersons" have piped up on the record:

Claim that Johnson tried to install partner in high-paying Foreign Office job denied by wife’s spokesperson

Downing Street has confirmed that members of Boris Johnson’s team intervened following the publication of a story about his wife Carrie in The Times, but denied that the prime minister himself contacted the paper to complain.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed that No 10 was in contact with The Times before and after the publication of the first edition, but denied that the prime minister himself had contacted deputy editor Tony Gallagher, who was in charge of the paper that night.

It is understood that no legal action has been taken by No 10 in relation to the story.

The PM’s spokesperson said that he was unable to issue a formal comment on the allegation, as it related to the period when Mr Johnson was foreign secretary from 2016-18.
The spokesperson added: “We were approached before publication and spoke to them then. I think we spoke to them after publication as well. I don’t know the exact timeline of it.”


The same "official spokesperson" repeated denials that the incident ever happened that had been issued by "others" and "Mrs Johnson's spokesperson".

One person who has a clearer idea of the timeline is senior Times journalist Simon Walters, who has a long reputation for reliable investigative reporting and who wrote the story, which fleshed out details carried in Lord Ashcroft's latest exposé, First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson, published in March, which the "first lady" dismissed at the time, again via a "spokesperson", in tellingly Johnsonian terms as "regurgitated lies".

Despite the predictable, albeit belated, denials, Walters - whose past scoops have included the furore over redecoration costs of the No. 10 flat funded by donors, among other all too regular scandals - isn't backing down:

Times journalist says he ‘stands by’ Boris scoop
Talking to the New European’s Mandrake reporter, Simon Walters said: “I stand by the story 100 per cent.

“I was in lengthy and detailed communication with No 10 at a high level, Ben Gascoigne and Mrs Johnson’s spokeswoman for up to 48 hours before the paper went to press.

“At no point did any of them offer an on-the-record denial of any element of the story.”

The award-winning political journalist adds: “Nor have any of these three offered an on-the-record denial to me since. No 10 and Mr Gascoigne did not deny it off-the-record either.”


Suspicions about Johnson having a habit of seeking preferment for his innumerable paramours might have been borne out by investigations into his lucrative *ahem* sponsorship of Jennifer Arcuri during his time as London Mayor, if not for the fact that his and his team's emails and those of Ms Arcuri from that period tragically went *poof" when he left office:

Boris Johnson and his team's City Hall emails about affair scandal 'disappeared' with no backups after he left mayoralty

EXCLUSIVE: Deleting the docs hampered the police watchdog investigation into a public-money scandal

Boris Johnson broke City Hall rules by failing to transfer his emails as mayor to Greater London Authority officers when he left office - a move which has hampered the investigation into his alleged affair with US entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri. The Independent Office of Police Conduct has looked at allegations of Misconduct in Public Office against Boris Johnson when he was mayor in the context of his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, after the GLA's monitoring officer made a referral to the police watchdog in September 2019.

But the probe found that evidence the watchdog believed would have been relevant to its investigations into the scandal had been deleted in breach of City Hall guidance. Ms Arcuri’s business had been given £126,000 in public money, and she secured places on three overseas trade missions led by then-mayor Johnson. Ms Arcuri has since admitted they had an affair but both sides have denied any wrongdoing.

The mayor’s office also handed her firm £10,000 in sponsorship cash “networking summits” put together by Ms Arcuri in 2013. Johnson has claimed "everything was done in accordance with the code” and “with full propriety” - and that he had no interest to declare. But revelations about their relationship have cast doubt on the former Conservative mayor's claims. The GLA's Code of Conduct says public-office holders including Mr Johnson should not act in any way to gain benefits for families or friends.
The GLA’s oversight committee is currently conducting its own review into the Arcuri scandal, with a report due out in the next few months.


I wonder whether the GLA oversight committee report will come out before or after a coming general election - and whether it will matter as much whenever it does, with Johnson receding into the past like an ugly nightmare.

Disappearing scoop: story of Johnson's 100,000-a-year favour to his future wife Ministry of Truthed

Ardent readers of the Times and Mail would have caught a flash of scandal yesterday as a story emerged that Johnson had wanted to gift his future wife and then mistress Carrie a £100,000-a-year Foreign Office post, only to retreat when colleagues warned him it would be beyond the pale.

The Times had a nailed-on exclusive, which was subsequently picked up by MailOnline and later carried on MSN.com.

Now all traces of it on those outlets have disappeared, leaving only screencaps and dead links to news aggregators which spread the story that are currently all over Twitter. But the Times article apparently did make it to hard print in some early editions, which presumably are now collector's items:


Lewis Baston

I bought the Times yesterday in paper form because my parents are visiting; was quite an auspicious day to do this as it turns out I have one of the pre-suppression copies. A moment - a very peculiar moment - in media history.

Prof Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas 💋💙
Replying to
@lewis_baston and @Louisescicomm

We're visiting my dad, a Times subscriber, saw the Carrie Johnson story trending and checked - seems like pre-suppression issues made it to the Cotswolds!

Here's part of what appeared on MailOnline in yesterday's early hours, with obligatory bullet points:

Here's the spiked Times article in its entirety:

And here's an archived version of the Mail's version of the story (the Internet never forgets):

Boris Johnson accused of trying to appoint wife Carrie to £100k taxpayer funded role in 2018

Boris Johnson was last night accused of trying to appoint Carrie Johnson to a top taxpayer-funded position while Foreign Secretary before he was blocked by colleagues who discovered they were having an affair.

The Prime Minister, who served as chief of the Foreign Office between 2016 and 2018, wanted to make his future wife his £100,000-a-year chief of staff before allies intervened, the Times reports.

Those close to Mr Johnson feared the move would have been a clear breach of ethical standards within one of the four great offices of state.

At the time, staffers learned of the Foreign Secretary and the-then Ms Symonds true relationship after a Tory MP allegedly walked in on them in a 'compromising position' in Mr Johnson's office at the start of 2018.

He was, at the time, still married to lawyer Marina Wheeler, his second wife of 25 years and mother to four of his children.
A source close to the-then Foreign Secretary and involved in the decision to block Ms Symond's appointment told the Times: 'It would have left [Boris] dangerously exposed'.

Appointing his then-mistress as Mr Johnson's right-hand woman would have been 'a far bigger scandal' than ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock's infamous lockdown-busting kiss with aide Gina Colangelo, the source added.

Another anonymous source, speaking to the Times, described the decision to block Mr Johnson promoting Ms Symonds as one that would protect him.

'An illicit relationship with Carrie was none of our business, making her chief of staff was definitely our business. Our job was to protect him.'

They continued: 'We knew what was going on between them and that it was an insane risk to him to let him do it'.
Having split from Ms Wheeler in September 2018, there was little pause before Mr Johnson was publicly linked to Carrie Symonds, described at the time as a 'party-loving Tory aide'.

Ms Symonds had been a high-profile figure in Westminster for almost a decade, holding senior positions at Tory HQ and as an adviser to Cabinet Ministers.

She crossed paths with Mr Johnson after joining the Tories as a press officer in 2009, before campaigning for him during the 2010 London mayoral selection and working on the successful 'Back Boris' campaign to re-elect him in 2012.

By age 29, Carrie was made Head of Communications for the Conservative Party, and had a string of high-profile ministers backing her, including Sajid Javid.

Around the same time and Mr Johnson and Ms Wheeler were finalising their split.

After her affair with Johnson was exposed, The Times quoted an unnamed source as saying: '[Carrie] was one of these girls who would be at all the parties. I can't remember her doing any work that was really good but she was at every party going.

'The Tories love a social gathering and there were always a lot of parties for her to be at. The rest of us always wondered how she could afford all the dresses and designer handbags and the going out, on her kind of salary. Her friends were all beautiful. It looked like an episode of Love Island.'

By September 2018, with rumours about her friendship with Mr Johnson swirling around Westminster, it was reported he had been seen in Rules restaurant in Covent Garden with a 'young attractive' blonde woman.

They are said to have spent two hours at a corner table while two bodyguards sat nearby. At the time, one onlooker was reported as saying: 'It seemed quite an intimate meal and hardly anything to do with any great matters of State.'

Firmer evidence emerged in the form of 'mischievous text messages from Boris' which Ms Symonds showed to friends at a wedding.
Mr Johnson would later marry Carrie at the Catholic Westminster Cathedral on May 29, 2021 and was followed by a celebration in the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street.

The Tory leader became the first premier to marry in office in almost two centuries. He followed in the footsteps of Lord Liverpool, who married Mary Chester in 1822 and was prime minister for 15 years.

The revelations come just days after the PM was rocked by the shock resignation of his ethics tsar who quit just 14 months after he took up his position.

Lord Geidt, a former private secretary to the Queen, released a terse statement on the Government’s website in which he said: ‘With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as independent adviser on ministers’ interests.'

A No 10 source said the move came as a ‘total surprise’ to Mr Johnson, and claimed that as late as Monday, Lord Geidt had asked if he could stay on for another six months.

Lord Geidt becomes the second independent adviser on ministers’ interests to resign during Mr Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister. Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020 after Mr Johnson refused to accept his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.


I've quoted it in full, partly because it's hard to see how the Mail can claim copyright on a story it's disappeared (I'm happy to edit it down if the hosts or our mods object), and partly as a precaution in case that version vanishes too.

Speculation rages about why the media spiked the story. Some wonder about a "superinjunction", others more mundanely attribute it to behind-the-scenes armtwisting.

Any other guesses?

Scotland: Miners pardoned nearly 40 years after being convicted during strikes

Legislation has been passed on those convicted of breach of the peace, breach of bail conditions or obstructing police.

The Scottish Parliament has given an automatic pardon to miners nearly 40 years after being convicted of offences during the 1984-85 strike.

MSPs voted in favour of the Miners Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill on Thursday, with 117 votes for and none against.

Under the plans, those convicted of breach of the peace, breach of bail conditions or obstructing police – have been pardoned.

However, a push by Labour to secure financial compensation for those affected has failed, as the amendment fell by 24 votes to 92.


SNP Justice Secretary Keith Brown argued that the issue of compensation should be dealt with by Westminster: "My view is that any compensation should … be properly thought out, it should be uniform and it should be fair."

More details here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-6182591

Exchange of letters between resigning ethics adviser Lord Geidt and Johnson revealed

In my previous post about Geidt's resignation, I mentioned that the government had not published the customary exchange of letters in these circumstances, and that The Mirror's Pippa Crerar was on the case.

Well, possibly fearful of another drip-drip-drip of leaks and revelations to add to The Mirror's tally, No. 10 has now published the correspondence:

Available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/correspondence-from-lord-geidt-and-the-prime-ministers-response

As suspected, Geidt was indeed frustrated about his toothlessness in the face of Johnson's serial lack of concern for ethics and the rules and laws that govern everyone else's conduct, and Geidt's resultant humiliation in the Partygate hearings, but the final straw appears to have been something quite different.

Before today's publication of these letters, the only communication from No. 10 had been the enigmatic statement, "This week, the independent adviser was asked to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support. No decision had been taken pending that advice."

Speculation is rampant at the moment about precisely what Geidt was asked to do that sparked his resignation. As is only too common with this government, each revelation simply raises more questions ("O what a tangled web we weave ..." ):


Sam Lowe

So last year the independent Trade Remedies Authority recommended that the UK remove a number of safeguard tariffs on Chinese steel.

Sam Lowe

This led to the steel industry kicking off, and a mini political firestorm. Some emergency legislation later, DIT overruled the TRA … which had found no legal justification for retaining the tariffs.


Sam Lowe

The tariffs were extended for a year … until the end of this month.

At which point I now assume the UK will continue to apply the tariffs on Chinese steel (presumably again agains the recommendation of the TRA), despite not having the legal justification to do so.

Sam Lowe

AND BECAUSE OF THIS, Lord Geidt has seemingly resigned …?

Journalists are feverishly digging into the background. Jim Pickard, the Financial Times's Chief Political Correspondent, tweeted:


Jim Pickard

government says Geidt resignation just about potential breach of TWO tariff rules (probably steel)

but worth noting:

- minister Nigel Adams took >£32k of gifts/hospitality from steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta

- steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal donated to Johnson's leadership campaign

Jim Pickard

- am told that this is *definitely* about protecting the UK steel industry

- also told that Geidt *never* mentioned potential conflicts re Tory donors in his conversations and texts about this with the prime minister

Opposition parties are calling for Johnson to appear before the House to explain the circumstances of Geidt's resignation. The plot, as they say, thickens ...

Boris Johnson's ethics adviser Lord Geidt resigns after Partygate grilling

No, this isn't a re-post - John Penrose, who resigned 10 days ago, was the government's "Anti-Corruption Czar". So another one bites the dust:

Geidt said: ‘I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post’ after questions over whether PM broke ministerial code
The resignation, the second from an ethics adviser in less than two years [the previous one to resign was Alex Allan in November 2020], threatens to overshadow Johnson’s attempts to shrug off the public outcry over Partygate, and the subsequent confidence vote from his own MPs last week.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are surprised by this decision, given Lord Geidt’s commitment to the role, to the prime minister, and in his evidence to the House of Commons just yesterday.
The ethics tsar faced a tough grilling from a cross-party committee of MPs earlier this week, during which he conceded it was “reasonable” to suggest Johnson may have broken the ministerial code – which includes an overarching duty to act in accordance with the law.

It is understood the robust evidence session confirmed in Geidt’s mind that his position was no longer tenable. One person who had spoken to him said he was “sick of being lied to”, while another said Geidt was “frustrated” at his portrayal as a “patsy”.

After what one friend called a “long night of the soul”, he sent a strongly worded letter to Johnson on Wednesday.


The Guardian's and other media coverage focuses on the Partygate hearing as the cause of Geidt's resignation, but Downing Street's only public statement so far raises more questions than it answers:

Unusually when such a high-profile figure quits, Geidt's letter of resignation has not been published, nor has the customary reply from Johnson.

So what is the statement referring to as "a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support"?

The Rwanda set-up couldn't be said to have cross-party support. The - highly lucrative for numerous Tory cronies - balls-ups over provision of PPE at the peak of the COVID crisis might fit the bill. For instance - and very likely just the tip of one of many icebergs - one member of the Lords, Baroness Michelle Mone, has been under police investigation since April for involvement in suspected fraud because of her links to an allegedly dodgy firm that dealt with PPE contracts worth over £200 million:

Michelle Mone’s home raided as PPE firm linked to Tory peer investigated

Will we ever know why he really resigned? If we do, it's a sad reflection on the state of the government that it may be because The Mirror's Pippa Crerar - who broke many of the most damning stories about Partygate while protecting her sources - has appealed for whistleblowers on her Twitter feed:


Pippa Crerar

Unusual that No 10 hasn’t released the exchange of letters between Lord Geidt and the PM that usually accompanies such resignations. If you’re in a position to leak it, please feel free! 📨

Arron Banks loses Russia libel case against Carole Cadwalladr

Mr Banks, the founder of the pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, sued Ms Cadwalladr for defamation over two instances in 2019 - one in a TED Talk video and another in a tweet.

Mr Banks claimed he was defamed after comments Ms Cadwalladr made about his relationship with the Russian state.

In the ruling, Mrs Justice Steyn dismissed Mr Banks' claim, concluding that Ms Cadwalladr held a "reasonable belief" that her comments were in the public interest.
Ms Cadwalladr, who first reported the Cambridge Analytica data scandal where harvested data was used during elections, pleaded a public interest defence which allows a defendant to justify themselves based on the reason that the information was in the public interest.


Banks has indicated that it's "likely" he will appeal the ruling.
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