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Tory Sleaze is back and Boris Johnson and the chaos of Downing Street are to blame

Tory Sleaze is back and Boris Johnson and the chaos of Downing Street are to blame


The return of Tory sleaze could not have come at a worse time for Cabinet ministers gathered for the day at Checkers this week.

It was supposed to be an opportunity for ministers to focus on government priorities for the year ahead and how to win the 2024 elections led by Rishi Sunak, normally in his element with motivational talks to the Californian, and electoral strategist Isaac Levido.

But revelations about Tory President Nadhim Zahawis’ tax deals spoiled the opportunity, with some ministers fearing the specter of Tory scheming could further damage their already slim chances of retaining power next year.

In the wider Conservative Party and in Whitehall, recriminations are flying over who is to blame for the sordidness dominating the headlines with Mr Sunak, Boris Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case all in the line of fire.

It was not just Mr Zahawis’ financial affairs but the allegation that BBC chairman Richard Sharp insists he has done nothing wrong and will be cleared by scrutiny of his appointment, helped Mr Johnson secure a loan while Prime Minister, and that Mr Case acted as an intermediary in that arrangement. Both fueled the perception of a government and party mired in sordidness as they were on the eve of their historic defeat in 1997.

A Tory MP has slammed the Prime Minister for failing to keep his day one promise to govern with integrity: I know he said there had to be an inquiry, but he came as another broom to sweep everything that happened under Boris. It looks bad for us, it hurts us.

However, a former Tory cabinet minister was scathing about what they said was Mr Sunak’s failure to give the Tory president a fair trial after police minister Chris Philp was cleared by No10 to go on television and radio to say that Mr. Zahawi had important questions to answer.

While Mr Zahawi is being investigated by the PM’s ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus, Mr Sunak himself told PMQs that new information had come to light about the party chairman that he didn’t know a week earlier.

The former minister said I: What’s the point of having an investigation if you don’t want to wait for the results? From Rishi’s perspective, he asked the Ethics Counselor to investigate, so there should be a fair trial for the individual involved.

If you asked an ethics counselor to review it, they should wait for the final outcome of the investigation. What’s the point of carrying out an investigation if you’re only prejudging the conclusions?

A photograph released by the British Parliament shows British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQ) session in the House of Commons, London on January 25, 2023. (Photo by JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP) / EDITORIAL USE RESTRICTED - MANDATORY CREDIT
Rishi Sunak is among the Tories accused of making headlines (Picture: JESSICA TAYLOR/UK PARLIAMENT/AFP)

Yet some Tory MPs and Whitehall insiders blame Mr Johnson for creating the conditions for foolishness while in Downing Street.

David Gauke, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said: Standards clearly fell during the Johnson era and the legacy of that era is the biggest problem for governments here.

Rishi Sunak needs to do more to distance himself from the low standards of the Johnson years, but he seems unconvinced the Conservative Party will accept it.

And a former senior civil servant said the conduct of ministers is ultimately the responsibility of all prime ministers, but most sordid issues are legacy issues from Johnson.

Yet Mr Sunak also had to solve problems, the former official said: What this shows is that prime ministers often prioritize political expediency over a sense of integrity and ethics. Politics tends to trump ethics.

However, allies of Mr Johnson have pointed out that another minister whose conduct is again under scrutiny, Dominic Raab, is a political lieutenant close to the current Prime Minister and that some of the bullying allegations he faces relate to a period before Mr Johnson was in Downing Street. .

Mr. Case is not only in the spotlight for his role in the Sharp case. He was also indirectly drawn into the Zahawi scandal because officials were accused by government insiders of not being more rigorous in checking whether the conservative president had potentially embarrassing financial problems.

The two issues are prompting fresh questions over whether he is suitable as Cabinet Secretary, a year after he pulled out of the Whitehall inquiry into partygate when it emerged that some of the lockdown rallies of Covid were in his own department.

Another former civil servant said Mr Case, a former private secretary to Prince William, behaved more like a courtier than the head of the civil service.

The ex-official said I: SpAds and No10 officials believe he is less of a Cab Sec and more of a courtier or helper. He wants to be the main political adviser, so he is less concerned with the process than with (his) position.

Senior civil servants and permanent staff think that he does not manage the whole civil service well. The Cabinet Office people survey results are terrible i.e. the department he runs effectively.

This is joined in the fuss over recent scandals. He’s less concerned with doing the right thing and more concerned with letting successive PMs get what they want. You have to be able to do both.

And the bad blood really set in during partygate. More junior staff and permanent secretaries thought he just stood there and a) didn’t stand up for the service and officials and b) was quite happy to see junior staff being fined for things they didn’t didn’t think they could avoid doing and c) not quitting when the Gray report made it pretty clear that No10’s culture was rotten.

Asked if there had been pressure on Mr Case to resign, the former civil servant replied: Boris needed him. Truss didn’t like her once he backfired on her over the mini budget, but it was too late to do anything and she was probably too scarred by Tom Scholar’s dismissal to do so. another. Rishi probably doesn’t care enough, though Zahawi’s f**k up might change that.

And a former No 10 assistant said he assessed Mr Case, but added: Things look bad. This is primarily an example of why compromising with Boris Johnson leaves anyone and everyone morally depressed. The Great Corruptor his most Trumpian trait.

More than Politics

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: The Cabinet Secretary is focused on ensuring that the civil service and the whole of government work together to serve the British people.

A source said it was not true that Mr Case was acting as a courtier and that his role was to give impartial advice to the prime minister and government at the time.

The source also denied that Mr Case is less concerned with doing the right thing and more concerned with letting successive prime ministers get what they want and said it was up to ministers to make decisions.

Mr Case fully cooperated with Sue Gray’s investigation and helped her implement her recommendations, the source added.

A Whitehall source said the issues of the past week could still be resolved by Mr Sunak with due process which is fair and proper.

An insider said a first step could be to improve the way ministers are appointed to avoid future scandals like that of Mr Zahawis’ tax affairs.

They said there was the occasional chaos around cabinet reshuffles where a Prime Minister asks someone if they want a job, and heads of the Cabinet Office Property and Ethics team , who are in the room, then ask the individual if there was anything they wanted. declare that this could create a conflict of interest.

It’s all verbal, very rarely written, it’s too informal, it takes five minutes and it creates the occasional chaos, an insider said.

Despite the shadow of squalor hanging over the Tory party, many around Mr Sunak believe the government can stay focused on the five promises it made at the start of the year, and that there are still a path to victory, albeit narrow as Mr. Levido characterized it. Thursday Checkers away day.

A No 10 source said the mood among ministers was upbeat and the focus was on the prime ministers’ five priorities.
Mr Sunak’s allies insist that despite growing scandals plaguing his job as Prime Minister, he remains on track to emulate Sir John Major in winning re-election while overcoming the widespread perception that the Tories are tired after more than a decade in power.

People talk like it’s going to be a repeat of 1997, minister says I. But I think it’s probably much closer to 1992.




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