A businessman involved in a cash-for-access scandal has donated more than £500,000 to the Conservative party after being made a peer by Boris Johnson.
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Whenever journalists hear a politician sidestep a direct question from MPs, our antennae twitch. When that politician repeatedly body swerves the same question from reporters, we smell a rat. Yet time and again, ministers seem unaware of the old newsroom motto: you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.Despite Matt Hancock breezing confidently through Commons questions on Thursday morning, largely due to strong support from Tory backbenchers, there was one answer that just didn’t feel right. Asked about the claim that he told Dominic Cummings and others that people would be tested before being transferred into care homes, Hancock didn’t deny it. “So many of the allegations yesterday were unsubstantiated,” was all he could muster.At his latest Downing Street press conference, the health secretary looked much more uncomfortable as he was asked multiple times about the issue. ”My recollection of events,” he said, “is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it.” The word “recollection” is often a red flag, but the phrase “committed” felt rather elastic too.Now, it’s worth recalling Cummings’ exact charge here. “Hancock told us in the cabinet room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes. What the hell happened?” he said. It was only in April that No.10 realised that “many, many people who should have been tested were not tested, and then went to care homes and then infected people, and then it’s spread like wildfire inside the care homes”.Firstly, it’s perfectly possible that Hancock made a promise but, crucially, without a timeframe. With the lack of testing capacity at the time, it would be frankly ludicrous to make a commitment that he could test all hospital discharges within days or weeks. However, one can imagine him saying, ‘I’m going to make it my mission to get this testing sorted so people are tested before going into homes’. That’s not the same as saying he would stop all discharges which lacked testing, which was Cummings’ implication.Second, UK Health Security Agency boss Jenny Harries suggested claims of seeding the virus from hospitals into care homes was overstated. These made up a “very, very tiny proportion” of cases, she said. Fortuitously for Hancock, a new Public Health England report out today confirmed that just 1.6% of outbreaks were seeded from hospital, causing 286 deaths. That’s not the “many, many people” of Cummings’ hyperbole. Care homes did suffer cruelly, but it seems the seeding came from care staff not hospitals.Still, Hancock would do well to simply disown one other highly dubious claim he made last year: “Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.” PHE’s official advice as late as February 28 stated: “there is no need to do anything differently in any care setting at present”. It wasn’t until April 15 that was changed to requiring all hospital discharges to be tested.What was most curious about Cummings’ onslaught on Hancock, however, was his admission that he actively tried to stop Hancock from hitting his target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. The chief adviser said he was “in No.10 calling round, frantically saying, ‘Do not do what Hancock says’.” Cummings’ desire to “build things properly for the medium term” (aka doing things his way, not Hancock’s) seemed to fuel the lack of urgency he himself had criticised over care homes testing.What was also notable on Thursday was the way Hancock at least opened himself up to hours of scrutiny, in parliament and live on TV. Contrast that to Boris Johnson’s five-minute “clip”, a “hi, bye!” media strategy he uses when on a photocall (usually in a key seat) to avoid a proper interview. Schools, hospitals, laboratories, all providing visual wallpaper for the evening news, and often nothing more.When Johnson was asked about key Cummings allegations, he sounded shiftier than Hancock. Asked about the damning claim that tens of thousands of people died who need not have died because of his action or inaction, the PM replied: “No, I don’t think so.” He doesn’t think so? Asked if he’d said he was prepared to let “the bodies pile high”, he just said: “I’ve already made my position very clear on that point.”With new figures confirming the Indian variant makes upto 75% of new Covid cases and is becoming the dominant strain across the country, Johnson’s judgment is once again facing a huge test. Even though a rise in cases was expected after the May 17 relaxation or rules, and in Bolton the variant cases are flattening, the “spillover” into other areas is worrying.Given the race between the vaccine and the virus, why not just extend the unlockdown finishing line by a couple more weeks to give the jabs more of a chance? After all, June 21 was an arbitrary date plucked out of the air, why blow it all for the sake of waiting a fortnight to allow more data collection and more jabs in arms? Especially when over-18s could perhaps all get a first dose by the end of June.Well, today for the first time there was a hint from the PM he could delay, saying “we may need to wait”. In case we missed the new mood, he added: ”Our job now to deliver the roadmap - if we possibly can”. The ‘probable’ June 21 final unlock of a few days ago is now just a ‘possible’. If Dominic Cummings has done nothing else, maybe he’s forced a pause on the PM that could benefit us all.Related...Rishi Sunak Says He ‘Doesn’t Know David Cameron Well’ Despite Lobbying TextsMP Rob Roberts Suspended From Parliament For Six WeeksJohnson Urged To Introduce ‘Carbon Border Tax’ To Protect UK Firms From Polluting Rivals
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Rishi Sunak has said he did not know David Cameron “very well at all” when the former prime minister texted him to controversially lobby on behalf of Greensill Capital.Cameron’s intensive lobbying of ministers and officials was laid bare earlier this month as MPs seek to understand the role the ex-PM played in securing Whitehall access for the company.Greensill is now being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority, which received allegations relating to the firm’s collapse that were “potentially criminal in nature”.The firm’s demise has rendered Cameron’s reported tens of millions of share options worthless, and there has been criticism of how a former prime minister was able to exploit his personal contacts with ex-colleagues and officials in the pursuit of commercial gain.Sunak and the Treasury were at the centre of Cameron’s lobbying efforts.IN DEPTH David Cameron’s Most Cringeworthy Greensill Lobbying Texts Laid BareThe PM texted Sunak last April after being rebuffed by Treasury officials as he tried to gain access for Greensill to the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).After being told “no”, Cameron told Treasury permanent secretary Tom Scholar on April 3 that the refusal was “bonkers” and that he was now going to call “[the chancellor], [Michael] Gove, everyone”.Just eight minutes later, Cameron texted Sunak: “Rishi, David Cameron here. Can I have a quick word at some point?”, before going on to explain Greensill’s request.Several messages and phone calls between the pair followed.But Sunak suggested that if Cameron was trying to exploit personal contacts, the pair had not actually spoken since summer 2016 or before.“I don’t know David Cameron very well at all and I don’t think I’ve spoken to him since I was a backbench MP and he was prime minister,” Sunak told the Commons Treasury committee.“It was a surprise to receive the message.” Following a barrage of texts, calls, messages and emails across the government, Cameron’s lobbying efforts ultimately failed.Sunak insisted that he would not have done anything differently in his approach to Greensill and that Cameron’s role was not important to how much time officials in the Treasury spent on the firm’s request.“I looked at the issue on the merits of it, so the identity of the person talking about it was not relevant to the amount of attention and proper due diligence that the issue got and required,” Sunak said.“This was one of many strands of work, and in fact probably the one we spent the least time on during this period.”Earlier this month, Cameron stressed that he was unaware of any financial difficulty at Greensill until December 2020, when he was told that an attempt to raise funds had not gone as well as hoped.According to founder Lex Greensill, the rug was finally pulled out from underneath the company when its biggest insurer, Tokio Marine, refused to renew its policies with Greensill.Treasury official Charles Roxburgh said on Thursday that the firm’s collapse would directly cost around £8m to the taxpayer, including taxes that Greensill owed.But he did not accept the cost of up to £5bn that former City minister Lord Myners estimated the taxpayer could indirectly be on the hook for.Greensill provided so-called supply chain finance to businesses, which meant the firm would pay a company’s invoice immediately after it was sent, therefore cutting out the usual delay which can restrict companies’ cash flows.Top lawyer Nigel Boardman has been tasked by prime minister Boris Johnson to look into the Greensill scandal.Related...David Cameron Proves He’s His Own Worst Lobbyist'Is Nothing Sacred?' David Cameron Grilled By MPs Over Greensill LobbyingDavid Cameron Refuses To Tell MPs How Much Money He Expected To Make From Greensill
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The interests of senior civil servants and special advisers should be published to introduce further transparency in government, a top civil servant has been told.
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The interests of senior civil servants and special advisers should be published to introduce further transparency in government, a top civil servant has been told.
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A lawyer who filed a police report over the Conservatives' 2016 London mayoral campaign says it is "disingenuous" of political parties to wait for an official complaint before opening investigations.
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Covid lockdown-sceptic Sir Graham Brady is facing a potential challenge for the leadership of the influential backbench Conservative 1922 committee.Ex-minister Robert Goodwill has been sounding out MPs about replacing the backbench shop steward, who has repeatedly rebelled over Covid restrictions.Allies of Goodwill said the Scarborough and Whitby MP believes the 1922 chair should be loyal in public to earn the right to speak the truth to power in private.They reject suggestions that Goodwill, who voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum despite being a “staunch Eurosceptic”, has the backing of the government.And they point out that he has clashed with the prime minister in the past.As one of David Cameron’s transport ministers, Goodwill criticised then-London mayor Johnson’s plans for an airport in the Thames estuary dubbed “Boris Island”.Goodwill also presided over the decision to force Johnson’s father Stanley to leave his multi-million pound home in Primrose Hill, north London, to make way for the HS2 high-speed rail link.Brady has repeatedly rebelled against the government over Covid restrictions.The Altrincham and Sale West MP, who has been 1922 chair for most of the last 11 years, recently criticised the suggestion that the government could impose local lockdowns to contain the India Covid variant, and is likely to fiercely oppose any delay to the June 21 final lifting of restrictions.The election to appoint the 1922 chair and executive officers is not expected to take place until after June 21, when it is hoped that more MPs will return to Westminster.Brady was last elected as 1922 chair in January 2020, seeing off a challenge from North Herefordshire MP Bill Wiggin.Johnson appeared before the 1922 committee on Wednesday night via video link, telling MPs that there is “increasing evidence” that vaccines are effective against variants and that he was “even more cautiously optimistic” about opening society up than last week.Related...Boris Johnson Marries Confidence With Caution On The Indian Covid Variant RiskUK Covid Vaccine Booster Trial Launched, Announces Matt HancockBoris Johnson Signals Backing For Tariff-Free Australian Meat Imports
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Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, has written to a Parliamentary committee to clarify Lex Greensill did have 'some form of contract' in Whitehall.
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.“Make no mistake, this is a painful day, coming back to a place that I love and respect so much, albeit virtually, but in these circumstances.” David Cameron’s very first words to the Treasury select committee neatly previewed everything else that was to come: self-preservation masquerading as atonement, special pleading with a hint of humblebrag, all wrapped up in smoothly worded obfuscation.The former PM wasn’t “back” anywhere, other than his own back room, but in his mind’s eye he was back in parliament. Somehow the phrase “remote working” seemed very apt, given how distant he seemed from the details of the collapsed finance firm Greensill, and from the lives of the many who suffered in the first wave of the Covid pandemic.For it was during the height of the pandemic that Cameron devoted his energies not to helping the government tackle the virus, but to relentlessly lobbying ministers and Treasury officials on behalf of his company. As the deaths soared into their thousands last April, he made 19 calls, texts and emails in a single day: to the Chancellor, Economic Secretary, a No 10 spad, the Deputy Governor of Bank of England, Michael Gove and Treasury perm sec Tom Scholar.Overall there were 56 different contacts. That’s a lot of words about him and his company. And there were lots more words about both during his two sessions before MPs on Thursday.  First we had a flannel-packed 144 minutes with the Treasury committee, then a further 77 minutes of verbal blancmange before the Public Accounts Committee.Cameron started his working life as the director of corporate affairs for a long-dead TV company. So the wheel had come full circle and here he was appearing as a PR man for a long-defunct premier called David Cameron. The problem was that he proceeded to further tarnish his own reputation almost as much as Greensill had itself. Lacking any brutally honest self-assessment of his own, he left it to MPs to describe him as “a con artist” and “stalker” who “demeaned” his former office.In line with plenty of corporate media experts who prep witnesses for parliament, he knew that he had to have a form of early apology. “I am extremely sorry and sad that it has come to this end,” he said. But he felt the need to still defend Brand Cameron. When he said that because Greensill had collapsed “doesn’t mean the whole thing was necessarily a giant fraud”, it felt like a plea for his own political tenure.Pressed repeatedly on exactly how much he was paid by Greensill, Cameron was coy. He refused to say if his salary was higher or lower than £1m a year (a refusal that suggests it was higher), saying only it was a “generous, big salary that you might earn as someone in my position at a bank or what have you.” Yet he was at pains to suggest how little this was, saying if he’d worked at “a large bank, as some of my predecessors have done, perhaps it would have been even more”. There was even a hint of a complaint that he was not well paid in No.10, saying his Greensill income was “far more than what I earned as prime minister” (itself a pitiful £142,000 a year).Of course the reason MPs wanted to know how much he got paid was precisely to discover just how motivated he was by a cash incentive when he lobbied government. In an attempt at apparent candour that hid more than it revealed, he admitted he had “a serious economic interest” but then said his actual salary and shares weren’t “particularly germane” because his real motivation was public service.And that was perhaps the spin too far. “I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I believe in it deeply. I would never put forward something that I didn’t believe was absolutely in the interests of the public good,” he said. It was this attempt to argue that his desperate lobbying was all some kind of pro-bono charity work for the taxpayer that most seemed to rile MPs as an insult to their intelligence.When he excused his embarrassing texts as being done “in the heat of responding to a crisis”, the crisis felt like Greensill’s desire for business rather than the need to get urgent help to struggling small firms. The now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t obfuscation was endless.One minute he said the Greensill plan “would have been good for those businesses, but also good for us and I wouldn’t hide that for a second”. The next he said: “The motivation was about trying to help the government and get those schemes right.” Famously dubbed a “chameleon” politician, was karma catching up with him?The attempts to portray himself as a saviour of small business, rather than his own business, kept on coming. At one point he even painted Greensill as NHS angels, saying a plan to enable staff to draw down their salary as they earned it (rather than having to wait to the end of the month) was an alternative to “the evils of payday lending”. The fact that some NHS staff are paid so little they would need cash advances seemed lost on him.There were other awkward moments too, with his memory suddenly going hazy when asked about the German impact of Greensill, or the use of a private jet to get him to his third family home in Cornwall. He claimed he ended all texts with “love DC” yet strangely only his text to the top Treasury official had that sign-off. Most suspicious of all was he claim that his message about “rate cuts” was him being “a victim of spellcheck”. It was not about interest rate cuts (a very serious issue if he’d been told in advance) but VAT cuts. Honest.On and on it went, the cake-and-eat-it exceptionalism. He said “prime ministers should only ever use letter or email” in future, but this particular ex-prime minister was allowed to text and phone because of the “exceptional” circumstances of last year. He didn’t want to merely “be on the board of some big bank and make the odd speech around the world”, he wanted “to get stuck in and help a business grow and expand”. That sounded like an admission that, yes, his own commercial interest really was what drove him.What may irk Cameron’s critics most of all was just how similar his defence was on Greensill to his defence of his fateful decision to call a Brexit referendum. He has said a referendum was somehow “inevitable”, though most people believe it was an attempt at Tory party management that backfired spectacularly due to his sheer complacency (he even bragged to EU leaders privately in a summit he would walk it). A similar disingenuousness seemed to run through all his claims that he really was lobbying ministers on Greensill out of some kind of altruism, rather than a personal profit motive. Maybe, like many former PMs, he suffers from self-delusion. When asked how schoolchildren would remember his premiership, he said it was as someone who “has made our country a better place”.Still, having trashed his own reputation so royally, which company will now dare risk him trashing theirs in future? It may well be that Cameron has to stick to charitable and other good works (he has done impressive work in dementia) from now on. Being seen as a gifter not a grifter is always a better look for a former premier. At least, that’s what a really good PR man would advise.Related...'Is Nothing Sacred?' David Cameron Grilled By MPs Over Greensill LobbyingDavid Cameron Refuses To Tell MPs How Much Money He Expected To Make From Greensill
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Boris Johnson should “manage expectations” on how long it will take to complete his plan to “level up” left behind communities across the UK, a Tory MP has said.Kevin Hollinrake, who is Michael Gove’s parliamentary private secretary, said the economic gap between the north and the south-east was comparable to the disparity between East and West Germany before reunification.He told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that, as in Germany, it would take 30 years to complete the levelling up agenda, which was front and centre in the Queen’s Speech this week but is still posing questions about how the prime minister sees it progressing and how its success can be measured.Hollinrake suggested that average wages in different regions could be a reasonable measure of the success of levelling up, but warned that it was “dangerous measuring outcomes rather than opportunities”.The Thirsk and Malton MP also stressed that levelling up was a “huge task” that could take decades to be completed.He told Commons People: “Levelling up is really exciting, it’s a big ambition, it’s a huge task.“The economy disparity between London and the south-east and the north-east in relative terms is as big as it was between East and West Germany prior to reunification - two-and-a-half times - a phenomenally big gap.“So this is going to take three decades to resolve it, that’s what it took Germany and they haven’t narrowed it completely yet.“It’s going to take three decades and - two trillion dollars Germany spent on narrowing that gap, we’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”Hollinrake went on: “I think it’s important to manage expectations, that this isn’t going to happen overnight.“There are some things you can do really quickly - so yes building a road, a railway or a railway station takes a while to have an economic effect.“But other things can happen more quickly, such as relocation of civil service jobs - Treasury north coming to Darlington, Cabinet Office going to Glasgow, Michael Gove was there this week, you’ve got the UK Investment Bank coming to Leeds.“So things can happen pretty quickly and that’s all there now, or just about being put in place now.“Freeports as well, these tax-free zones will attract a lot of private sector investment.”One of the quickest ways to deliver on levelling up would be reform of the tax system, Hollinrake suggested.“There’s some things in-built in the tax system that aren’t particularly fair, council tax is one of them for example. There’s a proportionately higher burden on parts of the country,” he said.“Very expensive properties in London for example pay a fraction of the council tax we pay in a much smaller house in the north, it just can’t be fair.“There’s ways you can do things like that, I’m not going to pre-empt what the chancellor might do.“Business rates I think again are due for reform.“There are lots of different things we could do to make it a fair and more level playing field, which would then encourage investment in different parts of the country.”Hollinrake suggested there may be value in measuring the success of levelling up by looking at average wages across regions.But he stressed that ultimately the agenda’s success should be judged by how much it creates equality of opportunity across regions.Asked how the success of levelling up should be measured, he said: “Average wages, for example, would be a good measure that we should use.“But it’s very dangerous measuring outcomes rather than opportunities because clearly not everybody makes the best of their opportunities and it’s got to be about the individual as well as the state.“In fact, it’s much more about the individual than the state.“For me, you create a fair and level playing field, a stable framework that encourages investment, and things like infrastructure are really important to do that as well as the tax breaks, and then let people get on with it.”Related...David Cameron Refuses To Tell MPs How Much Money He Expected To Make From GreensillIs Boris Johnson’s Thin Queen's Speech A Hint Of An Early Election?The Key Points From The Queen’s Speech 2021
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Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh David Cameron over his lobbying for Greensill Capital – and the MP took no prisoners. The former minister was before the Commons Treasury committee to answer questions about his extensive lobbying on behalf of the failed finance firm he himself had a “significant” stake in.The four-month campaign asking for government support of the firm, conducted at the height of the Covid pandemic, included no less than 56 texts to serving Tory ministers. Labour MP Angela Eagle remarked the ex-PM’s WhatsApp efforts were “more like stalking than lobbying” but it was McDonagh who turned up the heat. The Mitcham and Morden MP reminded Cameron of his own promised crackdown on lobbying, when he said the industry smacked of “cronyism” and had “tainted our politics for far too long”. She said to him: “Do you understand the irony of having used them given many of us believe that the quote depicts your own behaviour with Greensill?” Cameron, who signed off a number of his texts to former colleagues with the words “love DC”, said his government had brought in “two important changes” via the lobbying act, which forced multi-client lobbyists to register clients and ministers to report all meetings. But McDonagh was quick to cut him off, saying: “I’m ever so sorry but this is a meeting to ask you questions, rather than allow you to talk for the next two hours. “You had the enormous privilege of being the prime minister of our great country. You’re one of only five people post-war to have been re-elected to lead our government. “Do you not feel you have demeaned yourself and your position by ‘WhatsApping’ your way around Whitehall on the back of a fraudulent enterprise based on selling bonds of high-risk debt to unsuspecting investors?” Cameron attempted to defend his actions in taking a paid post with Greensill, a company in which he also had shares, saying “made a choice to work for abusiness which I hoped would be a UK fintech success story” to “help them grow and expand”.  He added: “What I did at the time of economic crisis was put to the govt what I genuinely believed to be a good idea for how to get money into the hands of small businesses and get their bills paid early. “I have said that looking back and now looking forward that ex prime ministers are in a very important and different position so a single letter or email would have been more appropriate.” McDonagh challenged Cameron over his defence of Lex Greensill, who she said the former PM was “painting as a reincarnation of the late Mother Theresa”. She criticised Earnd, the wage advance app used by NHS nurses, which has since gone into administration. She said: “Turning now to Greensill’s proposals for our NHS, an app called Earnd to pay docs and nurses daily or weekly in advance, do you accept that your lobbying of the NHS wasn’t for its health but for the health of Greensill’s balance sheet.” Cameron said he didn’t “accept that or a second” and claimed Earnd could combat “the evils of payday lending”. “The idea that staff could draw down their salary as they earned it rather than wait until the end of the month. I think that could go some way toward ending payday lending,” he said.  But McDonagh pointed out that Greensill was promoting the app in some parts of the NHS in order to create a “critical mass” and further “cross-selling opportunities”  “Is nothing sacred?,” McDonagh asked, shaking her head.She added: “And of course it left Greensill free to sell to corporate entities to generate revenues and to provide cross-selling opportunities to the wider group. Not my words, Greensill’s words,” she put to the PM, before cutting him off and asking the committee chairman Mel Stride to move on. Cameron attempted to defend the “cosy” use of “love DC” in the texts, saying: “Anyone I know even at all well, I tend to sign off text messages with ‘love DC’ – I don’t know why, I just do.“My children tell me that you don’t need to sign off text messages at all and it’s very old fashioned and odd to do so.”Eagle, meanwhile, said: “I read your 56 messages and they’re more like stalking than lobbying – looking back are you at least a little bit embarrassed about the way you behaved?”Cameron replied: “The government was introducing plans to try and help businesses, we thought we had a good idea.“I was keen to get it in front of government, but as I’ve said, there are lessons to learn, and lessons for me to learn, and in future the single formal email or formal letter would be appropriate.”He added: “I think it’s easy to forget now just what sort of time of economic shock it was.”To which Eagle curtly responded: “Many of us don’t forget there were thousands of people dying at the time and the country was in a serious situation.”Cameron was also due to appear before the Commons’ public accounts committee to answer questions about his links to Greensill. Boris Johnson has asked lawyer Nigel Boardman to conduct a review of government procurement activity during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Related...David Cameron Refuses To Tell MPs How Much Money He Expected To Make From GreensillDavid Cameron’s Most Cringeworthy Greensill Lobbying Texts Laid BareNo Evidence Of Tory 'Favouritism' In £17bn Covid Contract Awards, City Lawyer Concludes
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David Cameron has refused to say how much money he would have made from Greensill Capital had it not collapsed. The former prime minister admitted on Thursday he was being paid a “significant” amount, but said the precise number was “private”.Cameron is reported to have told friends he stood to make £60 million from the company, a figure he dismissed as “absurd”.He was appearing before the Commons Treasury committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the ex-PM’s ultimately unsuccessful lobbying on behalf of Greensill.On Tuesday, the committee released dozens of texts and emails Cameron sent to ministers and senior officials appealing for their help in gaining access for the firm to government Covid loan support programmesThey included messages to Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove, senior officials at the Treasury and the Bank of England, as well as a call to Matt Hancock.The government has said Greensill’s applications were dealt with properly and were ultimately rejected. The company filed for insolvency in March.But there has been criticism of how a former prime minister was able to exploit his personal contacts with former colleagues and officials in the pursuit of commercial gain.Mel Stride, the Tory chair of the Treasury committee, asked how much money Cameron expected to earn from Greensill.He told Cameron it was important for MPs to know if it was “multiple millions of pounds” rather than “tens of thousands” of pounds.Stride told Cameron “many people” would conclude he was lobbying government because hiis “opportunity to make a large amount of money was under threat”.Cameron said: “I was paid an annual amount, a generous annual amount, far more than what I earned as prime minister. And I had shares.“I was absolutely had a big economic investment in the future of Greensill. I haven’t put a number on those things.“I don’t think the amount is particularly germane,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a private matter.”Cameron earned £150,402 while he served as prime minister.The City watchdog is also launching a formal investigation into the collapse of Greensill. The Financial Conduct Authority said some of the allegations made about the firm were “potentially criminal in nature”.Greensill was the biggest backer of GFG – the owner the UK’s third largest steelmaker, Liberty Steel – and its failure has put thousands of jobs at risk as GFG seeks to refinance.Appearing before the Treasury committee on Tuesday, the firm’s founder, Australian financier Lex Greensill, said he was “truly sorry” and took full responsibility for what happened.Related...David Cameron’s Most Cringeworthy Greensill Lobbying Texts Laid BareIs Boris Johnson’s Thin Queen's Speech A Hint Of An Early Election?
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The government has repeatedly given millions in pandemic-related contracts to friends of ministers and Conservative MPs.
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David Cameron’s intense lobbying for collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital has been laid bare in 45 emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to ministers and officials.The Commons Treasury Committee published the former PM’s communications ahead of an evidence session with the firm’s founder Lex Greensill.Its inquiry is one of a series of probes, including one launched by Downing Street, as Westminster looks to understand the role Cameron played in securing Whitehall access for the company.Greensill is now being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority, having received allegations relating to the firm’s collapse that were “potentially criminal in nature”.Both Cameron and Greensill, who reportedly claimed to be a Downing Street adviser under the former PM, will give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee on the firm’s collapse this week.Before they gave evidence, the committee published Cameron’s messages to ministers and officials.And wow, they are toe curling.Here are the most cringeworthy moments as Cameron tried and failed to secure access for Greensill to the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF):‘Love DC’Cameron’s lobbying began on March 5 2020 with a message to the Treasury’s top civil servant Tom Scholar.He was Cameron’s Europe adviser, during the ex-PM’s ill fated renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU that preceded the Brexit vote in 2016.But that bruising experience doesn’t appear to have soured their relationship.Cameron had one ask: for a phone number for Sir Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor of the Bank of England.But signing off, he asked Scholar: “Can I give you lunch once the budget is done? Love Dc.”It appears to pay off, as two hours later a call was set up between Cameron and Cunliffe, according to the messages.The following day, Cameron texted Scholar again suggesting they could meet chancellor Rishi Sunak for “an elbow bump or foot tap”.Once again, he signed off: “Love Dc”.CAPS LOCK ONA couple of weeks later and all is not well for Cameron.On the night of April 1 he tells Scholar a decision on Greensill’s involvement in the CCFF is “getting urgent”.The next morning, he seeks to underline this point with that most desperate of texting techniques - CAPS.“Greensill do early payment in the NHS. All your Pharmacies are paid immediately {by us) rather than waiting months for the NHS to cough up. That is CASH (effectively very cheap credit)into businesses NOW, rather than waiting ages for action by banks.”Covid PlatitudesBy this point, the UK was heading towards its first coronavirus lockdown.But it did not stop the intense lobbying efforts by Cameron, who regularly addressed arguably the biggest crisis since the Second World War early in his messages before turning to the business at hand.In one text to Scholar, Cameron wrote: “Thinking of you in these impossibly difficult times. Glad you are at the helm.”In another, he said: “Hope you are staying calm”.Later, while texting a senior minister (more on this below), Cameron acknowledged they would be “maniacally busy” but nevertheless asked for help with Greensill.A Hatchet Buried?The following day and things have gone from bad to worse for Cameron.“Again Greensill have got a ‘no’,” he tells Scholar. “Am genuinely baffled.”His love also appears to be fading as he asks Scholar for “5 minutes for a call”, adding that the Treasury’s refusal “seems bonkers”.In his sign-off, Cameron makes clear it is time to round-up his old Tory colleagues for support.“Am now calling CX [the chancellor], Gove, everyone. Best wishes. Dc.”Yes, Michael Gove, who Cameron once described as a “foam-flecked Faragist” who “twisted” the truth while backing Leave during the Brexit referendum, in a betrayal of the former PM that led to these two old friends falling out spectacularly.No matter, Cameron was happy to enlist Gove in his lobbying efforts, asking if the Cabinet Office minister had “a moment for a word” and adding: “I am on this number and v free. All good wishes Dc.”Cameron also texted chancellor Rishi Sunak and junior Treasury ministers Jesse Norman and John Glen as his lobbying efforts widened.‘Key Points’Cameron was famously a PR man before entering the Commons and rising to become prime minister.And all his best press office skills were on display as he sent around a one page summary of how great Greensill is and why the Treasury should be keen to work with the firm.On April 3 he sent the summary to Norman and senior Downing Street adviser Sheridan Westlake.A day later, he manages to get the document in front of Sunak.He followed up with a text message: “Just sent a one pager that I hope clarifies things. Really appreciate your time. Best wishes. Dc.”‘One Last WhatsApp’Weeks later and we are in mid-May. Lengthy discussions, including several text messages with Sunak and officials, have still not led to Greensill being granted access to the CCFF.The discussions appear to be hung up on the fact that the firm’s work could help foreign firms with UK government cash.On May 18, Cameron is keen to address the concerns, using a lengthy message to forward correspondence from Lex Greensill to Sunak and saying the firm “can (now) guarantee that BoE [Bank of England] funds will only be used by UK businesses”.One minute later he explains to Sunak that he has sent “one last whatsapp with a solution”.But it was not one last WhatsApp.The next month, Cameron makes a last ditch bid to call on his old colleagues, texting Glen and business minister Nadhim Zahawi, who became an MP when Cameron became PM in 2010.Cameron attempts to charm Zahawi, praising him for being “v solid in the media” before obtaining a number for a Richard Sharp.In June, several messages are sent to Sharp, Westlake and Glen.But by June 26, it appears Cameron’s extensive efforts have failed.He finishes his correspondence with a text to Glen: “Thanks for your help with this. Sorry the answer is a ‘no’ but we appreciate the engagement. All good wishes. Dc.”Related...David Cameron's Repeated Lobbying Of Treasury And Bank Of England RevealedNo Evidence Of Tory 'Favouritism' In £17bn Covid Contract Awards, City Lawyer ConcludesThe Key Points From The Queen’s Speech 2021
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Boris Johnson has unveiled his legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session, as the country emerges from a year of coronavirus lockdowns.Here are some of the more eye-catching parts of Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, which includes around 30 new bits of legislation.Education and skillsThe clear focus is what the government likes to call “levelling up” — boosting skills and jobs, especially in the so-called red wall constituencies the Conservatives won from Labour at the last election.As part of Johnson’s “lifetime skills guarantee”, adults will be able to access up to four years’ worth of student loans at any point in their life in order to study at college or university.No social care details Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” when he became PM in July 2019. But the Queen’s Speech does not include details of how this will be done. Instead the prime minister said only that proposals will be brought forward “later in the year”.There will however be a health bill to implement planned changes to the structure of NHS England for “a more integrated and  efficient health and care system”.Voter ID The Elections Integrity Bill will require voters to produce proof of their identity when voting in elections.It has been condemned by MPs on both sides of the Commons. Johnson has claimed it is necessary to “protect democracy”. But Tory former cabinet minister David Davis said it was an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”.Campaigners have said that people without ID would be disenfranchised as a result of the move, especially those in marginalised groups. Government figures show while 76% of white people have driving licence, only 53% of Black people do. Labour’s shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said 3.5 million voters did not have photographic ID and the policy would “put up obstacles for poorer voters”.US civil liberties have also warned it mirrors voter suppression tactics used by the Republican Party.Ending fixed-term parliamentsThe Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act introduced by David Cameron’s coalition government in 2011. In short, it means prime minister’s will once again have the power to call a general election whenever they like. It comes amid rumours Johnson may trigger an election in the spring or summer of 2023. Gay conversion therapySo-called conversion therapy is set to be banned. But a consultation will be run before deciding “how best to protect people”. The government also said it would “ensure” that “religious leaders” can “continue to be able to have open and honest conversations with people”.AlsoThe Queen’s Speech also included:A Planning Bill to make it easier to build new homes, schools and hospitals.A Counter-State Threats Bill to introduce a US-style register of foreign agents to help counter espionage and influence from hostile governments.The return of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which saw demonstrations over concerns that it would curtail the right to protest when it was last before parliament.A Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill giving regulators the power to fine universities or students’ unions in England if they fail to protect freedom of expression.Related...Family And Friends Allowed To Hug From Next Monday, PM AnnouncesAll The Things You Can Do From May 17Boris Johnson Signals Covid Passports Might Not HappenWhat Next For Sir Keir Starmer After His Knightmare On Brexit Street?
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The man appointed by Boris Johnson to probe David Cameron’s lobbying has cleared the government of “favouritism” in the award of £17bn in Covid contracts.City lawyer Nigel Boardman admitted that some government practices, such as a fast-track “VIP” priority system for firms known to MPs and ministers, gave rise to the “suspicion” of bias.But he found no evidence of favouritism in the award of the contracts.The review of Whitehall procurement during the pandemic, published the day after the local elections, recommends an overhaul of processes from contingency planning to stockpiling.The review covered five key areas of the government’s response to the Covid crisis, taking in spending on PPE (personal protective equipment), ventilators, vaccines, test and trace and food parcels for the clinically vulnerable.Most of the contracts were awarded without usual competitive tenders, a process that ministers defended on grounds of the urgent need to get new equipment.Boardman, who is overseeing a separate review the Greensill Capital lobbying affair, has already been accused by Labour of being “a close friend of the Conservative government”.In his latest report, Boardman concluded there was no evidence of favouritism but there were big holes in processes that increased risk.“I have not seen evidence that any contract within the scope of the review was awarded on grounds of favouritism. In my view there are, however, factors which may have encouraged such a suspicion,” he said.These “factors” included the so-called “VIP lane” for PPE, a fast track email address system available to MPs and others, as well as “certain counterparties being associated with the governing party”.Other factors included delays in publishing contracts, the time taken to publish contracts awarded during the crisis and high prices paid.Boardman made 28 separate recommendations for change.“Given the amounts of money spent on these programmes, and the importance of the programmes to the national recovery, it is imperative that there is proper scrutiny of the procurement actions taken by the Government,” he said.Shadow minister Rachel Reeves, who has already predicted that Boardman’s lobbying probe will end in a “whitewash”, was scathing about the new review.She told HuffPost UK: “This barely scratches the surface of the conflicts of interest in government procurement, and the deep and troubling pattern of taxpayers’ money being sunk into crony contracts.“We need a complete overhaul to tackle cronyism, and an urgent end to emergency procurement measures.”Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have come under intense pressure over the award of billions of pounds of public money, not least over the government’s “VIP lane” for PPE.A court case brought by the campaign group the Good Law Project heard last month that civil servants were “drowning” in bids that lacked credibility. The group has also exposed a lack of transparency in the registering of many contracts.In a previous review of the award of communications contracts by the Cabinet office, he called for better “management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest in a procurement context”.The NAO watchdog issued a withering report last year, concluding that a lack adequate documentation “means we cannot give assurance that government has adequately mitigated the increased risks” from its emergency procurement.The Commons Public Account Committee was even more scathing about Test and Trace, saying its “unimaginable” £25bn cost had failed to deliver its central promise of averting another lockdown.In response to the Boardman report, the Cabinet Office said it was accepting all 28 recommendations in full and its permanent secretary would write to the PAC setting out how he would implement them.Related...Matt Hancock Refuses To Apologise For Unlawfully Failing To Publish Covid ContractsJohnson And Gove 'Ripped Up Rules' On Covid PPE Contracts For Private FirmsCabinet Office To Probe Contract With Deloitte To Draft Ministers' Answers On Test And Trace
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A cabinet minister has said she has no idea when the latest register of ministers’ interests will be published, amid a row over how Boris Johnson paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, international trade secretary Liz Truss said the prime minister had paid for the refit himself. But she was unable to say where he got the money.Labour has demanded the government publish the register before the local elections on May 6.The register, which sets out the financial interests of ministers, was last published in July 2020 despite the ministerial code requiring it to be released “twice yearly”.Asked when the latest version would be released, Truss said: “I’m sure it will be published.”Marr asked Truss: “You could go back after this programme, literally press the send button and publish it. Why not?”She said: “I’m sure it will be published in line with the rules.”Pressed on if she had “any idea why it’s not been published”, Truss said: “No, I haven’t.”Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said there was a “real stench” around the government and called on Johnson to go to parliament on Monday to explain what happened.Rayner said the commission should now launch a full inquiry and she called on the prime minister to publish the latest register of ministers’ interests which was now eight months overdue.“These are serious allegations,” she told Marr.  “Why are they hiding the fact that ministers have to declare these donations and they’ve not done that? That’s serious. This is a real stench around what (the) government is about.”The Electoral Commission – which first raised the issue with the Conservative Party more than a month ago – has said it is still looking into whether any of the sums relating to the work on the flat should have been declared under the rules on political donations. Related...Does Rishi Sunak Want To Save The Planet?David Cameron's Repeated Lobbying Of Treasury And Bank Of England Revealed
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When Boris Johnson addressed Joe Biden’s climate change summit on Earth Day this week, he was on characteristically playful form. Pointing out that the UK had slashed carbon emissions while increasing growth in recent years, he turned to his favourite Brexit concept of having one’s cake and eating it. “‘Cake-have-eat’ is my message to you,” the PM told 40 fellow world leaders.As Biden unveiled a historic new pledge to cut the US’s emissions by half by 2030, Johnson announced his own fresh commitment to show some global leadership.Ahead of the UK’s hosting of the all-important COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November, it would write into law a plan to cut its emissions by 78% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2035, as recommended by its independent climate change committee.Just two weeks earlier, the landmark promise had been set in train in Downing Street when Johnson chaired a meeting of the Climate Action Strategy (CAS) cabinet committee. Crucially, not a single voice dissented from the radical new target. And most importantly of all, chancellor Rishi Sunak was supportive.For although the headline targets are essential, they can too often be missed if the minister who holds the purse strings is reluctant to come on board. In part due to opposition from George Osborne, David Cameron went from pledging “the greenest government ever” to wanting to “get rid of all that green crap” in a few short years.The UK Treasury certainly has a central role in any carbon cutting agenda and in the next few weeks, its Net Zero Review will reveal just how radical Sunak plans to be in hitting the legally-binding pledge to get net zero carbon emissions by 2050.The first major country in the world to commit to such legislation, Britain plans the fastest drop in emissions of any big economy and the new document drafted in the bowels of the Treasury – and covering everything from investment to taxation – is the blueprint for action.But while Johnson has paraded his green credentials extravagantly over the years, Sunak is to many in the green movement a closed book. Will he live down to the stereotype of chancellors who see the price of everything but the environmental value of nothing? Or will he surprise everyone with a package as bold as his boss’s words? If the UK gets its policy mix to match its targets, it could have a big impact on other countries.There’s certainly a succession of big moments on climate policy due this year in Whitehall. The Net Zero Review is central, but there will also be a ‘heat and building strategy’ from the Communities Department and the Business Department, which has to make a big call on post-gas alternatives.Grant Shapps’ Transport Department has a decarbonisation plan this summer, DEFRA has a land-use strategy to publish. In the autumn there will be an overarching Net Zero Plan, to showcase Britain to the world ahead of COP talks. “And in each area, all roads lead through the Treasury,” as one source put it.For good measure, there will be a Budget just before the climate talks in November, and a spending review. Sunak and his officials, who are having to deal with Covid as a priority, are having to spin plenty of plates and environmentalists are hoping they don’t all come crashing down.The chancellor’s record to date is seen as mixed by green campaigners. His last Budget was criticised for its lack of big policy on the environment, and was seen as a missed opportunity to put flesh on the bones of what the PM called “building back greener” from the Covid pandemic.Unspent cash from the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant programme for home insulation wasn’t rolled over, and suspicions about its role were confirmed when it was axed completely a few weeks later. Fuel duty was again frozen.Treasury sources insist that Sunak is serious about the climate challenge. They point to measures in the spring Budget, and the previous Budget, such as giving the Bank of England a new net zero mandate that will shift investment away from fossil fuels, a new green savings bond, green gilts and new UK infrastructure bank with a requirement to help tackle climate change.He has made net zero one of his three priorities while chairing the G7 group of finance ministers. Investments in hydrogen and carbon capture are cited too.“No one can claim that he’s shying away from it, or that he’s taking a typical, penny pinching Treasury stance,” says one ally. “His position is this isn’t going to happen overnight. We’ve got to get it right, but this is not just about what is the right policy but also where the public are with this as well.“He wants to be ambitious but it’s his job to basically work out how we do it and a lot of these things are incremental behavioor changes. We’ve got to nudge business and the public in the right direction.”An insider says: “It’s very easy for people to say ‘yay, net ero’ But that’s the macro level, at the next level down people ask how does that impact my bills, how does this impact my way of life, how does that impact what car I can afford to have and all the rest of the kind of the real world implications. That’s more difficult.”Rachel Wolf, the co-author of the 2019 Tory election manifesto, believes that the PM has been successful with messaging that green issues can be popular in Red Wall seats, not least because of the many skilled jobs that the environmental revolution can provide.But polling and focus grouping by her Public First agency shows that there is also more room for Sunak to be in step with public opinion on things like carbon taxes. “Our research shows that there really isn’t much climate scepticism anymore. People are genuinely committed to improving the environment including climate change, and they have become more so. And it actually covers classes and ages.”Her research found that backing for carbon taxes rises once people are told that industry and airlines are also paying their fair share too. And there is one big policy area where Wolf, along with many green Tories, wants Treasury change: a shift in costs on energy bills away from electricity towards gas. The shift would overnight boost demand to replace gas boilers with electric heat pumps, for example.“Big environmental policy plays better than lots of bits of small environmental policy. If you compare us to France or Germany or the Netherlands, they have both much greater incentives for switching to alternatives like heat pumps, and they have also sorted out the pricing.“It’s a bit under the radar and is a bit crazy frankly, but we in the UK have piled huge numbers of cumulative ‘policy costs’, which is another word for taxes, on to electricity. Whereas when you look at other countries they’ve done less on electricity and they’ve put it on gas or are starting to.”Sam Hall, of the Conservative Environment Network, is another supporter of the switch of costs from electricity to gas. “I’d be interested to see what they choose to do [in the Net Zero Review] on carbon taxes and carbon pricing. Lots of sectors of the economy don’t have a very strong carbon price at the moment. And I think carbon pricing is something we’re going to need as a tool in the toolbox if we are going to tackle this cost effectively.”He adds: “The spending review is going to be a key moment, the first time we have had a multi year spending review under the Boris Johnson government. There were some tough departmental settlements for environment-focused departments in previous spending reviews, despite the significant public concern about the environment and the many social and economic benefits environment-focused spending can deliver.“Hopefully BEIS, DEFRA and the rest of government will get the funding they need to stimulate some of these early markets in clean technologies and natural capital, which can then bring in the private sector capital off the back of it.”Some green campaigners just think Sunak is not engaged. “He’s often nowhere to be seen,” says one. They point to the chancellor’s failure to turn up to the launch of the Dasgupta Review in February, a pioneering study on why biodiversity should be embedded into economic costings. Johnson and Sir David Attenborough were present, but Sunak was not.Joss Garman, director of the European Climate Foundation, is more forgiving. “I would say it’s not so much that he’s being an active negative force, so much as just keeping his head down and not saying anything at all, so he’s keeping everyone guessing where he stands on these issues,” he said.“Something like the coal mine in Cumbria, Boris didn’t really get any credit for stepping in and forcing that to a public inquiry as he eventually did do even though he had 30 Northern Research Group MPs against him. Things like that you have to hand it to him, as with the petrol and diesel phase out by 2030, that’s a big deal – as was adopting the toughest climate target of any major economy as he did at the end of last year.”One senior Tory says: “The Treasury and Rishi have two completely overriding concerns right now. One, as we come out of Covid they need to avoid a massive wave of unemployment once they start withdrawing all the support. And two, every single department and indeed Number 10 keeps asking them to spend money that they don’t think they have. Those battles are taking up almost all of the bandwidth.”While ministers may be busy with Covid however, the bandwidth does exist among officials, insiders say. Steve Field, the Treasury’s director for climate, environment and energy, has a team of staffers working on the detail of the Net Zero Review, along with academics from Oxford and the LSE.It remains to be seen however if Sunak will revive Gordon Brown’s environmental tax team, which had the clout that came with being guaranteed a chapter in the Budget to write. “Once you know you will be setting say 15 measures in every Budget, that gives you a power within the system,” one former staffer says.Some in Labour think that the problem is a hangover of the Cameron/Osborne era’s shift away from green policy in the Treasury. Theresa May then scrapped the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and her chancellor Philip Hammond was so sceptical about the issue that he even drafted costings that suggested it would cost £70bn a year to hit emissions targets, a figure ridiculed by other departments and since ditched.The real issue is not a lack of technical expertise, but a lack of political will from Sunak and ministers, says one Labour critic. “Gordon and Tony and John Prescott were fighting over who was in charge of the environmental agenda, to drive the initiative forward.“Now you look around and there’s Rishi, [trade secretary] Liz Truss, [business secretary] Kwasi Kwarteng, [foreign secretary] Dom Raab, who should all be fighting to be in the vanguard of this stuff. But none are. Instead, they’re saying ‘oh well, that’s [COP chair] Alok Sharma’s job’.”New Labour introduced a raft of measures, from the climate change levy to the landfill tax, as well as the fuel duty escalator, which were all aimed at both helping the planet while raising revenue.“Gordon’s obsession was ‘What can I say is the carbon impact of this Budget?’,” one former colleague says. “You could introduce things like the aggregates levy or the pesticide levy or other environmental taxes, but if it didn’t have a CO2 number attached to it, he would ask ‘why are we doing this?’”Yet some Tories point to the Gordon Brown Treasury as a salutary example of how green policy can go wrong. Brown introduced tax breaks for diesel cars in 2001 because they emit less CO2 than petrol-powered cars. But it became apparent that the car industry had oversold its promises of using catalytic converters to remove harmful particulates.Cameron and Osborne have been criticised for failing to have a proper strategy for nuclear power’s contribution to emissions cuts, for dragging their feet on big projects like the Severn barrier and carbon capture and storage. They also ditched in 2015 the zero carbon homes standard too, a move that this week prompted a withering condemnation from Lord Deben, the climate change committee chairman.“We have built a million houses which will have to be retrofitted because the Conservative government went back on the zero carbon homes [plan],” he said. “It’s cost the country a huge amount, it’s costing the people who bought those houses a huge amount and it’s given a lot of money into the pockets of housebuilders which shouldn’t have been there. It’s a prize example of why governments have to stick to what they say and not fiddle about at the edges.”Deben, who gave a strong welcome to Johnson’s historic emissions target this week, is one of several Conservatives with a long track record on green issues. Johnson himself has been heavily influenced by the Conservative Environment Network, whose members include Zac and Ben Goldsmith, his father Stanley and his No.10 climate adviser Sam Richards.Sunak lacks such extensive feelers into the green world, but some hope he can surprise people on the issue in coming months. “I don’t think Rishi has been gripped by it fully yet,” says one expert. “But what we learned from him as a chancellor is he does a small number of things big.”And with a manifesto lock preventing rises in VAT, income tax or national insurance, green levies could be useful to Sunak’s plans to strengthen the public finances. There’s also the cachet of embracing the future, a key asset for any chancellor who wants to become prime minister next.“The Budget this year obviously wasn’t very green but to be fair its focus was a Covid recovery budget,” says one expert. “I think they do realise that with a Budget coming just before COP, they have to do something substantive in it. And the advantage of some of this is it’s revenue raising, not just revenue costing.”Sam Hall, of the Conservative Environment Network, says that the theme of fairness could feature too, especially as many people on low incomes rely on electricity for heating. “One other thing it would be really good to see in the Treasury review is a focus on the distributional impacts of net zero, and how we can make sure people on low incomes don’t lose out and in fact benefit from the transition.”One potential politically sensitive policy is road pricing, which could be a green measure that over time replaces fuel duty. More likely may be “border carbon adjustments”, effectively a carbon tax on imports of goods made from polluting countries. It is seen as a key way of reassuring UK firms that there is a level playing field, although developing countries are wary. The EU is considering such a tariff from 2023 and Biden has floated the idea too.Sunak is also being urged to use the UK’s chairing of the G7 to get rich countries to effectively pay the poorest not to cut down their trees. Poor countries have lost out on tourism as well as lockdowns in the pandemic, with some facing liquidity problems. Gordon Brown is leading calls for debt cancellation ahead of the Glasgow summit.Joss Garman says: “The Congo, Rwanda, Indonesia, the Philippines, these are all forest nations that have a huge impact on climate change. And they’re going to trash their forests, just like we did unless they get financial support not to do that. Because the UK is hosting the G7, the onus is on Rishi to come up with something, together with the Americans.“That’s probably about putting pressure on the Chinese to do debt cancellation and restructuring, partially that’s probably about generous deployment of vaccines to developing countries, but also it’s about financial support through the World Bank and IMF.”Lord Stern, whose ground-breaking report on climate economics was published under the Blair government, is hopeful that the coming months will once again prove that the UK is leading the way on the issue. Stern, a member of the Treasury’s steering group on the Net Zero Review, says that Sunak has overseen some substantial policies so far.But he stresses that the human cost of not tackling fossil fuels is very real, pointing to the 40,0000 people in the UK who die every year from air pollution-related diseases. “If you think of the tragedy of Covid, we could end up with 200,000 people dead. But that’s five years of air pollution too.”Stern says that he’s hoping that the UK’s post-Brexit version of the European emissions trading scheme (ETS), which caps the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by energy-intensive industries and electricity generators, can be a powerful driver of change. “I do think that we need a stronger carbon price. The floor price, I hope that will be raised. It’s about half the European trading scheme’s price,” he says.The peer also says some green revenue should be used to make “direct transfers”, through things like council tax rebates or cash cheques, to help the less well off with the costs of the transition to low carbon. Most of all, he believes the Treasury is now putting the benefits of zero emissions into its cost-benefit analyses and focusing on growth.“We need to see the drive to net zero and increased emphasis on sustainability as a growth story. If we set those [emissions] targets as strongly as we have done, then we will get the discovery, innovation and investment that we need. Pace is of the essence and I still think that the sense of urgency is not strong enough in some places.”The officials within the Treasury are currently working with academics from Oxford and the LSE on the Net Zero Review and plenty of radical options are being worked up in draft. But ultimately it will come down to Sunak, as well as the prime minister, to decide just what the pace of change will be.“I’m very optimistic about what we can do,” says Stern. “That’s different from optimism about what we will do. But the deeper understanding of what we can do helps people see this is attractive, in terms of economic activity, in terms of health, attractive in terms of the environment.“We need growth in order to raise revenue, and to cut unemployment. That discussion of how we blend the revenue raising and the growth story is actually taking place in the Treasury in a very thoughtful way.”Related...Rishi Sunak's Budget Puts Climate Targets In Jeopardy, Experts WarnTory MPs Condemned For Backing New Coal Mine While Promoting Green PoliciesCan Boris Johnson Escape Dominic Cummings?
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Despite swimming in allegations of “Tory sleaze” from his opponents, Boris Johnson was characteristically upbeat when he faced reporters on Friday afternoon.Pressed on those leaked text messages he exchanged with billionaire James Dyson at the height of the pandemic, he snapped back that there was not “anything remotely dodgy or rum or weird or sleazy about trying to secure more ventilators”.The PM was, as ever, carefully sidestepping the real question: what exactly did he mean when he told the Tory donor that Rishi Sunak could “fix” tax issues for Dyson?But with election warfare resuming proper and Covid infection rates continuing to fall, this week felt as though the normal rough and tumble of politics was back and crackling.Not least because it marked the return to the stage of a very familiar Westminster actor: the Downing Street source.Also known as ‘a source close to the prime minister’ or ‘one familiar with the workings of Number 10’, the source briefed three newspapers that the PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings was behind leaks to the media.The PM was “disappointed” at how “bitter” Cummings had become, the source said, in three reports published at almost exactly the same time on Thursday.Johnson’s official spokesperson attempted to distance the PM from the reports (yes, the ones citing a ‘Downing Street source’), calling them “speculation”.Not one to take it on the chin, Cummings hit back hard in a blog today, saying it was “sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserve”, but he “will not engage in media briefing regarding these issues”. He repeated his call for a public inquiry into how the government has handled Covid and said he will give evidence to MPs.An internal investigation is underway to find out who leaked what, but one thing’s for sure: Keir Starmer’s calls for a probe into the Dyson texts now seem like a sideshow.And, while Johnson may struggle to escape Cummings’ desire for revenge if the former Vote Leave boss is indeed on the war path, it does Number 10 no harm if Johnson is able to sidestep scrutiny in the process.It comes just days after the PM demoted his press secretary Allegra Stratton and scrapped on-camera briefings for journalists – rendering useless the new £2.6m press room Dominic Raab once insisted was “value for money”, which further raises questions about the government’s media strategy, both nationally and locally.Angela Rayner was the first to go on the attack, telling Johnson had presided over a day of “cover-ups and cock-ups” and shown “breath-taking contempt for the country” over both the texts and Cummings.The deputy Labour leader has also written to Tory chair Amanda Milling over the party amplifying “fake news” about hospital cuts in Teesside from a US-based site called Hartlepool TV. The site and its associated pages have also shared conspiracy theories about vaccines, the Capitol Hill attack and voting fraud in the 2020 US elections.Rayner warned campaigning in the forthcoming elections must “not be used as a vehicle for the spreading of hate, conspiracy theory and misinformation”.Culture secretary Oliver Dowden won plaudits for his punchy pledge for a fans-led review of football this week. He has previously warned the government’s long-awaited online harms bill would herald a “new age of accountability” for tech companies who fail to tackle fake news on their platforms.Here’s hoping the fast-approaching end of the pandemic is not seen by this government as a green light to avoid scrutiny itself.Related...Dominic Cummings Blasts Boris Johnson Over His 'Competence And Integrity' And Denies Leaking StoriesDavid Cameron's Repeated Lobbying Of Treasury And Bank Of England RevealedLabour Won't Win Election With 'Tory Sleaze' Attacks Alone, Peter Mandelson Warns
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You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Text bomb, text bomb, we love a text bomb. Yes, it was a case of another day, another set of “sleaze” headlines. Newly released emails between David Cameron and the Bank of England have left him looking ever more desperate in his lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital. Meanwhile, senior Treasury officials sounded pretty uncomfortable as they explained how the former PM phoned them to chase up progress on his £60m in share options Greensill’s supply finance plan. Heavily redacted emails raised even more suspicions thanks to blacked out sections.But while Cameron’s reputation is already pretty trashed, the real issue for Labour is just whether any ministers, indeed the prime minister, have been found promising (or indeed delivering) favours for friends. Boris Johnson has vigorously defended his WhatsApps to James Dyson, but it was obvious from the tone of the messages that he just loves to shoot the breeze on matters as important as changing tax rates.Some of the public will see this as refreshingly direct, yet the danger is one that those close to the PM recognise all too well: he got so used to texting and messaging (he is an avid texter to fellow MPs and friends) over the years outside government that he didn’t change even after entering No.10 (and probably the Foreign Office before that). And there are thousands and thousands of missives he has sent, some of which perhaps lay bare exactly how he operates. It’s a treasure trove just waiting to be found.The security risk of a PM texting like a teenager is obvious too. In a swift U-turn on yesterday’s curious stance that no leak inquiry was needed into the Dyson exchanges, No.10 said today that a probe had begun by the Cabinet Office. Curiously, it said there was no such inquiry into the leak of Johnson’s texts to Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, where he promised an aide would monitor progress of a deal to take over Newcastle United football club. To add to the chaos, in both cases, it seems Dominic Cummings is now being blamed.The PM’s casual approach to his texting was matched by a similarly casual approach to his promises of transparency. Yesterday, he was pressed by the SNP’s Ian Blackford to “publish all personal exchanges” on any Covid contracts by the end of Wednesday. Johnson replied: “I am happy to share all the details with the House, as indeed I have shared them with my officials, immediately.” Well, immediately clearly doesn’t mean immediately as they are not yet public (his spokesman said he would “very shortly” deliver on the promise).Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng dug the political hole a little deeper as he defended government-by-WhatsApp, declaring: “One of the things in a democracy that we have to be is very accessible.” That simply begged the question why the PM was more accessible to friends and donors than to a public in need.With multiple inquiries, we are guaranteed more revelations and confrontations, all of which keeps this pot boiling for Labour. The party has already built “Tory sleaze” into its doorstep script for the May 6 elections and there’s one big reason for the sense of urgency. With postal vote applications substantially up on previous years, the elections could be effectively over by this weekend when many ballots drop through letterboxes.The Hartlepool by-election is of course an extra test for Keir Starmer and on our CommonsPeople podcast this week Peter Mandelson was notably cautious, warning that sleaze is not enough for Labour to win back lost voters. The former cabinet minister was, shall we say, intensely relaxed, about sofa government (“who cares about the furniture?”) but was withering about WhatsApp government: “We live in a democracy, we don’t live in a private members’ club.”Mandelson (“I’m not actually a lobbyist but Boris has always been a stranger to the truth…”) said his recent trips to his former constituency had confirmed voters have a low opinion of Johnson’s conduct, but they equally were still unhappy with Labour. “The memory of Jeremy Corbyn is still strong on the doorsteps amongst Labour voters here, it’s still coming up and I’m afraid we have still got some way to go before we rebuild the confidence and trust that we just threw away.” Although voters liked local NHS doctor Paul Williams, the former leader cast a long shadow.Now, of course he’s not known as the Sultan of Spin for nothing. Mandelson said Labour’s Hartlepool vote in 2019 had been “outgunned” by the combined Tory and Brexit party vote, and its 37% share was “the fourth lowest of any Labour held seat in the country”. He even floated the idea of losing. “We’ve got a real fight on our hands...on balance I think we are going to win...but if we lose it, it will be because of national factors and past factors affecting Labour in the town, not by the state of the Labour party now.”That may be classic expectations management, or it may be an early attempt to circle the wagons around Starmer in the event of disaster, by blaming Corbyn. But what felt truly authentic was Mandelson’s palpable frustration at his party being so hamstrung after so long in opposition. “You’ve got to go for your opponents as well, tear them inside out, strip them down, lay them bare, and see what they stand for and what they are not doing for this country...I want my party to win, I’m fed up of losing, I’m fed up to my back teeth of losing,”The former Hartlepool MP is famously a fighter, not a quitter. If the vaccine bounce continues, if the public quite like Johnson’s victory against the Super 6 football giants, if they think sleaze is something all politicians do, Keir Starmer may have to show similar resolve this summer. And as Mandelson told us, the big lesson from 1990s Tory sleaze was that the charge only really bites if the voters have a “credible alternative” to clean things up.Related...David Cameron's Repeated Lobbying Of Treasury And Bank Of England RevealedLabour Won't Win Election With 'Tory Sleaze' Attacks Alone, Peter Mandelson WarnsNo.10 Launches Leak Inquiry Into Boris Johnson's Texts With James Dyson
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