Boris Johnson

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Albo Declares Japanese Trip A Success After Tracking Down Rare Iggy Pop Live Album In Tokyo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 7:00am in

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared his first international trip a success after he managed to track down a rare Iggy Pop live album whilst perusing the record stores in Tokyo.

”Was such a great trip, Japan is a wonderful place, you should see all the different types of Kit Kats they have there,” said the PM. ”But, was also good to get down to brass tacks and have a chat with Boris, Joe, Narendra and Fumio.”

”Great bunch of guys, Joe was telling me about the time he saw Iggy and the Stooges in Raleigh North Carolina.”

When asked what implications the Quad gathering will have for the people of Australia, Prime Minister Albo said: ”They were very fruitful discussions that will very much benefit the country.”

”I talked trade with all leaders and fingers crossed we will start trading records relatively soon.”

”Narendra Modi in particular is a big You Am I fan so I promised to send him a few of my bootlegs that I’ve gotten over the years and who knows maybe we can appoint Timmy Rogers as a Special envoy to Mumbai.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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Boris Johnson Refuses to Join Canada in Sanctioning Alexander Lebedev

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/05/2022 - 10:14pm in

Canada has sanctioned Johnson's associate, the former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, who it says is one of the "key members of President Putin’s inner circle", reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson is refusing to impose sanctions on the Russian oligarch and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, despite one of the UK's closest allies identifying him as as a key member of "President Putin’s inner circle".

The Canadian Government announced on Friday that it had imposed sanctions on Lebedev, who they said was among those who had "directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine".

In a statement justifying the sanctions, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, said that "the Putin regime must, and will, answer for their unjustifiable acts."

Alexander Lebedev is the father of Johnson's close friend Evgeny Lebedev, who owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.

Asked by Byline Times on Monday whether the UK would be joining their ally in sanctioning Alexander Lebedev, Johnson's spokesman said they would not comment on the "different judgement" taken by Canada.

"It’s not for me to comment on a different judgement of a different country," Johnson's spokesman said, before adding that "we will, and have taken significant action against Putin’s inner circle."

Johnson has met with Alexander Lebedev on multiple occasions, including at a party held by his son Evgeny in his Italian villa.

In 2018 the then Foreign Secretary left his security detail behind in order to attend the event, held just days after a Nato meeting to discuss Russia's poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK.

Johnson ennobled Alexander's son Evgeny in 2020, despite warnings by the UK's security services.

Multiple reports suggest that MI6 initially advised against Lebedev's appointment due to concerns about Alexander Lebedev's suspected links to Putin.

As Byline Times first reported, this advice was changed following a private meeting between Evgeny Lebedev and Johnson, of which no minutes were kept.

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Alexander Lebedev and Evgeny Lebedev. Photo: WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy

The Prime Minister recently refused to comply with a vote by MPs ordering him to release details of the advice he received from the security services against placing Evgeny in the House of Lords.

The Labour Party accused the government of a "cover-up" for refusing to release the information.

Correspondence revealed by Byline Times earlier this year showed how Evgeny Lebedev built a close relationship with Johnson over the course of a decade.

The letters show that Lebedev lobbied Johnson to support a new Russian arts festival while he was Mayor of London, which he said had “substantial support from the Russian Government”.

Johnson, who attended dozens of dinners, parties, drinks and meetings with Lebedev during that period also told the newspaper proprietor that he would “thrilled” to secure his support.

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Tough on Crime? The Conservatives Are No Longer the Party of ‘Law and Order’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 8:07pm in

Boris Johnson has proposed authoritarian measures that fail to achieve true progress on improving justice and people's safety, argues Sian Norris

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It wasn’t the headline that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel wanted.

Hours after the Prime Minister told Cabinet that the focus was on “crime crime crime”, the Sun broke the news that an unnamed Conservative MP had been arrested on suspicion of a string of sexual offences, including rape. 

The MP has not had the whip removed nor has he been named in the press, but he has been asked not to attend the House of Commons. 

The arrest was another addition to a shameful roster of Conservative MPs who have been accused and convicted of sexual offences and inappropriate behaviour in recent years. 

Last month, Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

In 2020, Charlie Elphicke was sent to prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.

Last year in the family courts, Andrew Griffiths was found to have raped his wife.

Conservative MP David Warburton has been suspended after allegations of sexual harassment (which he denies).

Rob Roberts was given his Tory Party membership back despite being accused of sexually harassing a staff member. 

Inappropriate behaviour aside, law-breaking seems to have become a defining feature of this Conservative Government – not least when it comes to ‘Partygate’. The Metropolitan Police issued 126 fines in Downing Street for COVID-19 breaches, including to the Prime Minister himself, before closing the investigation. 

But this crime crisis is not confined to Westminster. As Byline Times has been reporting all week, the Conservative mantra of being 'tough on crime' is not matched by the experiences of victims and survivors – with long waits for court cases, crashing conviction statistics, and frontline cuts causing havoc in the criminal justice system. 

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Tough on Crime?

“Crime crime crime is what we want to focus on,” Boris Johnson told his Cabinet on 17 May. But, after 12 years of Conservative leadership – which have seen swingeing cuts to police numbers, legal aid, magistrates courts and support services – the criminal justice system is in crisis.

As the Byline Intelligence Team has revealed, convictions for crimes such as sexual offences decreased by 44% between 2016 and 2020. In the year ending March 2020, there were 773,000 adults aged 16 to 74 years who were victims of sexual assault, of which 655,000 were women. More recently, there were 63,136 rapes recorded in the year to September 2021, up 13% from the previous period (56,119).

The Government has repeatedly boasted that crime is down by 14% – a statement challenged many times for not accurately representing the true figures. Indeed, if computer misuse and fraud were included in the Government’s boast, crime has in fact increased by 14%.

When questioned about this inaccuracy by BBC News, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that what mattered was how “crime that people experience in their day-to-day lives... in terms of burglary, in terms of physical injury, has gone down”. But it is not for the Government to cherry-pick statistics and Kwarteng ignored how fraud and computer misuse is experienced by people in their everyday lives – as scammers rob vulnerable individuals of their savings. 

It is true that burglary and some types of physical injury crime decreased during the Coronavirus pandemic, not least because it was harder to break into people's homes when most people were inside them during lockdown or to shoplift when all the shops were closed. But the picture was very different for crimes that can be committed when people are trapped indoors, such as fraud and domestic abuse. 

One of the least-startling aspects of the Conservative MP’s arrest this week is that the complaint was first made in January 2020. Long waits for victims and alleged perpetrators have become systemic in a justice system that is struggling to cope. 

Data published in October 2021 found that the average time from submission by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deciding to charge has risen from 155 days in quarter four of 2020/21 to 170 days in quarter one of 2021/22. For all crimes, the wait for the police and CPS to charge a suspect continues to rise, from 36.5 days in quarter four of 2020/21 to 39.5 days in the first quarter of this year. 

No wonder that polls are now finding that the public does not trust the Conservative Party to tackle crime and to keep them safe. How can they, when conviction rates are dropping, there are long waits for justice, and 20 police forces paid £2.9 million in legal costs in 2021 due to allegations made against the very people who should be upholding the law? 

New Bill, Outmoded Laws

Of course, while the crisis in English justice is felt by victims and survivors, the Government continues to talk tough on crime – not least with the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. 

The controversial laws include increasing police powers and cracking down on the right to protest – as well as longer sentences for some crimes such as damaging statues. 

The Government has also announced that it plans to give taser-powers to special constables, expand stop and search, and increase the number of prison places – including by creating 500 more prison places for women despite the Ministry of Justice recognising that fewer women should be held in prison, not more.

All of these interventions give an impression of toughness but raise profound social justice, and health and safety, questions. 

The focus on statues, protests, prison places and longer sentences in the bill plays to the 'culture war' the Government is intent on waging. But what will ultimately be achieved?

There’s no point increasing sentences when people who commit crime aren’t even being prosecuted – and increasing the number of people in overcrowded prisons is not the best solution. A 10-year sentence may put off another protestor from tearing down a statue (which, in case we have forgotten, has happened once and led to a wholly disproportionate response), but rape has been effectively decriminalised and the bill has little to say about it. 

Then there’s the lack of actual solutions – which tend not to come from adopting authoritarian poses and are instead rooted in community support, education, investment in prevention, investment in supporting people when they leave prison, and strategies to tackle everything from poverty to child exploitation to institutionalised racism. 

Focusing on prevention, investment in communities and tackling poverty and inequality can make a real difference. But it’s long-term, expensive – and it doesn’t fit into a culture war. 

The Government likes to talk tough on crime, as it adopts an increasingly authoritarian legislative agenda. But the stats speak to a crisis – and a crisis for which it offers little in the way of solutions.

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Constitutional Culture Wars: Johnson’s Next Divide-and-Rule Campaign?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 8:53pm in

AV Deggar considers how the Vote Leave coalition may react to emboldened separatist forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland

This month’s local elections left Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party with a bloody nose, losing almost 500 seats across the UK – their worst performance in a quarter of a century.

As well as losing symbolic English councils like Westminster and Margaret Thatcher’s beloved Wandsworth to Labour, across the border in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) romped to victory, adding a further 22 councillors to their record 2017 total.

The shockwave became seismic a few days later, when Sinn Féin was confirmed as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly – becoming the first Irish Republican party to top the polls in the history of the nation.

Mid-term malaise, the ongoing ‘Partygate’ saga, the cost of living crisis and disenchantment with Boris Johnson have all been mooted as contributing factors to the Conservative Party’s local election collapse. While all are valid contributors, it is the Brexit effect that has intensified discontent in the regions where Remain majorities persist.

Johnson’s hardest-of-all possible Brexits has galvanised the independence movement in Scotland and has aided the cause of Irish reunification. In the process, the Conservative and Unionist Party has nurtured its ideal bête noire in the ongoing culture war – the treachery of the separatists.

Nationalist Flashpoints

Before the counting had finished in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the President of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, stated that her party would seek to hold a border poll on the integration of Ulster with the Republic of Ireland by 2027.

Although Unionist parties still represent the largest bloc within the legislative assembly, the biggest single Loyalist presence, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), experienced a decreased vote share in every constituency in Northern Ireland.

A major part of the DUP’s fall from grace was its confidence-and-supply partnership with Theresa May and later Johnson’s governments, which propped up successive Conservative regimes at Westminster but ended with the Northern Ireland Protocol and a border down the Irish Sea.

Seen as a dislocation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, the DUP opposes the Protocol, which protects the integrity of the EU single market without the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland, but does not allow goods to move unrestricted from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

While 54 out of the 90 newly-elected members to the Stormont Assembly are pro-Protocol, the DUP has confirmed it will not enter into power sharing until there is “decisive action” on it – meaning radical modification or total repeal. 

Obligingly, the UK Government has been threatening to renege on its responsibilities under the Protocol since September 2020, admitting that it would break international law in the process.

The sabre rattling has become deafening in the past few days, with the UK Attorney General approving a withdrawal from large chunks of the Protocol, and the Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss threatening to scrap it altogether – possibly precipitating unrest in Northern Ireland and a wider trade war with the EU.

Similarly in Scotland, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon backed by her Scottish Green partners in government, has committed to holding a second referendum on independence by 2026, and preferably before the end of 2023.

After 15 years in power and winning 11 elections at Holyrood and Westminster, the SNP’s grip on power is unassailable. With a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, another plebiscite on independence is inevitable. Granting IndyRef2 is within the gift of the UK Government at Westminster alone, and denying Scots a second vote would be unjustifiable.

Outside of the ongoing cost of living crisis, the biggest headache for whichever flavour of Conservative administration fights the next election will be constitutional – and could be cynically weaponised to become their best asset at the ballot box.

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A Wedge Strategy

What we know today as ‘culture wars’ have existed as a fixture in the US political mainstream since the Richard Nixon era as ‘wedge issues’ – social sticking points that have the potential to split or enforce a polarity of opinion. ‘God, guns and gays’ is a perfect example.

Typified by Ronald Reagan advisor Lee Atwater, and practised to this day by Johnson stalwart and on-off Conservative election consultant Lynton Crosby, wedge strategy has been rebranded for the digital age, where a largely unregulated social media and compliant client press permits contentious issues to be extruded to their most sensationalist apogee.

Wedge strategy found its ultimate expression in UK politics in the build-up and aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016, when polemic issues like immigration melded with British hyper-nationalism and Europhobia – largely confected and driven by right-wing voices in the conventional and digital media.

As Byline Times has shown on numerous occasions, the pernicious role of the media in the EU Referendum result cannot be overstated.

In 2015, pollster Ipsos MORI showed that just 1% of the British population believed that the EU was “the most important issue facing Britain today”, alongside the likes of “overpopulation” and “morality”. A month before the Withdrawal Agreement was signed in 2019, 57% believed that Brexit was the country’s largest concern. People who hadn’t given a passing thought to the EU were now burning blue and gold flags in the streets. The politically disaffected and unengaged had become radicalised.

Cutting across traditional ideological lines and the broad-church coalitions of Westminster parties, internecine hostilities fractured party and populous alike. Allegiances and priorities were reformatted to align with Leave or Remain tendencies, exacerbated by the parliamentary gridlock that meant Brexit sucked in all the political oxygen for three and a half years, exhaling only toxins into an already poisonous political atmosphere.

The Brexit wedge became a coverall for the damage that was being wrought on wider society – five years of swingeing austerity became 10 before Brexit was “done”. Health inequalities rose, the wage gap increased, state spending per child sank, general poverty skyrocketed, homelessness soared, the public sector shrank to its smallest size since World War Two, libraries and youth clubs were replaced by foodbanks and community kitchens. The fabric of the nation was shredded, only noticed by those whose lives were ripped apart at the seams.

Whether sought or unsought, wedge strategy and populism based on cultural mores had acted to mask the socioeconomic rot setting into British life, as well as creating a valuable new adversary, an ‘othered’ target for the basest forces of jingoism. In the shared enmity for the EU, a powerful new reactionary coalition was formed that could be periodically reactivated with the same Pavlovian inputs, and for similarly destructive ends.

A Rhetoric of Betrayal

In the coming years, the ‘treason of separatism’ may well become the primary wedge issue around which to reassemble Brexit’s reactionary core, reuniting a cross-party consensus against a common foe and papering over the cracks of economic hardship.

Whichever moniker is used to describe those advocating Scottish independence and Irish reunification – separatists, secessionists, mutineers, insurrectionists, traitors – it is likely that these nationalists will be painted as wreckers and turncoats, Confederates seeking to implode the Union from within in an act of self-harm that strikes at the very heart of British identity.

The mode of attack is already tested, and the precedent has been set for the rhetoric of betrayal to pervade public discourse. Boris Johnson’s repeated use, and defence in 2019, of calling a law that would compel him to seek further time to agree a Brexit deal “The Surrender Act”, was the perfect trial balloon for inflammatory speech. While he was implored to moderate his tone, a Parliament with no punishment for intemperate language relies on self-censure – something that has not been forthcoming.

With multiple once-in-a-generation crises unfolding concurrently, a Government which occults its failings behind the blame of others, needs both an enemy and scapegoat – with the casting of Scottish and Irish nationalism as treason, it can have both, with all of the collateral damage that demonising an enemy within could entail for British society.

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Cummings Exposes More Details of Boris Johnson’s Pact With Right-Wing Press Proprietors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 12:20am in

As the Prime Minister’s former chief aide reveals the direct line between Johnson and billionaire media moguls, Sam Bright explores how they may have shaped Government COVID policies

Fresh revelations have emerged about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cosy, corrupting relationship with the right-wing media, via his former chief aide Dominic Cummings.

Following last week’s allegation that Johnson negotiated COVID relief “bungs” directly with newspaper proprietors, without officials present, Cummings today claims that Johnson “gets direct repeated calls” from press proprietors and editors, telling him that working from home norms are “killing” the newspaper industry – and urging him to “get commuters back”.

The Daily Mail’s front page on Wednesday suggested that the Bank of England is struggling to address inflation because some staff are still working from home, while a number of other right-wing outlets have splashed on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s insistence that civil servants should return to the office full-time.

This has been a consistent campaign of Conservative-affiliated newspapers during the Coronavirus crisis. Faced with declining sales as fewer people pick up a copy on their way to work, they have regularly lobbied the Government to prematurely relax restrictions.

This has operated in public – as their front pages attest – and in private, if Cummings is to be believed.

The Government doesn’t release the minutes of meetings held between ministers and external individuals, but we do know that Johnson and his acolytes have regularly played host to senior right-wing media figures in recent years.

Indeed, the autumn of 2020 is instructive – the period when COVID case rates were rising rapidly, and the Government’s scientific advisors were urging Johnson to implement a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown.

Below is a list of all the meetings that the Prime Minister held with the representatives of right-wing media outlets from the beginning of July to the end of September 2020. As Byline Times has previously revealed, Johnson’s media meetings are overwhelmingly held with right-wing journalists, and the period outlined below is no exception.

Boris Johnson’s meetings with right-wing journalists, July to September 2020

2 July – Gary Jones and Mick Booker, the Express and the Sunday Express
7 July – Tony Gallagher, the Times
9 July – Geordie Greig, Daily Mail
13 July – Victoria Newton, the Sun
22 July – Charles Moore, the Telegraph
18 September – Rupert Murdoch, News Corp
18 September – Rebekah Brooks, News Corp
21 September – Aidan and Howard Barclay, the Telegraph
21 September – Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail
21 September – Victoria Newton, the Sun
21 September – Geordie Grieg, Daily Mail
21 September – Tony Gallagher, the Times
21 September – Chris Evans, the Telegraph
23 September – Fraser Nelson, the Spectator

Johnson also met with Tim Davie and Fran Unsworth, two senior BBC executives, on 21 September, which suggests that he was doing the media rounds. However, the fact remains that he met pretty much exclusively with right-wing publications on this date.

Alongside these meetings, we know that senior Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Jacob Rees-Mogg all held summits with Rupert Murdoch during this period, while Gove also rubbed shoulders with Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere.

Murdoch – who owns the Sun, the Times and TalkTV – formerly employed Gove as a journalist at the Times.

Indeed, the Government’s accord with the right-wing press goes back a number of years. Johnson himself was a former journalist at the Times, editor of the Spectator and columnist at the Telegraph – holding the latter two positions even after entering Parliament.

According to Cummings, the Prime Minister has referred to the Telegraph as his “real boss” – a fact that was seemingly confirmed when Johnson flew back from the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, a crucial event in deciding the world’s climate change priorities, in order to attend a reunion party of Telegraph journalists at London’s prestigious Garrick Club.

“He sees his job as just to babble to the media every day,” Cummings has previously claimed.

Real Consequences

But this liaison with the billionaire press barons is not an abstract concern – it has seemingly influenced Government decisions and therefore the lives of millions of Brits.

Whereas on 31 August there were 1,406 new cases of COVID-19 logged in the UK, this figure had climbed steeply to 4,422 on Saturday 19 September. The Government’s official experts – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – recommended on 21 September a rapid, time-limited ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to restrain the growth of the virus.

It said that “not acting now” would result in a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”. SAGE warned that “a package of interventions will need to be adopted to prevent this exponential rise in cases” and “single interventions are unlikely to be able to reduce incidence”. At the top of its shortlist of “non-pharmaceutical interventions that should be considered for immediate introduction” was a “circuit-breaker”.

However, Johnson and his ministers failed to apply this recommendation.

Instead, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor held a meeting with three lockdown-sceptic scientists on 21 September. On the same day, two of these scientists – Professor Sunetra Gupta and Professor Carl Heneghan – had co-authored a letter, published by the Spectator, calling on the Prime Minister to “urgently rethink” his Coronavirus strategy. The letter said that Johnson’s approach, of suppressing the virus until a vaccine became available, was both “unfeasible” and would lead to “significant harm across all age groups”.

This matched the lobbying campaign mounted by the right-wing tabloids, that explicitly urged the Government against implementing another lockdown.

The Daily Express, 17 September 2020 The Daily Mail, 18 September 2020

Rather than favouring a short, sharp lockdown, Johnson spoke to the nation on 22 September and announced peripheral alterations to the Government’s rules – banning more than six people from meeting and announcing a 10 pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.

Even still, however, the right-wing press accused Johnson of going too far.

The Daily Mail, 22 September 2020 The Daily Mail, 24 September The Daily Mail, 25 September 2020

A month later, by 21 October, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the UK had reached 26,687 – compared to barely 4,400 a month earlier. A new variant of the disease also emerged during this period, in mid-September, pushing daily deaths up to more than 1,000 a day by early January and forcing the country into a full-fat lockdown.

Some 180,000 people have now died in the UK within 28 days of a positive COVID test, while the period from November 2020 to February 2021 proved to be the deadliest phase of the pandemic.

Speaking last year to a parliamentary committee investigating the Government’s actions during the pandemic, Cummings said that he heard Boris Johnson say that he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than hit the economy again, when he was ramping up COVID restrictions in the autumn of 2020. MPs asked Cummings to prove this assertion, though no tangible evidence has yet been produced.

“He was cross with me and for others into what he regarded as basically pushing him into the first lockdown,” Cummings claimed. “His argument after that happened was literally, quote, ‘I should have been the mayor of Jaws and kept the beaches open’. That's that’s what he said on many, many occasions.”

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Auctioning Off Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

The Conservative Party’s cash-for-access culture is one of the neglected scandals of modern British politics, says Iain Overton

A Champagne bottle donated by Conservative Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden had been auctioned off (erroneously) as a "souvenir of Partygate" at a charity fundraiser, it emerged last week.

The charity that benefitted from the donated wine bottle, Hertfordshire Community Foundation (HCF), says that giving to it could not only “lower your tax bill” but will let it fund urgent concerns – such as Bishop’s Stortford Food Bank.

In 2020, HCF's chairman said that, “since 2011 there has been a 96% increase in statutory homelessness and a 165% increase in homeless households in temporary accommodation” in the county.

It is no wonder that HCF needed the Prime Minister’s signed Champagne bottle to raise money to combat food shortages and homelessness. In April, the Trussell Trust said that its network had provided more than 2.1 million emergency parcels to people, from April 2021 to March 2022 – a 14% increase compared to the same period in 2019/20 – and double the number provided in 2014/15.

But this is not the only auction scandal to beset the Conservative Party recently.

At the 2022 Conservative Spring Lunch, it has been reported that one of the items auctioned was a private tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum by the chairman of the museum’s trustees, Nicholas Coleridge. Conservative Party co-chair Ben Elliot is also a trustee.

This is concerning. The legal guidance on being a trustee is that “you must avoid putting yourself in a position where your duty to your charity conflicts with your personal interests or loyalty to any other person or body”. The Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies also states: “In your public role, you should be, and be seen to be, politically impartial. You should not... hold a particularly sensitive or high-profile role in a political party. You should abstain from all controversial political activity.” 

The V&A did not respond to questions as to whether it thinks that political gifts associated with the museum, touted by its trustees, was in line with its rules of governorship.

Networks of Power

Perhaps the deeper issue here does not lie at the door of the V&A or HCF, but rather at the long – and controversial – history of auctioneering within the Conservative Party.

It is a recent history filled with accusations of cash-for-access, funding by Russian oligarchs, and the wealth of arms dealers.

In 2021, a Winter Ball auction offered an hour’s access with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which sold for £35,000; karaoke with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss went for £22,000; and dinner with Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove for £25,000. The event took place moments before Conservative MPs left to vote on the Government’s controversial £86,000 blanket cap on social care costs.

The same year, the Conservative Party auctioned off dinner dates with senior Cabinet members for £4,000. The Business Leaders’ Dinner, which took place in Manchester during the Conservative Party Conference, was promoted in an email where, for a donation, you could “place your preference of senior minister to host your table”.

In addition, this newspaper has revealed that Ann R Said – also known as Rosemary Said – gave the Conservative Party £45,000 in the form of an auction prize. She is married to Wafic Said, who brokered a multi-billion-pound arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the UK in the mid-1980s.

In 2020, the Conservative Black and White Ball – for which the auction is the main event – was partly organised by a businessman banned from City trading. Jay Rutland, whose father-in-law is Bernie Ecclestone, had been banned from trading in the City of London in 2012 over “market abuse”. The Financial Services Authority ruled that Rutland was not a “fit and proper person” with a lack of “honesty and integrity”.

In 2015, Conservative donor, James Lupton, reportedly donated a week-long trip for 24 people to his £56 million La Fortaleza estate on the Bay of Pollenca in Majorca. Lupton was later to be made a peer of the realm, which was fortunate for David Cameron as he was later to successfully lobby Lupton – the director of Lloyds Banking Group – to reverse the bank’s decision to withdraw support from Greensill Capital.

In 2014, Lubov Chernukhin – then wife to Vladimir Chernukhin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former deputy finance ministers – paid £160,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson and David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time. The current Prime Minister later defended the match: Johnson denounced the “miasma of suspicion” on “all rich Russians in London”.

Lubov Chernukhin was later found to have been listed in 2006 as a director of a company secretly owned by a Russian oligarch close to Putin. She says she “does not recall consenting in writing” to being a director of Suleiman Kerimov’s firm.

She has given more than £2.1 million to the Conservatives, making her the largest female donor in recent political history. The Sunday Times recently revealed her to be one of several donors to have been granted access to Downing Street via a secret ‘advisory board’ – a little known collective of wealthy Conservative patrons granted exclusive access to power. 

The Conservative Party has for some time run a separate ‘Leaders’ Group’ dining society that gives elite donors exclusive access to party grandees.

It goes on.

In 2013, the £28,000 offered for a Tory-auctioned portrait of Margaret Thatcher, bid by a company called Henley Concierge, was deemed by the Electoral Commission to be impermissible, as the company was ‘non-trading’. The money was given back. The ultimate owner of that company, Andrei Borodin, was the former president of the Bank of Moscow.

At the same event, a bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher was also auctioned off for £45,000 in a room of bankers, businesspeople and lobbyists jointly worth more than £11 billion.

Moreover, the politics of auctioneering has led to a souring of relationships when promises go unfulfilled.

One donor, Telecoms businessman Mohamed Amersi, is reportedly demanding £150,000 back after not being given the auction prizes that he bought – including a breakfast with Boris Johnson, a magic show by former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, and a Japanese meal with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Strangely, Amersi dived back into the Conservative fray last week, bidding on and winning a dinner for nine in a Green Park mansion with “four guests from the Westminster political scene” and a commemorative plate and a bottle of whisky signed by Margaret Thatcher, all for a total of £16,000. 

Conservative Party HQ is said to be furious – but perhaps not as furious as the wider electorate should be.

If the Conservative Party auction items were – as some have been – simply a hoodie signed by Sunak or diaries signed by Edwina Currie, this perhaps would have been palatable. Even a ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley is distanced, to a degree, from any accusation of money in exchange for access or influence.

But these scandals – and the sums of money involved – show a Conservative Party that has either little concern for the perception of cash-for-access or a marked disregard for due process or transparency.

Boris Johnson will almost certainly feel that his giving a bottle of Champagne for a charity that funds food banks is an act of altruism on his part – but it displays a blindness for those who rely on them and who will never be able to afford the sort of influence that is bought by Conservative patrons.

And, in this regard, that is the thing missing at these black-tie event auction wars – democratic accountability and, ultimately, decency.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Boris Johnson’s Real Brexit Betrayal Was to Abandon the Single Market

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 9:40pm in

The Conservatives promised to keep the UK wedded to its biggest international market after Brexit, but have instead left us in ruinous isolation, reports Adam Bienkov

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Almost all of Britain’s most-pressing political crises can be traced back to a single act by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on Brexit back in 2016 triggered a series of rolling political crises that continue to this day.

The current political paralysis in Northern Ireland, as well as the growing cost of living crisis across the UK, are just two examples of problems that were either directly caused, or significantly worsened, by Brexit.

Yet as the Bank of England governor warns of “apocalyptic” food price rises, the Government has attempted to claim that our current problems are all somehow inevitable results of long-term global political trends.

However, while Brexit did not directly cause all of our current problems, it has certainly made most of them measurably worse.

A report by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank last month found that Britain's exit from the EU has directly led to a 6% increase in food prices.

This problem will only grow. If Johnson follows through on his threat to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol, then the inevitable new trade barriers imposed by the EU will make the current increase in our food bills look like small change.

Yet whenever such arguments are raised, supporters of Brexit inevitably fall back on accusing their critics of being undemocratic.

But while it is true to say that a narrow majority did support leaving the EU back in 2016, that vote did not state what form our exit should take, nor the terms on which our relationship with Europe should remain.

And while Johnson now appears determined to keep the UK permanently in conflict with the rest of Europe, it is vital to remember that this is very much not what either he or his predecessors, told us to expect.

A Timeline of Broken Promises

'We say yes to the Single Market'

"We are clear about what we want from Europe”, the Conservative Party stated in its 2015 manifesto.

“We say: yes to the Single Market”.

Conservative Party manifesto 2015.

The history of the Conservative Party’s abandonment of the idea of the European Single Market tells us a lot about the current mess we are in.

Championed by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Single Market was for decades a matter of straightforward political orthodoxy for Conservative politicians.

Asked in 2013 about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union, Johnson told Sky News that whatever happened, he would support Britain's continued membership of the market.

"I would vote to stay in the single market", Johnson said.

"I'm in favour of the single market. I want us to be able to trade freely with our European friends and partners."

Asked again later that year about the possibility of Brexit, he replied that: "personally, I would like to stay in the Single Market".

"We need to stay in the council of ministers of the internal market. In my view, the British have done good things for Europe."

Staying in the Single Market is 'essential and deliverable'

Even as the possibility of an EU referendum grew, Johnson remained committed to Britain's Single Market membership.

At one point he called for the Brexit referendum to be held on the question of whether to remain in a "boiled down" version of the EU, inside the Single Market.

"We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland" he explained, referring to those countries' semi-detached relationship with the rest of Europe.

He added that such an arrangement would be "essential and deliverable".

'If we did not have [the EU] we would have to invent it'

Boris Johnson at a Vote Leave rally in 2016. Photo: Stuart Boulton / Alamy

There have long been doubts about the honesty of Johnson's supposed anti-European politics

Indeed, long term friends and former colleagues of the Prime Minister suggest that far from being a committed Europhobe, he was actually always broadly in favour of the EU.

The truth of this can be found right back at the start of his political career.

"I am not by any means an ultra-Eurosceptic", he told the House of Commons in 2003.

"In some ways, I am a bit of a fan of the European Union.

He added that: "If we did not have one, we would invent something like it".

Not only did Johnson back the continued existence of the EU, but he actively supported enlarging it.

While his Brexit campaign would later stoke fears about Turkey joining the EU, he told MPs in 2003 that the UK would be "foolish" to prevent the country's entry to the bloc.

The most 'pro-immigration' politician in Britain

Vote Leave badges. Photo: Stuart Boulton / Alamy

Johnson's Government now poses as fiercely anti-immigration and is imposing what even ministers believe could be illegal plans to deport refugees to Rwanda.

These draconian new restrictions on our borders are sold to the public as a "benefit" of Brexit and Britain's exit from the Single Market.

However, it's worth remembering that Johnson's rise to power came off the back of his claim to be an actively pro-immigration politician.

Indeed when he was Mayor of London, Johnson claimed to be the most pro-immigration politician in the country.

"I'm probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he's pro-immigration", Johnson said in 2013.

And far from arguing for an immigration clampdown, he would regularly boast of the benefits of EU immigration to the capital.

And despite his recent stance on Rwanda, as Mayor he repeatedly called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

"Ultimately you have got to reflect reality", he told LBC back in 2013.

"Otherwise they are not engaged in the economy, they are not being honest with the system, they are not paying their taxes properly and it is completely crazy."

Remaining in the EU would be a 'boon for the world'

Johnson now portrays anyone who campaigned for Britain to Remain in the EU as being part of an out of touch metropolitan elite.

However, what is sometimes forgotten is that the Prime Minister came incredibly close to being among them himself.

In fact, when Johnson sat down to write his endorsement for the Brexit campaign, we now know that he also secretly wrote another article arguing the complete opposite.

In the drafted article he suggested that remaining in the European Union would be a "boon for the world and for Europe".

"This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms", he wrote.

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"The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?"

Johnson later claimed the article was merely a "thought experiment".

However, some of his own friends and allies believe this is untrue.

One close colleague of the Prime Minister says that in reality he never really wanted to leave the EU and certainly never believed it would actually happen.

They say that Johnson's last-minute decision to back Brexit was in reality "all about the leadership" and merely a cynical gamble designed to secure his place in Downing Street.

Johnson's Real Brexit Betrayal Boris Johnson. Photo: Horst Friedrichs / Alamy

In some respects, Johnson's gamble paid off. His role in leading the Brexit campaign convinced Conservative MPs to make him their leader and he went on to win the last general election on the promise to "Get Brexit Done".

Yet some six years after the referendum, Brexit remains very much not done.

The political crisis triggered by Cameron's referendum has so far led to the deposal of two prime ministers, the calling of two general elections and a growing constitutional paralysis which could ultimately result in the break up of the United Kingdom.

And while some of these shorter-term crises may ultimately resolve themselves, Britain's longer-term outlook is as a nation made permanently poorer by the decision to cut our ties to the EU.

A forecast by the International Monetary Fund last month suggested that the UK will next year have the lowest growth of any major developed economy, with only sanctioned Russia experiencing lower growth.

By leaving the European Single Market and then threatening a trade war with the EU, Johnson is driving the UK to the most economically and politically ruinous form of Brexit.

Not only is this a disaster in its own terms, but it is also a direct betrayal of the Brexit we were told to expect.

When Johnson campaigned for Brexit, we were told that it would lead to lower prices, liberalised free trade, and a new 'global Britain' set free of its chains to the EU.

In reality, we now have surging prices, a looming trade war and a nation permanently paralysed by never-ending negotiations with our European neighbours.

None of this was inevitable, but was in fact the result of a deliberate political choice to choose one particular version of Brexit over many others.

After six years of political paralysis, it is time that we thought again about that choice.

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Conservative and Vote Leave Links to Remote Learning Organisation Set to Become a Government Body

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 8:47pm in

Sascha Lavin investigates the political ties of an online education provider that has won millions in state contracts

An organisation responsible for remote learning during the pandemic has ties to the Conservative Party and the Vote Leave campaign, Byline Times can reveal. 

Virtual school Oak National Academy (ONA) received £7 million from the Department for Education (DfE) for providing remote education to teachers and pupils, according to data obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. 

The organisation is set to move into public hands, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announcing in March that ONA – one of his department’s “great achievements” – would become an independent government body. 

However, new analysis by Byline Intelligence Team raises questions about the independence of Oak Hill’s leadership team and board.

ONA co-founder, David Thomas, has links to Conservative peer and donor Lord Theodore Agnew. Before starting ONA, Thomas was a strategy director at Inspiration Trust (IT) and a principal at Jane Austen College, one of the multi-academy trust’s schools. 

IT was founded by Lord Agnew in 2012 where he is still a trustee, despite a brief stint away from the organisation – resigning almost a year after he was appointed as an Education Minister. 

Agnew, who also served as a non-executive director at the DfE during David Cameron’s time in Downing Street, has donated £162,250 to the Conservatives since 2007. Agnew is also a shareholder at Faculty – the artificial intelligence firm that was hired to work for Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign.

ONA’s founders, Thomas and current principal Matt Hood, have further connections to the Government: both are Department for Education advisors. This comes as the British Educational Suppliers Association is poised to take legal action over allegedly “unlawful” Government subsidies provided to the online school and a lack of transparency over nationalisation plans.

Meanwhile, ONA project board member John Blake also sits on the advisory council at Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE), an influential education campaign group pushing for stricter discipline in schools. ONA’s project board is not responsible for the school’s governance, according to an ONA spokesperson. 

PTE was founded by Rachel Wolf, a long-term associate of Dominic Cummings and former Education Secretary Michael Gove who went on to co-author the Conservative Party’s 2019 General Election Manifesto.  

After landing her first job with Boris Johnson when he was Shadow Higher Education Minister, Wolf became advisor to then Shadow Education Secretary Gove, working alongside Cummings. 

Wolf’s husband, lobbyist James Frayne, worked with Cummings on the anti-Euro campaign 20 years ago and the pair founded the New Frontiers Foundation think-tank together.

Wolf and Frayne came under fire last year after a High Court judge found that a £550,000 government contract handed to the couple’s polling company Public First at the height of the pandemic was unlawful. The ruling was overturned in January, but the Good Law Project, which brought the case, plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

PTE’s sole director, Jon Moynihan, as listed on Companies House, also gave more than £120,000 to Vote Leave, where Cummings was a director. Venture capitalist Moynihan also held key positions in the campaign, including acting as its Finance Committee chairperson and its Campaign Committee chairperson.   

ONA also has ties to Vote Leave and the Conservative Party through the organisation’s connections to Ark Venture’s. The chair of ONA’s advisory council, John Blake, led Ark’s public affairs team until 2021, and ONA’s education director Tom Rose was a partner at Ark for four years before joining the online school. Additionally, Ark shares two board members with the Ambition Institute, where ONA’s principal Matt Hood was CEO. 

Ark is chaired by Sir Paul Marshall, a prominent Brexiter who donated £100,000 to the Vote Leave campaign. Marshall has also handed half a million pounds to the Conservative Party since Johnson took over as party leader in July 2019, and is a major investor in the right-wing broadcaster GB News.

Another member of Ark’s board is former Conservative Treasurer Lord Stanley Fink, who has given £3.9 million to the Conservative Party since 2003. 

There is no tangible evidence to suggest that Oak Academy has benefited directly or unduly from any of its connections to the Conservative Party or the Government, or has in any way acted improperly. 

A spokesperson for ONA said: “Oak was started as a grassroots organisation, created by teachers, for teachers, in response to the pandemic. It has received cross-party support and the backing of every major teaching union and education professional body. It has no connection to Vote Leave whatsoever.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Oak was established with unprecedented pace and innovation in the first weeks of the pandemic by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, backed by Government grant funding to deliver on an urgent need to support schools and families with remote learning. It will become an arm’s length body to the Department for Education – focused on supporting teachers to deliver excellent lessons and building on its success to date.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The Conservative Mood in Parliament

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 7:29pm in

A Tory insider describes the tense scenes in Westminster as the party awaits a leadership challenger to emerge

A week down after recess, the Conservative mood in Parliament is now one of trepidation. The anger and frustration of local councillors and members has reached MPs. Challengers to Boris Johnson’s throne have been sounding out support.

Locally, in London, knocking on hundreds of doors, soft Conservative voters all complained about Johnson and the lockdown parties. The night of the count, it became clear early on that we were going to do badly. Labour was ahead two-to-one in what should have been our best polling district, even with a strong Green showing. Dejected party members left early. Of those who did stay through the wearing hours of the early morning, candidates would not even stand up and be counted for the declaration.

The result was pretty much exactly what we were told on the doorstep: people chose to punish us over Johnson.

In the other nations, things were just as bad. We lost our second place in Scotland, with 63 fewer seats. Leader Douglas Ross’s reverse ferret, condemning and then backing the Prime Minister over the parties, had cost him. A post-election briefing came through with our lines: “[Given] the anger at the Conservative Party UK-wide, at the unacceptable behaviour of the Prime Minister and his staff, it would be astonishing if Labour did not come second and make significant gains in this election.”

Members of Scottish Parliament who all followed Ross in calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation and were not best pleased when he changed tack, are now questioning his leadership.

In Wales, the test was whether we could hold the modest but historic gains from 2019. The results were not promising. The Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies, echoing the comments of many elected Welsh Conservatives, admitted the problems faced because of Number 10. Welsh Tory MPs are very nervous across the WhatsApp groups, the corridors and in the tearoom.

Even in places where our performance was not disastrous, some MPs see this opportunity as voters giving us a chance to get rid of Johnson. Yet, even where Johnson loyalists did badly, having thrown in their lot with the Prime Minister, they fear they would not get far without him.

There is now however clearly an insidious split that will worsen in the next couple of years, as spooked Tories who have seats to lose, mostly the southern and Celtic Tories to whom low taxes and political integrity matter more, vie with the loyalists over the future of the Conservative Party.

Conservative leaders who lost councils across the country all very quickly turned to publicly blame Johnson. Privately, those local associations are pressing their MP to act. Letters are being considered, drafted and kept close at hand.

Last Week in Westminster

In Parliament last Monday, given that the Government has little to show for a full legislative year – and that there had been no noticeable advantage to our ‘Brexit freedoms’, only problems – the promise of great change in the Queen’s speech was realised.

Mid-morning, Number 10 invited MPs to a spring reception the next day. A few declined to go. Instead, of consternation and consultation, those who did fell upon a celebratory mood, the puckish charm of a midsummer’s night dream, laughter over drinks and canapés. There seemed to be no real sense that Johnson’s inner circle were taking the election results seriously.

The Government has not seriously been working to win or even retain seats in London, Scotland, Wales or the shires. The mood seems to be: we lose London; so what?

Overall, the view was that the results were poor but not disastrous. The gains in Thurrock and Nuneaton have been interpreted as the continued support of working-class Tory voters, the people we are looking to hold.

Tuesday morning, following a Panorama investigation ahead of the Government’s expected flagship Levelling Up Bill, Michael Gove tempered expectations, saying that inflation will hamper the project. Despite 38 bills being presented in the Queen’s Speech, support flagged almost as soon as the sermon had been delivered.

A day later, and already another rebellion was mounting. Senior backbencher Simon Hoare and former Prime Minister Theresa May warned over the Government’s plans to revoke the Northern Ireland Protocol. They were joined by the usual suspects, the same who rebelled at foreign aid cuts.

By the end of the week, most MPs had taken stock of their colleagues, waiting for the right person to lead the charge to replace Johnson. Everyone expects a reshuffle before the next recess, some thinking June, giving new ministers a month to settle in. The threat of it helps to keep ministers in line and no Cabinet challenge has been made.

There had been reports from friends of Jeremy Hunt, the contender who had lost out to Johnson in 2019, that he would to challenge again and was already sounding out MPs. In a classic no-names back and forth, a minister mocked Hunt for making pre-election noises. The friends of Hunt hit back, claiming the briefing had not come from him but someone trying to discredit him.

On Thursday, Hunt gave an exclusive to The Times, warning that the Conservative Party’s majority is at risk, and not ruling out a future challenge.

There are two testing by-elections ahead, Tiverton (in the south west), and the Red Wall seat of Wakefield. For now, however, Johnson rolls on, as MPs wait and see.

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Food Bank Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 9:04pm in

Rachel Morris considers the malaise of modern Britain as the Conservatives initiate Austerity 2.0

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“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today”, said the Mad Hatter. Perhaps he wrote this year’s Queen’s Speech, as delivered by golden calf Prince Charles, and subsequent tweets by Her Majesty’s Government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested that the Government could help you with the cost of living crisis, if you start a small enterprise first. A jam stall, perhaps.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng shared his passion for nuclear power plants – not exactly a short-term fix – in the week when it was revealed that we’re set to receive glowing veg from Fukushima.

Most ministers repeated the bit from their propaganda manual about being laser-focused on “the people’s priorities”. Nothing like a bit of alliteration to drown out those noises emanating from your stomach.

While French people got a state-delivered energy price cap limiting increases to 4%, our 54% rises can surely only be deliberate.

There’s no question that we’ve embarked upon Austerity 2.0. But the ‘A’ word can’t be said out loud, because according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Austerity 1.0 caused 130,000 preventable deaths.

That’s one in every 517 people. COVID has now killed one in 347, if you divide the 2020 Census population by deaths with COVID on the certificate (193,713 at 11 May).

Austerity has therefore been rebranded. The Conservatives have driven the more comfortable classes into needing food banks, so has started calling them ‘pantries’. This was exactly the approach of Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt who on 22 April declared a partnership with Hive Portsmouth, setting up ‘food pantries’ in her constituency to save households an “average £800 a year in food bills”.

The accompanying video makes the food bank look like Waitrose, with more gorgeous veg and eggs than I’ve seen anywhere in France. Mordaunt appeals for generous individuals to run them, off the Government pay-roll.

In an article for the Daily Express earlier this week, Mordaunt said that anti-Brexit “doomsters want Britain to fail”. If she doesn’t understand that Britain is already failing, perhaps the minister should spend an afternoon in the food ‘pantry’, when it’s open for business.

According to Mordaunt, Remainers must instead become Tinkerbells: they must close their eyes tight and believe in Brexit hard enough, so food banks – sorry, ‘pantries’ – will vanish. For most people, however, closing their eyes just makes the hunger more apparent.

Asset-Stripping

Closing his eyes is something well-known to Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who spends his days lounging on the green benches of the House of Commons.

Ultimately, the people in charge see widespread hunger and poverty as a game: an exercise imagined in public relations school – or perhaps a question on the Eton entrance exam – designed to prove how they can wriggle out of a tight spot.

And the latest frontier of this PR campaign has focused on Labour Leader Keir Starmer having a beer and a curry during a work event. The nation’s attention has been diverted away from yet more Downing Street party fines, a catastrophic Conservative local election performance, and the High Court ruling that the Government consigned elderly people to death during the early stages of the pandemic.

It is also deeply ironic that this ‘scandal’ focuses on food, when 4.7 million adults are currently suffering from food insecurity.

Indeed, there are fewer McDonald’s (1,358) in the UK than food ‘pantries’ (more than 2,200). But, according to Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, it’s poor people who are to blame for their growling bellies.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles can still utter the phrase “levelling up” in Parliament while sitting in front of a gold-encrusted wall on a gold-encrusted throne wearing gold-and-medal-encrusted clothing – saying that regional rebalancing will be achieved by “ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”.

There’s a reason why the Government has run out of ideas about how to fix the country. Primarily, because fixing the problems would involve a recognition that they created the problems in the first place and – secondly – because the Conservative Party takes its instructions from its paymasters in the private sector.

Everywhere you look, the Government is privatising – or threatening to privatise – whatever hasn’t already been sold-off. Passports, driving licenses, Channel 4, alongside our crap-filled waterways. But this asset-stripping goes much further. The state’s role itself has been privatised.

If you want to challenge the lawfulness of a Government action, you must crowdfund it yourself. If you want veterans to have something to sleep on, you must support a charity like Forgotten Veterans UK, whose ambassador is – Penny Mordaunt.

There will come a time when too few can afford to support privately-funded efforts by the third sector, with time or money, and some of these needs simply won’t be met at all. What happens when there are more GoFundMe pages than people who can donate to them? When there are more charities than the charitable?

Up to 14.5 million people lived in poverty before the pandemic – one in every four or five – which is projected to rise to 16 million by 2023. And the Government’s response is indifference.

Last October, the Prime Minister told businesses that it wasn’t his job to fix their every problem. The Chancellor said he “can’t do everything” after criticism of his Spring Statement. Other ministers are saying similar.

We’re on our own now, shivering in a corner with the Trussell Trust. Only £3 million crowns get a lift in a Rolls Royce. The Government makes no bones about it: you’ll have to figure it out on your own. Perhaps you could use those bones to make a tasty broth? If you can afford to put the cooker on. But don’t think there’ll be jam with it. Not today.

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