THE Guardian will never be sympathetic to a genuine conservative. Which is why in April 2020 it felt able to laud the Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds as a ‘media-savvy history-maker’ who is ‘an incredible asset to [Boris] Johnson’.
As recent ‘cash for cushions’ headlines attest, the ‘incredible asset’ of a year ago has since proved to be a liability. According to that earlier puff piece, Carrie’s clout included ‘augmenting the Conservative Party’s green appeal’. But had the First Fiancée’s commitment to saving the planet and eliminating unnecessary waste extended to her private life, she would have limited herself to a modest makeover of the Downing Street flat’s ‘John Lewis nightmare’; instead, spendthrift Symonds summoned eco designer Lulu Lytle, whose exorbitant interiors are as outlandishly individual as her name.
One doubts whether Johnson has ever cared about the colour of sofa upon which he plants his ample rear. Yet his inability to constrain the spending of his bidie-in – the flat refurbishment is reported to have cost as much as £200,000 – and his unwillingness to explain how her profligacy initially was funded, has become at the very least a public relations disaster, one which is potentially punishable if investigation by the Electoral Commission finds evidence of malfeasance
All we know so far that a hitherto obscure peer named Lord Brownnose – sorry, Brownlow – donated £58,000 of dosh-for-drapes. As to why the rest of the lolly-for-lampshades has not been identified, on last Thursday’s Question Time the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley said: ‘Presumably because the answer is embarrassing . . . but I don’t understand why they don’t give it anyway because I don’t assume there is a scandal here. A lot of the people who have spoken here already have assumed, they have speculated, that there is something beneath the iceberg. I’m not so sure there is.’
Tim is probably correct in supposing there is no serious scandal. Nonetheless, what Conservative MPs should find unforgivable is that throughout the past week Johnson required his troops constantly to humiliate themselves on his behalf. A procession of interviewees studiously ignored the repeated question ‘who initially paid?’; instead, otherwise sentient human beings robotically recited ad nauseam that ‘the Prime Minister has been very clear that he paid for this’, or some variation thereon.
On last Tuesday’s Politics Live, deputy party chairman Lee Rowley stonewalled with ‘my remit does not include fundraising’. Bizarrely, he also cited ‘due process’ as though the matter were already sub judice.
On the same programme the following day, MP Conor Burns gave the rehearsed line: ‘It doesn’t matter which road you set out on here, the destination is the same: the Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson himself, paid for the works on this flat.’ And following PMQs, Minister for Aviation Robert Courts – a barrister, for heaven’s sake – proved an evasive witness by remorselessly restating: ‘The Prime Minister has been entirely clear that he paid for the wider refurbishment.’
Quizzed on Sky News, Nadhim Zahawi – he who used to insist ‘the UK has no plans to introduce Covid vaccine passports’ – somehow kept a straight face when asserting: ‘Ultimately, the Prime Minister has done everything in his power to answer these questions.’x
On Question Time, having filibustered during the opening minutes that ‘he has been very clear that he has paid for it’, Energy Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan then tactically kept schtum while other panellists berated Boris Johnson for the next quarter of an hour – a period of silence almost unknown on a programme in which politicians normally cannot shut up and talk over each other in an attempt to present their case.
All of the aforementioned Conservative MPs are amongst those who have uncritically kept extending the emergency powers of the Coronavirus Act; for having abased themselves during the past week on behalf of Boris Johnson, they deserve no sympathy. But having been embarrassed by the boss over his soliciting of wonga-for-wallpaper, one hopes they have become a little less eager to keep supporting our pusillanimous prime minister.