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Sleaze timebomb: Johnson’s tawdry Tories rot from the head down


THE hackneyed term ‘sleaze’ is linked inextricably with John Major’s premiership of the 1990s.  

Thirty years on, however, various MPs who sit on the Tory benches under Boris Johnson’s administration are doing an admirable job of presenting their own set of scandals which could turn out to be every bit as damaging to the Conservative Party.   

At the same time, Johnson is currently repositioning himself as the responsible leader of the free world via his interest in the war in Ukraine.   

Has his involvement in trying to end the conflict been seen by his advisers as a convenient smokescreen to make British voters forget the troubles he faces at home? With a heavy heart, I feel the answer to that question must be ‘Yes’.  

First, let’s look at the sleaze, taking the resignation of Health Secretary Matt Hancock as our starting point. In June 2021, Hancock broke social distancing rules after being caught in an extra-marital clinch with an aide who happened to be his girlfriend, Gina Coladangelo.   

Finally, after the considerable pressure of intense media coverage, he said sorry and Johnson accepted his apology, saying that he considered the matter closed. Hancock, however, whose actions as Health Secretary had also been coming under considerable scrutiny, quit the next day, perhaps hoping to rehabilitate his career at a later date.

In October 2021, former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson quit as an MP over a £100,000 lobbying scandal. Johnson’s government used a parliamentary procedure to try to save Paterson, but this just made the situation worse, sparking a Labour-led inquest into the rights and wrongs of (mainly Tory) MPs having second jobs. This was an own goal if ever there was one. It damaged Johnson as much as it did Paterson.  

In January 2022, Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour. He said he had been considering doing this for months, explaining at the time: ‘Whether it goes back to the issues over free school meals and Dominic Cummings, or over Universal Credit and the cost-of-living crisis… the Owen Paterson affair or now “Partygate”, there has been a lot of … build-up to this and a lot of soul-searching that’s taken many sleepless nights.’  

As it happens, I think that if Wakeford had any honour, he would have stood down and forced a by-election in his Bury South constituency. Still, the small shopping list he outlined – notably Partygate – shows how deep-seated Johnson’s problems were and are.   

Indeed, the same day Wakeford’s defection was announced, David Davis MP stood up at Prime Minister’s Questions and said to Johnson: ‘I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that.   

‘So, I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain. “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.’”   

Whatever one thinks of Davis’s theatricality, Johnson’s enthusiasm for saving Ukraine does not mean Partygate didn’t happen.  

In February came the news that another Tory MP, Jamie Wallis, a married father of two who represents Bridgend in South Wales, had been fined at Cardiff magistrates’ court for driving his car into a telegraph pole in November 2021, cutting off the internet of an entire village for several days, for which he was fined as a simple road traffic offence – ‘failing to comply with solid white lines’. 

He had already attracted suspicion on other grounds. Labour MP Jess Phillips had called for the whip to be withdrawn from him regarding his directorship of a business which offered people introductions to wealthy individuals, saying: ‘We can introduce you to your very own sugar daddy and solve your money worries.Whether you’re a boy, girl, straight or gay, there’s a sugar daddy for you.’ 

Another Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, expressed her concern about Mr Wallis’s ‘dubious’ track record, saying: ‘I’m concerned the Conservatives are not doing a simple Google search to have a look to see what their candidates are like.’  

In March 2022, Wallis published a letter saying that he had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria; had in April 2020 been the subject of a £50,000 blackmail plot and had in September 2021 ‘hooked up’ with a man who raped him.   

He also claimed that he fled the scene of the November 2021 car crash because he was ‘terrified’ and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Assuming this complicated sequence of events has been described accurately, it merits sympathy for his wife and children. But it prompts many questions.   

What level of scrutiny was Wallis placed under by the Tories when he was adopted as the candidate for Bridgend? Why does Wallis or the Conservative Party deem his continuation as an MP either right or proper? Has not Wallis broken the code of conduct that establishes the standards and principles MPs are expected to observe when they enter Parliament?   

And how does his local party really feel about his behaviour? I am certain that most right-thinking people would take a very dim view of anybody, let alone an MP, fleeing the scene after driving his car into a telegraph pole shortly after one o’clock in the morning. Though for the fully woke Conservative Home website, his welcome as the first openly trans MP appeared to eclipse all else

Yesterday at Southwark Crown Court another Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a boy of 15. The gay MP forced him to drink gin and tonic before dragging him upstairs and asking him to watch pornography before groping him in a bunk bed after a party in January 2008. Khan will be sentenced later. 

This month has brought two further headaches for Johnson. The first relates to David Warburton, who has been suspended from the Commons following allegations of sexual harassment and taking cocaine. 

It has also been alleged that Warburton lobbied for Roman Joukovski, a Russian businessman who loaned him £150,000, after the Financial Conduct Authority ruled in 2021 that Joukovski was not a ‘fit and proper person’. Warburton is currently receiving treatment for stress.  

The second bit of trouble relates, of course, to the Chancellor and Prime Minister-in-waiting, Rishi Sunak. He has referred himself to the Government’s ethics chief, Lord Geidt, after the widely-publicised row about his family’s tax affairs.   

For a tax-happy chancellor to have allowed his wife to have non-dom status is, frankly, not just tin-eared and an extraordinary lapse of judgment, but redolent of an extreme sense of entitlement.   

An intriguing question is who leaked the story that Mrs Sunak is a non-dom? It must have been common knowledge in the Treasury as well as to a ‘very small handful of people’ the Chancellor said knew about this, for as long as Mr Sunak has been Chancellor. Sadly, I suspect we may never find out, though one assumes that Johnson was among their number.  

Any Prime Minister with 365 MPs sitting in the House of Commons is going to have a hard time monitoring and controlling all of them. But for one with such a blemished public and personal record as Johnson, it is perhaps one he does not even attempt.    

That in the space of a few short months such adverse publicity about the Tories has been achieved is thanks to that, as well as to the small group of MPs responsible, who are but the ones we know about. There may, of course, be others.  

Which brings me to Johnson himself.  

Over the weekend, the Mail on Sunday published a photograph of him and his wife, Carrie, together with their two children aboard a boat at a Sussex nature reserve.   

This is the first trace of Carrie to have surfaced in more than two months. Bizarrely, Johnson was wearing a suit. It all looked so odd that I am now confident in stating this photograph was staged and then passed to the paper on ‘the usual terms’.   

Why? Because Johnson is desperate to present himself to the world as a happily-married family man. His trouble, as Michael Ashcroft’s interesting new book about Carrie Johnson shows, is that his complicated domestic arrangements have fused with his political life to create an utter mess. And this must surely have a bearing on his ability to do his job to the best of his abilities – a charge Labour should be happy to exploit.  

Indeed, as Kathy Gyngell’s review of the book highlights, Ashcroft links to Carrie so many well-publicised matters which have clogged up Johnson’s time in Downing Street since 2019, it is a wonder he has ever got any work done.   

(Incidentally, it is noteworthy that the only newspapers not to have reviewed Ashcroft’s book are The Times and Sunday Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s company News UK.   Can it be just a coincidence that Johnson’s new spin doctor, Guto Harri, used to work for Rebekah Brooks, the CEO of News UK? Might a favour have been called in?)  

When you put Johnson’s personal life together with the collapse of conduct revealed by Partygate along with the behaviour of his errant MPs, it is easy to see why throwing himself into the war in Ukraine would be considered by him and his advisers to be convenient.   

Likewise, it would not be difficult to see why Sunak’s tax crisis might be considered useful to Johnson. One thing is certain: With local elections just a few weeks away, Johnson must be praying that his efforts on the international stage will limit the damage that is surely coming the Tories’ way.    

Updated 8.30am, 12.4.2022

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John Smith
John Smith
John Smith is a journalist.

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