The government has been accused of trying to manipulate announcements of extra funding for poorer parts of Britain in a desperate attempt to save Boris Johnson’s premiere post.
An extraordinary controversy erupted after Michael Gove’s Department of Equalization, Housing and Communities issued a press release – ahead of the publication of a White Paper on equalization this week – that 20 cities would benefit from a “new 1.5 billion £ brownfield fund “. The release, which only named Sheffield and Wolverhampton as recipients, said the 20 areas “will benefit from developments that combine housing, leisure and business in sustainable, beautiful, new neighborhoods that can be walked”.
Gove added that the “radical new regeneration program” would prove transformative and deliver on the government’s flagship policy to create a more equal country. “This huge investment in infrastructure and regeneration will spread opportunities more evenly and help reverse the geographical inequalities that still exist in the UK.”
But after Observer contacted senior sources in the Ministry of Finance to ask whether its ministers had signed the promised 1.5 billion. pounds, Gove’s department went back and admitted that the “new” fund was not new money at all, but would consist of equalization funds that had been announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his spending statement last autumn.
The confusion was seized by Labor and other opposition parties as proof of how far Johnson and his ministers are prepared to go to persuade conservative MPs in so-called “red wall” seats to stay with the prime minister before the impending publication of a report on the “partygate” scandal this week by senior official Sue Gray. If at least 54 Tory MPs write to Sir Graham Brady saying they want Johnson to leave, it will trigger a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. If he lost the vote of the Conservative MPs, it would mark the end of his presidency.
Shadow leveling-up secretary Lisa Nandy said the Tories had been caught trying to find out that extra money had been found for poorer areas, as the White Paper did not actually contain anything they did not already know about.
“I do not think Tory MPs will find it very reassuring when the supposed new pot of gold does not contain a penny of new money,” Nandy said.
Westminster SNP leader Ian Blackford added: “Not only is the government trying to take the public for fools, they are also trying to take their own MPs for fools. It shows how far they are prepared to go to keep Boris Johnson at bay. power. It is above contempt. “
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said the episode showed the government was not “extremely serious about bringing this country to a level.”
Johnson has spent much of the last fourteen days calling and meeting his MPs to persuade them to stick with him as the number of lockdown-bushing parties grows. A former minister told the Observer last week that he had been personally assured by the prime minister that his area would receive aid to local industries – which had persuaded him to remain loyal.
Despite the government’s problems, the latest poll for the Observer shows that Labor’s lead over the Tories has shrunk to 5 points, with Keir Starmer’s party at 39% (down 2 points compared to fourteen days ago), while the Tories are up 2 points at 34 %.
But while Labor bounces across the partygate appear to have peaked and gone into reverse, the party is now favored by more voters to do a better job than tories on 10 out of 14 political issues, including tackling crime and tackling immigration . Both are topics that the Tories have traditionally been strong on. On crime, Labor is now 3 points ahead of the Conservatives, and on immigration it is 4 points ahead.
On Saturday night, Gray – who on Friday was asked by the capital police to make “minimal” references in his report to serious matters in connection with the gatherings that Met is investigating – still did not submit his report to No. 10.
Sources stated that she would only do so on a day when Parliament is sitting, so Johnson would be required to go directly to Parliament to make a statement, instead of giving him a weekend to submit his conclusions to the media. A Whitehall source said he expected the report would make “uncomfortable reading for all concerned”. Another said: “Sue Gray is very aware of how she wants this handled. She will hand it over on a day Parliament is sitting because she strongly believes the process is proper.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, the Met was urged to be released from its investigation due to a “conflict of interest”. The demands came from officials tasked with monitoring the force, who claim it can not rely on delivering on such a politically sensitive case.
Unmesh Desai, whose interrogation at the London assembly last Tuesday led to Met Commissioner Cressida Dick announcing the investigation, said an external police force had to take over the investigation.
Desai, Labour’s London Assembly police and crime spokesman, said he wrote to the commissioner this week to express his concern that Dick’s boss was in fact Home Secretary Priti Patel, who in turn owed Johnson his post.
“It’s a clear conflict of interest. Wouldn’t it be better for an outside force to investigate?” said Desai, a member of the Police and Crime Commission, which is investigating police work in London. Speaking on behalf of a number of committee members, Desai added: “You can even call in a retired chief constable to oversee it, the evidence is there.”
Johnson controversially backed Patel after she was found to have bullied staff in an internal investigation in 2020. The Home Secretary has recently thrown his full support behind the Prime Minister over the lockdown parties. Patel had given rise to further controversy last year after giving Dick a two-year extension as Met Commissioner despite a series of scandals involving the country’s leading police officer.
Desai will also urge the commissioner to ensure that Met officers are investigated for potential violations of the Covid rules while stationed in Downing Street.
He will ask the commissioner to “review” the Mets’ diplomatic protection group, which is tasked with monitoring premises such as 10 Downing Street, due to concerns that they may have cooperated by allowing the parties to take place.