Snippets 10: Trolley/covid, AI/politics & summoning the demon, bank runs/Eurozone, AMA
Do 'the clever beasts have to die'?
On Wednesday the Trolley will answer questions about parties and covid.
I’m in the middle of writing my own statement to the official inquiry and therefore reading a lot about covid again.
So I’ll watch and post thoughts on how he tries to lie his way to safety. (If you’re one of those on top of the details and part of the network that pushed him out, text and I’ll post.)
Generally I think SW1 is overrating the chances of him returning this year even if he manages to escape this inquiry.
Unless Sunak gets fed up and walks away, he can use the vast trove of material in PET (the part of the Cabinet Office that deals with scandals) to smash the Trolley up. Much remains unpublished. And remember that useless Lord Geidt didn’t even bother investigating all sorts (he didn’t interview key people who actually knew what was going on). So if Sunak’s team is crashing, there’ll be people in No10 who’ll think ‘we may be doomed but we’ll finish the trolley off’. And spads who’d relish it will be helped by officials who don’t want the trolley smashing around again as they prepare for Starmer.
So although a lot of hacks like writing stories about his return, I strongly suspect his blunders and scandals have finally been too big for him to recover from. It’ll be much easier to keep him out than it was to get him out. He only got in in the first place because the entire system had paralysed itself and Tory MPs thought they were headed for Corbyn as PM by Christmas 2019 and the end of the Tory Party.
Please post questions on anything and I’ll answer over the next few days and through Wednesday afternoon as I live-blog…
For subscribers, AI and bank runs below…
COVID, TROLLEY (free to all, as promised in 2021)
There’s many things that could be said about the parties. E.g why did neither Sue Gray nor the cops investigate the ABBA party?
But here’s a neglected one:
a number of junior women were told to attend the BYOB event summer 2020 by the PM’s PPS who a) was responsible for checking the rules with the covid taskforce and b) told officials it was a ‘work event’;
some were subsequently fined for attending (but not senior people);
the PPS and the PM were told by me and Lee Cain earlier that day the event seemed clearly outside the rules and shouldn’t happen;
they ignored this;
the PM was NOT fined for attending, even though it was his decision to hold the event, but the junior women, who reasonably thought ‘the covid taskforce has approved this event’*, were fined.
It’s indefensible. You expect such behaviour from the Trolley. But how do senior Cabinet Office officials defend letting this happen?
There are many such episodes in this sorry saga. The civil service talks a lot about being a great employer, and its ‘values’, but the truth is it repeatedly treats junior people shamefully, cannot keep young talent, and has many people in senior management with no talent or moral courage. They are the people who’ve survived the moral maze of a rotten HR and promotion system, with the ‘values’ and priorities you’d expect.
Andy Grove said to ignore what a company says about its ‘values’ and watch what it does — who it promotes and lets go. This tells you all you need to know about Whitehall. Promotion for failure. Gongs for disaster. And great young talent flooding out. Generally those who gave the worst advice in spring 2020 — closing borders is racist, the public won’t accept lockdown, masks are bad for you, no alternative to herd immunity in a single peak by September — have got gongs and promotions. Those who were proved right have almost all left. The system is working as intended.
(* NB. No10 was in an odd legal situation. E.g it was sometimes used as a test area that meant it was exempt from some rules (e.g for rapid tests), the classified nature of some work also meant some rules did not apply etc. So the rules WERE different for No10 staff than for the general public at work. The media keeps saying ‘did they think they were different’ but No10 staff WERE legally different. This is relevant because junior staff were told that the PPS was responsible for checking that No10 was sticking to those rules it had to stick to, which changed and were not identical with the normal workplace rules. This obviously does not mean some of the pissups in 2021 were OK but it does mean that if the PM’s PPS said ‘come to this work event’ junior staff were entitled to assume that the event was lawful. And entitled to think that them getting fined while the PM was not is totally unfair. And that their bosses failed to stick up for fair process. And that the Gray inquiry let the PM and senior officials off the hook.
PS. Many media reported that I’d been questioned by police and/or fined. 1/ I’ve never had any penalty of any kind over covid rules/laws. 2/ I have never been questioned by the police regarding covid rules including by the police investigating parties. I wasn’t even sent a questionnaire unlike other staff in No10.)
The Times reports that ‘Boris Johnson rejects a claim by Dominic Cummings that the No 10 garden party was against the rules’. This is not just obviously false, it’s further misinformation from him. Officials were fined therefore the cops concluded it was against the rules, as Cain and I warned that morning and which is referred to in emails given to Sue Gray. My opinion is irrelevant to whether it was / not against the rules.
Re the BYOB event remember:
a) when I said last year the PM’s PPS was warned it was against the rules, the PM sent out No10 press office to say I was lying; b) then an email was published showing what I’d said was true and they had to correct the record.
b) the morning of the BYOB event was a particularly chaotic day as that morning, before the BYOB invite went out, the PM and I were arguing furiously over a) his totally botched handling of the Cabinet Secretary which had led to the latter reasonably furious and threatening resignation, b) me demanding that his PPS be replaced as he clearly could not do the job properly (having contributed to the botched handling of the Cabinet Secretary among many other things), a widespread view across No10 and the Cabinet Office. ‘He may be a bit useless but he’s my loyal labrador, I don’t want you replacing him with someone who does what YOU want!’, said the PM — a clue as to why we couldn’t get No10 running professionally!
Trolley / ERG / new EU deal.
1/ Is the new deal perfect?
Obviously not. But it’s a substantial improvement and the EU has accepted breaches of its principles that Remain-iacs repeatedly predicted would never happen.
2/ Why is Trolley opposing it and supporting the ERG Bill?
Simple. His ‘strategy’ is to bring his No10 management style to the fore — his only hope is CHAOS. Sunak winning a small majority is a disaster for him. Sunak throwing the towel in because the Party collapses in chaos in 2023 gives him his only chance of riding around Chequers on his motorbike again, the real point of being PM for the Trolley.
3/ What about the ERG’s Bill?
As you’d expect from the ERG it’s a farce.
Their whole pitch is ‘no ECJ’ yet their own dumb Bill enshrines the power of the ECJ and creates new powers!
If you’re new to British politics this may sound too dumb to be true but you haven’t met Bill Cash.
When we did the UKIM Bill in 2020, we had VERY SPECIFIC ‘notwithstanding’ clauses. We knew specific problems we wanted to address and were clear publicly and to the EU about our goals. Our extensive enemies in the legal profession had to admit defeat.
It worked. The EU engaged and we made progress. (The Trolley then collapsed in December undoing some of the progress but still…)
The Trolley’s NIP bill doesn’t have anything specific to solve specific problems and actually *creates powers for things to be referred to the ECJ*. It was useless as a negotiating tactic.
Probably Boris doesn’t even realise that the Bill he supports creates powers for the ECJ. If he does, or it’s pointed out to him, he’d just laugh — it’s irrelevant, the point is to cause chaos for Sunak.
No10 made a mistake leaving the vote so long. They should have done what we did in 2019 — create a nonsense Potemkin clause called ‘the Bill Cash sovereignty clause’, let Cash et al walk up Downing Street for the cameras, then ram it through pronto. ‘With pirates, a pirate-and-a-half…’
Keep a note of Tory MPs who argue for the ERG Bill ‘because it removes the power of the ECJ’: they’re either fools who don’t understand what it says or they’re lying.
4/ When you see the Remain-iac lawyers and ex-officials jabbering about ‘respect for the rule of law’, remember an important fact.
In Britain the traditional approach (for centuries) has been that a) ministers must obey DOMESTIC law passed properly by Parliament (‘obey the rule of law’) but b) INTERNATIONAL law is not domestic law, is not enforced in our courts, and there is no such legal/constitutional duty on ministers to obey it.
Indeed there is often a duty on ministers to disobey it. Remember that, for example, we have intelligence services whose job is to break ‘international law’. Any serious country has a subtle approach to international law, taking seriously most obligations but sometimes putting significant interests ahead of the letter of international law, sometimes making clear they will not conform, sometimes demanding renegotiation etc.
(Ironically whenever the EU itself does this, the EU’s legal fans in the UK maintain a respectful silence! E.g. the ECJ’s own attitude to the powers of the Strasbourg Court is instructive.)
There has been a long and successful campaign by officials and lawyers to elide the distinction between domestic and international law.
This came to the foreground in 2020 when J Jones, top solicitor in the Cabinet Office and bitter opponent of Brexit, resigned over UKIM.
The spin across the media was — it’s outrageous for officials to be asked to ‘undermine the rule of law’.
But we were changing DOMESTIC law in a normal legal way. Under the traditional approach, officials like J Jones would have knuckled under without a squawk.
What Jones and others want is for officials to be allowed to decide not to do things if they interpret international law in a certain way (or if Britain’s enemies/opponents do!).
This is a revolutionary doctrine hiding as a conservative one. It’s developed because many officials and lawyers see themselves as having a ‘higher moral duty’ to their own ideas of internationalism than to Britain. That’s ok for a private citizen, but you shouldn’t be an official representing Britain and responsible for taxpayers’ money.
Because most of the media and MPs don’t understand the constitution and/or agree with the campaign, the campaign has been successful.
You can see the lack of understanding of the constitution constantly in ECHR/HRA stories.
No10 were given two options. A) Legislation that doesn’t fix the problems with the ECHR/HRA. B) Legislation that does. They chose (A) and added lots of spin about a ‘super-tough option taking on the ECHR’. No10 under Cameron, May, Johnson (after I left), and now Sunak has pulled this trick to fool Tory MPs, Telegraph etc. It’s worked so far.
The new legislation does not and cannot ‘take back control’, as No10 span. It leaves the Strasbourg Court and our obligations to respect its views in exactly the same position. And it won’t and can’t ‘stop the boats’.
As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, ignored by the media because it doesn’t suit either side’s story, the legal advice to No10 in 2020 was crystal clear: the boats problems are unsolvable without changing the whole edifice of HRA/ECHR and judicial review.
MPs would rather let the boats keep coming, and let torturers and sex criminals out of jail early to do the same again, than deal with the actual problems of the HRA, ECHR and evolution of judicial review. (Strasbourg has interpreted ‘human rights’ to mean we can’t deport sex criminals if they claim ‘err I’m gay and face the chop back in the Congo’ — our MPs our fine with all this but then, disgracefully, blame the judges when the judges say ‘MPs have chosen to respect the Strasbourg Court so…’.)
The above is inconvenient for the trolley, the ERG, Remain and both parties. You will not see these issues properly discussed.
1025, Simon Case evidence
Case’s evidence (just published) shows that as I said at the time the PM misled the Commons. The most senior official, deeply involved in everything to do with covid and investigations into parties, is explicit that he did NOT tell the PM that guidance and rules were always followed.
Further, he also misled the Commons in his written evidence submitted yesterday.
1110, Trolley case wrecked already
The Committee has published new evidence.
1/ Boris’ claim now is that his statements to the Commons — which he now admits were false — were what he was advised to say at the time by his ‘most senior trusted officials’ so it wasn’t his fault they turned out to be false.
2/ The three most senior trusted officials were: the Cabinet Secretary, the PPS, the Communications Director.
3/ The Commons has published their evidence. All three have denied they gave him that advice.
His defence is wrecked.
[1145, off topic, what’s the best English account of why Austria decided to go against Russia before the Crimean War, it had such consequences and seems so foolish…?]
1215 Further to the point (top) about how disgracefully young women were treated
A. The Trolley’s legal bills are all getting paid by the taxpayer but…
B. The young secretaries who were TOLD to attend ‘work events’ were then told by senior managers that they would NOT get legal advice ‘because they’d broken the law’!
C. They were also told they had to answer Sue Gray’s questions (without legal advice) or face consequences. Then duff/distorted info from their interviews was handed over by the CABOFF to the cops! E.g wrong names for people at parties, accusations of people puking that were false, mistaken identity etc etc.
D. Meanwhile the senior guys were told ‘no comment and the cops can’t do anything’!
E. Also remember Sue Gray handed the ABBA party over to the cops and the cops then said it wasn’t for them, so it was NEVER investigated! Classic Yes Minister.
The whole thing is disgraceful even by the standards of the Cabinet Office and the senior Cabinet Office officials responsible would, if there is any justice, be fired and disgraced.
What will happen?
They’ll get gongs, obviously!
(Ps. In 2014 I wrote about Sue Gray and the Cabinet Office HERE. Tories never learn.)
[Off-topic. NB. We are now sending depleted uranium shells to UKR. Normally the use of these weapons is a big news story. But it isn’t now obviously because most of the media including the BBC is part of the campaign for war.]
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He says the photos do not show him at unlawful parties. But the photos DO show him at events which more junior people than him were FINED for being at, i.e the cops decided were unlawful.
He says I’m lying.
But when I blogged about the BYOB event last year he sent out No10 officials to say I was lying then. And what happened? Emails turned up showing what I’d said was true (warnings that the event was a mistake) and it was No10 which had to admit it had not told hacks the truth. Over and over what I’ve said has been proved right while the No10 story has collapsed.
Reason why he’s stressing me is simple — his rat brain tells him that the MPs hate me about as much as they hate him, maybe more!, so he wants them thinking ‘do I want to do what Cummings wants and do the trolley in?’
You can see why we had to keep Bernard out of running Vote Leave — confused, missing the point, HOPELESS!
Re the BYOB he says if I/Cain had had concerns we’d have raised them with the PPS and it would not have happened.
We did raise concerns!
I spoke to PPS and to the PM.
And Cain sent an email then spoke to PPS about it.
PPS said he’d speak to the PM (and now says he can’t remember if he did).
He’s said twice that he had to speak to staff that day because the Cabinet Secretary had resigned that morning.
He had NOT resigned! He’s misleading the Committee again.
But the PM was arguing with me very violently about this shambles — the PM’s incompetence had led to the Cabinet Secretary THREATENING to resign that day but we PREVENTED it, no thanks to the trolley.
Huge waste of time but boils down to —
A/ His whole defence rested on claims that he was repeating to the Commons assurances he’d been given by senior officials.
B/ But the three most senior officials have said they did NOT give him the assurance that rules and guidance had been ‘followed at all times’. When asked who gave him this assurance he says he doesn’t want to name them but they exist.
He’s trapped by his own lies and knows it.
Over and out on this for now…
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