A Watergate moment for Johnson?

Illustration by Suzy Varty
From Issue 32 North East Bylines

It was a long series of articles from the Washington Post newspaper that eventually led to the downfall of President Nixon, but here we have had a series of explosive reporting from the Tory loving Daily Mail. Could they have a ‘Deep Throat’ source from Number 10 who could finally expose the corruption that lies at the heart of this secretive and elusive government? The latest story splashed as a front page exclusive from the Daily Mail on 19 March was entitled ‘Electoral Probe into Number 10 Décor Scandal’.

The article which was widely reported elsewhere, confirmed that the Electoral Commission is now officially in contact with Number 10 over funding arrangements for a lavish redecoration of the PM’s flat.  This dramatic development follows a series of disclosures by the Daily Mail on financing of decor and furnishings for the apartment the Prime Minister shares with his fiancée Carrie Symonds.

Professor David Howarth, a former electoral commissioner, told the paper: “This tangled web must be unravelled. If Boris Johnson received £60,000 to refurbish his official flat either he or his party must declare it.

“A politician cannot get a large sum directly or indirectly which no one declares. It is a nonsense.”

Since details of the complex transactions were revealed by the Mail, embarrassed Tory chiefs have reportedly discussed returning the £60,000 to Lord Brownlow to gloss over the affair. 

Under this plan, the peer would pay for the decor direct – while the Cabinet Office paid back Tory headquarters.

The Daily Mail of 19 March reports:

“The Prime Minister had a meeting with multi-millionaire environment minister Zac Goldsmith at No 10 where the possibility of him offering financial help was discussed, aides claimed;

“The decision to set up a trust to maintain No 10 and No 11 – and fund the flat makeover – was made at the same time as the £60,000 bill landed;

“Mr Elliot, nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, coined the term – ‘wallpaper-gate’ – used by party officials to describe the row.”

This matters to all of us who are voters and who pay our taxes to this government. Confidence is fundamental to our democracy and this whole series of highly damaging articles not only undermines it, but explicitly says that laws don’t apply to this government.

The code of conduct for ministers says they “should not accept gifts, hospitality or services that might place them under an obligation” – and the same applies to family members. 

The code adds: “Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of a conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interests.”

But Mr Johnson is no stranger when it comes to conflicts of interest. We are again grateful to the Daily Mail and other publications who reported that his alleged girlfriend, the pole dancing actress, Jennifer Arcuri received £100,000 in Government grants for one of her companies. She stressed that his multiple visits to her flat were for “Technology Lessons “. “Pull the other one” was the reaction of many respected observers.

 But scandals associated with the Tory party would fill many books and articles, with a fresh scandal involving the former Prime Minister David Cameron having been reported in recent days. The allegation reported initially by the Financial Times, which has not been formally denied by Mr Cameron, is that he lobbied the Chancellor Rushi Sunak on his private mobile number on behalf of one of his clients in which he, Cameron, had been granted substantial share options in the Company.

The firm in question is Greensill, but it has now filed for administration. Potentially hundreds of millions of pounds could have been lost to the taxpayer. Fortunately, Cameron’s lobbying efforts were not successful as the Treasury rejected his requests. This will now be subject to an official enquiry, reports the Times

So, while perhaps not on the scale that brought down President Nixon, the level of corruption with this government is appalling.  Multiple other examples relating to grants and contracts were exposed in North East Bylines.  

We the taxpayers and voters of this country believe in democracy. Our rights are being steadily eroded and it’s time to call out these practices.  As millions struggle to just about manage our current and a previous Prime Minister are taking us all for fools.

But who will have the last laugh? The results from the local elections scheduled for May this year will be very interesting indeed.

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