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By ALEX WICKHAM
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Good Tuesday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
TROPICAL STORM: Conservative MPs face intense scrutiny of their personal financial affairs this morning as the party’s ongoing sleaze scandal dominates British politics for a second week in a row. Boris Johnson bottled yesterday’s emergency Commons debate on MPs’ standards, went on a chicken run to Northumberland and refused to apologize for the Owen Paterson debacle, allowing Labour leader Keir Starmer to accuse him of “running scared” and “cowering away” in one of his punchiest parliamentary performances to date. Today’s newspapers are the most brutal No. 10 has faced since, er, last week, with the story once again making every front page. The danger Downing Street faces this morning as it limps through to recess is that the next few days leave a vacuum filled by journalists dissecting Conservative MPs’ entries in the register of interests — as Caribbean-based part-time MP Geoffrey Cox is finding out as he becomes the next top Tory fighting for his occasional political career.
Keir we go: The government’s errors during the last week have gifted Starmer a sustained, high visibility opportunity to get his attacks on Johnson’s integrity to stick in the minds of the public. As the PM swerved parliament for a maskless visit to a Hexham hospital, the Labour leader had a free hit to castigate him for taking the government “through the sewers.” You got the feeling Labour enjoyed yesterday more than any other day recently as the party released smart research calculating Johnson had traveled the whole distance around the world to avoid difficult questions down the years (and they didn’t even include that detour into a fridge). Labour also took a 1-point poll lead with IPSOS Mori.
Harp away: The opposition is the least of Downing Street’s worries at the moment as they deal with the tidal wave of fury vented by their own backbenchers. Yesterday’s strongest blue-on-blue intervention came from former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper, who spoke for many backbenchers when he argued: “Politics is a team effort. If the team captain gets their side — from backbenchers to senior ministers — into difficulty when they get something wrong, they should apologize to the House. That’s leadership. We need to see more of it.” The Times‘ Henry Zeffman has a rundown of red wall anger. Guido reports Tory MPs were furious that their call for a 1922 committee meeting of backbenchers — so either the PM, Chief Whip Mark Spencer or Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg could say sorry — went unanswered. Ministers are now turning on bickering backbenchers in Tory WhatsApp groups as morale plummets, with one telling government critic Tobias Ellwood to “keep your opinions to yourself.” Good luck with that.
Recurring Rash: Playbook picked up frustrations from Tory MPs not just over how the Paterson affair was handled by No. 10, but also how yesterday went down. Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay won praise for gently admitting the government made a “mistake” and expressing “regret,” yet his words raised questions among backbenchers as to why the PM, Downing Street and government whips haven’t been able to say the same. One Tory MP diagnosed No. 10 with “Marcus Rashford Syndrome” — failing to catch an obvious and self-inflicted error before it happens, taking too long to correct it, U-turning after the political damage to colleagues is done, then refusing to apologize and letting it blow it up into something much bigger than it ever needed to be.
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Alpha Mail: If Tory MPs were annoyed at being ordered to vote for the Paterson amendment last week, and at how No. 10 has managed things since, that disquiet will reach new levels as their own outside interests come under scrutiny. Today’s papers are so dire for the government that even the Express front page pleads: “Just say sorry for the mess, prime minister.” Though the most damaging stories are to be found in today’s Daily Mail, which takes aim at several more Conservative MPs.
UNBELIEVABLE, GEOFF: Without a doubt the story of the day is by Harriet Line and Jason Groves, who reveal former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox — dubbed the “Brexit Mufasa” during the simpler times of those late-night votes on Theresa May’s deal — has been voting in parliament remotely from the Caribbean as he works a second job advising the government of the British Virgin Islands. The genuinely extraordinary tale reports Cox spent up to a month in the British Virgin Islands working for international law firm Withers to represent the tax haven as it faces a Foreign Office inquiry into corruption. As he worked his second job in BVI some 4,000 miles away, Cox voted in the Commons by proxy.
You have forgotten who you are: The Mail story is full of government briefings against Cox, which tells you what they think of his behavior. A senior Whitehall source claims the MP has been “pocketing hundreds of thousands of pounds to help stop the exposure of corruption in a Caribbean paradise.” A Whitehall insider adds: “While he should have been in the U.K. working for his constituents he’s been over in the British Virgin Islands doing his second job working as a barrister and advising those accused of trousering cash for their mates.” Just to stress, this is the Tories talking about one of their own MPs.
Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble: Cox’s register of interests entry shows he is being paid £400,000 a year by Withers for a minimum of 41 hours work per month. In May last year, Cox was paid £157,000 for 140 hours’ work. When he is working that many hours on a second job, it is going to be extremely difficult for Cox to explain how on earth he can claim to be giving taxpayers any value for money whatsoever in his £82,000-a-year side job as an MP. Indeed, he failed to give any defense to the Mail. The Times‘ Henry Zeffman gets to the crux: Cox simply isn’t fulfilling the duties of an MP despite still taking his salary. Since losing his attorney general job in February 2020, he has spoken in just one parliamentary debate.
While others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give: Playbook would expect opposition politicians to seek Cox’s resignation from parliament today. A government insider said last night that they expected him to quit at the next election and wouldn’t be surprised if we see a by-election in his plum West Devon seat before then. To be blunt, in the decade Playbook has covered stories of MPs taking the mickey with public money, this looks up there with the most outrageous and could easily be the catalyst that sees a full crackdown on second jobs.
Part-time MPs: The Mail also goes for former Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell for taking on six different consultancy jobs earning him £182,000 … while Julian Smith is earning £144,000 from three firms … Chris Grayling is on £100,000 advising a ports operator, presumably about ferries … Mark Garnier earns £90,000 a year advising two companies … Alun Cairns is on £60,000 advising three firms … Ruth Edwards gets £60,000 per year from a software company … Stephen Hammond is on £60,000 a year from an investment firm … Steve Brine gets £60,000 a year from three companies … David Davis receives £50,000 a year from two companies … and last through the revolving door is ex-energy minister John Hayes earning £50,000 a year advising an energy company.
How much? The Sun‘s Harry Cole, Kate Ferguson and Jonathan Reilly have their own list of the “dirty dozen” MPs who have made more than £3.5 million in outside earnings in just two years.
Present but not involved: Sky’s Sam Coates made the point that the row doesn’t just raise awkward questions for Tory MPs, as he grilled Keir Starmer on why he discussed taking an outside consultancy job at a law firm in 2017. Asked why he held those talks then but is suggesting it’s wrong for MPs to do so now, the Labour leader did not really have an answer.
Tall tale: The Mail has another strong story, this time by Simon Walters and Martin Beckford, on the perennially disgraced Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski. They report he is facing a Commons suspension after he was ordered by Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone to say sorry to parliamentary staffers he had been found guilty of bullying, only to admit afterward that he didn’t really mean his apology. The Mail says Stone is now investigating him again for “actions causing significant damage to the reputation of the House” and that his punishment could be more severe.
One to watch: A top story in the Guardian from Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason reveals Tory MP and one-time prime-ministerial-hopeful Adam Afriyie is facing bankruptcy proceedings over unpaid taxes. Court records show a petition for bankruptcy has been filed by HMRC against the MP, which is a major development as under parliamentary rules MPs have to stand down if they are declared bankrupt. A spokesperson for Afriyie says: “The petition arises for complex reasons related to Adam’s past business interests. Negotiations have been ongoing for several years and the petition is subject to legal challenge as his advisers are working towards reaching an agreement.” Afriyie adds: “I will of course pay any tax that is due.” The Guardian speculates the case could end up in another by-election.
Here we go again: The Times‘ Billy Kenber and George Greenwood have uncovered another COVID contracts row, with a pharmaceutical firm that pays Tory MP Steve Brine as an adviser landing a £100,000 government contract after Brine took part in a webinar for the company with the then-Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. The report states: “No lobbying took place but critics said the webinar showed the kind of benefits that private companies can enjoy when hiring an MP as an adviser, and risked the perception of cronyism in the awarding of government contracts.”
And of course … there’s the ongoing row over the refurbishment of the PM’s Downing Street flat, with the Electoral Commission findings imminent and No. 10 embroiled in a row over whether it’s within the standards commissioner’s remit to investigate. The Guardian’s Peter Walker and Aubrey Allegretti have an explainer on what could happen next.
Roll call of shame: Yet another disgraced Tory, the Delyn MP Rob Roberts, wins today’s stunning lack of self awareness award. Roberts has for some reason written to the BBC and ITV asking them to make a documentary on the good work MPs do. Presumably he’ll want them to miss the bit where he was found guilty of sexually harassing a staff member and then shamelessly refused to stand down from parliament. (H/t Christian Calgie.)
Just in case it isn’t clear from the above … this is a pretty grave situation for the Tories, and one that has built up over several years after the unruly behavior of some of their MPs went unchecked by successive No. 10s. In his analysis for Sky last night, Sam Coates noted there is still no clarity on what happens with the MPs’ standards system, after the government won last week’s vote and has not yet done anything to overturn it. On the flip side, if Downing Street fails in its efforts to undermine the standards process, it is not impossible looking at today’s papers that several more Tory MPs’ political careers could be over in the coming months. You can see why Labour think they’re onto something by going after Tory sleaze.
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TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
COMMONS: Justice questions from 11.30 p.m. … any urgent questions and ministerial statements at 12.30 p.m. … then Tory MP Tim Loughton has a 10-minute rule motion on recognition of the Armenian genocide … then it’s backbench business on early years and counseling in schools.
The House rises … for recess tonight until November 15.
NATIONAL SCANDAL: Top story by the Telegraph investigations team, which has used Freedom of Information requests to discover that 11,600 people died after catching COVID in hospital while being treated for other illnesses. Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tells the paper: “These numbers are truly shocking … hospital infections have been the deadliest silent killer of the pandemic.”
YESTERDAY’S UK COVID STATS: 32,322 new cases … ⬆️ 2,017 on Sunday … 57 deaths … ⬇️ 5 on Sunday.
TODAY AT COP: Negotiations continue with the conference focussing on “Progressing gender equality and the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action” and “demonstrating that science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet, and accelerate, increased ambition.” The government’s GREAT campaign is also partnering with the British Fashion Council, Burberry and Stella McCartney to put on a “sustainable fashion show.”
Jetting into Glasgow: Democrat lawmakers including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi arrived at COP last night. They “will participate in bilateral meetings, panel discussions and other engagements with global leaders on top climate priorities, including the recent IPCC report, gender equity and public-private sector coordination on climate action.”
Today’s problem: China and Saudi Arabia are threatening progress this week by refusing to sign up to transparency commitments on their carbon emissions, the Times‘ Ben Webster reports.
RAAB ROUND: Deputy PM Dominic Raab is on the morning broadcast round for the government, and has given an interview to Sky’s Tamara Cohen on the crown court backlog in which he can’t say how many years it will take to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Raab doesn’t deny it could be seven to eight years. There’s a record backlog of 60,000 crown court cases which Raab said had “stabilized,” but he suggested it would be six months to a year before it starts to fall.
**It’s your last chance to get exclusive COP26 political insight, data analysis, and scoops from our reporting team. Sign up in one click to receive POLITICO Pro’s Energy and Climate newsletter for free during the last week of COP26.**
CONFIRMED: Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has committed £210 million of government funding for Rolls Royce to develop small modular nuclear reactors. The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler and Tim Shipman had the story a few weeks back.
BY-ELECTION WATCH: The Telegraph’s Chris Hope hears the North Shropshire by-election is likely to be held on Thursday December 16, two weeks after the Old Bexley and Sidcup election on December 2. Hell of a run in to Christmas.
LORDS: To consider amendments on the Environment Bill from the House of Commons and hold the report stage of the Professional Qualifications Bill.
Committee corridor: Environment committee to hear from the Deputy Governor at the Bank of England Ben Broadbent about labor shortages in the food and farming sector, 3:30 p.m. … Chief of the Defense Staff Nick Carter to give evidence to the defense committee, 2:30 p.m.
PRAY FOR PLAYBOOK: A regular bedtime of between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. is linked to better heart health, researchers have found. The BBC has the story.
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Deputy PM and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab broadcast round: Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITV (8.30 a.m.) … Today program (8.30 a.m.) … Sky News (8.50 a.m.) … talkRADIO (9.06 a.m.).
Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed broadcast round: Today program (6.50 a.m.) … LBC (7.10 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.50 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Chief Executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson and UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea (7.10 a.m.) … Chairman of the Gloucestershire Cave Rescue Group Paul Taylor (7.15 a.m.) … Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband (7.30 a.m.) … Cindy Butts, chair of the Commission on Equity in Cricket (7.50 a.m.) … Afghan politician Fawzia Koofi and Food and Agriculture Organization representative for Afghanistan Richard Trenchard (8.10 a.m.).
Also on ITV Good Morning Britain: The Mail’s Andrew Pierce and the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire (6.30 a.m.) … Standards Committee Chair Chris Bryant (7.15 a.m.) … Novara’s Ash Sarkar and Chair of West Ham Conservatives John Oxley (7.20 a.m.).
Also on Sky News Breakfast: SNP MP Pete Wishart (7.05 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: Former Cabinet Minister David Gauke (8.05 a.m.) … Chris Boardman of the British Caving Association (8.20 a.m.) … Madagascar Environment Minister Vahinala Raharinirina (9.05 a.m.) … Former England international cricketer Monty Panesar (9.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Joey Jones, former media adviser to Theresa May (7.15 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Transparency International UK chief Daniel Bruce (7.05 a.m.) … JCVI member Jeremy Brown (7.20 a.m.) … Martin Bell, former member of the House of Commons standards committee (8.05 a.m.).
On BBC Politics Live: Former Labour Cabinet Minister David Blunkett … Tory MP Claire Coutinho … Former government adviser Mo Hussein … and Moya Lothian-McLean, political editor at Gal-Dem.
And on Iain Dale’s Cross Question on LBC at 8 p.m.: Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green … Lib Dem Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper … Unaffiliated peer Kate Hoey … Daily Telegraph’s Associate Editor Gordon Rayner.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Just say sorry for the mess, prime minister
Daily Mail: Top MP earns fortune for working in tax haven
Daily Mirror: No apology, no shame, no respect & no mask
Daily Star: Psssst! Wanna buy a bag of cheesy wotsits?
Financial Times: Central bankers pose rates puzzle
HuffPost UK: Have you seen this man?
i: PM refuses to apologise for trying to tear up sleaze rules
Metro: Get me out of here!
POLITICO UK: On online content, London tries to out-regulate Brussels
The Daily Telegraph: 11,600 caught Covid in hospital and died
The Guardian: Johnson is leading the party ‘through the sewers’ says Starmer
The Times: Anger as PM skips sleaze showdown in Commons
The Sun: Strop Kat
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Mostly cloudy, some sun breaking through later on. Highs of 15C.
CONGRATULATIONS … to Liz Truss SpAd Adam Jones and Hanbury Strategy’s Emily Barnes, who are engaged.
NEW GIG: Former No. 10 and Home Office SpAd Michael Young has launched a new venture, Lindus Health.
BIRTHDAYS: Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton … Shadow Environment Minister Daniel Zeichner … The Times’ Political Editor Francis Elliott … The FT’s Economics Editor Chris Giles … TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady … Tory peer Dido Harding … Opposition Chief Whip Roy Kennedy … Labour peer Bryan Davies … and CBI comms adviser Kay Abdilahi.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald producer Grace Stranger.
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