Monday briefing: PM turns on BBC as ‘Partygate’ pressure mounts |

Top story: No-confidence letters piling up

Good Monday morning to you, Graham Russell here with the latest news to start the week.

The prime minister has dealt a serious blow to the BBC’s funding in what critics say is a diversionary tactic to escape accountability for the “Partygate” revelations. With reports that dozens of Tory backbenchers have written letters of no-confidence, Boris Johnson ally Nadine Dorries said the BBC’s licence fee would be abolished in 2027 and the broadcaster’s funding frozen for the next two years, potentially leading to thousands of redundancies.

Other measures under what has been called Operation Red Meat are said to involve a renewed drive to stop people crossing the Channel in small boats, measures to tackle the NHS operations backlog, extra investment in skills and the lifting of Covid restrictions on 26 January.

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: “The prime minister thinks those reporting on his rule-breaking should pay consequences, whilst he gets off free”, while Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, described the announcement as “a last-ditch attempt [by Johnson] to save his failing premiership”.

The timing of the announcements is highly convenient, writes Heather Stewart, and gives Tory rightwingers something to cheer as Johnson’s future hangs in the balance.

‘An act of terror’ – Two teenagers have been arrested in Manchester by counter-terror police over the Texas synagogue standoff in which the attacker was named as a British national. The pair are being questioned after suspect Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old who had been a resident of Blackburn in Lancashire, took four people hostage at a synagogue in a Dallas suburb on Saturday. He was pronounced dead after the FBI stormed the building. All four hostages were unharmed after what Joe Biden described as “an act of terror”.

‘It’s excruciating’ – A British woman is feared to have been swept to her death in the tsunami sparked by the eruption at the weekend of an underwater volcano in Tonga. Angela Glover, who runs an animal shelter there, has not been seen since being hit by the wave, which also caught up her husband and the couple’s dogs. “One of the dogs has been found, but Angela hasn’t been found,” said brother Nick Eleini. “It’s excruciating. I can’t even believe the words are coming out of my mouth, to be honest.” Australia and New Zealand have sent planes to assess the damage from the eruption that has blanked the area with ash, contaminating water supplies and cutting off communications.

Angela Glover is believed to be the first casualty of the tsunami in Tonga. Photograph: Supplied by the family

Pandemic pressures – Eight million people in England are drinking so much wine, beer or spirits that it is harmful to their health, government data shows, with a large increase in the number drinking at dangerous levels. Before the pandemic, the figure stood at about 5 million. The switch to drinking at home was partly to blame, said Prof Julia Sinclair from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, with drinking sessions sometimes lasting several hours longer than they would in a pub. “Just even nine months of drinking, as we saw in 2020, was enough to push a whole load of people over the edge.”

‘I thought that was my ambition over’ – Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Conservative leader, has said she considered not running for the leadership amid fears her mental health records would be exposed. Davidson, who was diagnosed with clinical depression while at university, said her fears were prompted by the press accessing the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son, which “felt like a really egregious breach”. Davidson said she hoped being able to open up about mental health issues on her own terms would help others realise it is not career-ending, as she had once feared.

Burns after reading – Robert Burns, the revered Scottish bard behind Auld Lang Syne, was advised not to write in Scots because no one in London would understand it, new research has shown. Dr John Moore, a Scottish physician and travel author who was a regular correspondent with the poet, “cautioned Burns that he was limiting his audience” and told him to avoid political subjects too. When Burns sent Moore a long letter detailing his entire childhood, Moore wrote back urging him to divide his letters up next time because he was “obliged to pay six & eightpence for it”. The correspondence will be published as part of a new collected works by the Oxford University Press.

Today in Focus podcast: Afghan female MPs fight for their country in exile

After a harrowing escape from the Taliban, Afghanistan’s female politicians are regrouping in Greece to fight for their country. Amie Ferris-Rotman reports on the work of the Afghan women’s parliament in exile.

Today in Focus

Afghan female MPs fight for their country in exile

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Lunchtime read: Christine Baranski on Sondheim, stardom and snobbery

Christine Baranski‘How lucky was I?’: Christine Baranski. Photograph: Al Seib/Contour RA

As she prepares to star in the new “American Downton”, the 69-year-old actor talks to Hadley Freeman about her blue-collar roots, her friendship with Stephen Sondheim — and the pleasures of late-career fame.


Andy Murray has said “physically I’m in a pretty good place” as a Djokovic-free Australian Open finally got under way after more than a week of off-court wrangles. You can follow our live blog here for all the latest action at Melbourne Park, which has so far seen Naomi Osaka safely negotiate a tricky opening encounter, Rafael Nadal progress with ease but a big shock for British men’s No 1 Cam Norrie, beaten in straight sets by American Sebastian Korda. (PS OK if you want the latest on Djokovic click here.)

Jonathan Wilson writes that perhaps the strangest aspect of Rafa Benítez’s time at Everton is how well it began, with 14 points after seven league games. But the problem was that Benítez is Benítez and a significant part of that identity is bound up with Liverpool.

Turning to cricket, England have for some time been collapse specialists but even by their standards the Ashes Test in Hobart was a spectacular explosion of fortune, says Tanya Aldred. Joe Root appears keen to lead England into a new era regardless.

In netball, England kept alive their hopes of a first Quad Series title after overcoming an eight-goal deficit to defeat New Zealand 49-46 and book their spot in Wednesday’s final.


Scotland’s largest auction of permits to construct offshore windfarms is expected to raise up to £860m today when the results are announced. There are hopes the amount of electricity generated in Scottish waters will double in the next decade, creating tens of thousands of jobs. A “game of corporate chicken” could end with Amazon UK refusing to accept Visa credit cards this week, unless a last-minute agreement can be reached. Mintel said 89% of Britons shopped at Amazon last year.

The pound is buying $1.367 and €1.197.

The papers

The Guardian leads with Boris Johnson’s reported Operation Red Meat, with the headline: “PM accused of attacking BBC to save his own skin”.

Guardian front page, Monday 17 January 2022The Guardian’s front page, Monday 17 January 2022

The i sees it more as “Operation dead meat” after speaking to senior Tories, and the Mirror looks at “Johnson’s scapegoats” with a report that other heads will roll in order to keep his job safe and that the prime minister was at another party in 2020. The Telegraph says Johnson has already been questioned by inquiry head Sue Gray over the “Partygate” scandal.

Elsewhere, the Times reports on the other prong of Johnson’s distraction strategy, with his call for the military to help stop Channel boat crossings “as part of an attempt to save his premiership”.

The Express talks of Johnson’s plan to win back popular support with the headline “PM: fightback plan to level up Britain” but makes no mention of the attack on BBC funding.

The Mail focuses on the republication of a photo of Keir Starmer having a beer with colleagues last year at a constituency office at a time when household mixing was allowed only when working. The headline is: “Starmer must say sorry for drinks in lockdown”. You can read more on that story here.

The Sun reports that the Queen will not intervene in Harry’s efforts to pay for police protection while in the UK, while the Metro covers the deportation of Novak Djokovic with the headline: “Go pack Djokovic”.

The FT reports the latest on Unilever’s bid to buy a healthcare venture from GSK and Pfizer.

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