The government has been accused of trying to manipulate announcements of extra funding for the UK’s poorest parts in a desperate bid to save Boris Johnson’s job as prime minister.
An extraordinary row exploded after Michael Gove’s Department for Leveling, Housing and Communities issued a press release – ahead of the release of a leveling white paper this week – saying 20 towns would benefit from a ” new £1.5 billion brownfield fund”. The statement, which only named Sheffield and Wolverhampton as recipients, said the 20 areas “will benefit from developments combining housing, leisure and business in beautiful, new, sustainable and walkable areas”.
Gove added that the ‘radical new regeneration agenda’ would prove transformative and deliver on the government’s flagship policy of creating 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 the Observer contacted high-level Treasury sources to ask if its ministers had approved the promised £1.5billion, Gove’s department backtracked and confessed the ‘new’ fund was not at all new money, but would be made up of leveling funds that had been announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in his spending review last fall.
The confusion has been seized on by Labor and other opposition parties as evidence of the lengths Johnson and his ministers are willing to go to to persuade Tory MPs in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats to stick with the Prime minister ahead of the impending release of a report into the partygate scandal this week by senior civil servant Sue Gray. If at least 54 Tory MPs write to Sir Graham Brady saying they want Johnson gone, it would trigger a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. If he were to lose the vote of Conservative MPs, it would mark the end of his term as Prime Minister.
Shadow Leveling Secretary Lisa Nandy said the Tories were caught trying to spin this extra money for poorer areas when the white paper actually contained nothing they don’t already know.
“I don’t think Tory MPs will find it very reassuring when the supposed new pot of gold doesn’t contain a dime of new money,” Nandy said.
SNP leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, added: “Not only is the government trying to fool the public, they are also trying to fool their own MPs. It shows how far they are willing to go to keep Boris Johnson in power. It is beyond contempt.
Deputy Liberal Democrat leader Daisy Cooper said the episode showed the government was not “very serious about upgrading this country”.
Johnson has spent much of the past fortnight calling and meeting with his MPs to persuade them to stick with him as the row over the anti-lockdown parties escalated. A former minister told the Observer last week that he was personally reassured by the Prime Minister that his region would receive help for local industries – which persuaded him to stick with it.
Despite the government’s troubles, the latest Opinium poll for the Observer shows Labour’s lead over the Tories has fallen to 5pts, with Keir Starmer’s party at 39% (down 2pts from a year ago). a fortnight) while the Conservatives are up 2 pts on 34%.
But while Labor’s rebound on the party appears to have peaked and reversed, the party is now favored by more voters for doing a better job than the Tories on 10 of 14 policy issues, including the fight against crime and immigration management. Both are subjects on which conservatives have traditionally been strong. On crime Labor is now 3 points ahead of the Tories and on immigration they are 4 points ahead.
On Saturday evening, Gray – who the Metropolitan Police asked on Friday to make “minimal” references in his report to serious matters relating to the gatherings the Met is investigating – is still believed to have failed to submit his report to No Ten.
Sources said she would only do so on a day when parliament was sitting, so Johnson would be forced to go straight to parliament to make a statement, rather than giving her a weekend to deliver her views. conclusions to the media. A Whitehall source said he expected the report to make “uncomfortable reading for all concerned”. Another said: “Sue Gray is very clear about how she wants this handled. She will submit it one day when parliament is sitting because she firmly believes in the relevance of the process.
Meanwhile, calls were made on Saturday night for the Met to be removed from its investigation due to a ‘conflict of interest’. The requests came from officials overseeing the force who say he cannot be trusted to handle such a politically sensitive matter.
Unmesh Desai, whose questioning at the London Assembly last Tuesday led Met Commissioner Cressida Dick to announce the inquiry, said an outside police force must take over the investigation.
Desai, police and crime spokesman for Labor Assembly London, said he was writing to the commissioner this week raising concerns that Dick’s boss is, in fact, Home Secretary Priti Patel, who in turn owes her post to Johnson.
“It’s a clear conflict of interest. Wouldn’t it be better for an outside force to investigate? said Desai, a member of the Policing and Crime Committee which reviews policing in London. Speaking on behalf of a number of committee members, Desai added: ‘You can even bring in a retired police chief to oversee it, all the evidence is there.’
Johnson controversially backed Patel after it was discovered she had bullied staff during an internal investigation in 2020. The Home Secretary recently gave his full backing to the Prime Minister during lockdown parties . Patel sparked further controversy last year after granting Dick a two-year extension as Met commissioner despite a series of scandals that have embroiled the nation’s highest-ranking police officer.
Desai will also urge the commissioner to ensure Met officers are investigated for possible breaches of Covid regulations while deployed to Downing Street.
He will ask the commissioner to ‘review’ the Met’s diplomatic protection group, which is responsible for guarding premises such as 10 Downing Street, fearing they have colluded in allowing the parties to take place.