Politics

Michael Settle: ‘Dysfunctional Downing Street looks like end of Trump Presidency’

THE whirlpool of woes gripping #drowningstreet, as social media has dubbed Number 10, is spinning faster as another aide has departed through the black door. 

This means that the UK Government machine’s spin operation is now in overdrive to keep the administration afloat.

 Elena Narozanski, Boris’s advisor on women’s issues and equality, has – as I write – become the fifth aide to go in less than 24 hours; the second from the Number 10 Policy Unit.

Who knows what will happen next in this drama of dysfunction and instability? 

This morning, Greg Hands, the Energy Minister, drew the short straw in Whitehall and became the latest Minister for Disaster Management to take to the airwaves.

Interestingly, he refused to back his boss’s smearing of Keir Starmer over the non-prosecution of paedophile Jimmy Savile, saying: “It is not my job to opine on these things.” 

READ MORE: Johnson loyalists ‘putting a positive spin’ on aides’ departure chaos, claims MSP

Hands argued that the departure of three key aides – Jack Doyle, Dan Rosenfield and Martin Reynolds – meant the PM was “taking charge” and “delivering” on what he had promised: a clearout of Downing St post the Sue Gray update. 

Some Cabinet colleagues have sought to suggest that Boris’s attack on the Labour leader was simply a riposte to Starmer’s insistence that the PM should take overall responsibility for the mistakes in Downing St; after all, the Labour knight was Director of Public Prosecution when Savile avoided a criminal trial for his sexual offences. 

But that’s not what happened on Monday when Johnson lashed out at Starmer. There was no qualification about taking overall responsibility.

The PM launched his barb directly, saying: “He spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can make out.” The accusation was clear: Starmer was responsible for Savile getting away with his crimes. 

It was only after there was an almighty furore, much from his own side, that Boris sought to clarify his remarks and use the line that he was not talking about Starmer’s “personal record” when he was DPP.

“I totally understand he had nothing to do, personally, with those decisions. I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole and people can see that,” he added. 

HeraldScotland:

Boris Johnson 

The resignation of Munira Mirza as the director of the Downing St Policy Unit, a long-term ally of Johnson’s since his days as London Mayor in City Hall, was the most substantial blow for Johnson.

Described as “Boris’s brain,” she quit in anger over his use of his “scurrilous” Savile smear and his refusal to apologise for it. 

Conservative grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Foreign Secretary, claimed Mirza’s decision to quit showed the PM had become “toxic”.

 It is still not precisely clear why Narozanski quit although she is said to have been fiercely loyal to Mirza. A former Number 10 aide, Nikki da Costa, described her as “one of the most principled women I know,” saying her departure was “another big loss to the Policy Unit”. 

Leaked WhatsApp messages showed how Johnson loyalists had urged Tory backbenchers to tweet their support for the PM, making clear the clearout of Downing St staff was long planned.

But Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, noted: “With[Johnson’s] senior advisers and aides quitting, perhaps it is finally time for him to look in the mirror and consider if he might just be the problem.”

 Another telling development of the last 24 hours was when Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, publicly criticised the PM’s Savile slur in a Downing St press conference on the cost of living crisis, stressing: “I wouldn’t have said it.” 

This was followed today by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, who also distanced himself from Johnson, making clear Starmer had done a “good job” as DPP and deserved “absolute respect” for his work in the post. 

The rising alarm among some Conservatives is beginning to seep out into the public domain. 

HeraldScotland:

Sajid Javid with Boris Johnson

A “deeply troubled” backbencher Huw Merriman urged the PM to “shape up or ship out”. It has been suggested that on Wednesday colleagues were becoming worried that Alex Chalk, the Solicitor-General, was on the verge of resigning his position over partygate. 

READ MORE: Boris Johnson quotes Lion King in rallying speech to staff after No.10 exodus

The Cheltenham MP, whose majority is just 981, had a private meeting with the PM. Later, a source close to Chalk said he had “no plans to resign”. 

Lord Barwell, ex-PM Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, said he was aware of a number of Government ministers who were “deeply, deeply uncomfortable” with the way Boris had behaved recently. 

The story of Johnson’s premiership is beginning to mirror Donald Trump’s with outrageous slurs against opponents, denials then clarifications, dismissals of key aides and resignations. 

The problem for those ministers around Johnson, who have constantly to defend him, is that the dysfunction in Downing St is largely due to the PM’s own character, which means for as long as he is in Number 10, it will continue. 

From within the Cabinet one minister admitted the slew of Downing St departures meant things were “falling apart,” telling the Times: “It feels like the end.” 

This morning, Boris sought to rally the remaining Downing Street troops and used a line, not from Peppa Pig but Disney’s Lion King, telling them as they gathered in the Cabinet Room: “Change is good.”

Given his perilous position, he may come to regret those words. 

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