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Politics

Boris Johnson’s blame game over lockdown parties could backfire – POLITICO

LONDON — Boris Johnson laid the groundwork for a Whitehall blame game as he seeks to salvage his premiership from allegations of a number of parties at Downing Avenue whereas the general public stayed at residence to cease the unfold of COVID-19.

“I can inform you from the numerous conversations I’ve had with the prime minister … that he’s dedicated to upping our game,” Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservative Get together, advised Sky Information on Sunday. “We should enhance the tradition — we should do higher.”

It comes amid reports that Johnson is drawing up a listing of civil servants who should fall on their swords when a much-feared investigation by senior official Sue Grey releases its findings within the coming weeks on the slew of social gathering claims.

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But whereas these with deep information of Whitehall agree that leaders of Britain’s neutral civil service have a case to reply over the allegations, few consider the prime minister himself can escape blame.

“I believe to say ‘oh, the prime minister was simply kind of sitting upstairs, utterly oblivious, and truly completely disapproved of all his workers doing this’ — for God’s sake, pull the opposite one, mate,” mentioned Jill Rutter, a former senior civil servant who now works for assume tanks.

“In the end, there could also be some disciplinary points throughout the civil service — huge judgment questions over among the senior folks in Downing Avenue and the Cupboard Workplace and their sense of what’s applicable … however none of meaning there aren’t questions for politicians as properly,” she added.

Few dispute that some senior officers are deserving of scrutiny. One determine more likely to be the topic of such consideration is the top of the civil service, Simon Case.

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Case, beforehand a senior aide to Britain’s royal household, was given the highest civil service job — that of cupboard secretary — in September 2020. It got here because the prime minister and his then-top adviser Dominic Cummings sought to reshape the way in which the U.Ok. civil service operates.

When claims of No. 10 partying first emerged, Case was tasked with investigating. However he was quickly compelled to step apart amid reviews of lockdown-breaking social gatherings in his personal division. Civil service officers claimed he had attended drinks exterior his workplace in 70 Whitehall in December 2020 — allegations that have been categorically denied by the Cupboard Workplace.

“There may be clearly a wider challenge round managing those that work in 10 Downing Avenue to make sure that everyone seems to be following the foundations which apply to all civil servants,” mentioned one former everlasting secretary (a senior job within the U.Ok. civil service), declaring that these guidelines apply to each everlasting officers and politically-appointed particular advisers.

“That accountability falls to the top of the civil service and cupboard secretary, not least as a result of No. 10 is itself part of the Cupboard Workplace and never a separate division,” the identical former everlasting secretary famous.

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In addition they warned {that a} leaked e-mail exhibiting one other civil servant, Johnson’s principal personal secretary, inviting workers to “carry their very own booze” to a drinks social gathering raised additional questions for Case’s administration of officialdom.

“The cupboard secretary can be the direct supervisor of the prime minister’s principal personal secretary,” the ex-official mentioned. “There was an absence of management right here, which impacts the broader civil service after they see totally different guidelines making use of inside No 10.”

Dave Penman, head of the FDA commerce union representing senior authorities officers, on Sunday pushed again strongly on the thought of wider issues with the civil service tradition that now must be addressed.

“These in management positions bear essentially the most accountability for this,” he advised Sky Information. Penman questioned how a tradition had been created in No. 10 the place the form of parties now extensively reported on have been ever deemed acceptable.

“The speak within the papers of a civil service tradition? That’s not a civil service tradition I acknowledge after being round Whitehall for 20 years,” he mentioned. “It might be a No. 10 tradition, nevertheless it’s not a civil service tradition.”

James Johnson, a former No. 10 pollster who now runs his personal firm, thinks in search of to shift the blame could go down badly with voters, who’re already turning away from the Conservatives in giant numbers.

The notion of a cover-up — No.10, and Johnson himself, downplayed early reviews of revelry throughout lockdowns — had completed essentially the most harm to the prime minister’s private model, the pollster mentioned.

“If No. 10’s response is to — within the voters’ eyes — keep on deflecting, then I believe that’s going to arguably not solely not heal issues, however really make issues worse, as a result of that’s the form of factor that’s annoying voters — the truth that Boris Johnson is just not standing again and taking all of the blame.”

CORRECTION: This text has been up to date to make clear Dave Penman’s remarks about who ought to bear accountability for parties held throughout lockdown.

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