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MANDRAKE: Today programme has no time for Boris Johnson’s critics

Sarah Sands has passed on the editorship of Today to Owenna Griffiths, but in Sands' final days, the show seems defined more by who it won't allow to speak as much as who it does. Photo by David M Benett. - Credit: Archant

TIM WALKER on Radio 4’s censoring of Boris Johnson’s critics, Dominic Cummings’ Whitehall redecoration plans and the possibility that David Cameron might leave Twitter for good.

Boris Johnson’s old friend and former Daily Telegraph colleague Sarah Sands passed on the editorship of Today to Owenna Griffiths at the end of last week. Sadly, even in Sands’ final days, the Radio 4 show seems defined more by who it won’t allow to speak as much as who it does.

When Stanley and Rachel Johnson – respectively the prime minister’s father and sister – published light and frothy books, Sands, pictured, obligingly had them on to plug them in prime-time slots. Duty of Care, a serious and gripping account of what life was like on the coronavirus frontline in an ICU ward, was published last week, but Today listeners would have been none the wiser.

Other broadcasting outlets saw the legitimate public interest in Dr Dominic Pimenta’s book – he was interviewed on everything from Good Morning Britain to Rupert Murdoch’s new radio station – but, so far as BBC viewers were concerned, he didn’t exist. His book, I need hardly add, is overtly critical of the way Johnson handled the pandemic. In it, he claims how his pleas for an earlier lockdown and urgent attention be given to the provision of PPE went unheeded.

‘Dominic’s publishers would obviously loved to have had him on Today and the bookers of all the news programmes were well aware of Duty of Care,’ one insider tells me. ‘To be fair, BBC Breakfast did at one point express an interest in having him on, but the publicists decided to go with GMB instead, so that never went anywhere.’

I might add I choked on my cornflakes the other day when Today name-checked me. It was, however, for a piece I’d written for Huffington Post. The New European is a newspaper whose name Today – at least under Sands – they rarely dared speak.

Dom’s den

As Dominic Cummings’ neighbours will no doubt attest, he likes nothing better than calling in the builders.

Mandrake hears his designs for his Nasa-style mission control centre at the heart of Whitehall are typically grandiose and this time, of course, it’s the taxpayer who will pick up the bill.

How much his ‘internal alterations’ at 70 Whitehall will cost is, however, marked ‘confidential’ on the official documentation and it’s so far restricted to four documents: three classed as ‘background papers’ – they include a request for comments from Historic England – and there’s a receipt of application from Westminster Council dated July 29.

Cummings is also asking for ‘installation of new lightning and surge protection system consisting of two lightning spikes on existing flagpoles and two new down conductors’. Even though the building work is ongoing, Cummings moved into his control centre last week, dressed, uncharacteristically, in a suit and open-necked shirt.

No Jo

Jo Swinson was to have been the star turn at the Lib Dem conference in York in March which had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. In the ‘virtual’ conference the party now has planned for later this month the former leader is not currently listed among the speakers.

‘It’s not clear whether she will attend at all,’ my informant tells me. ‘Maybe she recognises with a new leader now installed it’s time for the party to move on.’

Swinson may well be preoccupied with her job as a visiting professor at Cranfield School of Management. She is working with the business school’s Changing World of Work group, which examines the implications of the changing work context on managing people and organisations.

Quiet please

Mandrake gathers that David Cameron, at best an infrequent presence on Twitter in recent years, is considering shutting down his account.

‘He has almost two million followers, and, of course, that makes the account a useful weapon in his armoury when it comes to plugging his memoirs or companies like Illumina, where he acts as a consultant,’ an associate of the former prime minister tells me. ‘What depresses him though is that no matter what he says – even when he’s paying tribute to a mate who’s died – he gets random abuse from strangers. He feels like he’s putting his head in the stocks every time he goes on it.’

I gather his wife Samantha who is wary of Twitter, is all for him taking a Trappist vow of silence.