TIM WALKER on the PM’s controversial trip north of the border and a perhaps surprising cultural appointment.
The position of Luke Graham as Boris Johnson‘s special adviser on the Union is hanging in the balance. It was Graham who encouraged the prime minister to make his much-lampooned 900-mile round trip to Scotland last week when he was photographed dripping some coloured water into a petri dish.
“The fact it made a nonsense of the lockdown rules on unnecessary journeys and prompted complaints to Police Scotland was only the half of it,” chortles one Whitehall insider. “Everything about it was ill-conceived from the emphasis on health in the photo opp, when health is fully devolved to the Scottish parliament, to the fact that it was done of all days as the Scottish budget was dominating the headlines north of the border.”
My informant adds without comment that while Graham, pictured, may advise Johnson on the Union, his immediate boss is his close friend Michael Gove, for whom the former Tory MP works in the cabinet office, and avidly supported in the 2019 Tory leadership contest. Downing Street hasn’t denied Graham’s departure has been discussed and the talk is of a “new direction” in relation to handling the Union.
Gove is currently still lumbered with the Brexit brief after a recent press campaign to make him health secretary – waged by an unidentified friend – came to nothing. Little has been seen of Gove since the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the manufacturers’ group Make UK, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors wrote to him demanding that he address as a matter of urgency “the sizeable obstacles” now being faced by exporters.
With no great fanfare, Sir Nicholas Serota has been reappointed as chair of the Arts Council for another four-year term. It’s a surprise as Serota, who until 2017 had been director of the Tate galleries, is both a Remainer and a Labour supporter. His late mother was even a Labour minister under Harold Wilson.
“There was a determined attempt by No 10 and the culture department to find a more like-minded replacement, but the sad fact is Johnson has few cronies with much of an interest in culture,” says my informant. “The other problem they had with Serota is that he was widely considered to be good at the job.”
Mandrake understands that Munira Mirza, director of the Number Ten policy unit, pitched hard for Johnson to re-appoint Serota. She had got to know him well as Johnson’s head of arts when he was mayor of London in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, when Serota was a big cheese in the accompanying Cultural Olympics.
Still, over the past year, plumb jobs have gone to the Tory donor Richard Sharp at the BBC; the former Tory minister Patrick McLoughlin at the British Tourist Authority; and Nick de Bois, the former Tory MP, at Visit England.
The rumours that Paul Dacre might take over as chair of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom have meanwhile been reheated. It may well be that no more has been heard of the Channel 4 series The World of Paul Dacre – expected to be broadcast around now – as it would put him into a conflict of interest with the Ofcom job.
The East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt hasn’t the best of public images at the moment with allegations last year that saboteurs who were trailing it had their vehicle rammed by a tractor, and, at another meeting, they had broken the ‘rule of six’ introduced to thwart the spread of Covid. A hunt a few years ago made headlines when it inadvertently tore through the Celia Hammond Animal Trust premises in Hastings, traumatising cats who were being fed at the time.
Still, the outfit must be celebrating the ennoblement of Boris Johnson’s old friend Charles Moore. Lord Moore of Etchingham – as he has styled himself – proudly boasts on the Lords’ register of interests that he sits on the committee of the controversial hunt and will no doubt be speaking up for the sport in the Upper House.
Paws for thought
The Fatherland author Robert Harris noted over the weekend that the late newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell had “a sentimental affection for dogs, a frequent characteristic of dictators”
Mandrake wonders if Harris was by any chance a recipient of this year’s Christmas card from Boris Johnson, which depicted simply his Jack Russell, Dilyn.
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