TIM WALKER on how trust in the British mainstream media is now in short supply.
Dr Julian Lewis’s lethal question in the Commons last week to the security minister James Brokenshire – drawing attention to my scoop that Dominic Cummings had attempted to replace the secretariat of the independent Intelligence and Security Committee with political appointees – underlines how trust in the British mainstream media is now in short supply.
‘This government has friends in the newsrooms of just about every one of the old national newspapers,’ the individual who gave me that story explained. ‘I’m coming to you as I want the facts out there quickly and with no repercussions for me.’
My informant, who contacted me on July 15 to relate in real time the attempted power grab, is not the first to circumvent old Fleet Street. It was a newspaper on the other side of the world – the Sydney Morning Herald – that was tipped off that Cummings intended to tour our top secret security and defence installations, including MI5, MI6 and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, near Salisbury.
I might add I’ve never met or communicated with Dr Lewis – the man who had the Tory whip removed when he successfully challenged Chris Grayling as chair of the intelligence committee – and the Brexit-backing MP plays things very much by the book.
Still, when he took Brokenshire to task in the Commons, he showed some spirit by wearing a tie that only parliamentary whips are allowed to wear. Lewis, served in the opposition whips’ office during Iain Duncan Smith’s spell as Tory leader.
As co-chairman of the Conservative Party, Ben Elliot has a role in keeping its finances in good order. It doesn’t engender confidence that the old Etonian nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall has failed to submit accounts for his luxury concierge companies in a timely manner to Companies House.
No fewer than 12 businesses where Elliot sits as a director are six months behind with their accounts to the business watchdog – meaning he’s risking a late filing penalty of £1,500 for each one. Those overdue include group parent firm Quintessentially (UK).
The delay is only likely to increase interest in the Quintessentially accounts with reports in recent months of a £340,000 per annum taxpayer-funded contract held by the firm to ‘pamper wealthy foreign visitors’.
In response to newspaper allegations of a conflict of interest, Elliot’s spokesman insists: ‘The contract with the government commenced in 2014, which pre-dates Mr Elliot’s co-chair role by five years. Any suggestion he has used his influence as co-chair is absolutely false.’
Morale soared briefly last week on the road in north London where Dominic Cummings lives. An estate agent turned up with a ‘for sale’ sign, but, after initially looking like he was going to put it up outside the home of Johnson’s all-powerful adviser, he headed up a few doors and placed it there.
‘I knew it was too good to be true, but it may yet spur him into thinking of relocating and that’d be great news for everyone here as we’re sick to death of all the camera crews,’ a long-suffering neighbour tells me. ‘They’re asking £2.5 million for the house that’s up for sale and my Googling shows that if Cummings did decide to go he’d make an £850,000 profit on his place.’
Sasha Swire, wife of the former Tory MP Hugo Swire, meanwhile has a rather good description of Cummings whom she first encountered during his days as a SpAd to Michael Gove when he was education secretary. ‘Cummings looked like one of those odd amoebas you find in jars in school science labs,’ she writes in her forthcoming book, Diary of an MP’s Wife. ‘What also struck me was his over-inflated view of his self-importance.’
Mandrake has acquired an unexpected fan in Jennifer Arcuri, one of the innumerable women in Boris Johnson’s life before Carrie Symonds. ‘Of course I follow you – I enjoy your tweets,’ the American technology entrepreneur tells me, charmingly. I ask Jennifer for her verdict on Johnson’s first year as prime minister. ‘I’m watching every day trying to make sense of what seems to be happening,’ she tells me, frankly. Aren’t we all?