There was no shortage of critics for Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme when it became clear it may have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.
Still, the chancellor’s wife Akshata had good reason to applaud what he was trying to do.
Mandrake can disclose that she was among the founder shareholders of The Conduit in Mayfair, who together pumped more than £19 million into the chic private members’ club in central London.
Alas, despite Sunak’s tempting offer, not enough members were willing to dine out at the establishment, and, just two years after it was founded, it has been put into the hands of administrators over an unpaid debt.
Other backers of the club, housed in a seven-floor town house, included Lady Anya Sainsbury, Sheikh Sultan Bin Saleh, Alexander Hoare, Brent Hoberman, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah and Baroness Butler-Sloss.
Latest accounts for the club at Companies House show it reported a £7.99m loss on turnover at £1.97m for the year ended December 31, 2018. Akshata’s interest need not be reported in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests by her husband, and is not disclosed in his Ministerial Interests entry which reveals nothing on the former fund manager’s investments other than their management by a ‘blind trust’.
It’s not clear how much money Akshata had invested in The Conduit – which is yet hopeful of reopening in new premises – but it’s unlikely she will be fretting too much. Her father is N. R. Narayana Murthy, billionaire co-founder of the information technology conglomerate Infosys.
The official inquiry into who told the Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail that a second lockdown was imminent has more suspects than Murder on the Orient Express.
The meeting at which Boris Johnson disclosed that he was considering a further lockdown was attended by Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove. All three are said to covet Johnson’s job.
Gove has previously worked at the Times, his wife Sarah Vine is a Daily Mail columnist and he knifed Johnson in his first leadership campaign.
He also could not be closer to Dominic Cummings, who is known to brief favoured journalists.
Hancock also tried for Johnson’s job and may well have finally had enough of being the coronavirus whipping boy. Sunak has, as I’ve reported, been more or less running an unofficial leadership campaign with branded messages to backbenchers and videos coming out regularly.
The pundit Dr Richard North, meanwhile, speculates Johnson and Cummings actually wanted the lockdown story in the papers as it distracted from how badly the EU-UK trade talks are going.
Despite the two-week serialisation in the Mail of Sunday, Tom Bower’s biography of Boris Johnson failed to make the Sunday Times bestseller list, which suggests sales in the low thousands.
Even more humiliatingly, Ink@84, the leading independent bookshop in Islington, north London, where Johnson lived for years, agonised over ordering any copies at all. In the end, they purchased just one, and, at the time of writing, I am told it remains unsold.
The reason appears to be people are sick of Johnson. One leading theatre producer tells me she’s rejected a number of scripts featuring him because she believes even those who voted for him no longer want to be reminded of him.
Over the weekend, the Daily Mail ran an editorial attacking Boris Johnson for his “tunnel vision” in signing off on Lockdown Two and “obsessing about worst case scenarios while ignoring the economic masonry falling about him”.
It went on to single out the suffering of IAG, the parent company of British Airways, as a direct consequence of governments around the world adopting this kind of “sledgehammer response”.
It would have been more honest if it had talked about DMGT, the parent company of the Daily Mail. The company remains profitable, but warned in its full-year results last month that it was “cautious” about future earnings due to “limited visibility” on how its business would fare as a consequence of the pandemic.
Mandrake has already alluded to the worsening relationship between the Mail owner Lord Rothermere, and Boris Johnson. I now confidently predict that the Mail will be calling for the Tory party to ditch Johnson, quite possibly even before Christmas.