MANDRAKE: Pretty thin arguments from a quirky defence of Priti Patel

Home secretary Priti Patel

Home secretary Priti Patel - Credit: PA

TIM WALKER on the MP sent out to defend the home secretary, plus... Johnson's latest outside earnings and Rupert Murdoch's cabinet favourites.

'Time for a pointless sacrifice, Tony'

Boris Johnson may have expressed his "full confidence" in Priti Patel after she was found to have broken the ministerial code in relation to workplace bullying, but he was not of course willing to defend her on Channel 4 News last week. Nor were any of the shrinking violets in his cabinet.

After some goading, the Tory high command finally  pushed out Anthony Browne, a descendant of the 2nd Marquess of Sligo, who worked for Johnson when he was mayor of London. He entered the House as the MP for South Cambridgeshire in the last election. His quirky defence was to say that Patel was "a force of nature" and what constitutes bullying was very much a matter of definition. His appearance was widely described on social media as a "car crash".

Browne is not unused to taking contradictory positions. In 2011, he argued passionately against leaving the EU and correctly predicted that "disentangling" from it would result in "a hideous set of complex negotiations across pretty much the entire range of government functions". He later threw in his lot with Johnson's Brextremists and said a no-deal wouldn't be so bad after all.


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His constituents are finding it hard to get a handle on him. A recent headline in the Cambridge Independent was par for the course: "Anthony Browne: Why I argued against a lockdown but voted in favour of it". Livia Fraser, one of his constituents, tells me: "He replaced Heidi Allen and we miss her. I've never encountered anyone with anything positive to say about the bloke."


Chicken feed

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Although Boris Johnson is said have been moaning about having to get by on a prime ministerial salary of £150,000 he's been able to take some consolation in banking cheques from his publishers Hodder and Stoughton for not lifting a finger. The latest of these payments - said to be for "royalties on books already written" - was for £2,406 and was banked in late October. Johnson's latest cheque brings the total he has received this year from the publisher to £18,900. What he would no doubt call "chicken feed," but not far short of the average national salary.


Road rage

Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail proprietor, wants his staff back at their work stations, suited and booted, the moment lockdown is over.  There is however now a new impediment to the smooth production of his newspapers: the cycle lanes in High Street Kensington that are delaying the majestic progress of his company limo to his office at Northcliffe House.

Nigel Havers, who is held in high regard by Rothermere and turned out with him for the thanksgiving service for the life of the Daily Mail journalist Ian Wooldridge, was duly commissioned to write a piece for the Mail on Sunday lambasting this particular cycle lane. Oddly, the piece failed to mention Northcliffe House is only accessible via High Street Kensington.


Untouchable

The question might now be asked of Priti Patel - just as it was once asked of Dominic Cummings - what exactly has she got on Boris Johnson?

I've long heard her talked about as one of the two "untouchables" in the cabinet - the other being Michael Gove - and this, I'm told, has less to do with ideological kinship with Johnson than closeness to Rupert Murdoch.

"Don't forget that Patel and Gove were the only two members of the cabinet to attend Murdoch's wedding to Jerry Hall," my Whitehall mole says. "Johnson was not there and nor was David Cameron, then the prime minister. Murdoch wants people in Downing Street he can trust - and anyone who tries to remove them risks his wrath."

Murdoch's Sunday Times described Patel as "misunderstood" over the weekend. "Friends believe she has become a victim of racism, misogyny and unfair treatment from officials who are supposed to do her bidding," the paper reported. The Times, has, however, been calling for her to go.

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