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Dirty dossier could see heads roll at Tory HQ

A botched character assassination could be a source of embarrassment to the Conservatives and their friends in the media

Lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

The Conservatives have become all but inured to litigation, but a case that the immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie is proposing to bring against them over what she maintains was a defamatory “dossier” they sent out about her to four right-wing newspapers looks as if it will be a cause of peculiar embarrassment both to the party and their chums in the press.

Tory headquarters have not disputed that earlier this month its press team – apparently desperate to find a focus for the party’s hatred of “lefty lawyers” – emailed a four-page document about McKenzie, the head of immigration and asylum at the law firm Leigh Day, to the Sun, Express, Mail and Telegraph. The immigration minister Robert Jenrick, after writing a piece on this theme for the Sun, compounded matters by once again identifying McKenzie on air as one of the lawyers he had in mind when he appeared on Good Morning Britain.

“All the parties slag off people they regard as enemies, but the rules are never to put anything in writing, and to do it in person and unattributably to journalists that can be trusted and who know what they’re doing, and, even then, making sure there are no recording devices,” says my disgruntled source working for one of the newspapers that was in receipt of the dossier.

“It was stupid that the party sent this dossier out by email and unbelievably stupid that two of the journalists contacted then took it upon themselves to email said dossier in its entirety to the person it was attacking for her to comment. The newspaper industry needs all of this right now like it needs a hole in the head and it’s making it difficult for traditionally supportive journalists to be able to engage properly with the party when it’s behaving so amateurishly.”

The dossier was, so McKenzie maintains, a “shocking hit job” laced with untruths that attempted to destroy her reputation and professional impartiality by linking her to Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. It caused her to fear for her safety, not least because a colleague of hers was attacked and stabbed following another earlier Tory attack on “lefty lawyers.”

McKenzie accepts she agreed to a request from Labour to participate in a working group looking at racial disparity, but makes the point that the bulk of her work so far as political parties are concerned has been for the Tories, working first for Sajid Javid and then Priti Patel on finding a resolution to the Windrush scandal.

Any case that McKenzie brings is likely to result in heads rolling at Tory party HQ, if not also some of the newspapers involved, but, oddly enough, this story has been getting no traction in the four right-wing tabloids, or the BBC, and the only broadcaster who has been running with it has been the doughty Sangita Myska of LBC who interviewed McKenzie on her show over the weekend.

As his former wife, multiple lovers, constituents and Downing Street staffers would no doubt attest, Boris Johnson is seldom, if ever, a man who stays the course and it looks as if his gig as a Daily Mail columnist might prove to be no exception.

Mandrake hears that the paper’s owner Lord Rothermere – no doubt mindful of the fact Sir Keir Starmer has promised to abolish non-dom tax status when he comes into office – is less concerned about the fact the column is embarrassingly boring as its ceaseless digs at Rishi Sunak.

“Boris is still very bitter with Rishi and just can’t seem to stop having a go at him, and, as the election draws closer, that’s not something Jonathan [Rothermere] is going to keep putting up with,” says my man at the Mail. “I’d be surprised if we don’t quietly abandon it quite early next year.”

Johnson’s column over the weekend whinged about Sunak raising corporation tax and the country “still being held in the gravitational pull of the EU.”

In his infinite wisdom, Ted Verity, the editor of the Daily Mail, committed the paper to a two-year contract with Johnson worth £1m, but, given the Mail is now Johnson’s last real cheerleader, it’s felt unlikely he would cut up rough over money if his lordship were to decide to pull the plug on his inane musings.

As predicted by Mandrake, Lord Rothermere is only tentatively interested in acquiring the Telegraph newspapers as part of a consortium with other investors.

His spokesmen told Reuters, however, that no formal bid has been made for the newspapers, which have been up for sale since June when Lloyds Bank seized control of them – in addition to the Spectator – after a £1bn loan they had made to the Barclay family turned bad.

Lloyds naturally want to get shot of the titles as soon as possible, but would appear to have decided they have something of an image problem. 

“There’s been a noticeable shift in tone over recent weeks in the papers with headlines attacking Nadine Dorries – who could once do no wrong so far as the Telegraph was concerned  – for not stepping down as an MP, letters going on about the country’s tradition of tolerance and an extraordinary piece over the weekend saying tens of thousands of disgruntled members are forecast to leave the Tory party,” says my man in the newsroom. “Chris Evans, our incumbent editor, hasn’t got to where he is today without heeding proprietors, no matter who they are, and the theory is he is taking instructions each day from Lloyds, quite possibly in the shape of Ben Brogan, their head of comms, which, if so, is an interesting reversal of fortune as Ben was once deputy editor and Evans’ superior when he was in charge of the news operation.”

Mandrake was the first to highlight that the papers may not be worth anywhere near the £600m that Lloyds had originally been hoping for in order to go some way to making good the £1bn they are down.

Each day the paper seems to be pleading for a buyer, with recent pieces saying senior Tory MPs wanted the sale to be handled “quickly” – they would certainly like it to happen before Labour gets into power, lest they raise any potentially awkward monopoly or non-dom issues so far as potential purchasers are concerned. There have been big house ads, too, highlighting how well the Telegraph app is doing. Significantly, perhaps, given that I reported in 2018 that the Saudi Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel had been sniffing around the titles, the paper has been running a series of pro-Saudi pieces lately. Sky News has reported that Rothermere has been courting financial investors in the Middle East to support a bid.

The organisers of the National Rejoin March in London may well have performed a national service in deciding to hold it on September 23, the same day the Lib Dem conference opens in Bournemouth.

A poll of almost 1,000 Lib Dem members by party activist Liz Webster showed only 3% said they would not be attending the march as it clashed with their conference. Some 32% say they definitely will be marching and another 58% may join the march.

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