Aggrieved at what he perceives to be a shortage of ‘working’ Tory peers in the upper house and fretting about whether he can get his legislative programme approved, Boris Johnson plans to squeeze in another of his ‘ad hoc’ honours lists ahead of New Year’s Day, I can reveal.
“It’s in the PM’s gift to announce honours whenever he sees fit, but this is starting to get embarrassing,” whispers my informant. “This latest list is expected any moment and it’s my understanding it will include the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, as Johnson is keen to ensure he doesn’t lose interest in taking over the top job at Ofcom.”
With the total number of legislators now approaching 1,000, a figure that Norman Fowler, the former lord speaker, judged last year to be “ridiculous”, Johnson is showing contempt for his predecessor Theresa May, who committed in 2018 to show restraint over crowding the upper house still more.
Last year, Johnson, pictured, ennobled the billionaire newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a KGB agent, just a week after the intelligence and security committee drew attention to the growth of Russian influence at the heart of British politics and business. Johnson also saw fit to make his younger brother Jo a lord. This year the PM over-ruled the advice of the Lords Appointments Committee and ennobled the controversial Tory donor Peter Cruddas.
The PM’s plan to move the Lords out of London as part of his “levelling up” agenda – York was first mooted – has, incidentally, been quietly abandoned. Too many of his wealthy donors have told him they couldn’t be bothered to traipse “up north” to vote.
After Tim Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, confidently reported last month that the next cabinet reshuffle would be in the New Year – just before it happened – and tipped Michael Gove first as foreign secretary (admittedly with Liz Truss further down his list) and then as home secretary (he had him down for health secretary at Christmas), I wondered if Emma Tucker, his editor, might herself be reshuffling her top team.
Sure enough, Shipman has now been replaced as political editor by Caroline Wheeler. Shipman is now “chief political commentator”, a role that was in the past filled on the Sundays by great writer-journalists such as Alan Watkins and Anthony Howard.
I’ve met Wheeler and was impressed. Good news for her paper, if not, perhaps, for Gove. “I congratulate Tim on his new role as chief political commentator,” Wheeler tweeted, very politically.
Few, if any, individuals have stared at me with more malevolence than George Osborne when he showed up – when still chancellor – at the launch party for a book by one Charlie Brooks. Brooks wouldn’t claim to be a household name even within his own household, but he had lately wed Rebekah Wade, pictured, the boss of Rupert Murdoch’s UK media empire.
As for the look he gave me, I’d that morning broken the story he’d been cavorting on the poop deck of the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s yacht off Corfu, along with Peter Mandelson, which led to all sorts of sleaze allegations. Still, all’s well that ends well for Osborne, who has lately secured Deripaska as a client for his new bosses at the investment bank Robey Warshaw.
Happily, Osborne hasn’t been neglecting his role as chair of the Northern Powerhouse. He’s just signed off the paperwork that shows its reserves have risen all of £40,348 between 2019 and last year.
Small change to him and his chums, of course.