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Mone’s problems are far from over

This week's gossip and scandals in Westminster and the media brought to you by MANDRAKE

Baroness Mone (centre) ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

Michelle Mone may have notched up £200m worth of Covid contracts after her mate Michael Gove put her in touch with the “right people” during the pandemic, but her household still seems to be stretching itself financially.

Mandrake can disclose that Lady Mone’s husband, Doug Barrowman, needed a loan from royal bankers Coutts to help finance a property development in Chester Square, London.

Barrowman’s Chester Ventures secured funds from Coutts in February this year, 21 months after splashing out £9.25m on the property. A planning application approved in September 2021 shows they had plans for an extensive makeover. These included: “Excavation of a single-storey basement; infilling of rear lightwell at lower ground and ground-floor level with glass structure; extension of closet wing at first-floor level and formation of new stone coping to parapet; refurbishment of first-floor terrace including installation of new privacy screening and link bridge; installation of plant machinery at third-floor level to rear and main roof level; lowering of front vaults; demolition and rebuilding of mews elevation; associated external alterations.”

The couple, whose main residence is on the Isle of Man, already have a palatial home in central London and appear to have purchased the new property as an investment.

Mone is currently being pursued by the Department of Health over £122m of taxpayers’ money spent on unusable surgical gowns. She is also facing a National Crime Agency investigation on the dealings of PPE Medpro – the firm behind the multimillion-pound Covid contracts.

Still no word from Mone in the Register of Lords’ Interests on her alleged links to PPE Medpro. Her entry there is now blank after parliamentary authorities granted her a leave of absence.

Her spokesperson informs me: “Baroness Mone will be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been levelled against her.”

Neither of them apparently having found love after their marriage came to an end, Michael Gove and Sarah Vine saw in the new year together in London.

“They see a lot of each other because of the children and also because they still get along,” a friend of theirs tells me. “They didn’t do anything special – a bottle of fizz at the former marital home.”

Regular readers will not have been surprised by the BBC’s decision to do away with its paper-review slots.

In May last year, I reported how BBC Breakfast was considering whether to recommence its weekend paper-review slots, abandoned during the pandemic.

One of its executives told me then that there was a feeling newspapers had become less about news and more about comment, so they’d lost their pre-internet raison d’être, which was to inform.

The BBC had compounded things by often inviting people on to the shows with political rather than traditional journalistic backgrounds which, with their need to have two people on for balance, inevitably turned them into Tory-Labour Punch and Judy acts.

I might add that the paper review has long had an influential foe, who has lately become a lot more influential. When he was still Prince Charles and touring the BBC studios in London a few years ago, he asked what the point was of newspaper reviews. I was reliably informed the executives he asked struggled to find an answer and he may well have put the idea into their heads to drop the slot.

It’s a sorry indictment of our politics that Andrew Bridgen – who a high court judge concluded had lied under oath, behaved in an abusive, arrogant and aggressive way, and was so dishonest that his claims in a multimillion-pound family dispute could not be taken at face value – still manages to even sit on the Tory benches as the MP for North West Leicestershire.

Worse, Bridgen is now well into a demented campaign against “the mainstream media” for “suppressing the evidence of the harms caused by the mRNA vaccines”.

The timing could not be any worse, as medical professionals have expressed concern over the recent surge in cases in China, which led to the US swiftly introducing mandatory Covid tests for travellers from China as the UK, as ever, initially dithered on the issue.

In Bridgen’s fevered imagination “big pharma” is to blame for the conspiracy of silence. I assume he didn’t say “big farmer,” as that, of course, is what he is – an overweight farmer of potatoes.

While Rishi Sunak claimed the moral high ground by updating the ministerial code to require greater transparency over private interests, the PM has yet to publish a list of interests held by his cabinet.

His hesitancy is understandable. It would mean disclosing his wife’s £700m stake in Infosys – the Indian-based conglomerate founded by her father.

Though netting the couple millions each year by way of dividend payments, Akshata Murthy’s interest has yet to be formally acknowledged by Sunak either in the list of ministers’ interests or in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The current list of ministers’ interests is made up to May 2022, and is two governments and dozens of ministers behind time – given the flurry of appointments made by Boris Johnson when his government imploded, as well as the brief tenure of Liz Truss and her team.

On Murthy and her business interests, Sunak reports her ownership of Catamaran Ventures, a “venture capital company”. No mention of the couple’s property interests, either, which include their homes in the UK as well as a property in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Publication is awaited, as is the delayed list of honours bestowed by Johnson following his departure from No 10.

Tim Shipman, Sunday Times chief political commentator, was in his day a major cheerleader for Brexit. Now, he would appear to have recanted, but not without bringing down upon himself the wrath of the Tory hard right. Looking back over the past year, he managed to commit the ultimate blasphemy for the Brextremists in a single sentence.

“Just as Brexit was the consequence of the actions of just a few people – David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings, Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn, so 2022 is a story where men and women searching for greatness, and falling painfully short, shaped the biographies of the rest of us,” he wrote.

Richard North, the former Telegraph man, was quick to see red, if not blue. “This is the vapid, London-centric clever-dick view that needs a framework of personalities to make sense of his narrow world, casting a stain on political reporting that renders it less valuable than a Beano comic,” North harrumphed. “Shipman cannot conceive of actions and activities unfolding without them being guided and shaped by media-recognised ‘stars’ who populate the soap-opera version of events that they present in lieu of reality.”

North’s contention that Brexit was always a people’s movement is undermined by the fact that the latest polls show the people are no longer behind it. The sad fact is it always was about personalities. Without Cameron’s weakness and Johnson’s opportunism and lies, it would never have happened.

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