MANDRAKE: How the John Bercow peerage row provides a useful distraction for the government

PUBLISHED: 15:06 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38 27 January 2020

Former House of Commons speaker John Bercow.  Photo: Stefan Rousseau/ PA Wire/PA Images.

Former House of Commons speaker John Bercow. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/ PA Wire/PA Images.

PA Wire/PA Images

Row over John Bercow’s peerage distracts from honour for controversial tycoon and when will PM own up to how much he cost as foreign secretary? TIM WALKER asks.

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The leaking of the news that Jeremy Corbyn wants a peerage for John Bercow in the dissolution honours list was convenient for the government. It served as a useful distraction from another peerage on the list - kept for safe-keeping in Michael Gove's office - for the Boris Johnson cheerleader and Tory donor Michael Spencer.

The billionaire's City broking firm Icap was fined £55 million in 2013 for rigging the benchmark rate, and, while Spencer himself was not himself implicated, the scandal was said to be the reason David Cameron had second thoughts about ennobling him in his resignation honours list in 2016.

Spencer voted to remain in the EU referendum, but has since become an enthusiastic Johnson supporter. The Johnson government is remarkable for the number of multi-millionaires - if not billionaires - it numbers among its friends. Many, like Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner salesman, have had run-ins with the EU over the years. Dyson was furious when, in 2015, his company lost a hard-fought court case over energy labelling on his devices.

The JCB boss Lord Anthony Bamford was just as angry in 2000 when the European Commission fined his digger business 39.6 million euros for antitrust breaches. The EC took exception to JCB's strategy of preventing consumers in one EU country buying its machinery more cheaply from an authorised dealer in another EU country - an approach that the then trade commissioner Mario Monti called a "shocking" breach of the single market. The battle he had with the EU trade commissioner dragged on for six years before he finally lost.

Other leading Brexit backers who have expressed frustrations with EU regulations and laws include Peter Hargreaves, founder of the Hargreaves Lansdown investment business. Sir Paul Marshall, chairman of hedge fund Marshall Wace, has meanwhile accused the European Commission of launching "an onslaught on hedge funds" in response to the financial crisis of 2008.

Easy street

Now that Boris Johnson is into his fourth grace and favour ministerial home at 11 Downing Street, it's good to see the Cabinet Office has carried on the tradition of making ministers pay their personal tax liabilities - such as council tax and benefits in kind for their accommodation.

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The extension of these rules is disclosed in the new Ministerial Code of Conduct. "Where a minister is allocated an official residence, they must ensure that all personal tax liabilities, including council tax, are properly discharged, and that they personally pay such liabilities," it states.

Mandrake waits with interest to see if Foreign Office accounts ever reveal how much Johnson contributed towards the £843,000 due in rent to the Crown Estate for his London home as foreign secretary in Carlton Gardens. The council tax, for which he was liable, amounted to £1,507 for 2019-20.

Past times

The Daily Echo that serves Brexit-backing Bournemouth and Poole is calling for good, old-fashioned Dorset words and phrases like 'joppety-joppety' and 'Boris-noris' to become common parlance once again. The former means 'nerves' and the latter means to 'go on recklessly without thought to risk or decency'.

One can only wonder what the paper's readers make of health secretary Matt Hancock's Boris-noris decision to shut down the A&E unit at Poole Hospital.

Dacre's crush

The former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre's forthcoming memoirs - which he has talked about calling A Dish Best Eaten [sic] Cold - is likely to have its heroes and villains.

Don't expect a good word for Gina Miller, the woman he set out to break, but who, arguably, broke him. The "Enemies of the People" headline Dacre used on the story about her successful court case against Theresa May's government was seen to be the beginning of the end for him.

Still, the former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw - Dacre's mate since Leeds University - is likely to come in for praise. Ditto, John Humphrys, who goes to watch rugby matches with him, and has lately made the effortless switch from Today programme presenter to Daily Mail columnist. Also, I am told, the singer Marianne Faithfull. Dacre is still said to have "a bit of a crush on her".

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