Why have Boris Johnson’s resignation honours still to be announced? Mandrake hears it’s turned into a long-winded war of attrition involving returns of fire from the House of Lords appointments commission, the Cabinet Office honours committee and Rishi Sunak’s office, among others.
“There is always the odd preposterous name on a resignation honours list, but the problem with Johnson’s is that they are all preposterous, with even his wife and his dad on it,” whispers my informant. “Johnson hasn’t also given up on the idea of ennobling Paul Dacre, but Sunak is threatening to exercise his right to veto the entire list if he pushes ahead with that. His argument is that it risks bringing the honours system into ridicule. He will also never forgive nor forget how the Mail torpedoed his campaign to be prime minister, when he was, at the outset, clear favourite.”
Meanwhile, punch-drunk hirelings of the Mail – unclear whether Dacre will tell them to get behind Boris Johnson’s comeback or Liz Truss’s – have divided into rival camps. One wag says there’s the Boris A Star Tory And Real Dish faction and there’s the Truss Was A Triumph gang. Good manners prevent me from using the acronyms.
Matt Hancock, the disgraced former Tory cabinet minister, has been living with his girlfriend Gina Coladangelo for the past two years in a smallish flat off London’s Finchley Road. The pair are now moving to the far fancier South End Green in Hampstead.
With only £10,000 of the £320,000 he pocketed from I’m A Celebrity… having gone to charity, Hancock can afford to take a few steps up the property ladder. Coladangelo herself is not short of cash following her split from businessman Oliver Tress.
One wonders what broadcaster Lord Melvyn Bragg and Sir Nicholas Kenyon, former director of the Proms and head of the Barbican Arts Centre, who both live in South End Green, will think of their new neighbour, who was once briefly and unimpressively culture secretary. Should they meet, Sir Nicholas will doubtless be impressed to hear about Hancock’s new TikTok video of his ironing strategy, while Baron Bragg can discuss Matt’s recent appearance in the audience of Dancing On Ice, ITV’s frosty version of his own In Our Time.
Martine Croxall has discovered that revenge is a dish best served cold at the BBC. Just over three months since she jokingly said on air she was “gleeful” that Boris Johnson would not be entering the race to succeed Liz Truss as prime minister, she has been axed as a chief presenter of the new-look BBC News Channel, which launches later this year.
While Croxall was putting on a brave face this week – “not sure what’s ahead but still in harness”, she told one admirer – one her colleagues tells me, “We all knew in the newsroom, the moment we saw it, that spontaneous and light-hearted reaction – we are talking about a couple of seconds of airtime, no less – would mean the end of Martine’s impressive 20-year career here. This is a place now of fear and loathing and the powers-that-be never forget and always get you eventually.”
Croxall was fronting a paper review on the BBC News Channel in October, when it was announced Johnson was not going to make a second attempt to become prime minister after Truss was toppled. “Well, this is all very exciting, isn’t it?” she said on air. “Am I allowed to be this gleeful? Well, I am.”
Presumably on orders from Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general and one-time deputy chairman of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Party, Croxall was suspended for two weeks and is now one of eight BBC News Channel anchors – all women in their fifties – to part company with the channel as it merges with the Global News division. Also off is Jane Hill, who had breast cancer three years ago, and Rebecca Jones. All were demeaningly asked to re-apply for their jobs. Joanna Gosling, once married to Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s spin doctor, wisely declined the process and simply left.
Meanwhile, Richard Sharp remains BBC chair despite revelations that he was appointed during Johnson’s period in Downing St shortly after arranging an £800,000 loan for the then PM.
Readers who want to read old Mandrake stories I direct to The New European’s website, or ask to write in requesting back issues. Now, however, there is another way to read them.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Mirror claimed as an “exclusive” a story that first appeared here. This time it concerned Carrie Johnson’s boss Damian Aspinall putting tens of thousands of pounds the way of his estranged wife Victoria’s interior design firm from his charity. The week before, the same tabloid “revealed” the Tory treasurer and donor Mohamed Mansour co-owns a company called Unatrac that is still supplying machinery to Russia’s oil and gas industry. Regular readers will recall Mandrake broke this story online on January 17 and in print on January 19.
When it emerged that Mark Fullbrook, Liz Truss’s chief of staff during her brief period in No 10, was being paid through his lobbying firm Fullbrook Strategies and not as a government employee, it raised clear conflict of interest issues. It didn’t help matters that he was also being quizzed by the FBI about his role in an overseas political funding scandal.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments has just given Fullbrook permission to resume his duties at his eponymous outfit, though he remains banned from lobbying the UK government for six months. Given how catastrophic the Truss administration turned out to be, he was perhaps overdoing it a little when he said his speciality was “specialising in solving complex problems for prime ministers, presidents and CEOs around the world”.
Baroness Hussein-Ece will this week demand answers in the Lords about what is happening to the Afghan teachers the British Council employed in the country. Responsibility for these poor souls – in mortal danger from the Taliban since the withdrawal of allied forces – still seems to be a matter of pass-the-buck between the British Council and the Foreign Office.
When the issue was raised at a British Council board meeting last year, deputy CEO Kate Ewart-Biggs, its deputy chief executive, is minuted as saying “nearly all staff [have been] relocated under the Arap [Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy] scheme and most contractors [have been] relocated.” Joe Seaton, deputy director on the ground in Afghanistan until recently, tells me this is “arrant nonsense”, and that there are up to 200 teachers still out there.
The Council now blames “an error in the minutes”, saying the reference should have been to “some contractors”. It adds: “For the safety and wellbeing of our former teachers, we do not comment on how many still remain in Afghanistan.”