When Liz Truss had her audience with King Charles shortly after her catastrophic budget, he inadvertently made his views about her clear enough as he was caught on microphone uttering the words “dear, oh dear”.
Soon, however, he will have the invidious task of deciding whether to bestow upon the country’s shortest-serving and arguably most disastrous prime minister the Order of the Garter, the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system, which is uniquely in the gift of the monarch of the day.
“Truss has absolutely no sense of contrition about the £30bn cost of her budget or the chaos that characterised her administration, and, despite her swift departure from office, expects to receive all the customary honours, including the Garter, and, embarrassingly, her photograph on the No 10 staircase,” whispers my man in Whitehall. “Charles knows very well how controversial it will be if he elevates her to the Garter, and, from what I am hearing, Truss may well find herself leapfrogged when it comes to this honour. I stress this honour is in the king’s gift.”
The Garter has up until now been regarded as the right of every former prime minister, but a combination of the pandemic and the late queen’s alleged reluctance to confer it upon Tony Blair – she only got around to giving it to him last year – means that Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson are all awaiting the royal summons to be dubbed KG or LG.
Blair had apparently displeased the queen over the way she felt “managed” by him in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Charles is expected to work through the unprecedented logjam of former prime ministers as soon as possible, and, as things stand, there are currently enough vacancies in the Order of the Garter to accommodate all the outstanding former PMs – plus, when the time comes, Rishi Sunak as well.
The Daily Mail may have been outraged by the outspokenness of Prince Harry’s memoirs, but what will its former editor Paul Dacre’s be like when they are eventually published?
Dacre has promised a tell-it-like-it-is book himself, but, in common with the job he was going to take at Ofcom, the television series he was going to make for Channel 4 and his peerage, it’s been talked about for ages, and also, so far, come to nothing.
“He’s putting the finishing touches to it,” one of Dacre’s associates tells me. “From what I understand, he’s going to let rip.”
Giving a clear indication that he intended the book to be a score-settling exercise, Dacre had joked in a speech that he planned to entitle the book “A Dish Best Eaten Cold” [sic]. In his line of fire will almost certainly be David Cameron – who wrote less than flatteringly about Dacre in his own memoirs – and Geordie Greig, who for a time had the temerity to replace Dacre as the Daily Mail’s editor.
It was as long ago as 2018 that Dacre signed with the agents Rogers, Coleridge & White for his memoirs, but a publication date has still to be announced.
As Sir Ed Davey struggles to expand the Lib Dems’ vote share, he is seeking to constrict expansion in another area.
Mandrake hears the Lib Dem leader has lately enrolled with Added Health, an Oxford-based health and fitness outfit that “looks at you holistically, rather than fixing problems as they pop up…” Davey accepted £318 worth of complimentary treatment in November last year with the battle of the bulge – and presumably the free fitness advice – clearly an ongoing process.
Last year he boasted of losing two stone in seven weeks with a no-carbs, no-meat, low-alcohol diet that also required him to eat plenty of kimchi – a fermented cabbage dish from Korea – and drink kefir, a fermented milk similar to yoghurt.
Elsewhere in this edition of the New European, my colleague Paul Mason makes a persuasive case for the symbolism of sending 14 British Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Yet my mates in the military remain dubious about the armoured fighting vehicles, and even the gung-ho, Britain-is-best Daily Express has hired Lt Col Stuart Crawford to predict that Rishi Sunak’s much-trumpeted plan is going to be “more trouble than it’s worth”.
My sources say the problem with the Challengers is they are heavy and there is little Ukrainian infrastructure along which they can be deployed in most of the Donbas region. Another significant problem – compounded by the current supply chain issues – is obtaining the parts needed to keep them going.
As I reported in April last year when Johnson started banging on about these tanks, the army had been looking forward to replacing these old bangers with 250 of America’s SEPv3 version of its Abrams M1A2 MBTs, the most modern tank in the US inventory.
It has been suggested that this latest move is of more use to Sunak’s spinmeisters and the government’s accountants than to Ukraine. The MoD can charge the Foreign Office the full commercial price for the tanks – no one else would be willing to pay that – and the FCO can, in turn, set the expenditure against the UK’s foreign aid budget.
Of the Challenger 2s, Penny Mordaunt, as defence secretary, was honest enough to concede in 2019 that they were even then “obsolete”.
Although a great many British companies have made the principled decision not to trade at all with Russia, Mohamed Mansour, the businessman who is the Tory Party’s new “senior treasurer”, would appear to be taking a more pragmatic approach.
His UK company Unatrac, through which he has made £606,000 in donations to his party, is a subsidiary of the Mantrac Group of companies that is, in turn, controlled by his family firm Mansour, founded by his father in Egypt 60 years ago. Russia is listed on the company’s own website as one of the 11 regions in which Mantrac operates. It sells Caterpillar machinery and parts in Russia, via Siberia.
Prior to becoming a UK citizen 10 years ago, Mansour was Egypt’s transport minister under the Hosni Mubarak regime. When he got his gig with the Tories, Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, said: “Just when you think the Conservatives have plumbed the depths of sleaze and scandal we have this: a billionaire who was a part of Mubarak’s autocratic regime being put in charge of drumming up donations to plug the gap left by those deserting this chaotic and stagnant government.”
As Boris Johnson’s culture secretary, Nadine Dorries demanded London should receive less money for the arts and the regions more. That notwithstanding, she has lately been venting her spleen on Twitter about the Arts Council’s decision to cut all the English National Opera’s budget unless it relocates from London to Manchester.
The worthies on the Arts Council have understandably been mystified, but it would seem that, so far as Dorries is concerned, some parts of the North are more acceptable recipients of funding than others. So what’s her problem with Manchester? “Well, she is a Liverpudlian,” one of her former civil servants tells me. “And you know the rivalry between the two cities.” Not only was Dorries born and bred in Merseyside, but her novels – and I use the term loosely – are often set there.