Top Tory Think Tank’s North Sea Oil and Gas ‘Vested Interests’

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Original article republished from DeSmog.

‘Shocking’ findings show how board members at the Tufton Street think tank are tied to fossil fuel firms.

North Sea oil rigs in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. Credit: joiseyshowaa (CC BY-SA 2.0)
North Sea oil rigs in Cromarty Firth, Scotland. Credit: joiseyshowaa (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The influential Conservative-linked Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has been pushing for further North Sea oil and gas drilling while several of its board members hold financial interests in the industry, a DeSmog investigation has found.

The news follows the government’s approval of the major Rosebank oilfield and the issuing of new North Sea licences, which the government intends to turn into a mandatory annual process, as announced in this week’s King’s Speech.

Five of the think tank’s board have financial interests in North Sea oil and gas, including its chair Lord Spencer, a major Conservative Party donor whose exploration company is bidding for licences in the current round.

The think tank, which is based at 57 Tufton Street in Westminster, meets regularly with ministers. It has called for new oil and gas projects to be accelerated, labelled the windfall tax on energy companies a “terrible idea”, and argued for a more generous fiscal environment for the UK’s fossil fuel producers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is quoted on the organisation’s website as saying that “Lots of exciting ideas are being generated at the CPS… many of which are finding their way into government.”

Tessa Khan, executive director of climate group Uplift, said the findings were an example of how some think tanks have “long been little more than lobbying vehicles for private interests, including oil and gas”. The CPS denies that it is a lobbying group.

Khan added that organisations like the CPS “amplify the voices” of the oil and gas industry.

“This maybe goes some way to explaining why this government is set on subsidising new oil and gas fields when they represent such a bad deal for the public, in that they won’t lower bills, won’t increase energy security but will make the climate crisis worse,” she said.

Nature broadcaster Chris Packham, who is threatening to take the government to court over its recent watering down of climate measures, said: “Just weeks after we learn that not a single new offshore wind project will be going ahead this year due to the government’s intransigence – and as Rishi Sunak tears up vital climate policies – these findings are shocking.

“They provide further evidence that Number 10’s fossil fuel agenda is far from accidental. There are powerful vested interests at work and the Centre for Policy Studies seems to be at the heart of it. The government’s plan to hand out more than a hundred new North Sea drilling licences in the coming months is looking grubbier than ever.”

DeSmog previously revealed that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel interests in 2022, including from the North Sea industry. This week, DeSmog also revealed that the government watered down its windfall tax on the excess profits of energy firms after a lobbying blitz by the oil and gas industry.

When asked about its board members’ business interests, a CPS spokesperson said that the think tank is “grateful for all our supporters, especially the support of our board members, but the investments of other boards on which they sit have no bearing on their relationship with the CPS”.

They claimed that DeSmog was “cherry-picking in order to manufacture an incorrect picture of the CPS’s position” and that it was “misleading and below journalistic standards.”

They added that “the Centre for Policy Studies has been one of the most prominent champions of free-market environmentalism, with a dedicated workstream on net zero” and that “Where our work is sponsored, this is made clear in the report acknowledgments, in press releases, and in event invitations.”

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), the regulator in charge of issuing drilling licences, said that oil and gas were “forecast to play an important role in the energy mix for decades to come”. A spokesperson said the NSTA was “pleased” with the number of applications received in the current oil and gas licensing round and that the process of assessing them was “progressing well”.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero declined to add any further comment.

At the end of September, the International Energy Agency, of which the UK is a member, released a report reiterating the need for a phaseout of fossil fuels if climate goals are to be met. 

Lord Deben, the recently retired chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, which advises the government, argued in August that the government should stop approving North Sea licences.

Deltic Energy

Lord Spencer, who has chaired the CPS since the start of 2020, is the largest shareholder of Deltic Energy, which holds stakes in 18 North Sea areas, known as blocks, according to NSTA data.

A former Conservative Party treasurer, Spencer was given a life peerage by Boris Johnson. Official data shows that he has donated more than £7.5 million to the Conservative Party, individual Tory politicians and officially affiliated groups since 2015. He also sits on the board of the party’s multi-million-pound endowment fund. DeSmog revealed earlier this year that many of its directors have significant fossil fuel interests.

Through his holding company, IPGL, Spencer owns a £17.5 million stake in Deltic, according to Refinitiv data – nearly a fifth of the firm. He has held a significant shareholding since at least 2018, and bought more shares in 2019 from its founder Algy Cluff, a pioneer of the original North Sea oil boom in the 1970s who himself later joined the CPS board.

Responding to an enquiry from DeSmog, Cluff said that although the value of the company “may have increased in the view of management”, the stock market is “unimpressed and very much aware of the risks associated with any oil investments nowadays”. He described the “small number” of options he holds in the company as “presently worthless”.

Cluff has nevertheless spoken of the North Sea’s “second coming”, claiming that there is “a lot more oil to be found” and a “huge amount of gas”.

Deltic has made significant discoveries in recent years, touting its “enviable reputation as proven hydrocarbon finders” on its website, and has seen its market value rise in tandem.

It won blocks in North Sea licensing rounds in both 2018 and 2020, with the former is said to represent an area the “size of Bedfordshire”.

In its latest annual report, for the 2022 calendar year, Deltic criticises the government’s windfall tax but praises its accompanying investment allowance, which provides North Sea companies with tax breaks to encourage investment.

A presentation it gave investors in March describes its strategy as “Identify. Explore. Monetise. Repeat.” It says the investment allowance “significantly enhances economics from investment in Deltic exploration”, touts controversial gas-derived “blue hydrogen” as environmentally friendly, and highlights “established export infrastructure” and “regular licensing rounds” as attractive features of the North Sea.

Deltic is chaired by Mark Lappin, a former technical director of fracking company Cuadrilla who has publicly called for more oil and gas production, criticising opposition to new drilling.

Lord Spencer’s Conservative donations, made either personally or through IPGL and ICAP, include £25,000 gifts to the 2022 leadership campaigns of Sunak, Liz Truss, and Penny Mordaunt.

Spencer made £20,000 donations to Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid in 2019, and has made smaller donations to numerous other leading figures within the party in recent years, including Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Theresa May, Brandon Lewis, and Andrew Griffith.

Spencer has also funded “Blue Collar Conservatism”, a large caucus of Conservative MPs working to “champion working people”, with donations totalling £25,000 in 2019 and 2020. The group has campaigned against fuel duty rises.

Spencer’s Other Fossil Fuel Interests

Lord Spencer has also publicly talked up the fossil fuel industry, telling LBC’s Nick Ferrari last September that the UK “sadly has opposed further investment in North Sea oil and gas”. During the interview, he praised then Prime Minister Liz Truss for speaking out against windfall taxes on the sector, calling them “not Tory policy” and “not pro-business”.

He also expressed support for fracking, praised Truss’s “strategy” and “ideology”, and called for investment in renewable energy, but omitted to mention his interests in oil and gas.

In addition to the North Sea, Spencer has various other fossil fuel interests. According to Refinitiv, he holds the second largest stake in Pantheon Resources, a UK company exploring for oil in Alaska that recently hailed a potentially enormous discovery.

His brokerage firm ICAP also includes an oil and gas trading arm. Until December last year, Spencer held shares in Petrofac, an oilfield services firm heavily involved in the North Sea, including the controversial Cambo project.

Spencer’s shareholdings are disclosed to the House of Lords – indicating either a stake worth more than £70,000 or significant control over the company. They include Cluff Energy Africa, described as an “early stage oil prospecting company, seeking licences in Africa (Angola and Sierra Leone)”.

Its founder, Algy Cluff, told DeSmog that they had “wound the company up” because they “found the premium being asked by governments for the right to explore not to be consonant with the rewards”.

Cluff was a director of the CPS between 1995 and 2006, coinciding with the executive directorship of the late Tessa Keswick. Cluff confirmed to DeSmog that Keswick helped him find investors for his North Sea consortium in the 1970s, as has been reported.

Tessa’s husband Henry Keswick, chairman emeritus of the conglomerate Jardine Matheson and a major Tory donor, used to own the influential conservative Spectator magazine and sold it to Cluff in the early 1980s. Cluff was its chairman until 2004, during which Charles Moore, Dominic Lawson, and Boris Johnson were editors.

The magazine was edited in the 1960s by the late Nigel Lawson, who would become Thatcher’s chancellor and in later life promote climate science denial through the Global Warming Policy Foundation, based at 55 Tufton Street.

Cluff’s remaining business interests include Cluff Mineral Resources, an Africa-focused gold and coal exploration company, which was temporarily based at 55 Tufton Street before moving next door to share an address with the CPS.

The Board

Another CPS board member, Lord Strathclyde, is a senior strategic adviser to Hibiscus Petroleum, a Malaysian oil and gas company that has amassed stakes in 11 North Sea blocks in recent years

Ithaca, the firm behind the high-profile Rosebank and Cambo projects, is partnering with Hibiscus on one of the blocks.

Hibiscus is also one of the firms to have been awarded stakes in the latest round of oil and gas licences.

Strathclyde, who was leader of the House of Lords under David Cameron, is an adviser to oil trading giant Trafigura.

Sir Douglas Flint, chair of Abrdn – formerly, Standard Life Aberdeen – also sits on the CPS board. Abrdn has been targeted by protesters for its investments in oil and gas, which climate researchers Urgewald estimate at £2.9 billion. According to the latest figures, they include oil majors like BP, Shell and Exxon, as well as North Sea-focused firms Serica Energy, Harbour Energy, and EnQuest.

The major asset manager was reportedly one of a group of financial institutions recently summoned by the Treasury to increase investment in the North Sea.

Lord Spencer’s entry in the register of interests indicates he also holds a stake worth more than £70,000 in Abrdn.

Other CPS board members include Jon Moulton, chair of FinnCap, a financial advisory firm whose activities include raising finance for North Sea oil and gas companies, and Roger Orf, a partner at Apollo Global Management, a US private equity firm with £349 million of investments in BP and Shell, both major North Sea players.

Two further CPS board members have wider interests in oil and gas: Ian Molson, deputy chair of Central European Petroleum, which is exploring for oil in Germany and Poland; and major Tory donor Lord Bamford, chair of construction giant JCB, a sector still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

In April 2023, DeSmog revealed that CPS board members had donated more than £600,000 to the Conservatives since Rishi Sunak became prime minister. 

The CPS also leans on its board for funding. According to the group’s latest accounts – for the period up to September 2022 – its directors donated £1 million to the company during the year. Turnover was £650,000 during the year and ‘other operating income’ hit £1.5 million, meaning that the CPS board contributed nearly half (47%) of its income during the period.

North Sea Push

The Centre for Policy Studies has strongly supported new North Sea oil and gas drilling in recent years.

In a March 2022 economic bulletin, it recommended that the government “look at accelerating regulatory approval for upcoming oil and gas projects such as Rosebank [Phase 1], Clair South, Glengorm, Cambo and Bentley [Phase 2]”. 

The bulletin added that introducing a windfall tax on profits would be a “terrible idea” and “completely self-defeating”. It welcomed “reports” suggesting the government was planning to launch another licensing round for fossil fuel projects.

A month later, the CPS welcomed the government’s “energy security strategy”, calling the return of annual North Sea licensing rounds “overdue”. A 33rd licensing round was launched in October.

In September 2022, an economic bulletin from the think tank called for “improved tax incentives for firms operating in the North Sea”.

In February this year, one of the CPS’s senior researchers criticised the “punishment beatings inflicted on the North Sea oil and gas industry from George Osborne onwards” – despite the sector having enjoyed one of the most generous tax regimes in the world until the recent windfall tax.

Other articles published on CapX, a commentary website run by the CPS, have labelled the Labour Party’s policy of no new North Sea licences “more than a little nuts” and the SNP’s similar position a “dangerous gambit”.

Andy Mayer, chief operations officer at the BP-funded Institute of Economic Affairs, writes regularly for CapX. He has used the platform to describe opposition to the Rosebank project as “shrill hysteria”, Shell’s bumper profits this year as “brilliant stuff”, and North Sea companies being fined for gas flaring as a “dotty investment message to send”. Following the announcement of the latest North Sea licences, Mayer wrote a story for CapX headlined “Hurrah for new North Sea oil licences!”

CPS Influence

The CPS has significant political access, having conducted private, one-to-one meetings with ministers on 27 occasions since 2014 and attended many other larger ministerial meetings, according to data compiled by Transparency International from government disclosures.

A number of the think tank’s former employees are now working as government advisers and its homepage carries supportive quotes from former prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. 

Rishi Sunak spoke at a CPS event at the Conservative Party conference in 2019 and wrote a report for the organisation in 2016 backing the roll-out of freeports, which have since been introduced.

The think tank, which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher, hosted a “dedicated space” at this year’s party conference, with speakers including Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and Grant Shapps.

The chair of Times Newspapers, which publishes The Times and Sunday Times, and the editor of The Spectator, both sit on the CPS board. All of the titles editorially support new North Sea oil and gas.

Richard Sharp, who was forced to resign as chairman of the BBC earlier this year over his connection to a secret £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson, sat on the CPS board for 19 years before joining the BBC in 2021.

The CPS, which does not disclose its funding, has offices on Tufton Street in Westminster, alongside several other “free market” pressure groups and think tanks, including the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Other board members include Rachel Wolf, a co-author alongside CPS Director Robert Colvile of the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which said the “North Sea oil and gas industry has a long future ahead” and supported a deal with the sector that allows for new drilling projects.

Original article republished from DeSmog.

Scientists protest at UK Parliament 5 September 2023.
Scientists protest at UK Parliament 5 September 2023.
Continue ReadingTop Tory Think Tank’s North Sea Oil and Gas ‘Vested Interests’

GB News Owner’s Hedge Fund Has $2.2 Billion Fossil Fuel Investments

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Original article by Sam Bright and Joey Grostern republished from DeSmog.

One of the owners of GB News runs a hedge fund that has a major financial stake in more than 100 oil and gas firms, DeSmog can reveal. 

This news comes after former prime minister Boris Johnson was announced as a new presenter on the television broadcaster on Friday.

An investigation by DeSmog in May found that one in three GB News presenters had spread climate science denial on air in 2022, while more than half had attacked climate action. GB News presenters have used their platforms to urge the UK to “drill, baby, drill” for more coal, oil and gas.

Paul Marshall is the chairman and chief investment officer of Marshall Wace, a London-based hedge fund that he co-founded in 1997.

Marshall Wace is now one of the world’s largest hedge funds – an investment vehicle that bets on rising and falling share prices – with around $63 billion (£51.9 billion) in assets under management.

According to DeSmog’s analysis of Marshall Wace’s filings with the US financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), his fund owns shares worth $2.2 billion (£1.8 billion) in fossil fuel firms. This includes companies that specialise in extracting, refining, transporting and distributing fossil fuels.

In its latest SEC filing, for the quarter ending 30 June 2023, Marshall Wace reports a $213 million (£175.6 million) shareholding in the oil and gas supermajor Chevron, as well as stakes in Shell, Equinor, and 109 other fossil fuel companies. 

The value of Marshall Wace’s stake in Chevron, the world’s eighth largest fossil fuel company, has more than doubled from $105 million (£86.6 million) to $213 million (£175.6 million) in two years, even though its total number of shares and equity options has increased over that period by just 35 percent. 

The hedge fund’s stake in Chevron appears to be one of its top 50 most valuable investments, among the thousands of companies in which it currently holds shares.

This reflects the soaring value of fossil fuel companies following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which pushed up the price of fossil fuels and therefore the profits of suppliers. At the end of June 2021, Chevron’s share price stood at $107.30 (£88.27), rising to $157.35 (£129.45) by June 2023.

Marshall Wace held shares in 112 fossil fuel companies as of June 2023. Two years earlier, in June 2021, the hedge fund held shares in 50 of these firms. The value of the stakes in these 50 firms almost trebled over the period, from $565.4 million (£466.1 million) to $1.4 billion (£1.15 billion). 

“I’ve always wondered why anyone would invest in comically inept, loss-making GB News,” said John Nicolson MP, a member of Parliament’s influential Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee. “Step forward one major investor who makes bundles of cash from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, a disturbing number of GB News presenters question climate science. I’m beginning to see a connection.”

Marshall Wace has 22 partners and its latest company accounts, for the period ending February 2022, show that they shared bumper profits of more than £720 million as the firm’s annual turnover jumped 62 percent to more than £1.5 billion. The average salary at Marshall Wace is £561,000 a year.

Paul Marshall, who is one of these partners, is also a lead investor in the startup broadcaster GB News, holding a 45 percent stake. Marshall, estimated to be worth £800 million, reportedly invested £10 million in GB News when it first launched two years ago. In August 2022, he joined the Dubai-based investment firm Legatum Group in a £60 million capital injection and buyout of GB News’s other major investor, Discovery. 

On the announcement of the buyout, Marshall said: “This is more than a financial investment. As investors we’re proud of what GB News [sic] doing for media plurality in the UK, bringing fresh perspectives to the national conversation on issues that matter to real Britain.”

Marshall also owns UnHerd, a publication founded in 2017 that claims to give a platform to marginalised views. UnHerd has published multiple articles and videos critical of climate action, including an interview in July with Bjorn Lomborg about “how global warming will save lives”.

Marshall is involved in other projects that are linked to key opponents of climate action. He is one of the directors of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC), a new group established by the backers of GB News. The ARC advisory board features a host of individuals who have denied climate science, downplayed the extent of the climate crisis, and attacked net zero policies. A number of these advisers are speaking at a conference hosted by ARC in London this week, alongside Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Kemi Badenoch.

It has been reported that Marshall is preparing to expand his media investments and is “readying a bid” for the right-wing Telegraph newspaper and Spectator magazine, with both expected to be put up for sale in the coming weeks.

The Conservative Party has also received funds from Marshall, who donated £500,000 in 2019. 

GB News lost more than £30 million during its first year on air and has been hit by multiple scandals over its use of Conservative MPs as presenters, its alleged lack of impartiality, and its habit of platforming of conspiracy theories

The broadcast regulator Ofcom ruled in March that Mark Steyn had broken its rules on harmful content by claiming on GB News that the third Covid vaccine was causing higher infection, hospitalisation and deaths. Steyn’s claims were “potentially harmful and materially misleading,” Ofcom ruled. Steyn, who has also questioned the existence of climate change, resigned from the channel in February after GB News reportedly demanded he personally pay the fines issued if found in breach of the broadcasting code.

Ofcom currently has 12 open investigations into GB News. Its TV output reached 2.87 million viewers in December, while its website had a UK audience of 5.7 million in April. 

Paul Marshall’s investments in GB News and UnHerd have been made in a personal capacity and there is no evidence that Marshall Wace’s investments have influenced the editorial output of either outlet. 

Marshall Wace claims on its website that “sustainable investing is an organisational focus” and that the firm is “committed to achieving positive social and environmental impact”.

GB News and UnHerd did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment. Marshall Wace declined to comment.

‘State Control Over Your Life’

Since it launched in June 2021, GB News has been a prominent mouthpiece for individuals who support more fossil fuel extraction and oppose the UK’s target to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

The UK’s 2050 net zero target is legally binding and is backed by the world’s top climate scientists. They agree that rapidly cutting carbon emissions is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including drought, famine, and ill health.

On 5 November last year, GB News host Neil Oliver used his show to attack “net zero [and] the green agenda”, which he claimed was part of “a hellish potpourri of policies guaranteed to condemn hundreds of millions to death by poverty, death by starvation”. 

Host Nigel Farage – who has a long record of opposing climate action – used his GB News platform to launch a campaign for a Brexit-style referendum on net zero. 

GB News host and Conservative MP Philip Davies was one of five MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act in 2008. Fellow presenters and Tory MPs Jacob Rees Mogg, Lee Anderson and Esther McVey are all supporters of the anti-climate action Net Zero Scrutiny Group of backbench Conservative MPs. 

This opposition to net zero is often tied to a denial of established climate science, which has been expressed repeatedly by GB News presenters. 

During last summer’s record UK heatwave, on 16 July 2022, then GB News host Calvin Robinson accused the Met Office of “alarmism”, adding: “Man-made climate change, I don’t buy it, because how much of an impact do we really make if we’re talking about carbon levels?”

Five days later, presenter Beverley Turner called summer heat warnings “fear mongering” in order to “facilitate state control over your life”.

The IPCC has warned that false and misleading information “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency” of cutting emissions.

Several GB News hosts have also been vocal about their support for policies that would maintain and even extend the UK’s reliance on oil and gas. 

Flagship presenter Dan Wootton argued on 10 March 2022 that the war in Ukraine meant “for now the rush to net zero must die”. He urged the government to “frack, frack, frack” for shale gas. Wootton has recently been suspended by the channel.

In a 9 December show, host Mark Dolan praised plans to open a new coal mine in Cumbria. He said the UK should “drill, baby, drill” for coal, oil and gas,  adding: “I think the push for net zero here is another element of liberal progressivism which is infecting the West.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that any new fossil fuel projects would be incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C.

‘Genuinely Independent Thinking’

Marshall has defended GB News’s output on the basis that “in a world of too much groupthink”, the broadcaster provides a “space for genuinely independent thinking”. 

However, Marshall appears to share the opposition to net zero, and support for more fossil fuel extraction, expressed by a number of GB News presenters.

In July, Marshall shared a post on X (formerly Twitter) from Reform UK Leader Richard Tice, on the subject of Norway’s approval of new oil and gas projects worth $18 million. Tice’s post claimed that these fossil fuel resources are “essential to Europe’s energy security” and that the UK “could have these jobs and prosperity. But selfish wallies in Westminster want to make us poorer and colder with net zero”.

Tice has recently been hired by GB News.

A month later, Marshall claimed in a post that “The public are still being shamefully ill informed by the BBC about differing views on climate change policy”. This post linked to an article by Charles Moore, which argued that “Voters can see the disparity between the highly speculative and distant achievement of global net zero and the concrete and imminent prospect of becoming colder and poorer”. 

In fact, the UK government’s failure to implement green reforms has added an estimated £2.5 billion to domestic energy bills due to the rising costs of fossil fuels and poor energy efficiency in homes. A reliance on gas has also cost the UK an additional £50-60 billion since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, equivalent to around £1,000 for every adult.

Original article by Sam Bright and Joey Grostern republished from DeSmog.

Continue ReadingGB News Owner’s Hedge Fund Has $2.2 Billion Fossil Fuel Investments

Boris Johnson said Covid was ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’

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Original article by Finlay Johnston republished from Open Democracy.

Former prime minister said he agreed that ‘we should let the old people get it’, today’s Covid inquiry heard

Boris Johnson thought Covid was “nature’s way of dealing with old people”, the official Covid inquiry heard today.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, made the comments in his diary on 14 December 2020, amid a huge Covid wave that led to the third national lockdown and killed 1,000 people a day at its peak.

Vallance claimed Johnson said that a lot of his party “thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people – and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them”.

The following day, Vallance wrote that the then Conservative chief whip, Mark Spencer, said “I think we should let the old people get it and protect others.” Johnson backed this statement, according to Vallance, allegedly responding: “A lot of my backbenchers think that and I must say I agree with them.”

The comments were made on the same day Johnson hosted a ‘Christmas quiz’ for staff in Downing Street and four days before he issued London and the south-east of England with a ‘stay at home’ order, banning social gatherings.

In an earlier diary entry from 28 August 2020, Vallance wrote that Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going.”

Rishi Sunak’s efforts to bolster the economy also came under fire at today’s hearing.

Lee Cain, Johnson’s former director of communications, criticised Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which encouraged people to enjoy discounted meals in restaurants on certain days between 3 and 31 August.

Cain told the inquiry today he was critical of the scheme at the time, feeling that the government was “indicating to people that Covid’s over… crowd yourself onto trains, go into restaurants and enjoy pizzas with friends and family”.

He continued: “That’s fine if you are intent on never having to do suppression measures again but from all the evidence we were receiving, from all of the advice that we were receiving it was clear we were certainly going to have to do suppression again, we knew we were going to do that.”

The inquiry continues. openDemocracy is fundraising to pay reporters to cover every day of the public hearings. Please support us by donating here.

Original article by Finlay Johnston republished from Open Democracy.

Continue ReadingBoris Johnson said Covid was ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’

Revealed: Cummings’ misogynistic slur about top civil servant in text to PM

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Original article by Finlay Johnston republished from Open Democracy.

Boris Johnson’s top adviser complained that he was having to ‘dodge stilettos’ from UK’s most senior female civil servant

Dominic Cummings called the UK’s most senior female civil servant a “c**t” in a misogynistic WhatsApp message sent to Boris Johnson and Lee Cain in August 2020.

He was referring to deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, who had commissioned a report into poor behaviour within the Cabinet Office.

The message in full reads: “If I have to come back to Helen’s bullshit with PET [propriety and ethics] designed to waste huge amounts of my time so I can’t spend it on other stuff – I will personally handcuff her and escort her from the building. I don’t care how it is done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c**t. [sic]”

Cummings was asked by Hugo Keith, counsel to the inquiry, whether he treated “individuals in Downing Street with offence and misogyny”.

“Certainly not,” the former chief adviser to the PM responded.

“Was that aggressive and foulmouthed and misogynistic approach the correct way to manage fellow professionals?” Keith asked.

Alluding to the ongoing chaos regarding changes in the Cabinet Office at the time, Cummings said: “My language about Helen is obviously appalling and actually I got on with Helen at a personal level. But a thousand times worse than my bad language is the underlying issue at stake.”

The inquiry heard yesterday that MacNamara had commissioned a report into the culture at Number 10 in May 2020, which – according to the lead counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC – had painted a picture of “misogyny” and a “macho” culture.

The report, titled ‘How can No.10 and the CO [Cabinet Office] better support the PM in the next phase’, says that “bad behaviours from senior leaders [are] tolerated” and “No.10 [is] always at war with someone”.

The report also singled out misogynistic behaviour including “junior women being talked over or ignored”.

The report paints a chaotic picture of what No.10 was like in the first months of Covid. MacNamara wrote that it was “not clear what we are trying to achieve”, “no one listens to anyone else” and that it was a “superhero bunfight”.

Cummings had touched on this behaviour in his evidence earlier in the day.

Discussing the Cabinet Office, which he described as a “dumpster fire”, he said: “There was a core problem, which is that private secretaries in the PM’s office are generally quite junior officials. Quite a few of them are young women and, at that meeting on 15 May and on other occasions, some of the young women in the private office said to me that they thought there was a serious problem with senior people in the Cabinet Office not paying attention to what they were saying, talking over them – generally just a bad culture of a lot of the senior male leadership in the Cabinet Office, which is something I agree with.”

Cummings also told Johnson in August 2020 his authority was “seriously damaged”. Cummings referred to cabinet ministers as “feral” and “useless fuckpigs”.

In a WhatsApp message on 23 August 2020, Cummings urged Johnson to sack health secretary Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson.

“I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or shd [sic] believe on anything, and we face going into the autumn crisis with the cunt in charge of the NHS”, Cummings wrote.

Cummings also said: “Don’t think sustainable for GW [Gavin Williamson, then education secretary] to stay.” Boris Johnson responded saying: “Agree”. Williamson remained in post for over a year after this conversation.

The inquiry also heard yesterday that Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, the country’s top scientific and medical officials respectively, resisted attempts by top political advisers to “strongarm” them into appearing at the Covid news conference on the same day Cummings was answering questions on the Barnard Castle scandal in the Downing Street garden.

Cummings had been accused of breaking lockdown regulations by driving his family to Durham in March 2020 while his wife had suspected Covid, before taking a family trip to the town of Barnard Castle days later. At the time, all non-essential travel was prohibited and people were allowed to take one short trip outside each day for the purposes of exercise. Cummings claimed at the time that he had been testing his eyesight ahead of the drive home, a suggestion that was widely ridiculed.

Vallance wrote in his diaries: “All highly political and dwarfed by DC [Dominic Cummings]. We tried to get out of it by suggesting that it was not the right day to announce new measures.”

The inquiry continues. openDemocracy is fundraising to pay reporters to cover every day of the public hearings. Please support us by donating here.

Original article by Finlay Johnston republished from Open Democracy.

Continue ReadingRevealed: Cummings’ misogynistic slur about top civil servant in text to PM

Boris Johnson’s indecisiveness led to lockdown delays, Covid inquiry hears

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Original article by Finlay Johnston and Indra Warnes republished from Open Democracy.

The prime minister’s ‘oscillating’ was partly to blame for a 10-day delay in announcing a national lockdown

Boris Johnson’s inability to make decisions “significantly impacted the pace and clarity of decision-making” in the early days of the pandemic, his former communications director told the Covid inquiry today.

Lee Cain, who worked for Johnson in 2020, said the then prime minister “oscillated” over whether to lock down for ten days after a meeting between senior government figures decided it was both essential and inevitable.

Attendees to the meeting, which took place on 14 March 2020, included Cain, Johnson, and Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings.

In his written evidence to the inquiry, Cain said: “The collective agreement in the room was that a full lockdown was the only strategy which could suppress the spread of Covid-19, save the NHS from collapse and ultimately buy the government more time.”

He continued: “It was only a matter of when, how hard, and how long the lockdown had to be.”

Johnson announced the first national lockdown on 23 March, ten days later. One factor in that delay, suggested Andrew O’Connor KC, counsel to the inquiry, was “indecison on the part of the prime minister”.

Quoting from Cain’s written evidence, O’Connor said: “The system works at its best when there’s clear direction from Number 10 and the prime minister, these moments of indecision significantly impacted the pace and clarity of decision-making across government.”

The inquiry was shown a WhatsApp message sent from Cain to Cummings on 19 March 2020, in which Cain complained he was “exhausted” by the prime minister. Asked by O’Connor why he was felt this way, Cain described Johnson as “challenging”.

Cain said: “Anyone who’s worked with the prime minister for a period of time will become exhausted with him sometimes. He can be quite a challenging character to work with, just because he will oscillate, he will take a decision from the last person in the room.”

O’Connor went on to ask Cain if he felt Johnson was “up to the job” of being prime minister in March 2020.

“It was the wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skillset,” Cain said, adding: “If you look at something like Covid, you need quick decisions and you need people to hold the course, and you know, have that strength of mind to do that over a sustained period of time and not constantly unpick things.”

In an earlier WhatsApp, Cummings had described Johnson as being in “jaws wank mode” in a meeting with Sunak, a reference to Johnson’s frequent statements that he did not want to be compared to the mayor who closed the beaches in the film Jaws.

Cummings added: “I’ve literally said the same thing ten fucking times and he [Johnson] still won’t absorb it”.

The inquiry also saw messages from 3 March 2020, in which Cain told Cummings that Johnson “doesn’t think [the pandemic] is a big deal and he doesn’t think anything can be done and his focus is elsewhere, he thinks it’ll be like swine flu and he thinks his main danger is talking economy into a slump”.

The inquiry continues.

Original article by Finlay Johnston and Indra Warnes republished from Open Democracy.

Continue ReadingBoris Johnson’s indecisiveness led to lockdown delays, Covid inquiry hears