Congratulations to all at TalkTV for their launch last night, which thankfully for Murdoch was clearly more rehearsed than GB News’s out-of-the-gate offering. Guido’s already covered Piers’s first offering with Donald, though Tom Newton Dunn’s hour-long panel discussions has, for obvious reasons, attracted less attention. The green-screen set hosted the new regular panel discussion format, with regular participants set to appear every week on a regular night. Those include:
Last night we got Anas Sarwar, Kate McCann and former Downing Street Director of Communications, James Slack. Given this was Slack’s first public appearance since leaving No. 10, Guido was expecting questions to be asked about the story de jour – Partygate – none were forthcoming. Instead they opted to chat about the British soldier captured by the Russians, whether Civil Servants should get back to the office, and Google nudging users to use “inclusive language”. It’s a shame Tom missed the chance to ask James for his insight into the Downing Street parties he attended – thankfully there’s always next Monday for a scoop!
One of the things that has been tantalising the Westminster politico-media nexus is who in the media attended a Downing Street party. James Slack, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sun, was formerly Downing Street’s Director of Communications. Any coverage or lack of coverage of partygate by The Sun has therefore been seen by others through the prism of his current and previous roles. It is fair to say that Slack, for obvious reasons, has definitely held back on coming forward with the story that is the front page scoop in The Telegraph this morning…
Under the byline “Sun reporter” this is how the paper reported (online only) on one of its own this morning:
One of the parties was held for his former director of communications James Slack, while the other bid farewell to one of the PM’s personal photographers.
No10 confirmed a speech was made at the former but did not comment on the photographer’s leaving do.
A spokesperson said: “On this individual’s last day he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.”
Mr Slack today said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”It comes after Boris apologised on Wednesday for attending a party at No. 10 in May 2020.
Mr Slack is now Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sun.
The Sun of course has already been fingered for having held its own office Christmas Party during lockdown. Shame to miss this scoop though…
Downing Street’s Christmas party problem continues to ramp up, not least now it’s become more prominent in the public’s consciousness that there were multiple parties during the November and December lockdowns. Public anger is boiling and a senior head will have to roll. Who was responsible for the events?
There are three alleged drinks sessions contested during lockdown in Downing Street:
Boris reportedly said a few words at Lee Cain’s leaving event on November 13, if that event was accompanied by a few bottles of Downing Street claret it is arguably a leaving party. Incidentally, Boris was pinged and went into self-isolation on November 16…
Cleo Watson’s leaving drinks was on November 27, reportedly Boris came in and made a speech, mentioning how crowded it was in the room before leaving shortly afterwards. This doesn’t sound like an event compliant with the rules.
If, as the BBC reports, the December party was for the press team, it would have to have been authorised, or at least not vetoed, by then-director of communications James Slack. Since he has departed to The Sun it makes it more difficult for No. 10 to blame him for subsequently assuring the PM that no rules were broken. If, however, current director of communications Jack Doyle was at the party, and has been briefing it didn’t happen, that would make life very difficult for him. It was Max Blain, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson, who briefed the Lobby on Monday that there was no party.
Despite being the poster girl for this story, Allegra Stratton was not in charge of the Downing Street press operation at the time of these events, according to the leaked video she did not stay for the party in question and certainly is not responsible for briefing the PM or the Lobby about the nature or (non)-existence of the party this week. Ultimately the PM must take responsibility for his advisors and their actions. Boris’s errors at PMQs today, not least denying Lee Cain’s leaving do was a party on November 13 and being bounced by Starmer into agreeing to hand over any evidence to the Metropolitan Police and the CPS, has compounded his difficulties. The Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is to head an internal inquiry, though currently Downing Street can’t confirm or deny if he attended the party. Allegra resigning over a party for which she wasn’t responsible might not be the end of this…
N.B. This was written before Allegra Stratton resigned.
The Mail’s deputy political editor Tobyn Andreae has told the BBC’s Media Show podcast that the paper wouldn’t re-run their infamous “enemies of the people” headline today, implying it was a mistake they’d try avoiding nowadays:
“I suspect not every editor makes their own judgments. And of course, it’s always great to be wise with hindsight; would Paul Dacre use the same headline again? I can’t speak for him. He was a tremendously gifted editor from whom I learned an awful lot. But it’s a fast paced newsroom. Sometimes mistakes do get made. I can’t promise they won’t ever get made again.”
Andreae defended “kicking down as well as punching up”, for example going after benefit cheats, and it being as fair game as the Matt Hancock scoop, though saying they’re in a different category and the paper would “balance that out in the way those stories are presented”.
Sun editor-in-chief Victoria Newton was also asked whether the paper’s “not averse to a bit of kicking down”, she parried:
“I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. I mean, I think I edit the paper in a different way to perhaps some of my predecessors. I make it my conscious decision to work with people on stories a lot of the time. And, you know I have brilliant relationships with many celebrities and their agents.”
Guido wonders what James Slack, the former Daily Mail hack whose byline was on the ‘Enemies of the People’ splash, would think of this discussion now he’s been poached by The Sun as their new deputy editor-in-chief…
No. 10’s Director of Comms James Slack is to leave and take up appointment as The Sun’s new deputy editor-in-chief, Guido can reveal. Announcement from Victoria Newton:
I am delighted to let you know that I have appointed James Slack as deputy editor-in-chief for The Sun.
James is a brilliant newspaperman and journalist, with a strong understanding of both print and digital publishing. Prior to his time at Number 10, James had a long career at the Daily Mail. He was Assistant Editor (Politics), Political Editor, Home Affairs editor and for many years, Leader Writer. He will bring with him his great news sense and a clear understanding of our audience.
James will work across both our print and digital output, and he will be integral to the continued integration of our print and digital teams. With our recent Jabs Army campaign, we have really shown the positive good that The Sun can bring about, as well as continuing to serve our readers with the best reporting and bringing in the big scoops.
James will start his role in the coming months and I look forward to introducing him to you all.
Another No. 10 vacancy to deal with…
Guido’s campaign to introduce transparency to the Lobby has already seen concessions on live-Tweeting No. 10’s press briefings. The end goal is seeing the briefings televised. Yesterday the PM held his second ‘Kids’ Lobby’ session, with young journalists from papers like First News asking questions on the issues of the day. Once again, the proceedings were filmed and put out it across the PM’s social media channels. Why is it that child journalists can cope with the transparency when asking questions, yet the Lobby can’t cope with the idea?