When Speaker Hoyle Last Called in an Editor for a Growling…

This morning’s Mail splash features a firm rebuke of Lindsay Hoyle’s demand for a meeting between himself and the Sunday editor following last weekend’s Angela Rayner Basic Instinct piece. “No, Mr Speaker”, reads the lead by Dan Hodges, who wrote:

The Mail respectfully declines the Commons Speaker’s summons for The Mail on Sunday to appear over its Angela Rayner report”

… “The Mail on Sunday deplores sexism and misogyny in all its forms. However journalists must be free to report what they are told by MPs about conversations which take place in the House of Commons, however unpalatable some may find them.”

Guido’s editor has first-hand experience of Hoyle summoning a hack in “for a meeting”. Back in 2020, he was summoned to meet with Mr Speaker and the Serjeant-at-Arms for publishing the photo below of Nadine Dorries’s office door after she’d been confirmed as the first MP with Coronavirus.

The editor was summoned to the Speaker’s study, where the Serjeant-at-Arms was in full costume and some other staff from the communications team were sat at the table. Asked to reveal who was the source, it was gingerly explained to have come from a co-conspirator and the invitation to name the source was declined. This resulted in a bit of harrumphing from the communications team and Mr Speaker who, to be fair, was reasonable and charming, accepting that he obviously couldn’t take a pass off the editor because he knew there was none. There was a disagreement over whether a picture of a door constituted a security risk, at which point the Speaker brought up other pictures we had run of Speaker Bercow’s personalised number plate. In the end the Speaker pleaded for reasonableness. He explained he was under pressure from members of the Lobby, who said it was unfair that we did not play by the rules. Paul Waugh had deleted a picture he had tweeted after being reminded of the rules.

It was all very civil and a little bit silly. The Serjeant-at-Arms was a sweetie and escorted us out…

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December Review: Partygate and Plan B

The ink was barely dry on the Sleazegate saga before another scandal hit Westminster. In the first week of the month, reports claimed Boris had broken lockdown rules by hosting – or attending – a series of parties in Downing Street last Christmas. After fierce denials from No. 10, including from Boris at the despatch box, the story blew up when ITV revealed footage of Allegra Stratton and Downing Street aides joking on-camera about the very parties Number 10 claimed never happened. Questions over whose head would roll for all this were quickly answered when Allegra Stratton resigned the very next day…

Details of more parties emerged, including a photo of Boris taking part in a Zoom quiz with multiple aides, and Shaun Bailey resigned after hosting a large gathering at CCHQ while London was in Tier 2. Guido’s footage of Jacob Rees-Mogg joking about the allegations soon went viral, racking up millions of views across several publications in just three days. Meanwhile the fallout from the sleaze row culminated in the staggering loss of North Shropshire to the LibDems with a 34% swing…

However, arguably the most damning moment came when Guido exclusively revealed that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – the man trusted to investigate all this – had himself known of at least one party hosted in his 70 Whitehall office last Christmas. The story got worldwide coverage from almost all major outlets, and Simon was taken off the case in favour of Whitehall bulldog Sue Gray. A woman much more feared by Whitehall’s partiers than Simon Case…

Covid returned to the headlines once again as Omicron cases surged across the UK. Although mounting evidence appeared to show that the new strain is less deadly than previous variants – albeit more transmissible – nerves fluttered in both Whitehall and the devolved administrations. Guido revealed that Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford was so keen to ruin Christmas that he privately called for a total lockdown between the 25th and the New Year. Ultimately, the four countries of the UK each opted for different approaches. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all saw the loathed restrictions return, while England soldiered on under ‘Plan B’, which introduced pointless vaccine passports and a mask mandate, although at least kept everything open. All it took was 102 Tory Covid rebels – Boris’s largest yet…

Meanwhile there was massive end-of-year churn in the media: Andrew Marr, Adam Boulton, and Jon Snow all left their respective shows, Laura Kuenssberg confirmed her departure as BBC PolEd in April, and Stephen Bush jumped from the New Statesman to FT. Darren Grimes also announced he is joining GB News.

It wasn’t all bad news on Covid, though. December saw Labour MP Zarah Sultana finally overcome her debilitating fear of maskless crowds when attending the glitzy MOBO Awards with thousands of fellow unmasked guests. It was an admirable turnaround for Zarah, who just weeks earlier had revealed how unmasked Tories made her “feel unsafe” in the Commons, and claimed the mask debate was “purely ideological“. Guido’s inclined to agree on that one.

Happy New Year, and here’s to 2022…

Honourable mentions:

Headline of the month: Voters Deservedly Punishing Tories

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November Review: Sleazegate, COP-out and Peppa Pig World

November was supposed to be the month defined by COP26, the world’s “last chance” to “keep 1.5 alive” and avert a climate catastrophe. Instead, most of the key players didn’t even show up, and Westminster soon found itself mired in scandals over sleaze, second jobs, and the merits of Peppa Pig World. Then to top it all off, just as COVID had finally receded from the daily news cycle, the Xi variant Omicron arrived…

After the Standards Commission recommended a 30-day suspension for MP Owen Paterson over a breach of lobbying rules, it looked like the worst was over for the government: Paterson would take the hit, tough out his punishment, and the story would eventually fade away without too much collateral damage. Instead, Boris’s bizarre decision to back Andrea Leadsom’s amendment – which would have delayed Paterson’s suspension and created a new Select Committee overseeing MPs’ disciplinary actions – ignited a furious row that dominated headlines for most of the month. At the time, it looked like the government’s biggest unforced error of the year – then came December…

The inevitable U-turn followed, although the damage was done. Paterson resigned, backbenchers were furious – not least at the Chief Whip – and the Tories’ polling numbers tanked. Debates over MPs’ second jobs raged on, with Guido pointing out the hourly rates of Ian Blackford, Ed Davey, and Sir Keir himself – all of whom trousered thousands last year with their lucrative side hustles. In November alone, Guido found that MPs had taken in a combined £274,109 alongside their salaries…

November was also the month Sir Keir managed a proper reshuffle, this time still managing to outrage Angela Rayner though without accidentally handing her more titles. Wes Streeting became Shadow Health Secretary, David Lammy replaced Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Yvette Cooper was appointed Shadow Home Secretary. There was so much negative briefing and counter briefing by Rayner’s team Guido revealed her head of comms had mysteriously gone on leave a few days later…

COP26 came and went: a compromised coal deal was passed by a teary Alok Sharma; Greta Thunberg danced in the streets singing “you can shove your climate crisis up your arse”; and Joe Biden reflected the mood of the world when he fell asleep. The arrival of 25,000 delegates into Glasgow did at least spur the local economy, with Guido reporting on the number of hookers advertising their services tripling in the lead-up to the summit.

The month ended with Boris twice referring to his trip to Peppa Pig World in speeches to wonks and business leaders – to which Sir Keir responded by calling the place “dreadful” – and South African doctors discovering a new Covid variant spreading quickly throughout the country. Thankfully, the doctor to first uncover it stressed that the symptoms appeared mild and the UK shouldn’t panic. Nobody listened. 

Honourable mentions:

Headline of the month: An Apology to Alastair Campbell...

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April Review: Starmer’s Barred, No. 10’s Comms Reversal and Brian Rose Drinks His Urine

By April, eyes were turning to the upcoming London mayoral election. With so many candidates in the running, and so many ridiculous stories surfacing, it was sometimes difficult to keep up with all the coverage. One minute, Laurence Fox was parading around on his battle bus promising to “free London“, the next a 23-year-old YouTuber promising to ban VAR from the Premier League was polling neck-and-neck with the Green Party. The crowning moment of the campaign, however, came when Guido dug out footage of candidate Brian Rose drinking his own urine – twice.

Away from the mayoral circus, thirsty punters were finally treated to proper pints as hospitality venues reopened for outdoor service. Not all customers received a welcome return to the boozer, though. Sir Keir found himself on the receiving end of a furious tirade from a pub landlord in Bath, who gave the Labour leader an earful over his support of the government’s lockdown policies and mask mandates. On the same day, Boris forgot the name of the Mayor of the West of England. Small mercies for Starmer…

Guido also joined in the media scrum surrounding Matt Hancock sleaze allegations – who presumably thought that’d be a low point of his year – by revealing he’d taken shares in his sister’s firm that’d won NHS contracts. Talking of fools, on the first of the month Guido tried his hand at writing a morning political email…

April also saw the death of the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99. As if on cue, several left-wingers managed to blunder over the sensitive moment, with Jeremy Corbyn and Nia Griffith both having to delete ill-timed tweets after the Palace’s announcement. Claudia Webbe, on the other hand, stood firmly behind her claim that the government should use the Prince’s death to “invest in young people, reopen youth provisions and youth centres everywhere”.

On 17th April, Jack Doyle was confirmed to succeed James Slack as Downing Street’s Director of Communications. Soon after, Allegra Stratton’s planned Number 10 press briefings – scheduled to be held in the swanky new £2.6 million briefing room – were scrapped. Thankfully Stratton would still go on to make news from the room…

Honourable mentions:

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March Review: Piers’s Walk Out, Sturgeon’s Holyrood Misleading & Angie’s AirPods

March kicked off with one of Guido’s favourite new series: AirPods-gate. Plenty of noise was made over Angela Rayner billing the taxpayer for her £249 AirPods Pro (which she later lost), so Guido took it on himself to investigate other MPs splurging public cash on Apple products. Inevitably, Rayner was in good company: Matt Hancock had done the same thing, as had Fabian Hamilton – who racked up over £4000 on his tech expenses – and Peter Bone, who demonstrated his fiscal prudence by buying the £159 entry-level models. Presumably he doesn’t sit on as many video calls as Angela Rayner, who insisted her more expensive AirPods were necessary for all that intense Zooming.

Lockdown rules loosened slightly in two stages, with schools reopened on the 8th, and the rule of six reintroduced for outside gatherings on the 29th. Guido remained unable to get a pint. The vaccine rollout continued in earnest, with the most vulnerable groups covered with their first jabs by the start of the month.

One of the biggest stories of March arrived in the first week, when Piers Morgan stormed off the GMB set after an explosive row over Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan. Morgan then quit the show permanently for refusing to give an on-air apology to Meghan at the behest of ITV bosses – never to be heard from again…

Up in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon survived a vote of no confidence in the wake of the Salmond scandal, even though Holyrood’s Harassment Committee concluded she’d misled them in a “potential breach of the ministerial code”. She then sent her lawyers after Guido and The Spectator for daring to report the truth about the Crown Office’s redactions of Salmond’s evidence. Guido ignored them, and hasn’t heard from them since.

Guido was the first to publish the fact that Mike Hill, MP for Hartlepool, had resigned over sexual assault allegations. He had in fact approached Labour about the rumour the previous night, though later had it confirmed he was so on the ball he hadn’t managed to tell the party’s shadow chief whip. Guido then also revealed Labour’s plan for a one-person shortlist stitch-up – a decision that would go on to haunt them for the rest of the campaign…

Honourable mentions:

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February Review: Statue Removals, SNP Civil War & Freedom Roadmap

February started with the sad news that Captain Sir Tom Moore had died after testing positive for Covid while in hospital. Having become a national treasure during the pandemic, news of Sir Tom’s passing spread fast… though not fast enough to reach Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who announced to the Tory WhatsApp chat “Let’s hope Sir Tom recovers well“ one hour and thirty-two minutes after Moore’s family announced his death. It fell to Pauline Latham to give Clifton-Brown the news…

Meanwhile, with the country back under house arrest while jabs went into arms, other pressing matters rose to the fore, as Sadiq Khan revealed the details of his £247,000 “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm”. The commission, which was set to expunge London of all statues and street names containing any tenuous “links” to slavery, soon created headaches for Khan when Guido dug out footage of commission member Toyin Agbetu yelling at the Queen and threatening to punch security as he was thrown out. The story would become Guido’s second most read of the year, and Sadiq would later sack Agbetu for antisemitism.

Even with Agbetu gone, Labour continued to make a meal of the debate, as Sir Keir himself decided to effectively back the removal of statues by claiming “if I was living in a community, I probably would like to express a view one way or the other. And I think that’s not a bad thing.” He did, at least, acknowledge that the whole debate wasn’t really a “top priority” in the context of a deadly pandemic…

North of the border, the civil war between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond began to heat up. Sturgeon faced two inquiries over her handling of the sexual assault allegations against Salmond; one on a potential breach of the Ministerial Code, and another on whether her government had mishandled the complaints. When Guido reported on the Crown Office’s attempts to protect Sturgeon by redacting parts of Salmond’s evidence, Sturgeon’s censors started chasing him too…

In Westminster, Boris ended the month with the promise of brighter days ahead by unveiling England’s unlocking roadmap: “a cautious, but irreversible roadmap to freedom” which would see all restrictions lifted by the 21st June. Step 1A, scheduled for 8th March, would reopen schools, and allow two people the luxurious liberty of being able to enjoy coffee on a park bench…

Honourable mentions:

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