Comical Willy Tells SpAds “We’ve Got This”

Guido was out and about in Westminster last night chatting to SpAds about their job searches. One near despondent SpAd was beginning to panic that they would not secure a move across to the private sector before the value of their government contacts expired worthless. An anecdote from a recent Thursday night SpAd school is illustrative of the state of morale within the SpAd class;

Last month the PM’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Will Tanner, tried to boost morale at the increasingly thinly attended weekly SpAd school session –

“I’m here to tell you that the polls are wrong. They were wrong about Brexit, they were wrong when it came to the independence referendum and they’re wrong again now. You shouldn’t pay any attention to them. We’ve got this. Look at Labour – they don’t have any long term plan on AI but we do.”

This message was delivered to stunned silence on the part of the SpAds – nobody had any questions when prompted by Tanner to ask. Everyone just quietly left and shuffled off to the pub. It was a jaw-dropping moment when finally most of the room realised some in Number 10 had “lost their marbles”.

“From 10 months ago when Liam Booth-Smith told SpAd school we needed to be 10 points behind by the autumn to this – a steady 20-point deficit and a plan to just ignore the polls. In the pub Will was dubbed Comical Willy after Saddam’s Comical Ali”

The atmosphere this week at drinks parties is one where Labour confidence is verging on smug and Tories have a resigned gallows humour. Many in Downing Street and Whitehall are just going through the motions…

mdi-timer 1 December 2023 @ 12:23 1 Dec 2023 @ 12:23 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Will UK’s Hosting of European Political Community in May Clash With Election?

The UK is due to hold the 4th European Political Community summit in May, the intergovernmental forum for political and strategic discussions about the future of Europe, established in 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, when Guido asked Downing Street about the event, and whether it is actually going ahead, they couldn’t confirm any details of when and where the event was being held. All they could answer was that it is “due” to be held in Spring, a three month window.

It is highly unusual to not have any plans for an event the UK is meant to be hosting in, at the latest, six months time. The last EPC took place in October in Spain, with the venue and date announced in February, eight months beforehand. The likely reason for Downing Street not confirming any details is that they are wary of fixing the timing in case of an early General Election, not committing to hosting an international event at a time that would clash with a spring election. They would need to free up civil servants’ hands for running the ship during a campaign, rather than hosting the event. Or perhaps they want to kick it down the line in which case Starmer may end up dealing with the Europeans instead. Either way, it’s telling that they won’t confirm any details, fuelling further rumours of a spring election…

mdi-timer 28 November 2023 @ 14:21 28 Nov 2023 @ 14:21 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Cummings Was at Downing Street Chief’s Wedding Despite Claims of No Contact

While Team Rishi spent the entire leadership race last year insisting they were keeping their distance from Dominic Cummings – Rishi claimed he hadn’t seen the man since he quit in 2020 – this eyebrow-raising picture has been doing the rounds in SW1 WhatsApps in recent days. It shows Cummings himself clapping away merrily at the wedding reception of… Liam Booth-Smith and Olivia Oates. Booth-Smith ran Rishi’s campaign, and is now his Chief of Staff.

The wedding reception was held just weeks before Rishi entered Downing Street last October. Number 10 insisted he’d have “no role” in Rishi’s government and was not involved in his leadership bid. Close enough to get a wedding invite from the most senior aide in Downing Street though…

mdi-timer 1 November 2023 @ 15:56 1 Nov 2023 @ 15:56 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
HS2: Downing Street’s Communication Off the Rails

Knowing what’s really happening with HS2 is near impossible with Downing Street’s current comms strategy.  Especially when Grant Shapps and Jeremy Hunt were allowed to drop hints in recent days essentially confirming the Northern leg of HS2 is about to be derailed. All before the Tories head off to conference in… Manchester.

Number 10 are spinning the constant umming and ahhing over HS2 as a consequence of Rishi’s “alarm” at the cost surpassing £100 billion. Guido has taken a look back at the confusion in just the last few months:

  • March 26th: Michael Gove insisted HS2 would arrive in Manchester. Though perhaps not Euston…
  • July 30th: Government ‘committed‘ to HS2 after watchdog rates project as ‘unachievable‘. Strong start…
  • September 14th: Downing Street refused to guarantee the HS2 will run to Manchester as planned. Change of tune…
  • September 15th: Chris Philp said he didn’t know whether the line would go to Manchester as planned but that trains would go “very fast from London“.
  • September 17th: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wouldn’t confirm HS2 link to Manchester despite PM’s ‘absolute‘ levelling up commitment.
  • September 18th: Richard Holden refused to confirm HS2 will run to Manchester but added in the Commons “we remain focused on its delivery.One-way ticket to uncertainty there…
  • September 18th: Pensions Minister Laura Trott told Sky News  “The government looks at every single penny it is spending to make sure that we’re getting the value for money.” Avoiding the question again… 
  • September 21st: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the costs of HS2 were “getting totally out of control” as he refused to commit to building the Manchester leg.
  • September 24th: Transport Minister Grant Shapps let the cat out the bag, responding to whether HS2 will run to Manchester that, “it’s not my area these days” adding that the PM is “prepared to do long-term difficult things.” 
  • September 25th: Rishi refused to comment on the speculation of scrapping northern leg of HS2, though claimed he is “still committed to levelling up“.
  • September 26th: Policing Minister Chris Philp said he “wants to see tax payers money spent prudently” and that “the chancellor and the PM are trying to control the costs”. 
  • September 26th: The Times reported Rishi Sunak is to delay or even scrap the leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, citing runaway costs.

Are we derailing HS2 or not?

mdi-timer 26 September 2023 @ 12:39 26 Sep 2023 @ 12:39 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Number 10 Chief of Staff Praises “Magic” Kemi Badenoch to SpAds

Guido hears Downing Street Chief of Staff Liam Booth-Smith is doing his best to keep up morale at SpAd School, with Guido’s moles describing last week’s meeting as “more buoyant” than previous weeks – co-conspirators will recall Booth-Smith told pessimistic aides to quit immediately if they didn’t believe the Tories could win – and that he now has a “spring in his step” heading into conference. If there was any doubt, the gloves are finally off…

Having lost their erstwhile Director of Communications Amber de Botton last month, Number 10 are keen to find a new, bold approach going into the election year. Look no further than the Net Zero rollback last week. Booth-Smith was particularly impressed by Kemi Badenoch’s punchy interview with Sky News on that very topic. Apparently he described her entire media round performance as “magic“. They’ll need to cast a spell on voters next year after all…

Multiple sources described the new approach as the right call, though one did say “some soppy wets sat there with worried little faces“. Maybe they should have thrown in the towel when they had the chance…

mdi-timer 25 September 2023 @ 14:56 25 Sep 2023 @ 14:56 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Amber Won’t Be the Last Adviser to Quit

For months rumours have been emerging from within Downing Street of continual strains and personality clashes within Sunak’s operation. Amber De Botton’s departure was sudden but not entirely unexpected – the press office are usually the first to be blamed even when it’s the message, not the messenger. Insiders point to questions being raised about the extent of De Botton’s willingness to support key government policies of a more robust conservative flavour. Her defenders – of whom it must be said there are many – say that she has been unfairly sidelined for months, with her now-promoted deputy Nerissa Chesterfield enjoying a better relationship with the PM. Amber’s detractors say she was too much drama – allegedly calling for issues to be escalated to COBRA three times in one week –  “‘Three Cobras’ is an order in Millbank Spice, not a media strategy” says one source. Either way, it’s not 100% amicable when your Director of Communications quits after less than a year.

At 20 to 25 points behind, there is an existential question facing Sunak’s SpAds – essentially, whether ‘to do an Amber’ – as Sunak’s Chief of Staff invited on Thursday night. Many have never worked in a field other than politics. If they don’t quit now, they have a diminishing chance of securing an advisory job in the private sector – perhaps some with the promised glowing reference from Liam Booth-Smith. Their market value will plummet closer to a Labour victory. One adviser told Guido the choice is now to commit hara-kiri by honourably staying, or to abandon ship for a lucrative lobbying career. The problem is Sunak’s vibe of limp managerialism does not inspire much self-sacrificing loyalty in the SpAd class, never mind voters.

mdi-timer 4 September 2023 @ 13:00 4 Sep 2023 @ 13:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
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