Published:

“Sleaze” 1) Conservatives opinion poll lead increases

“The Conservatives have extended their polling lead over Labour before the local elections despite the furore over Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment and allegations of sleaze. A YouGov poll for The Times has found an 11-point gap between the Tories and Labour. The Conservatives are on 44 per cent, the same as a week ago, with Labour down one point on 33. Johnson is facing intense scrutiny over the redecoration of his flat above No 11 Downing Street, which is said to have cost as much as £200,000. There are claims that £800 was spent on a roll of wallpaper.” – The Times

  • ‘I love John Lewis’, says Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Tories attack Starmer’s John Lewis wallpaper photo op – BBC
  • Will wallpaper-gate really ‘cut through’ – or will Boris continue comfortably unscathed? – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph
  • Infantile Keir Starmer is on the fast track to political oblivion – Leader, The Sun
  • Believe me, it’s a lot easier to run a country than deny a wife her home makeover – Tom Utley, Daily Mail
  • Brazen, destructive, aggressive: how does Boris Johnson get away with it? – Andy Beckett, The Guardian

>Today:

“Sleaze” 2) Johnson’s mobile number has been available on the internet for years

“Boris Johnson’s personal mobile phone number has been freely available on the internet for the past 15 years, it has been revealed. The number, published in a 2006 press release that was never deleted, appears to be the one the PM still uses. Last week, officials denied Mr Johnson had been advised to change his number. Labour MP Rachel Hopkins said the availability of Mr Johnson’s phone number had implications for security, lobbying and the risk of blackmail. It is understood there were suggestions within government that he should be less willing to pass on his contact details to external organisations. Downing Street declined to comment on Thursday evening after the number’s availability was first reported by the celebrity gossip email newsletter, Popbitch. In 2006, Mr Johnson was MP for Henley and the shadow higher education minister, and the press release invited journalists to contact him for further comment about a related issue.” – BBC

  • Hancock must reveal WhatsApp messages about PPE deals – The Times

“Sleaze” 3) Hodge calls for standards commissioner Kathryn Stone to intervene

“Boris Johnson on Thursday said he would be willing to comply with the formal Electoral Commission investigation into whether any rules were broken in the financing of his Downing Street flat renovation, as Labour called for a parliamentary probe into his conduct…His comments came as Margaret Hodge, a senior Labour backbencher, urged parliament’s commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, to investigate whether Johnson breached the MP’s code of conduct over alleged donations linked to the flat renovation. In a letter, sent on Thursday afternoon, Hodge called for Stone to probe funding of the refurbishment and explore whether Johnson declared any possible donations in the correct manner.” – Financial Times

  • Labour asks parliamentary commissioner for standards to investigate any potential breach of MPs’ code of conduct – The Guardian
  • Third inquiry into flat redecoration – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Whatever you think of Johnson’s flat, the Electoral Commission’s record on investigations is shockingly bad

“Sleaze” 4) Nelson: Why Cummings “is dangerous for No10”

“Cummings is dangerous for No10, not just because of his store of emails and quotes, including remarks Johnson made to him in private, which he’s now willing to disclose. Some in No10 talk about him as an isolated loner but he has allies, versed in his art of war, some of whom talk about a “grid” of activity in what seems like a semi-formal campaign aimed at the removal of the Prime Minister. They don’t need to make alliances with anyone else: once a “Dom bomb” is detonated, a flank is opened through which others can leap in.” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 1) PM advised that social distancing at large events can be scrapped

“Social distancing for large events can be scrapped from June 21, Boris Johnson will be told next week after initial results from a pilot scheme found no spike in Covid cases among attendees. An interim report into the reopening trials will advise the Prime Minister that crowds can return safely and without distancing provided that measures such as staggering entries and good ventilation are in place. Government scientists have been monitoring the impact of letting fans back into an FA Cup semi-final, Carabao Cup final and World Snooker Championship. Conclusions from the early data are contained in the report and a covering note to be given to ministers next week, details of which The Telegraph has learned.” – Daily Telegraph

  • People in their 30s set to get Covid vaccine in mid-May – The i
  • Experts call for inquiry to be launched – The Guardian
  • Only 757 symptomatic cases a day in England and infection chance as low as one in 150,000 if jabbed twice – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 2) Hopes boosted for summer holidays in Europe

“Hopes of a summer holiday in Europe were boosted yesterday with the possibility of non-essential travel to destinations such as Portugal and Malta as soon as mid-May. It is likely that limited overseas trips will be permitted in just over two weeks’ time, with experts saying that an initial “green list” is likely to include up to 24 countries. Meanwhile, France announced that Britons will be able to travel there from the start of June provided they have proof of being vaccinated.” – The Times

8,771 more police officers have been hired

“Boris Johnson is nearly halfway to reaching his goal of putting 20,000 more police on the streets – as he announced 8,771 more cops have been hired. As he tries to get on the front foot ahead of next week’s local elections, he thanked hard-working police and vowed the new recruits would make Britain’s streets safer to “crack down” on crime. Every force across England and Wales has met or exceed their recruitment targets, they confirmed last night. Ministers have vowed to recruit at least 6,000 a year to meet their target within three years. 139,000 people have applied to join the police since the start of the fresh recruitment drive under the PM. Ministers said there were now more than 10,000 ethnic minority cops in Britain’s forces – the highest number on record.” – The Sun

>Yesterday: Priti Patel on Comment: Delivering on the people’s priorities. Almost 9000 new police officers already – well above our target.

Tax on developers to raise £2 billion for cladding

“Housebuilders will pay higher taxes on profits over £25 million as the government tries to claw back money to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding from tower blocks. The tax on developers, which will come into force next year, will be time-limited and is expected to raise £2 billion over a decade. Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people in west London in 2017 criticised ministers yesterday after the government succeeded in pushing through its Fire Safety Bill despite a rebellion from more than 30 Tory MPs. Grenfell United, a campaign group, said it was “indefensible” that the government was not doing more to protect leaseholders. “It’s a grave injustice that many innocent leaseholders will be financially ruined over fire safety issues that were not of their own making, while the government is letting those responsible continue to get off scot-free,” it said.” – The Times

Poots declares bid for support for DUP leadership…

“Stormont minister Edwin Poots has publicly put his name forward to be the next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The party has begun the process of appointing a new leader after Arlene Foster’s resignation. She will step down as DUP leader on 28 May and as first minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June. Mr Poots is one of three DUP politicians tipped as a potential party leader. He has been a member of the DUP for all of his political career and is Northern Ireland’s agriculture and environment minister.” – BBC

  • If DUP gets this wrong, it could be death knell for the Union – Leo McKinstry, Daily Mail

Forsyth: Without EU compromise over trade, unionism will become more hardline

“Another solution is to take a liberal interpretation of the rules and conduct checks only on goods and produce that might realistically end up in the Irish Republic. This would not only reduce the number of checks but address one of the unionists’ key concerns: that the protocol is a Trojan horse establishing economic unity as a precursor to political unity between the north and the republic. This might work if Dublin gives its blessing: the EU wouldn’t entertain the idea unless the Irish supported it.” – James Forsyth, The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Why Foster’s exit most likely signals an even harder line against the Protocol from the DUP

Sturgeon backs away from 2021 independence referendum

“Nicola Sturgeon has backed away from her threat to hold a new independence referendum this year as a new poll showed support for leaving the UK had fallen to its lowest level in 18 months. The First Minister launched a blueprint on Thursday setting out key actions her government will take in the first 100 days of the new Holyrood term, if she wins re-election. It includes no mention of seeking negotiations about a new vote on leaving the UK. Senior SNP figures have repeatedly claimed that a new referendum could be held as early as this year if the party wins next week’s election. Ms Sturgeon had previously refused to rule out a snap vote in late 2021.” – Daily Telegraph

  • How will the SNP fare in Scotland’s May elections? – Financial Times
  • NatWest would move HQ to England if Scotland becomes independent – Daily Mail
  • Wake up to the toxic illusion that is the narrow-minded, backward-looking and self-serving Nationalists – Liam Fox, Daily Express

Gibb to join BBC board

“Sir Robbie Gibb, a former Downing Street communications director, is joining the BBC board as the board member for England. He will start on 7 May. Prior to working in No 10 for the Conservative Party between 2017 and 2019, Gibb had a successful 25-year career at the BBC, culminating in his role as head of Westminster. Before that, he was deputy editor of Newsnight and editor of The Daily Politics and This Week.” – BBC

  • Jon Snow to step down from Channel 4 News after 32 years – The Guardian

Biden “more divisive than Trump”

“Believe it or not the seemingly mild-mannered Joe Biden is more divisive after 100 days in office than Donald Trump was. According to Gallup 94 per cent of Democrats approve of Mr Biden’s performance, and only 11 per cent of Republicans do. For Mr Trump the Gallup figures at the same stage were 87 per cent approval among Republicans, and 12 per cent among Democrats. It shows both presidents woefully failed to appeal to Americans who didn’t vote for them. But Mr Biden has actually been doing a slightly worse job of it. As Mr Biden delivered his first address to Congress on Wednesday night the division appeared even more marked in the chamber than it is in the country.” – Daily Telegraph

  • The President’s no unifier – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • He’s walking a tightrope between big spending and the stretch of the public purse – Kate Andrews, Daily Telegraph
  • His solutions are stuck in the 20th century – Gerard Baker, The Times
  • Hey, Big Spender – Leader, The Times
  • Biden rally in Georgia disrupted by protesters – BBC

News in brief

  • Is Nicola Sturgeon in for a scare in her own seat? – Susan Dalgety, The Spectator
  • Departure of Simon Stevens marks the end of an era – Paul Waugh, Huffington Post
  • A renewed Iran deal is on the way – and it threatens all of our security – Ron Sandee, CapX
  • Popularity slump for Starmer – Independent
  • Like every narcissist before him, Sadiq Khan views politics as his stage – Douglas Murray, Unherd