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Decoration Speculation

Decoration Speculation

John lewis van at Downing Street

The jury’s out on what matters more to more people. The vaccine programme roaring ahead, with results exceeding wildest expectations, or the fact the country seems to be run by a feckless fibber-fox who thinks we’re a bunch of proles. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson has good reason to rejoice in the nation’s optimism.

People in their thirties starting to get their jabs in a couple of weeks. Huge swathes of the country virtually Covid-free. Big events re-opening. First jabs doing the trick.

Getting on for fifteen million people now fully vaccinated, and case numbers in England dropping by forty per cent in a week.

What’s not to like?

Having started out as one of the world’s worst pandemic performers, we’ve turned into one of the best. And signs are we’ll keep it that way.

Credit where it’s due, the Health Secretary defied nay-sayers in government to bet our collective shirt on vaccinations, and the health service delivered.

Thus was a terrible cost in human lives mitigated, while the Prime Minister spat nails about the cost to the country’s coffers.

‘No more f***ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.’

Did he really say that? He says not, but hacks are sticking by their story.

It’s worth conceding that while the, ahem, John Lewis slogan is ‘never knowingly undersold’, Boris is rarely knowingly understated.

And if all expletives were deleted from confidential conversations in Westminster they’d be pretty short.

Not all that good for the public image, but it’s how they talk.

Probably far more damaging for the Prime Minister is his squeeze’s squawk that the above-mentioned store’s wares are a ‘nightmare’.

Given that most people, including most Tory voters, think their stuff is jolly good actually, Carrie Symonds’s alleged attitude is a teeny bit galling.

And that’s before we even get to the can of worms – or should that read nest of vipers? – squirming around who paid for the Downing Street refurb.

Estimates vary, but some put the figure as high as two-hundred grand, for tarting up a flat the Johnsons may only occupy for three more years. Possibly less.

Also worth noting, given there’s by-election coming up in Hartlepool, that that’s way more than you’d pay for the average house there.

Legend has it the good people of that town once hanged a monkey, under the mistaken impression the poor creature was a French spy.

Doorstep responses to canvassers suggest the attitude to the tousle-headed toff who’s running the country may be just as unfavourable.

Psephologists will be all over the results like the proverbial cheap suit.

They’ll also be keenly watching the outcome of the town hall mega-poll the same day. Double the normal number because last year’s was postponed.

Of course local election are, well, local. As much about the bins as which political party the voters would love to put in them. But they do tell us something.

So far the Tory sleaze splurge has apparently not impacted. A YouGov survey puts them eleven points in front of Labour.

But it also notes more than half of those asked agree the Conservatives are ‘very sleazy and disreputable’.

Will that translate into votes on May sixth? And where, for that matter, will the grubby story of must-lose greige décor have gone by then?

For those forlorn souls not fully up to speed, greige pulls together the words ‘grey’ and ‘beige’. A reference to dated-hotel-chic.

For heaven’s sake, nobody these days buys wallpaper costing less than eight-hundred quid a roll. Do they?

There are precedents. The notoriously rakish and deeply patrician minister Alan Clark wrote off a fellow top Tory because he had to buy his own furniture.

And Winston Churchill, to whom Johnson loves to be compared, also got in a muddle with paying for Downing Street’s upkeep.

Though to be fair, in his day the place was so riddled with dry rot and beetle damage bits of it were were in danger of collapsing.

A far cry from Carrie’s putative lament that she really couldn’t live with the hideously dated kitchen installed by Samantha Cameron.

The irony being that Strictly Come Dancing are said to be gagging to get her on the show, and pay her enough to make all her décor dreams come true.

Which doesn’t solve the problem of who paid for the work in the first place. And there’s no question it’s really got Bojo’s goat.

The Labour leader’s had a miserable year, having had to be sweetness and light about the government’s pandemic policies.

But this is different.

Sir Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, bared his lawyer’s knuckles at PMQ’s last week.

Flatgate? Wallpapergate? Cushiongate? The forensic cross-examination blew the lid off Johnson’s jolly chappie thingy.

One commentator compared him to the normally mild-mannered Incredible Hulk character who said ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’.

Sweet revenge for Keir Starmer after being taunted so long as Captain Hindsight, calling Johnson ‘Major Sleaze’.

And you can see why he’d rattled Bojo’s cage.

The taxpayer-funded allowance for sorting the flat is only thirty grand a year. Leaving him with a huge bill that clearly gave him a problem.

That might sound ridiculous in the case of someone who’s paid a hundred and fifty grand a year, and used to get more than double that for writing and speaking.

But he’s just had an expensive divorce, and has a mortgage on his new million pound plus gaff in south London.

Seems he did in the end stump up for the lot. But not – it is alleged – before he’d tried every which way to get someone else to.

A blind trust? A Tory donor? Conservative Campaign Headquarters? But they all fell foul of the fear whoever paid might reasonably expect something back.

The point about all these headline-writers’ gateisms is that it wasn’t the break-in to the Democrats’ Watergate HQ that did for Nixon, but the subsequent cover-up.

Now Johnson is facing multiple inquiries about what really happened, and whether his nose has been growing rather a lot.

And this goes far beyond Westminster tittle-tattle.

One of his inquisitors, the independent regulator of party and election finance, is pulling no punches.

‘We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred.’ So says the Electoral Commission.

And even the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, booked by Newsnight to defend his boss, ended up admitting he might have to resign if he’d lied to the Commons.

Has to be said the man we all love to hate, Dominic Cummings, could see this coming.

He’s now gone public with his view at the time that he regarded the PM’s plans as ‘unethical, foolish and possibly illegal’.

And it looks like the so-called ‘chatty rat spat’ is only just beginning.

Of all people to fall out with, Bojo’s angry and vindictive ex-Svengali is about as bad as it gets. Daggers in men’s smiles? Not many of them around. At least, not the smiles.

This from Oscar Wilde was about himself: ‘I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.’

But what added could equally be biffed on to Boris: ‘A man cannot be too careful in his choice of enemies.’

He can say that again.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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