Downing Street has hit back in its war with Dominic Cummings, after the former aide published an explosive blog post about leaks and ‘possibly illegal’ plans to renovate the Prime Minister’s flat using donations. A No. 10 spokesperson this evening said:
‘This government is entirely focused on fighting coronavirus, delivering vaccines and building back better.’
And then on the allegations Cummings made about the renovation of the flat:
‘At all times, the Government and Ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law. Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed. All reportable donations are transparently declared and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law. Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.’
The spokesperson also issued this carefully worded line on Cummings’s claim that Boris Johnson dropped the ‘chatty rat’ investigation into the leaked plans for a second lockdown after he began to believe the leaker was Henry Newman, a close friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds:
‘The PM has never interfered in a government leak inquiry.’
That these statements are being issued at all shows how high-risk it was for sources to have briefed the press that Cummings was in the spotlight over the leaks of Boris Johnson’s messages with Sir James Dyson. There are so many different leaks and briefings and counter-briefings that it is rather difficult to stand up the first claim that the government is ‘entirely focused’ on fighting the pandemic. It is clear that significant effort is going into dealing with the very leaky plumbing of Johnson’s top team.
The kindest interpretation is that this is the Prime Minister’s preferred way of working, with factions having to compete to win his backing, sharpening their arguments along the way.
Another view might be that Johnson is a dreadful manager to allow this kind of open warfare and the number of U-turns, not just on policies but on comms, as evidenced by the decision this week to drop televised press briefings.
To claim you are entirely focused on one thing while having to talk at length about another does, at the very least, suggest Downing Street is not firing on all cylinders at present.