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Boris Johnson’s blame game over lockdown parties could backfire – POLITICO

LONDON — Boris Johnson laid the groundwork for a Whitehall blame game as he seeks to salvage his premiership from allegations of a number of parties at Downing Road whereas the general public stayed at residence to cease the unfold of COVID-19.

“I can inform you from the numerous conversations I’ve had with the prime minister … that he’s dedicated to upping our game,” Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservative Get together, advised Sky Information on Sunday. “We should enhance the tradition — we should do higher.”

It comes amid experiences that Johnson is drawing up a listing of civil servants who should fall on their swords when a much-feared investigation by senior official Sue Grey releases its findings within the coming weeks on the slew of social gathering claims.

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But whereas these with deep information of Whitehall agree that leaders of Britain’s neutral civil service have a case to reply over the allegations, few consider the prime minister himself can escape blame.

“I feel to say ‘oh, the prime minister was simply type of sitting upstairs, fully oblivious, and really completely disapproved of all his workers doing this’ — for God’s sake, pull the opposite one, mate,” mentioned Jill Rutter, a former senior civil servant who now works for suppose tanks.

“In the end, there could also be some disciplinary points inside the civil service — massive judgment questions over among the senior individuals in Downing Road and the Cupboard Workplace and their sense of what’s acceptable … however none of which means there aren’t questions for politicians as nicely,” she added.

Few dispute that some senior officers are deserving of scrutiny. One determine prone to be the topic of such consideration is the top of the civil service, Simon Case.

Case, beforehand a senior aide to Britain’s royal household, was given the highest civil service job — that of cupboard secretary — in September 2020. It got here because the prime minister and his then-top adviser Dominic Cummings sought to reshape the best way the U.Ok. civil service operates.

When claims of No. 10 partying first emerged, Case was tasked with investigating. However he was quickly pressured to step apart amid experiences of lockdown-breaking social gatherings in his personal division. Civil service officers claimed he had attended drinks outdoors his workplace in 70 Whitehall in December 2020 — allegations that had been categorically denied by the Cupboard Workplace.

“There’s clearly a wider problem round managing those that work in 10 Downing Road to make sure that everyone seems to be following the principles which apply to all civil servants,” mentioned one former everlasting secretary (a senior job within the U.Ok. civil service), declaring that these guidelines apply to each everlasting officers and politically-appointed particular advisers.

“That duty falls to the top of the civil service and cupboard secretary, not least as a result of No. 10 is itself part of the Cupboard Workplace and never a separate division,” the identical former everlasting secretary famous.

Additionally they warned {that a} leaked e mail exhibiting one other civil servant, Johnson’s principal personal secretary, inviting workers to “deliver their very own booze” to a drinks social gathering raised additional questions for Case’s administration of officialdom.

“The cupboard secretary can be the direct supervisor of the prime minister’s principal personal secretary,” the ex-official mentioned. “There was an absence of management right here, which impacts the broader civil service once they see completely different guidelines making use of inside No 10.”

Dave Penman, head of the FDA commerce union representing senior authorities officers, on Sunday pushed again strongly on the thought of wider issues with the civil service tradition that now must be addressed.

“These in management positions bear essentially the most duty for this,” he advised Sky Information. Penman questioned how a tradition had been created in No. 10 the place the form of parties now extensively reported on had been ever deemed acceptable. The buck, he recommended, stops with ministers — and Boris Johnson himself.

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“The discuss within the papers of a civil service tradition? That’s not a civil service tradition I acknowledge after being round Whitehall for 20 years,” he mentioned. “It could be a No. 10 tradition, but it surely’s not a civil service tradition.”

James Johnson, a former No. 10 pollster who now runs his personal firm, thinks looking for to shift the blame could go down badly with voters, who’re already turning away from the Conservatives in massive numbers.

The notion of a cover-up — No.10, and Johnson himself, downplayed early experiences of revelry throughout lockdowns — had performed essentially the most harm to the prime minister’s private model, the pollster mentioned.

“If No. 10’s response is to — within the voters’ eyes — keep on deflecting, then I feel that’s going to arguably not solely not heal issues, however really make issues worse, as a result of that’s the form of factor that’s annoying voters — the truth that Boris Johnson will not be standing again and taking all of the blame.”

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