Connect with us

Published

on

Boris Johnson’s former chief aide has described the prime minister as a “gaffe machine” who is “clueless about policy and government”.

Dominic Cummings continued his assault on the government and the prime minister as he also attacked “drone-babblers” among Westminster pundits.

The ex-adviser, who has been engaged in a weeks-long feud with Downing Street, made another intervention following the Conservatives’ by-election loss to the Liberal Democrats in Chesham and Amersham.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks with lecturers and students in the Arts and Design department during a visit to Kirklees College Springfield Sixth Form Centre in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Picture date: Friday June 18, 2021.
Image:
Boris Johnson has given his full backing to Matt Hancock, despite Mr Cummings’s claims

Mr Cummings urged people to “stop reading these pundit babblers” as he listed examples of media predictions – such as an assured Conservative victory in Chesham and Amersham – that turned out to be wrong.

He also highlighted the past controversy of Mr Johnson not doing an interview with journalist Andrew Neil during the 2019 general election campaign, for which the prime minister was heavily criticised.

Mr Cummings, who worked for the prime minister during the campaign, pointed out how it was suggested that Mr Johnson not doing the interview was a “huge campaign blunder”.

Posting on Twitter, he added: “Why the fu*k wd be put a gaffe machine clueless about policy & government up to be grilled for ages, upside=0 for what?! This is not a hard decision…

More on Boris Johnson

“Pundits don’t understand comms, power or management. Tune out!”

Downing Street later said it did not accept the description of Mr Johnson as a “gaffe machine”.

“Of course that is not a characterisation that we would accept,” a spokesman for the prime minister said.

“But I’m not going to get into specific allegations.”

Mr Cummings has made a series of explosive claims about Mr Johnson since leaving Downing Street last November amid a Number 10 power struggle.

Earlier this week, he published a 7,000-word blogpost in which he included screenshots of WhatsApp messages in which Mr Johnson referred to Health Secretary Matt Hancock as “totally f****** hopeless”.

But the prime minister has since given his full backing to Mr Hancock.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Do you believe the health sec is hopeless?’

“I have complete confidence in Matt and indeed all of the government who have been dealing with COVID-19 during the pandemic,” Mr Johnson said on a visit to Kirklees, West Yorkshire, on Friday.

Mr Cummings has promised to give answers to an “ask me anything” opportunity on his blog next Monday, although it will only be available for paying subscribers.

Continue Reading

Politics

British military laser could be used to target Russian drones in Ukraine

Published

on

By

British military laser could be used to target Russian drones in Ukraine

A new British military laser could be used in Ukraine to shoot down Russian drones, the defence secretary has suggested.

The DragonFire weapon, which is expected to be ready for deployment by 2027 at the latest, could have “huge ramifications” for Kyiv’s conflict against Russia, Grant Shapps said.

New reforms aimed at speeding up procurement mean the laser, which was originally set to be rolled out in 2032, will now be operational five years earlier than planned, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Russia-Ukraine war latest: Moscow accuses British special forces of operating in Ukraine

A target drone showing damaged caused by 'DragonFire' a British military laser weapon system
Image:
A target drone and mortar casing showing the damage done by DragonFire. Pics: PA

A mortar casing showing damage done by 'DragonFire'

But Mr Shapps said he would look to see if the pace can be increased further “in order for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it”.

“I’ve come down to speed up the production of the DragonFire laser system because I think given that there’s two big conflicts on, one sea-based, one in Europe, this could have huge ramifications to have a weapon capable particularly of taking down drones,” Mr Shapps said at the Porton Down military research hub in Salisbury.

“And so what I want to do is speed up what would usually be a very lengthy development procurement process, possibly up to 10 years, based on my conversations this morning, to a much shorter timeframe to get it deployed, potentially on ships, incoming drones, and potentially on land.

“Again, incoming drones, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how that could be helpful in Ukraine for example.”

Laser-directed energy weapons (LDEWs) use an intense beam of light to cut through their target.

The MoD hopes the DragonFire system will offer a low-cost alternative to missiles in shooting down attack drones and even mortars.

It has been developed by defence firms MBDA, Leonardy and QinetiQ and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

Read more:
The smuggler charging thousands to dodge Ukraine’s army draft

Drone attack hits Russian-held nuclear power plant in Ukraine

The 'DragonFire' laser weapon system, which could be rushed on to the frontline in Ukraine to take down Russian drones.
Pic: PA
Image:
The DragonFire laser weapon system and a metal plate showing the damage it can do. Pics: PA

A metal plate showing damaged caused by 'DragonFire', a British military laser weapon system

The new procurement model, coming into effect next week, is aimed at speeding up the process of getting cutting-edge military developments out onto the field.

“It’s designed to not wait until we have this at 99.9% perfection before it goes into the field, but get it to sort of 70% and then get it out there and then… develop it from there,” Mr Shapps said.

Mr Shapps added: “In a more dangerous world, our approach to procurement is shifting with it. We need to be more urgent, more critical and more global.”

Continue Reading

Politics

A dysfunctional week for the Tories and Labour amid honeytrap scandal and ‘tax dodging’ claims

Published

on

By

A dysfunctional week for the Tories and Labour amid honeytrap scandal and 'tax dodging' claims

We may have been in Easter recess the past couple of weeks, but on both sides of the party divide, there were those who did not get a rest from politics.

MP William Wragg undoubtedly had a dysfunctional week as the man at the centre of the Westminster honeytrap scandal.

He resigned the Conservative party whip as some colleagues looked on with a mixture of bemusement and anger at Number 10’s handling of the whole sorry affair.

Meanwhile, on the Labour side, deputy leader Angela Rayner can’t seem to shake off or shut down the persistent questions about whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago.

She insists she has done nothing wrong while there are Conservatives looking to weaponise the issue in this election year – with at least one local Tory councillor and other protesters this week hounding her on a visit to Teesside, with banners dubbing her a “tax dodger”‘ in the hope it will stick.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Electoral Dysfunction wherever you get your podcasts 👈

This week in Electoral Dysfunction, Jess, Ruth and I chew over both the substance and the politics of these difficult situations and ask whether Number 10 and Labour are making tricky issues better or worse.

When it comes to Mr Wragg, who admitted sharing MPs’ and journalists’ phone numbers with someone he met on Grindr who had “compromising things” on him, there is widespread incredulity that a sitting MP would do such a thing, overlaid with some anger over Number 10’s handling of it – with some arguing that Rishi Sunak failed to move quickly enough to take control of the story, suspend Mr Wragg and look decisive.

Instead, ministers were dispatched to defend the MP as ”courageous”, while it was Mr Wragg himself who decided to give up the Tory whip his week. He is now sitting as an independent MP.

“Madness [to send pictures and give out personal details] and yet our leadership decided to defend him,” one former cabinet minister texted this week. “If it wasn’t so stupid. It would be genuinely funny. The script of the Thick Of It. A few of us messaged centre at weekend to say WTF. His resignation was inevitable.”

Ruth agrees, and says – while she has sympathy for Mr Wragg being in this “horrible situation” – that he is “somebody in an important job who has responsibilities” to the place he works and people with whom he works.

“The idea you throw all of that out of the window for a quick shag or to exchange a pic is so wilfully irresponsible that actually I don’t think [much of] the level of understanding, or acceptance or excuse that the government made on his behalf.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sexting MP ‘right to quit’

“I think it’s bad judgement and I think this is another one where you look at the judgement of the prime minister and go, you know this, this doesn’t fly.”

But aside from questions about the political handling from the centre – and there are issues around safeguarding a vulnerable MP, which I talk about in the pod – there are also wider questions, again, around MPs’ security in a world where contacts count and phone numbers are currency.

“People give numbers out all the time. Having people’s phone numbers is a massive currency in Westminster,” explains Jess, who points out that MPs are using personal phones in parliament.

“The trouble is that I think people think we have parliamentary phones but it’s just my personal phone, so they don’t own it. I’m way more careful about my parliamentary computer and the iPad they gave me.

“So I imagine what will come out of this is probably that we all have to have parliamentary-issued phones that are locked down by the security services. I imagine that’s where it’s going.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Starmer: Rayner tax story is ‘smear’

With a sex scandal engulfing the Conservatives once more, on the other side of the political divide, Ms Rayner is struggling to put to bed questions over whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago, before she became an MP.

Ms Rayner has made it clear she took tax advice at the time and has done nothing wrong, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out to defend her and accused the Tories of trying to smear her over a story with no substance.

Neither Ruth, Jess nor I think the story is getting much cut through, largely because of the complexity of it all, but that isn’t stopping the Conservatives pursuing Ms Rayner with real ferocity.

Ruth thinks the Tories are going in hard for a number of reasons.

First, she thinks Labour “hasn’t had this level of scrutiny for a long time”, so this is an opportunity for the party machine to “try to flex its muscles”. Second, Ms Rayner has been used as “an attack dog” for the party on these issues so “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.

Read more:
Angela Rayner’s tax affairs – a smear or a real trust problem for Labour?

Michelle Donelan: Minister’s legal fees take total cost of libel case to £34,000

She also argues that “there is a purpose to man-mark her off the pitch”, but it won’t change the public’s view of Ms Rayner: “She’ll be a Marmite politician for the whole of her career because of the strength of her character. The people who love her will love her and the people who can’t stand her will turn the TV off when she comes on.”

Jess concedes the issue is hurting Ms Rayner but thinks she will ride it out and believes there’s a risk that “if it starts to look like the Conservatives are picking on her, it has a counter effect”.

Electoral Dysfunction
Electoral Dysfunction

Listen to Beth Rigby, Jess Phillips and Ruth Davidson as they unravel the spin in a new weekly podcast from Sky News

Tap here to follow

But, in a similar way to the Beergate story that hounded Sir Keir and Ms Rayner during 2021 – they were accused, and cleared, of breaking lockdown rules in Durham – the Conservatives show little sign of letting go of Ms Rayner or her tax affairs until they have wrung every single drop out of it.

And if, in an election year, they can try to make “tax dodger” land – or at least disrupt her campaigning – Conservative campaign headquarters will chalk it up as a win.

So while the hope from Ms Rayner’s and Sir Keir’s respective offices is that the story will burn itself out, it may be that Ms Rayner, in the end, has to do more to put it properly to bed: on that, all three of us agree.

Continue Reading

Politics

UK’s nuclear deterrent the ‘bedrock’ in Labour plans to keep Britain safe, Sir Keir Starmer says

Published

on

By

UK's nuclear deterrent the 'bedrock' in Labour plans to keep Britain safe, Sir Keir Starmer says

Sir Keir Starmer will announce later today that the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the “bedrock” of his plan to keep Britain safe.

If elected, the Labour leader plans for his party to prioritise defence procurement to strengthen UK security and economic growth, with an aim to direct British defence investment to British business first, with a higher bar set for any decision to buy abroad.

It comes as Sir Keir confirmed his ambition was to boost the defence budget to 2.5% of GDP, if it fits with Labour’s fiscal rules, according to an interview with the i newspaper.

Politics latest: Follow live updates

He is expected to make the announcement during a trip to a shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to see nuclear submarines being built – the first visit of its kind by a Labour leader in more than 30 years.

Sir Keir is set to say: “The changed Labour Party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total.

“In the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of Labour’s plan to keep Britain safe. It will ensure vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high-paying jobs across the UK.”

The Labour leader will also affirm the party’s commitment to the Aukus security pact and will pledge that the submarines should be built in Barrow “for decades to come”.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY MARCH 13 File photo dated 11/03/24 of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has said he is "committed" to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying in the next Parliament. The Labour leader made the pledge to campaigner Dame Esther Rantzen, whose revelation that she had joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland has put the subject under the spotlight in recent months. Issue date: Wednesday March 13, 2024.
Image:
Pic: PA

During the visit, Sir Keir will speak to workers, union members and apprentices from the shipyard, alongside shadow defence secretary, John Healey, and Australian high commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith.

The party is set to campaign on its commitment to the nuclear deterrent in key communities in the nuclear supply chain, including: Plymouth Moor View, home to the Devonport shipyard; Filton and Bradley Stoke, home of Abbey Wood; and Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber, home to HMNB Clyde.

Mr Healey will add: “A strong defence industrial strategy will be hardwired into Labour’s mission 1 in government to drive economic growth across the UK. We will make it fundamental to direct defence investment first to British jobs and British industry.”

Construction of the Ambush submarine at the BAE Systems in Barrow-in Furness.
Image:
Construction of the Ambush submarine in Barrow-in Furness. File pic: PA

‘Attempted distraction’ and ‘grotesque’ visit

Reacting to Sir Keir’s shipyard visit, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the trip was an “attempted distraction” from the “scandal” surrounding Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who is continuing to face questions over her living arrangements and tax affairs before she became an MP.

He said Sir Keir and Mr Healey, “tried twice to put Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the nation’s armed forces”.

Referring to David Lammy, he said Labour’s shadow foreign secretary “even voted repeatedly to scrap Trident”.

“They are not the party to be trusted with our nation’s defences,” he added.

“This is just another attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal. If Sir Keir Starmer cannot show leadership on this issue, how can he be trusted to make decision on national security.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Is spending 2.5% of GDP on defence enough?’

The SNP, which opposes having a nuclear deterrent in the UK, also criticised the visit as “grotesque” and accused Labour of throwing “billions more down the drain”.

Read more:
Tories have overseen nuclear ‘renaissance’ – Sunak
The world is on cusp of a nuclear arms space race

The party’s defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes said: “Westminster has already wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on nuclear weapons and expensive nuclear energy.

“It is therefore grotesque that Sir Keir Starmer is prepared to throw billions more down the drain when his party claim there is no money to improve our NHS, help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future.

“This money would be better spent on a raft of other things – not least investing in the green energy gold rush, which would ensure Scotland, with all its renewable energy potential, could be a green energy powerhouse of the 21st century.”

Continue Reading

Trending