Have the last few weeks seen a turning point in Boris Johnson’s premiership?
Dozens of Tories have refused to follow the prime minister’s orders in the voting lobbies on issues as diverse as sleaze and social care.
Meanwhile a handful of Tory MPs have gone public with demands for change, with many more complaining in Westminster’s cafes and bars. At times, it has felt like Mr Johnson was losing his political agility.
“There are too many issues at the moment in which the government is shooting itself in the foot with issues and problems which as I say colleagues are warning and warning and warning about and that are visible from Venus, Mars even maybe visible from Pluto,” northern Tory and ex minister Andrew Percy told Sky News.
“And that has got to stop because we owe the people of this country better than that.”
Mr Percy hasn’t always been a rebel, though he accepts that description now.
Not that long ago he occupied the high profile portfolio of Northern Powerhouse minister until 2017 and was an early backer of Mr Johnson’s leadership in the summer of 2019.
Nor can he just be dismissed as one of a small number of irreconcilables.
Almost one in seven Tory MPs – 52 of them – have rebelled more often than Mr Percy, according to the Public Whip website which provides a crude tally of how many times he and his colleagues have voted against their party.
Yet he is one of the few prepared to go on the record in a television interview quite so expansively with their concerns, and as he sits in his office next to a full size Yorkshire flag, he worries, the government’s political antennae is wonky.
“Those are questions that people around the prime minister and then the senior levels of government have to ask themselves.
“They have to look and see if the setup of this government is broad enough, if it is drawn wide enough from the party if it is reflective of our new voter base, if it’s reflective even of our new base on the back benches.”
Last week, he voted like many others against the government’s social care plans because they will mean the less well off having to pay more than affluent voters before the state steps in and picks up care home bills.
Tory rebels cut the government majority from 80 to 26, setting off alarm bells across the party.
Mr Percy blasts Rishi Sunak’s department, saying their focus on keeping control of public spending is getting in the way of the party meeting its promises.
He said: “The Treasury has to be cognizant of what we promised people, what we told people, and I understand absolutely, you know, public spending is at record levels, you know, the amount of debt we are facing following COVID and all the rest of it is really, really very challenging.
“And these same conversations are happening in governments all across the world. I totally appreciate the challenge, but commitments were made, be that on rail, they were made on social care, they were put into our manifesto, people voted for us on the basis of those and therefore, you know, we need to ensure that we are making good on those promises.”
Beneath the surface this argument, between Tories who want to spend whatever it takes to deliver for voters, and those who think strong public finances are the bedrock of the Tory claim to competence.
Not all promises cost money, however, and Tories across the party are worried one of their biggest weaknesses stems from making offers that never materialise.
Ex-minister Tim Loughton, now a Tory on the home affairs select committee, points the finger firmly at France for the migrant crisis.
However he worries that the government has talked up its ability to find a quick fix too often when it is unable to find an easy solution.
“There is a genuine concern that the government has talked tough,” he told me. “The government genuinely wants this trade to end, as we all do, but we haven’t been able to achieve that on our own because most of the cards are in the hands of French.
“And perhaps it wasn’t wise to overpromise when we couldn’t rely on the partnership we need to solve this.”
Soon there will be two opportunities for voters to pass their verdict, with two traditionally safe Tory seats heading to the polls for a byelection.
This Thursday will see the vote in Bexley and Old Sidcup where the south London voters will choose a successor to popular minister James Brokenshire, who died of cancer in October.
Two weeks later, voters in North Shropshire will elect a successor to disgraced ex-minister Owen Paterson. Few expect an upset in Bexley, although some Liberal Democrats say they are putting in a concerted effort in Shropshire.
On the streets of Bexley, however, there was little sign of danger for Mr Johnson, where at times voters appeared more forgiving than his own MPs.
Tory voters there talk of Mr Johnson going “off the boil” and “fumbling” and doing things that mean they “lack confidence”.
Asked if that means they will take their vote elsewhere, most said not, often arguing he had been dealt an unprecedented bad hand.
This could be dismissed as an outlier result in a safe Tory seat, but the national opinion polls suggest that even after the most recent few weeks, Mr Johnson’s party enjoys an advantage.
The most recent YouGov survey from last week puts the Tories on 36% and Labour on 35%.
Older voters in the 65 and above category are twice as likely to vote Tory than Labour, an advantage Labour has not yet begun to directly tackle.
Meanwhile there is little sign Keir Starmer’s Labour is winning over Tory votes directly. Amongst those who voted Tory in 2019, 6% would now choose to vote for Labour but twice as many, 11%, would go for the little known Brexit Party successor, Reform UK.
The last three weeks have seen doubts about Mr Johnson in Westminster unthinkable even during Tory conference in early October, as well as calls for him to shake up his team and signs of fissures in government.
It is not yet clear those doubts in Westminster have filtered through and changed the voting habits in the country.
5 highlights of Sam Bankman-Fried’s first day of trial
The high-profile trial of former FTX CEO Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried kicked off on Oct. 3 with plenty of activity both inside and outside of the cramped Manhattan courtroom.
Journalists, crypto influencers and other gawkers reportedly gathered in a media overflow room to take notes on the day’s events. Here are some of the most colorful observations about the day.
Noticeably leaner, signature haircut gone
The defendant, Bankman-Fried, appeared noticeably leaner, according to multiple reports.
Flanked by five defense lawyers, he was dressed in a navy suit that seemed bigger on him in previous appearances, and his signature unkempt curly locks were subbed for a shorter hairstyle.
Some of the first court sketches of SBF’s new haircut by Jane Rosenberg for Reuters: pic.twitter.com/n0FqW71PWD
— Luc Cohen (@cohenluc) October 3, 2023
Unchained Crypto’s Laura Shin noted that Bankman-Fried was noticeably “less jittery than normal.”
“I did not see him shake his leg at all,” she said in an Oct. 3 podcast.
The only time he spoke was to say “yes” to the judge and occasionally look at the jurors. Other times, he conferred with his lawyers or was seen typing and scrolling on his air-gapped laptop.
MY SBF HAIRCUT SKETCH VS COURT GUY pic.twitter.com/rNC4MC2xRK
— Tiffany Fong (@TiffanyFong_) October 3, 2023
SBF has spent the past seven weeks or so locked up at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. When his lawyers unsuccessfully argued for his release, they claimed that he was subsisting on “bread and water” and lacking vegan meal options.
Crypto influencer Tiffany Fong said, “He kind of looks more criminal now.”
Journalists, influencers and skeptics come to “crypto prom”
The first day of the trial was described as feeling like “the first day of school,” according to some journalists in attendance.
“I’ve never seen the courthouse like this,” remarked an unnamed member of the press, according to The Slate.
“While waiting to access the media overflow room, I spotted practically anyone and everyone who’s had something to say about decentralized currency over the last few years,” said The Slates’ Nitish Pahwa.
He described it as a “crypto prom” crammed with a hodgepodge of paid media participants, crypto influencers, obsessives, skeptics and more.
i am standing outside of SDNY for SBF’s trial pic.twitter.com/WDGd8kVqdQ
— Tiffany Fong (@TiffanyFong_) October 3, 2023
Cointelegraph reporter Ana Paula Pereira is also in attendance and will give daily updates on the most significant developments throughout the trial.
Jurors get whittled down, and some share sad crypto stories
Judge Lewis B. Kaplan told the burgeoning crowd of potential jurors: “You are to do no research. You are not to read press coverage”; however, he lightened up when it came to questioning the crowd, reported Cointelegraph.
Potential jurors were asked if they had prior knowledge about FTX and Alameda, with one saying they learned about it from The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, according to a partial transcript from Inner City Press.
One juror said they worked with a company that invested in (and lost money on) FTX and Alameda. Another potential juror said:
“I invested in crypto. I lost money.”
One juror shared that he wasn’t sure if he could be unbiased with crypto: “I’ve felt negatively about it since I learned about it.” He was later dismissed from the pool of potential jurors.
Another juror even asked the judge whether a death sentence could be imposed for Bankman-Fried, to which the judge answered:
“We’ll get to it in a minute or two, and my answer will have to suffice. Anyone unwilling to accept that punishment is up to the court? No one.”
At the end of the session, Judge Kaplan said, “We now have a sufficient group of qualified jurors, 50.” He added that 18 people will be selected in total, 12 of whom will be jurors with six alternates.
He added that on the next day (Oct. 4), a microphone will be passed around for each juror to speak for a minute. “Then the lawyers will confer, and the final selection will be made,” he concluded.
Witnesses for the prosecution
An assistant U.S. attorney read out a list of potential witnesses for the prosecution. This included some expected names, such as former company executives Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, Nishad Singh, Ryne Miller and Constance Wang; family members Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried; and even Anthony Scaramucci.
Several institutions were also listed, including Jane Street Capital, Sequoia Capital, BlockFi, Genesis, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Binance, Nexo, Guarding Against Pandemics (the nonprofit of SBF’s brother) and Voyager Digital.
Six-week trial expected
Judge Kaplan said that the trial was expected to take about six weeks, but he also noted that it could be over in a much shorter time.
However, by the end of the day, he had not succeeded in finalizing the jury. Kaplan predicted that this would be completed by the morning of Oct. 4, after which both sides are expected to give opening arguments totaling around 90 minutes.
— Cointelegraph (@Cointelegraph) October 3, 2023
Crypto-friendly Patrick McHenry takes interim House Speaker position
United States Representative and crypto-friendly lawmaker Patrick McHenry has been appointed as interim House Speaker after the high-profile ousting of U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy’s ousting came after a 216–210 vote by Congress, with eight of the 216 votes coming from McCarthy’s fellow Republicans, marking the first time a House Speaker has been removed in U.S. history, according to Reuters.
The vote was prompted by a motion from one of McCarthy’s political rivals, Matt Gaetz, who called into question several contradictory promises made by McCarthy.
Though temporary, McHenry’s appointment could be seen as a small win for the digital asset sector. The Speaker sets the House’s legislative agenda, controls committee assignments, and schedules specific bills to be debated and voted upon in the chamber.
The House Speaker is considered the most influential position in the U.S. government behind the president and vice president.
Meanwhile, McHenry is regarded as one of the biggest challengers to the Securities Exchange Commission’s regulation-by-enforcement-style approach to the cryptocurrency sector.
McHenry also grilled SEC Chair Gary Gensler in his testimony before Congress last week, suggesting he’s attempting to “choke off the digital asset ecosystem.” McHenry also called Gensler out for refusing to be transparent with Congress about the SEC’s connections with FTX and its former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried.
SEC Chair @GaryGensler refuses to schedule a Commission vote to provide Congress with requested documents.
Should Gensler continue to stonewall, Republicans will have no choice but to issue the first subpoena to the SEC from my Committee to compel their production. https://t.co/Aw5U0aJ0Tt
— Patrick McHenry (@PatrickMcHenry) October 2, 2023
McHenry also released the discussion draft “Digital Asset Market Structure Proposal” on June 1, which purports to provide clarity, fill regulatory gaps, and foster innovation in the cryptocurrency space, a paper that was praised by some industry leaders.
However, McHenry’s tenure as House Speaker may be short-lived, with an official vote on a new House Speaker set for Oct. 11, according to Bloomberg.
A Reuters report speculates that, along with McHenry, there is a possibility that pro-crypto Representative Tom Emmer or even Donald Trump could be a possible replacement for McCarthy, though none have publicly expressed interest in taking the position.
50-50 we get a crypto champion as Speaker now, with Whip Emmer and Speaker pro tempore McHenry in the running. Wild day.
(Speaker of the House is third in power behind President and VP for the non-US followers out there.) https://t.co/2ow5li2lnw
— Ryan Selkis (@twobitidiot) October 3, 2023
Meanwhile, McCarthy has already confirmed he won’t run for House Speaker again.
Rishi Sunak to pitch himself as prime minister to ‘fundamentally change the country’
Rishi Sunak will try to convince the public he is the person to “fundamentally change the country” and fix Westminster’s “broken system” – despite the fact his party has been in government for 13 years.
In his speech to the Tory Party conference, the prime minister will present himself as a reformer who is prepared to take difficult decisions, unlike opponents, who take “the easy decision, not the right one”.
Mr Sunak will tell the conference hall that politics “doesn’t work the way it should” and that his Labour opponent, Sir Keir Starmer, is “betting on voters’ apathy.”
The speech will round off what has been a chaotic four days at the party’s annual conference in Manchester – an event that has been overshadowed by the announcement that the northern leg of HS2 will not go ahead as originally envisioned.
Instead, services will run between Birmingham and Manchester but they will not be high speed and they will use the existing West Coast Mainline track.
The development prompted Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to accuse the government of treating people in the north as “second-class citizens”.
He warned the government: “To pull that plug here in Manchester would show complete contempt to the city region and to the north of England as a whole.”
The Tory mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, also warned it would be “an incredible political gaffe” allowing opponents to accuse Mr Sunak of having decided to “shaft the north”.
In his speech, Mr Sunak will rail against “30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one – 30 years of vested interests standing in the way of change”.
He will reflect on his first year in Number 10 and acknowledge a “feeling that Westminster is a broken system”.
“It isn’t anger, it is an exhaustion with politics,” he will say.
“In particular, politicians saying things, and then nothing ever changing.
“And you know what? People are right. Politics doesn’t work the way it should.”
Poll shows most voters think Sunak is doing a bad job
A new poll of 1,000 people from Ipsos UK suggests most voters think Rishi Sunak is doing a bad job when it comes to hitting his goals.
On inflation, 57% said Mr Sunak was doing a bad job, up from 55% in May.
Some 54% said he was doing a bad job on growing the economy, up from 50% in May.
And 54% of people said he was doing a bad job on reducing national debt – up from 49%.
On cutting NHS waiting lists, dissatisfaction sits at 71%, compared to 62% in May.
On ‘stopping the boats’, two-thirds of people said he was doing a bad job.
The poll was carried out just before the Conservative party conference.
And he will say: “Politicians spent more time campaigning for change than actually delivering it.
“Our mission is to fundamentally change our country.”
As well as the HS2 announcement, Mr Sunak has also been undermined by his predecessor Liz Truss, who drew big conference crowds as she demanded immediate tax cuts to “make Britain grow again”.
Mr Sunak has instead compared himself to the late Baroness Thatcher, who tackled inflation before cutting taxes during her premiership between 1979 and 1990.
While Mr Sunak has repeatedly sought to dodge questions over HS2, he did say on Tuesday that the costs of the project had gone “far beyond” what had been predicted, and the sums involved were “enormous”.
The HS2 scheme was given a budget of £55.7bn in 2015 but costs have ballooned, with an estimate of up to £98bn – in 2019 prices – in 2020.
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