Connect with us



Those worried about the health of British politics have diagnosed a new disease at Westminster.

Chris Patten, a grandee from the Conservative establishment, spotted what he called “Long Boris” last summer.

Weeks after Boris Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister, Lord Patten, a former party chairman and former BBC chairman, lamented the persistent “corrupting and debilitating impact of Johnson’s premiership on British politics and government.”

As with ‘SARS-Covid-19’ there was some debate as to how the condition should be named in general conversation.

Eventually, “Long Johnson” was settled on rather than the more familiar “Long Boris”.

The commentator Paul Waugh listed some of the symptoms of Long Johnson he saw in the bloodstream of the Conservative party: “A debilitating condition that led it to lose its sense of taste, decency and direction.”

Long Johnson hit fever pitch with the Conservative party’s short-lived collective decision to select Johnson’s preferred candidate, Liz Truss, as the next prime minister. That quickly burnt itself out.

More from Politics

Westminster Accounts: Search for your MP

On taking office Rishi Sunak tried to shake off Long Johnson by promising that his government would be one of “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at all times. It is not proving so easy for the new prime minister to escape unwanted legacies from his predecessor-but-one.

Questions of probity over two men who were promoted by Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Richard Sharp, have combined to create the biggest political crisis of Sunak’s short premiership.

According to Raphael Behr, political columnist on The Guardian, the “Zahawi episode is a symptom of Long Johnson, the chronic, recurrent, debilitation of government by a pathogen that still circulates in the ruling party long after the original infection has been treated”.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Analysis: Labour says PM ‘too weak’

The embarrassments Sunak is grappling with are debilitating hangovers from the Johnson era, so is the fumbling way the prime minister is dealing with them.

Nadhim Zahawi had the reputation at Westminster of a comparatively competent and personable minister, one of those credited with the successful roll-out of the vaccine programme. But as often with politicians who become conspicuously wealthy there was much gossip about his finances.

His wealth was generated as a co-founder of the polling company YouGov before he became an MP.

Scrutiny of Zahawi’s finances sharpened when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, the politician responsible for the nation’s finances and tax system. In seeking the truth, journalists received what they considered to be aggressive threats of libel from lawyers acting for Zahawi, designed to suppress allegations, some of which have been confirmed as accurate.

It is now known that while he was Chancellor, Zahawi quietly negotiated a tax settlement totalling some £5m, including a penalty of more than £1m, with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for which he was the minister responsible.

Zahawi says his mistake was “careless but not deliberate”. Jim Harra, the head of HMRC, told MPs this week: “There are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs.”

There is no pressing reason why Boris Johnson should have made Zahawi chancellor. Nor does the haste with which the appointment was made suggest that the prime minister or his officials, led by the Cabinet Secretary, had sufficient time for due diligence looking into his suitability for this most sensitive financial post. Yet their green light then effectively gave him a free pass to prominent ministerial ranks under both Truss and Sunak.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Questions need answering’ in Zahawi case

By late last year scrutiny by an honours committee elsewhere in Whitehall reportedly held up a proposed knighthood for Zahawi.

In the past, when serving prime ministers have announced their intention to resign, other ministers have stayed in post until the successor is chosen. He or she then assembles their own cabinet team. This has been so even when threatened ministerial resignations force out a prime minister, as happened to both Tony Blair and Boris Johnson.

Once he announced he was going, Johnson could have said that he was not accepting resignations and that all minsters would stay on in the interim. That is not the way Boris Johnson behaved. He used his dying powers of patronage to settle scores and to try to influence the outcome of the leadership election.

He fired Michael Gove and then he troubled the ailing Queen to appoint an entirely new temporary cabinet for the few weeks of the leadership contest. Johnson promoted Zahawi to the Treasury, thus crucially depriving Rishi Sunak of the status of high office during the leadership battle, while Truss luxuriated in the great office of state of foreign secretary.

Earlier, after Sunak emerged as the person most likely to replace Johnson, he became the subject of damaging leaks about his US Green Card and his wife’s non-dom status. The Metropolitan Police coincidentally tarnished the teetotal Sunak’s reputation, and blunted the impact on Johnson, by issuing them both with fixed penalty notices for breaking COVID regulations at the “ambushed with a cake” Johnson birthday party in the cabinet room.

Sunak experienced the hard way the phenomenon, now hitting Zahawi and Sharp, that friendship with Johnson often has adverse consequences.

Richard Sharp insists that he was appointed the chairman of the BBC on merit after a rigorous selection process. There is no reason to doubt his perspective. When I knew him at university, more than 40 years ago, he was an exceptionally decent and considerate person. He went on to build a highly successful career in finance alongside generous voluntary contributions to public service and charity.

Men with known political affiliations such as Michael Grade, Gavyn Davies and Marmaduke Hussey have been appointed to the BBC chair by other prime ministers. But Boris Johnson made the final decision over Sharp, after he and his allies had previously broken with precedent by conjuring up culture wars and pre-endorsing friends and allies such as Paul Dacre and Charles Moore for top posts in the media, normally viewed as apolitical – unsuccessfully it turned out.

Johnson used his patronage to appoint Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords, someone who had helped him out with his personal finances. Richard Sharp says he “simply connected” people, who then facilitated an undeclared personal £800,000 overdraft guarantee for the prime minister.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Zahawi should ‘stand aside’

Richard Sharp and cabinet secretary Simon Case may genuinely have decided this was immaterial to Sharp’s BBC application but is that the way Boris Johnson sees things? Several enquiries into Sharp’s appointment are now under way. Johnson’s benefactor Sam Blyth is an old friend of Sharp.

The inquiries will doubtless ascertain whether Boris Johnson knew of this obliging distant cousin’s existence before Sharp introduced him to the cabinet secretary.

Long Johnson is also evident in the way the government is handling these potential scandals.

Quick resignations and moving on are things of the past. Following a pattern which became familiar during the Johnson era, Sunak has presided over, and sometimes joined in, denials that have turned out to be inaccurate, playing for time by calling for further inquiries after awkward facts are established.

Sir Keir Starmer had a two-pronged attack at PMQs: “We all know why the prime minister was reluctant to ask his party chair questions about family finances and tax avoidance, but his failure to sack him, when the whole country can see what is going on, shows how hopelessly weak he is.”

Sizeable minorities in parliament and perhaps even more in the Tory membership are not loyal to Sunak and hanker for a return of Johnson. This limits Sunak’s ability to lead firmly.

With his oblique reference to the great wealth of Sunak’s family, the leader of the opposition went further, implying that the prime minister is really just one of them – sharing similar values, or the absence of them, to Johnson and Zahawi and the same acquisitiveness.

Only urgent decisive action by Sunak can demonstrate that he has beaten the plague of Long Johnson.

Continue Reading


Tetiana’s raw and devastating story of loss reveals the pain behind Ukraine’s war statistics




Tetiana's raw and devastating story of loss reveals the pain behind Ukraine's war statistics

In a country like Ukraine, where entire cities are being bludgeoned to the ground, the human ramifications are so vast that they often overwhelm the ability of journalists to describe them. 

Instead, we rely on numbers – numbers, for example, from the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine which reports that 10,582 civilians have been killed since Russia launched its full-scale attack.

We quote statistics from the Office of the President of Ukraine, which says 529 children have died as a result of the fighting since February 2022.

It was in the city of Kharkiv, however, that I was confronted by the consequences of this conflict in a way that was so raw and devastating that the meaning buried within these numbers was painfully revealed.

On 10 February, the Russians targeted a large fuel depot in the city, using three of their Iran-made Shahed drones.

Firefighters work at the site of a Russian drone strike in Kharkiv on 10 February. Pic: Reuters
A fire erupted after the drone strike on 10 February. Pic: Reuters

Their assault was successful – spectacularly so, with smoke and flames from the ruptured tanks billowing miles above the city. A million gallons of diesel and petrol poured into the surrounding streets, flowing like lava into a nearby residential neighbourhood.

The heat was so intense that firefighters struggled to approach the blaze. Some 4,000 square metres were incinerated, along with 15 homes in the city’s Nemyshlyansky district.

More on Kharkiv

When we first saw Tetiana Putiatina, she was standing outside the charred remains of 32 Kotelnia Street. She used to live here with her only son Hryhory and his family of five.

Tetiana Putiatina lost her son, daughter in law and three grand children in a Russian attack on Kharkiv.
Tetiana Putiatina lost her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren when a Russian drone strike hit Kharkiv last month

When I approached, I could tell that the 61-year-old had been crying.

“The children were asleep, there were three of them – seven years old, four years old and 10 months old. They just didn’t have time to get out, to gather the children,” she whispered.

Tetiana was visiting a relative on the night of the attack, leaving the rest of the family at home.

“By nine in the morning, I’d already returned, when they were recovering the bodies. They didn’t show them to me. They were so badly burned.”

Her son Hryhory was a builder and his wife Olna worked at the local prosecutor’s office. She told me the pair had spent much of the past two years trying to keep their three boys safe.

Tetiana Putiatina lost her son, daughter in law and their three children in a Russian attack on Kharkiv.

Their oldest child was Oleksii with Mykhaylo in the middle. Pavlo – or Pasha, as they called him – was the baby.

Their parents had taken them to western Ukraine at the beginning of the war when the Russian troops tried to break into Kharkiv but they had returned to the city after several months.

Tetiana said the family would rush to their underground shelter in the garden when the sound of the bombing got close.

On the night of 10 February, however, they had no time to escape, no chance to avoid a river of fire that was racing their way.

Hryhory was a builder and his wife Olna worked at the local prosecutor's office. They were killed along with their three children in Kharkiv in a Russian attack.
Hryhory, Olna and their three children died in the drone assault

“They found my son here, this is where he lay,” said Tetiana, pointing to a spot on the floor in what remains of the corridor.

“It looks like he was looking for a way out. Here in the bathroom, that’s where Olna was, holding two of the children close to her chest. The middle boy (Mykhaylo) ran out to the kitchen. Probably, he was trying to reach his dad.”

Their funeral was held three days later and in a recording of the event, we see surviving family members trying to grapple with the catastrophe. The baby, Pasha, was buried with his mother and we see Tetiana wrapping her arms around their coffin as she sobs.

When these images were posted online, Tetiana was mocked by some who accused her of pretending to be upset. They were Russians seeking to deepen her wounds, she said.

Three children - (in order of age) Oleksii with Mykhaylo and Pavlo killed in attack on Kharkiv
All three children were killed in the attack

“When we were mourning at the cemetery, I held the coffin. There were comments, like, ‘what an actress’ and ‘she plays her role well’.”

She began to cry. “They say they are liberating us. Who are they liberating?

“I was born in the Belgorod region (of Russia) myself. Do they liberate me?

“And my in-laws, my parents-in-law, were all from Russia. We were all Russian-speaking.”

The fuel depot was still smoking when we visited the site and the roads surrounding it were thick with a black sticky residue. We saw workers trying to patch up the heating and water pipes – but there are things in Kharkiv that will never be repaired.

A security guard who works next to what is left of the fuel depot told us it was like looking at a picture of hell.

“You know, the stench will linger for years – that smell is going to stay and it has affected the atmosphere here because there were huge clouds of smoke. It was terrible.”

Tetiana Putiatina's son, daughter in law and three grand children were killed in a Russian attack on Kharkiv.
Tetiana was visiting a relative when the attack happened

Read more:
A day of mourning – and rage – on Ukraine war anniversary
Baltic states on NATO’s frontline with Russia tell allies to ‘wake up’
The surgeon smuggled into Mariupol

The consequences of this attack will strike many as a depressing feature of Ukraine’s daily existence, another number in an endlessly rising statistical column. But there is nothing normal about this for Tetiana Putiatina.

The destruction of her house and the death of her loved ones have left her with nothing to live for.

“Of course, it’s hard. I come here every day, sometimes multiple times a day.

“I’ll come here, walk around the house, where they found their bodies.

“I’ll shout, I’ll cry, and then I’ll leave.”

Continue Reading


State of emergency in Haiti as gang leader seeks to oust prime minister and prisoners escape




State of emergency in Haiti as gang leader seeks to oust prime minister and prisoners escape

A state of emergency has been declared in Haiti after violence in the capital led to two prison breaks as a major gang leader tries to oust the prime minister.

The government decree follows a dramatic escalation in clashes over the weekend, which paralysed parts of Port-au-Prince and temporarily downed communications.

Heavy gunfire has caused panic in recent days after calls by gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer, for criminal groups to unite and overthrow Ariel Henry.

In a bid to restore order, a curfew will apply from 6pm to 5am each day until Wednesday, which may be extended for another 72 hours.

Armed groups attacked the country’s largest prison on Saturday night, defying police forces who had called for help.

On Sunday, there was no sign of police officers at the National Penitentiary and the main prison doors remained open.

“I’m the only one left in my cell,” one unidentified inmate told Reuters news agency. “We were asleep when we heard the sound of bullets. The cell barriers are broken.”

The National Penitentiary following violent clashes on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
The National Penitentiary following violent clashes on Sunday. Pic: Reuters

A man calls for protesters to stop on Friday. Pic: Reuters
A man calls for protesters to stop on Friday. Pic: Reuters

It is unclear how many inmates are on the run, but sources close to the institution say it is likely to be an “overwhelming” majority.

The prison was built to keep 700 prisoners, but held 3,687 as of February last year, according to rights group RNDDH.

One voluntary prison worker on Sunday said 99 prisoners had chosen to stay in their cells for fear of being killed in the crossfire.

The bodies of three inmates who had tried to flee lay dead in the prison courtyard on Sunday, while two bodies with their hands tied behind the backs lay face down in another neighbourhood.

Among those still in the prison are 18 former Colombian soldiers who were jailed for their alleged involvement in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Mr Henry’s predecessor.

Colombian inmates open a gate inside the prison. Pic: AP
Colombian inmates open a gate inside the prison. Pic: AP

A police officer takes aim amid clashes. Pic: AP
A police officer takes aim amid clashes. Pic: AP

“Please, please help us,” one of the men, Francisco Uribe, said in the message widely shared on social media. “They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.”

On Sunday, Mr Uribe told journalists who walked into the normally highly guarded facility: “I didn’t flee because I’m innocent.”

Mr Cherizier had warned locals earlier this week to keep children from going to school to “avoid collateral damages” as violence surged while the prime minister sought support abroad.

Read more:
Women and children rescued after gang surrounds Haiti hospital
Haitian president’s assassination: Businessman gets life in prison

Nearly 15,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in recent days, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration.

Prime Minister Henry, who came to power in 2021 after Mr Moise’s assassination, had previously pledged to step down by early February.

He later said security must first be re-established in order to ensure free and fair elections.

Continue Reading


Ferrari stolen from Formula One driver Gerhard Berger in 1995 recovered by police nearly three decades later




Ferrari stolen from Formula One driver Gerhard Berger in 1995 recovered by police nearly three decades later

A Ferrari stolen from former Formula One driver Gerhard Berger nearly three decades ago has been recovered by police.

Berger was racing in the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix held at Imola in Italy when his Ferrari F512M was stolen alongside another sports car.

Police believe the car – a revamped version of Ferrari’s iconic Testarossa – was shipped to Japan soon after it was stolen.

However, the sports car, painted in the classic Ferrari red and said to be worth around £350,000, was brought to the UK in late 2023.

Gerhard Berger's  Ferrari was stolen 28 years ago.
Pic: PA
Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari was stolen 28 years ago.
Pic: Met Police

Gerhard Berger's Ferrari was stolen 28 years ago. 
Pic: PA
Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari was stolen 28 years ago.
Pic: Met Police

It came to the attention of the Metropolitan Police in January this year, when officers received a report from the Italian car marker.

Ferrari had carried out checks on a car being bought by a US buyer via a UK broker in 2023, which revealed it was a stolen vehicle.

Gerhard Berger, Ferrari Brazilian Grand Prix 26.3.95 Please Credit: John Marsh / Action Images F1, via Reuters
Gerhard Berger, pictured in 1995. Pic: John Marsh / Action Images F1, via Reuters

PC Mike Pilbeam, who led the investigation, said: “The stolen Ferrari was missing for more than 28 years before we managed to track it down in just four days.

“Our enquiries were painstaking and included contacting authorities from around the world.

“We worked quickly with partners including the National Crime Agency, as well as Ferrari and international car dealerships, and this collaboration was instrumental in understanding the vehicle’s background and stopping it from leaving the country.”

Read more from Sky News:
Red Bull team risks being ‘torn apart’
Katie Boulter wins San Diego Open

The second car remains missing.

No arrests have yet been made, but enquiries are ongoing, the force added.

Former Formula One driver Gerhard Berger attends an event to celebrate 90 years of Italian premium sports car maker Ferrari racing team at Milan's Duomo square, in Milan, Italy September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Flavio lo Scalzo
Former Formula One driver Gerhard Berger, pictured in 2019. Pic: Reuters

The Ferrari F512M was the last version of the Italian car maker’s iconic Testarossa. Around 500 were produced between 1994 and 1996.

The Testarossa itself was Ferrari’s flagship model throughout much of the 1980s, becoming synonymous with yuppies, and famously featuring in the hit crime drama, Miami Vice.

Berger, who raced for Scuderia Ferrari for much of his Formula One career, was among the famous faces who owned a Testarossa, along with the likes of Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, and Elton John.

Continue Reading