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Good morning. Another change in the public service? Simon Case is reported to be pondering his future as a senior UK civil servant. Some thoughts on our scoop in today’s note.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stéphane on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and comments to email@example.com
News that Sue Gray was set to join Keir Starmer’s squad broke amid the Conservative Party’s day out. The news spread through the gathered MPs “like wildfire”, in the words of one attendee, with MPs spotting her on their phones and informing nearby colleagues.
This spooked MPs for a number of reasons. The first is that some of them have had direct dealings with Sue Gray’s stint as the firm’s office repairman and “dispatcher” of secrets, and they fear that she will take those secrets with her.
The second, as I wrote on Friday, is that for some of Boris Johnson’s allies it offers them the opportunity to muddy the waters around Johnson’s exit and the significance of his parties’ report. (For the real story of Gray’s report, Rob Hutton’s article for review worth reading). But it helps them throw in enough mud and enough confusion to blur the real reasons for Johnson’s departure and – they hope – facilitate his return as prime minister.
The third is that for others they see a respected civil servant making the leap to the opposition, and they conclude that Gray, like many in Westminster, has quashed the Conservative party’s chances of staying in power after the next election. Isaac Levido, the party’s chief strategist, had spent much of the day presenting data showing that Labor’s lead is weak and the Tories have a viable path to victory in the next election.
That senior officials think their own prospects are best served by leaving public office for the opposition bureau chief seems, rightly or wrongly, as evidence against Levido’s conviction.
I don’t think that’s entirely true, but nevertheless, enough members believe it’s true. It’s also another issue for Simon Case, who was appointed Cabinet Secretary in September 2020. The row over whether or not Gray behaved properly in disclosing his meetings with Keir Starmer and his interest in the job could still come back to him.
That’s the background to our Chris Cook, George Parker and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe scoop: that Case is considering an early exit from the role.
The deal would be crazy not think about his future. He was extremely lucky to survive the leadership transition from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss. What saved him was the fact that Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng viewed Tom Scholar, the former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, as a bigger obstacle. The pair thought they couldn’t take the two out in one fell swoop without getting into too much trouble.
Now Case faces challenges on two fronts. On the one hand, there are lingering questions about Johnson’s Downing Street and the Cabinet Secretary’s knowledge of internal affairs, including Johnson’s alleged personal financial relationship with BBC chairman Richard Sharp. (Sharp said he put Sam Blyth, a businessman who approached him to help Johnson, in touch with Case.)
On the other hand, the Cabinet Secretary is quoted extensively in the Telegraph’s ‘Lockdown Files’: leaked WhatsApp messages received and sent by Matt Hancock at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. He seems to at least emerge as someone on the same side as Hancock.
Essentially everyone in the Conservative Party knew there were three key cabinet figures in the lockdown debates: Matt Hancock (pro), Michael Gove (pro) and Rishi Sunak (anti). But what is genuinely new, as far as the internal rhythms of the Conservative party are concerned, is that Case described some opposition to the Covid-19 restrictions as being driven by “pure conservative ideology”, and that Johnson was “distrusted at the national level”.
This leaves Case in a difficult position: he is causing concern among those who see him as Johnson’s latest courtier, a docile and ineffectual Cabinet Secretary who should not have survived the Prime Minister who appointed him. But he also faces criticism from lockdown skeptics on the conservative right.
Will he go? I don’t know. But given the forces he faces in the Conservative Party, he would be crazy not to at least consider leaving on his own terms.
My column this week is about World Book Day, costumes, and the resulting task for parents.
Now try this
Morning — Georgina here: I just read Trees by Percival Everett, a fast-paced satire of American racism that shifts from playful comedy to solemn horror, as it investigates a pattern of murders beginning in Money, Mississippi.
Also brilliant American satire: Virtuous Gemstones, a television series about a bizarre family of televangelists in charge of a corrupt mega-church. John Goodman gives an awesome performance as a world-renowned but undoubtedly human patriarch. My partner and I are working (and laughing) through season two.