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Partygate vote fails to excite after Conservatives allow free vote while Operation Brock works 'up to point', says highways chiefs

IN the manner of any indecisive child in a sweet shop the government seemed to not know exactly what it wanted to do about Labour’s proposal that there should be a probe into claims the Prime Minister had misled Parliament over various lockdown parties.

What is it to be, gobstoppers or sherbet lemons? Party managers left it to the last minute to throw in a curveball that it hoped would take the sting out of Labour’s attack machine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson can't shake partygate (Victoria Jones/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson can't shake partygate (Victoria Jones/PA)

You could see the dilemma.

If the Conservatives had gone ahead with its counter-proposal ordering backbenchers to block an inquiry into the Prime Minister, it risked being seen as trying to cover something up.

It would also be a reminder to the public of the disastrous handling of the Owen Patterson business.

He was the MP who had transgressed rules on lobbying and faced suspension from the Commons.

Conservative MPs were ordered to back a plan to save him by supporting a proposal to delay his suspension until a new committee was set up to examine how investigations are carried out.

The attempt to do something similar and head off yet another probe into the PM’s conduct was dramatically dropped shortly before the debate got underway yesterday.

The calculation had been that there was less likelihood of political damage by blocking or delaying another probe than there was by permitting one to go ahead. It was a lose-lose situation.

Still, the decision by the Conservatives to offer a free vote did inadvertently take some of the wind out of Labour’s sails.

The prospect of another humdinger of a political battle on partygate evaporated - leaving Labour to have a free hit. It was a political penalty shoot out, with one team being deprived of a goalkeeper.

There was a decidedly muted tone to proceedings, with the green benches sparsely populated. It could have done with an intervention or two from someone like the North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, who sends MPs scattering for cover with his incendiary outbursts.

It all fizzled out without even a proper vote.

The important point is that the Prime Minister is not out of the woods by any stretch and on top of the Sue Gray report, the possibility of more fines and a set of tricky local elections, he now faces a fully-fledged inquiry into claims he misled Parliament.

THERE was a post-mortem on Operation Brock this week with county councillors briefed on what had gone wrong and what had gone right.

The answer was that it depended on how you calculated success. Highways chiefs said taken in isolation, the different elements of the traffic management system worked as they should.

But dealing with the convergence of different factors – a ‘perfect storm – meant the more extreme measures of Brock were needed.

The general view was that on its own, Op Brock works up to a point. But if it ends up with the closure of the M20 when there is supposed to be a contraflow to keep traffic moving, we’re back to the bad old days of Op Stack.

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