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Allegations of cronyism and sleaze backdrop for Conservative local election campaign as Operation Brock goes and Labour tone down grammar opposition


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Allegations of cronyism and sleaze puts the government on the back foot this week.

But will it impact the make up of the county council as the local elections race heats up? Paul Francis reflects on a difficult week for the government.

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise over the texts
Boris Johnson has refused to apologise over the texts

THERE are many things that aggrieve voters but among them is the sense that politicians operate to a different set of rules when it comes to access and transparency.

This has been amplified this week by the revelations of the Prime Minister’s exchanges with billionaire businessman James Dyson concerning tax rules potentially affecting his workforce.

The PM seemingly sprung into action promptly, according to the leaked messages and promise to “fix it.”

The leaks come on top of the row over former PM David Cameron and his efforts to lobby the Treasury to change the rules on which businesses could get access to grants to help them through the coronavirus crisis.

And not forgetting the row over those fast-tracked NHS contracts.

For the government, these events have inevitably led to charges of cronyism and sleaze, and it was no surprise that Labour leader Keir Starmer came piling in with claims of double standards.

He has probably uttered the word “sleaze” more times this week than most of us do in a lifetime.

Meanwhile, the government's business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng offered the feeblest and most risible of defences by declaring: "One of the things in a democracy that we have to be very accessible."

If so, then we look forward to seeing the phone numbers of the PM and cabinet members published shortly.

There are so many official inquiries underway, it is hard to keep track. There's probably going to have to be an inquiry into the inquiries before long.

So, what impact will all this have on the council elections? For the Conservatives, it is not exactly the benign backdrop to May’s poll it had hoped for.

Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly criticised 'Tory sleaze' Picture: PA/Aaron Chown
Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly criticised 'Tory sleaze' Picture: PA/Aaron Chown

Opinion polls have been putting the party ahead by a comfortable margin - unusual for mid-term elections - and its stock had risen with the successful vaccination programme.

The political pendulum now seems to be swinging away as a result of this triple-whammy of controversies.

Some have made comparisons with the expenses scandal but it is worth pointing out that engulfed MPs of all parties, not just the Conservatives.

The biggest danger for the Conservatives is not that voters will switch allegiance but that they will not vote at all.

Even so, the numbers who might decide to stay at home are unlikely to be so considerable as to cause any major upheavals in the county council election.

And one of the Conservative party's strengths is in getting postal votes done and dusted long before polling day.

Having said all that, perception is important and the optics so far as to the government's treatment of friends and donors are not good.

But the other parties may have more of a spring in their step in the run up to May 6.

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ONCE upon a time Labour would put its opposition to grammar schools as a central plank of its manifesto at county council elections.

In the 2017 election, the party said it would “vigourously oppose” any plans for new grammars or expansion of existing ones.

These days, they have rather toned down the volume and accepted that selection is here to stay.

"We believe that education is a matter of fairness and that all schools should give the same high standard of education. Grammar schools should be open, accessible and inclusive. We believe the assessment process should be fair and a true assessment of ability," they now say.

A child’s ability at age 10 or 11 can certainly be measured but, say those opposed to selection, can it be a reliable indicator of what they might progress to?

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Operation Brock on the M20 at junction 9 Picture: Barry Goodwin
Operation Brock on the M20 at junction 9 Picture: Barry Goodwin

HANG out the bunting! The lifting of Operation Brock is a rare bit of good news for motorists and for businesses and residents. Quite why it had to be kept in place for so long is too many something of a mystery.

Or maybe not. With local elections imminent, the timing was certainly politically judicious.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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