Politics is a cruel business
Oliver Dowden has been overlooked. Rishi reshuffled but left his fixer out of the mix. Our MP remains Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Woke-Finder General and head of the government’s apparently entirely inactive (possibly fictitious?) Strikes Taskforce but is further than ever from a big job.
And we promise we’ll stop going on about the Strikes Taskforce at some point. You’re bored hearing that it hasn’t done anything yet. We’ve got half a dozen Google alerts running in case it comes back to life with a jolt. You’d think it would be a pretty busy taskforce about now, what with all the strikes, but apparently they’re still in the barracks, waiting for their orders.
Anyway, the Sunak reshuffle wasn’t a big one – most ministers stayed in place – but experts say it’s going to have a dramatic effect on the ‘machinery of government’ and that it will cost over £100M to implement the restructure of the business and culture ministries. There’s also an entirely new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, to be led by Grant Shapps, responsible for boosting Britain’s energy supplies and the transition away from fossil fuels.
Some are surprised the Prime Minister didn’t take the opportunity to advance some of the loyalists who helped get him elected, though. It must be nerve-wracking for a second-tier figure like Dowden, scrabbling for relevance among the big beasts, to see members of the same 2015 Parliamentary entry whizzing past him and taking up full cabinet positions – Lucy Frazer just leapfrogged into the Culture role that Dowden himself was removed from by Boris Johnson in 2021.
The Tory Party may not have a conscience but it definitely has an id – and he is called Lee Anderson. That Anderson is getting closer to one of Dowden’s other previous jobs – Chairman of the Party – must also be causing dyspepsia in the Dowden household.
Meanwhile, one of Dowden’s decisions from back when he was still Culture Secretary, has come back to haunt him – although he’s been all ‘nothing to do with me, guv‘ since the story broke.
Nobody outside London knew anything about Richard Sharp until he was shoved into the role of Chairman of the BBC in 2021. He is, though, evidently a genius. A cast-iron financial savant – and from humble beginnings. His public school was tragically outside the top tier but through sheer grit he managed to get accepted at Oxford and completed a degree in PPE nonetheless. He went on to make hundreds of millions of pounds from moving money around in ways we don’t pretend to understand in the City (this 20-year-old article estimates his wealth at £125M). When Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, Sharp was an adviser.
So it’s bewildering that a man of his calibre would somehow manage to get himself mixed up in Boris Johnson’s personal financial affairs. Apparently, instead of saying “sod off, Boris, I’d rather stick my head in a wasps’ nest.” or just blocking his number, Sharp ignored all the red flags and offered to hook Johnson up with another millionaire who said he’d guarantee a loan for the PM.
The loan, we’re told, came off, and Johnson trousered a flexible sum of up to £800,000 (we don’t know who actually lent him the money, how much he drew down in the end or whether he’s paid any of it back yet).
This is where it gets complicated. At this point, Sharp was on the fast track for the BBC job – Johnson had announced he was the preferred candidate and insiders were saying it was a done deal – so it occured to Sharp that his proximity to the lethal spinning blade of the Prime Minister’s private life might cause him some difficulties when it came to the interview. We assume Oliver Dowden knew nothing about the festival of stupidity and venality going on in secret around him, although he was nominally the appointing minister (and his name is at the bottom of the appointment letter).
Sharp decided to involve a civil servant. He chose Simon “Partygate” Case, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service. And – guess what – Case said the loan was cool and that Johnson wouldn’t even need to declare it because it was “family business”. That last bit is kind of perplexing because although Blyth and Johnson are related, they’re related in roughly the same way Danny Dyer is related to Edward III. They share a great-great-grandfather and apparently Johnson didn’t even know Blyth until Sharp introduced them.
So, bringing this up to date, Richard Sharp has now been censured by the House of Commons Culture select committee – ‘significant errors of judgement’ is the phrase – for not mentioning the loan in his application for the BBC job. He’s issued a non-apology of the “I’m sorry you’re upset” variety and is now hoping that the other inquiry – by a KC appointed by the independent commissioner for public appointments and one that will carry more weight – is kinder to him.