WITH THE HOLYROOD election likely to end in a whimper, Westminster has had more “bang” than a detonation at a fireworks factory. Boris Johnson won back precious credibility with Britain’s vaccination programme: it didn’t hurt that the EU’s parallel efforts were a dismal failure. But it couldn’t last, and the Tories are mired in scandals to an extent we haven’t seen since John Major’s years of sleaze.
The bad news started with revelations about yesterday’s man David Cameron. The Greenshill scandal was all about the revolving door between government and the most predatory elements of big business. Cameron has taken the route trodden by his centrist predecessor Tony Blair: discredited as a politician, he would use his connections to help cronies feed at the government trough – for a small fee. Having nearly destroyed his own party over Brexit, Cameron’s lucrative post-parliamentary intrigues continue to haunt the Conservatives, and still threaten irreparable damage to the likes of Rishi Sunak.
But that was just the warm-up act. Another ghost of Brexit past, Dominic Cummings, wouldn’t let Johnson rest easy. There were allegations that the Prime Minister was planning to have Tory donors bankroll the refurbishment of his flat. Cabinet Ministers are refusing to deny the allegation, and the Electoral Commission is being urged to investigate what would clearly be an extraordinary breach of ethics (if it isn’t technically a breach of code, surely it should be). A leaked email suggests Tory donor Lord Brownlow contributed £58,000 to the refurbishment.
Cummings described the moves as “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”. If true, it’s hard to dispute.
Finally, there’s fresh accusations surrounding his involvement in the (initially disastrous) covid response. The Dyson texts had just about blown over. But Cummings alleged that Johnson torpedoed an inquiry into leaks surrounding the lockdown, lest suspicion fall on a chum of his partner Carrie Symonds. Then, probably most damaging, the return of questions around the management of lockdowns: let the “bodies pile high”.
Does anyone care? Polls still show a relatively conclusive Conservative lead. However, the most recent had them plunging 5 points and holding just a 3-point advantage over Labour, and all at the worst time, with Scottish and local elections approaching. However, in terms of the overall outcome in Scotland, these affairs may be marginal. The Conservative vote up north has already fallen almost to its baseline.
If anything, it may have an incidental impact on who finishes second among the two competing unionist parties. That could be psychologically crucial, since the second party will be in the strongest position to shape any putative anti-independence campaign. A Labour-led campaign will have a different bearing to one led by Douglas Ross’s Conservatives. All of that, of course, depends on the independence leadership getting its act together, and that remains the great unknown at this election.