It was meant to be the official launch of the election campaign Boris Johnson has been demanding – while saying he does not want one – and already the Conservative Party is fighting to keep its general election campaign on track amid calls for Cabinet ministers to quit.
Boris Johnson, who is expected to visit Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen and announce the start of the election drive in Downing Street, faces a first official day of campaigning marred by his party having to defend U-turns, electoral bad practices, Vote Leave scandals, callous remarks about those less fortunate and those who died in the Grenfell tragedy.
Ed Vaizey stands down as a Tory MP
As Johnson set out to meet the Queen who he had lied to about proroguing Parliament and pointlessly forced to make a Queen’s Speech of legislation that may never happen now, the photo opportunity was overshadowed by the news of Conservative former minister Ed Vaizey standing down for the election.
Vaizey was one of the Tory MPs Johnson sacked for voting to prevent a no-deal Brexit in September who had recently had the whip restored to fight the election.
No-deal Brexit U-turn
Despite the legislation Ed Vaizey had voted for stopping the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal by guaranteeing another extension would be asked for while a deal is thrashed out, and the government guaranteeing it would in the House of Commons, in a piece of electioneering that seems only designed to deflect from Brexit Party criticisms of Johnson’s Brexit deal, the Tory party now seems unable to guarantee it would abide by the law and take no deal off the table.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme Party chairman James Cleverly was forced to admit that despite reassurances the Tories’ attorney general had given parliament, “no-deal Brexit is the default position” for the party if after the general election it called, Johnson’s deal did not stand up to scrutiny.
Evidence Johnson knew of Vote Leave overspend now referred to CPS by police
Boris Johnson knew of Vote Leave’s overspend during the 2016 EU referendum, but appears to have failed to tell the authorities, according to MP Ian Lucas who sits on the CMS Disinformation subcommittee and says he has evidence. The Vote Leave campaign ad spend was ruled to be illegal and Scotland Yard have given a file to the Crown Prosecution Service just before the general election campaign begins with figures involved in Vote Leave such as Boris Johnson, Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove all involved in the Tory election campaign.
The Conservative Party has also been slammed for using taxpayers’ money to fund Facebook ads to target constituencies. Facebook has removed these and other ads for not being labelled as political advertising, as well as Tory ads that used misleading headlines, doctoring BBC News stories.
Meanwhile MPs and intelligence chiefs are puzzled as to why Number 10 is refusing to release a report into Russian interference in British politics until after the election.
Contempt for Grenfell Tower victims
The Tory Party chairman was also forced to apologise for the comments of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg who had “caused a huge amount of hurt and distress” with his comments on Grenfell Tower.
Rees-Mogg faced widespread criticism, including from Grenfell survivors and Jeremy Corbyn, after he said people are safer if they “just ignore what you’re told and leave”, while discussing London Fire Brigade’s “stay-put” policy.
Rapper Stormzy called on Mr Rees-Mogg to resign, calling him a “piece of shit”, after the Tory MP suggested that Grenfell victims should have used “common sense” and ignored fire service guidance not to leave the burning tower block.
Rees-Mogg apologised for his remarks and said he intended to say he would also have listened to the LFB advice.
But perhaps even worse was Brexiteer Tory colleague Andrew Bridgen dumbing down on his ERG pal by suggesting that Rees-Mogg would have survived by being cleverer than then Grenfell Tower victims.
This morning Bridgen was also forced to apologise for what he said.
James Cleverly told the BBC no-one could “credibly” know what decisions those “trapped” in the tower faced that evening.
Tories stand by candidate who said people on Benefits Street need ‘putting down’
The Tory chairman also had to admit remarks by prospective Gower MP Francesca O’Brien were “unacceptable” but suggested she would not be axed as Tory candidate.
The Conservative candidate posted on social media that people featured in reality TV show Benefits Street needed “putting down”.
Cleverly told the BBC: “This is a comment that the candidate themselves recognised was unacceptable.
“People often tweet in haste and regret what they have done afterwards.”
Lying over Tory candidate accused of sabotaging rape trial
Welsh Tories were also in hot water as the shadow secretary of state for Wales, Christina Rees, accused Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns of “brazenly lying” about his knowledge of an allegation that a Conservative candidate had sabotaged a rape trial, and called on him to resign – which he did, delaying the launch of the Conservative Party election campaign.
Cairns claims he had been unaware of former staff member Ross England’s role in the collapsed trial until after the story broke last week. Cairns sensationally quit as Welsh Secretary but is still at the moment standing as a Conservative candidate in the election.
BBC Wales said it had obtained a leaked email sent to Mr Cairns which showed he had been made aware of the allegations as early as August last year.
Boris Johnson also appears to have lied to MPs in the House of Commons when he said he could not discuss whether the Tory candidate should be sacked over the shocking allegations as “proceedings were ongoing” – when in fact they had been concluded.
Misleading election videos
The Tory Party chairman also faced tricky questions about a Tory campaign video that had “doctored” the Shadow Brexit Secretary explaining Labour’s Brexit policy to make it look like he could not answer questions.
The video spread on social media by Tory MPs carefully edits Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer to appear to struggle to answer a question on TV about his party’s position on leaving the European Union, despite him answering it “perfectly adequately”, according to the BBC’s Nick Robinson.
At 7.20 AM Cleverly defended the cynical editing of the video by saying it had been shortened for editorial reasons.
Half an hour later he was telling BBC Radio 4 that Sir Kier Starmer’s answers had been edited out for “satirical” reasons. Asked whether his party had “posted a lie” online, he replied: “I disagree with your assessment of it.”
And half an hour after that he was hiding from an interview arranged with Sky News’ Kay Burley for the Tory electoral campaign launch.
Hiding from election campaign launch TV interviews
The “fuming” news host “empty-chaired” the Conservative Party chairman and ran through a list of election campaign scandals, U-turns, embarrassments and inadequacies that she had been hoping to grill him on while “he is probably 15 feet from where I am standing”.
The list included:
- Boris Johnson using the Telegraph where he has a lucrative column to compare Corbyn to mass-murdering Communist Russian leader Stalin and the Gulag camps where millions died.
- “Why on earth” Jacob Rees-Mogg was still a member of the cabinet after his appalling comments “suggesting he was smarter than the people who perished” in the Grenfell tragedy.
- Calls for the Conservative’s Welsh Secretary to resign.
- Whether a Conservative Government would backtrack on assurances to avoid a no-deal Brexit by extending negotiations if necessary.
- The row over Sajid Javid using civil servants and the public purse to cost Labour policies for Tory electioneering.
- Why the report into Russian interference in UK politics had been suppressed until after the election.
- Whether it was a good idea to start the election campaign defending billionaires.
“Where on earth is he? He is 15 feet away from me, James Cleverly, who is the chair of the Conservative Party,” snapped the Sky News presenter infuriated by the Tory Party chairman hiding from her.
“And he says he will not come on this programme to answer all of those allegations”.
Comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin and his massacre of millions of Kulaks
The challenges faced by the Tories come on a day when Boris Johnson said Jeremy Corbyn had taken a stance that demonises billionaires with a “relish and a vindictiveness” not seen since Stalin’s attitude to landowners following the Russian revolution. Millions of the Kulak farmer class died or were deported in Stalin’s purges of the whole section of society as Johnson is no doubt aware.
Johnson is expected to put Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, the NHS and law and order at the centre of the Tories’ campaign.