Rishi Sunak digs himself a deeper hole over his pledge to restore integrity

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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The Gavin Williamson debacle rolls on. Rishi Sunak claimed during PMQs yesterday that he did not know about any of the “specific concerns” relating to the former minister’s conduct. But according to PoliticsHome, the Prime Minister was made aware that there was a complaint against Williamson related to “bullying and misogyny” and received advice not to appoint Williamson to cabinet “until the complaint was withdrawn or resolved”. Labour has jumped on the affair as further evidence of Sunak’s inability to deliver on his pledge to ensure “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” of his government. During PMQs, Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of being “so weak” and “so worried the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them”. On the broadcast round this morning, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle said Williamson’s appointment shows that Sunak either has “very bad judgement” or is “making decisions that aren’t in the interest of the country just simply to keep his backbenchers happy”.

Is anyone else getting a very strong sense of déjà vu? The first weeks of Sunak’s premiership were rocked by the scandal over the reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just day after she left office reportedly over a data breach. Yvette Cooper pointed out the irony of Braverman’s reappointment given Sunak’s pledge to restore “integrity, professionalism and accountability” and accused the Prime Minister of making a “grubby deal” to ensure his victory in the Conservative leadership contest. The Shadow Home Secretary stressed: “National security is too important for this.” Sunak seems intent on digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself, repeating his pledge during yesterday’s PMQs. As Elliot argued in his review of the session: “The Prime Minister is writing Starmer’s contributions for him.”

Sunak was not the only person feeling the heat following PMQs. Wes Streeting apologised to Jeremy Corbyn after footage emerged of the Shadow Health Secretary describing the former Labour leader as “senile”. Streeting tweeted that he had made the comment “in jest” but acknowledged that it had been “in poor taste” and said he had apologised to Corbyn directly. Corbyn described the comment as an “appalling and defamatory mental health slur”, adding that calling someone senile was “very serious for people suffering from dementia”. He called on Streeting to issue a public apology to “all those who may have been hurt by his comments”.

In more Labour news, yet another by-election may be on the horizon after it was announced yesterday that Kate Green is set to become Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor, having accepted the nomination of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. A by-election will be triggered if Green is approved by the the police, fire and crime panel – as she is expected to be. Green, the MP for Stretford and Urmston, was due to stand down at the next election, and her successor as the Labour candidate for the seat has already been confirmed: Andrew Western. Western has been leader of Trafford council since 2018 and currently serves as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority portfolio lead for clean air and communities and co-operatives.

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