EN HODGES: Stench of decay is yet again wafting along Downing Street

EN HODGES: Despite all Boris’s promises, the stench of decay is yet again wafting along Downing Street

Early in 2020, Boris and a number of senior aides gathered in Downingstraat to discuss a potential reshuffle.

As they went through suitable names for a possible chief-whip, somebody mentioned the Prime Minister’s close ally, the Foreign Office Minister Chris Pincher.

‘Boris said, ‘The thing about Chris is he’s handsy. That’s a problem,’ ‘ a senior member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle, who was present at the meeting, het my vertel.

‘Then he [Boris] gesê, ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature,’ ‘ my source added.

On Thursday it was announced Chris Pincher had resigned from his position as deputy chief whip after groping two men in London’s exclusive Carlton club.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Pincher wrote: ‘Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do, and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned.

As they went through suitable names for a possible chief-whip, somebody mentioned the Prime Minister's close ally, the Foreign Office Minister Chris Pincher. 'Boris said, 'The thing about Chris is he's handsy. That's a problem,' ' a senior member of the Prime Minister's inner circle, who was present at the meeting, het my vertel. 'Then he [Boris] gesê, 'Pincher by name, pincher by nature,' ' my source added

As they went through suitable names for a possible chief-whip, somebody mentioned the Prime Minister’s close ally, the Foreign Office Minister Chris Pincher. ‘Boris said, ‘The thing about Chris is he’s handsy. That’s a problem,’ ‘ a senior member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle, who was present at the meeting, het my vertel. ‘Then he [Boris] gesê, ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature,’ ‘ my source added

A witness told me: ‘He was completely wasted. He couldn’t talk. He was swaying. He was being completely inappropriate.

After being told to leave, and refusing, Pincher had to be physically removed from the premises by a fellow MP.

Die voorval, and the resignation that followed, brought an end to months – actually years – of speculation and investigation.

Multiple reports about Pincher’s conduct had been made to journalists and the Tory whipsoffice from numerous sources.

I’ve personally heard them from parliamentary researchers, Government advisers, MPs and Ministers. Pincher had already been forced to resign as a whip on a previous occasion after a former Olympic rower made a complaint about an unwanted sexual advance. He was cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation by police and an internal investigation by the Conservative Party.

But this time the facts were not in dispute. The events had occurred in public, in front of multiple witnesses. Pincher had acknowledged his wrongdoing, and had resigned. Boris had accepted his resignation.

En dan, after the truth had finally emerged, Downing Street embarked on a bizarre operation to cover it up again. Boris responded directly to Pincher’s resignation letter. But the contents of his response would not be made public, the Press were told. No10 then stated Boris had not been aware of any specific allegations regarding Pincher. And that even if he had been, he couldn’t deny him a job based solely on unsubstantiated allegations.

Pincher (op die foto) was invited into Downing Street for the appointment to be confirmed. But there was a furious backlash from Boris's senior aides, who reminded him about specific allegations against Pincher

Pincher (op die foto) was invited into Downing Street for the appointment to be confirmed. But there was a furious backlash from Boris’s senior aides, who reminded him about specific allegations against Pincher

Let’s be clear, rumour is the currency of Westminster. And much of that currency is counterfeit. When it was first reported that an MP had been caught watching porn in the House of Commons chamber, vir 24 hours everyone I spoke to confidently told me they knew the name of the offender. The name they had was wrong.

As one Tory MP who has no great love for Boris told me: 'Om redelik te wees, a lot of what everyone hears turns out to be rubbish. What people around here think they know and what they actually know isn’t the same thing.

But on this occasion the reports and rumours were in alignment. And as we have seen, despite the false denials, Boris wasn’t just aware of them – he believed them, and circulated them himself.

Wat meer is, the Prime Minister – in line with established practice by his predecessors – consistently made Cabinet appointments based on precisely this sort of unverified intelligence. Another member of Boris’s inner circle recalled a conversation he had with him when he was discussing names for his first Cabinet. ‘Ek dink nie so nie,’ Boris had said disapprovingly of one candidate. ‘[The candidate has] a problem with girls.

This is precisely the reason that in the last reshuffle Boris backed off from appointing Pincher as chief whip and appointed another close ally, Chris Heaton-Harris.

In Februarie 2022 he finally decided to ignore the allegations, and give Pincher the position as his top enforcer. Pincher told friends he had been offered the role by the Prime Minister, and he had accepted. He was invited into Downing Street for the appointment to be confirmed. But there was a furious backlash from Boris’s senior aides, who reminded him about specific allegations against Pincher. I’m told the haggling over who should be given the post lasted almost six hours. Eventually the Prime Minister backed down.

En dan, having backed down, he made the situation even worse.

If Boris really felt the man he privately referred to as ‘Pincher by name, pincher by naturewas due a presumption of innocence, he could have appointed him to any role in Government. But by appointing him deputy chief whip he staggeringly chose to place him directly in a position where he was the point-man for internal Tory investigations into sexual impropriety by Conservative MPs.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Pincher wrote: 'Last night I drank far too much. I've embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do, and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned.'

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Pincher wrote: ‘Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do, and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned.

Several months ago a senior staffer to a Tory MP approached a Minister and claimed they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their employer. What should they do about it, they asked? ‘The Minister said I should go and speak to Chris Pincher,’ the adviser told me, ‘because he was the person in the whipsoffice who had responsibility for dealing with sexual complaints.

Verlede week, in the wake of the Toriescrushing by-election defeat in Tiverton, I wrote this: ‘What Tory MPs need to realise is things are not going to change under Boris. Because for that to happen it would require Boris himself to change. And he can’t.

Seven days later here we are again. The lies emanating from Downing Street. The dysfunction at the heart of Downing Street. The stench of decay wafting through Downing Street.

In the wake of Partygate, Boris told his MPs that he had learnt his lesson. The Augean Stables would finally be cleansed, he pledged. A major reorganisation of his political operation would take place.

And what was one of his key moves? The appointment of Chris Pincher.

How much longer is this going to go on? The Owen Paterson affair. The Abba party. Wallpapergate. Carrie Symonds’ Foreign Office chief-of-staff job. Pincher.

Eintlik, let’s not lump them all together. The events of the past 72 hours are not about sleaze. Or interior furnishings. Or nepotism. Or parties and cake.

They are about sexual harassment. They’re about how the Prime Minister knowingly placed someone with a reputation for sexual impropriety in a position where he had direct responsibility for managing allegations of sexual misconduct within the Conservative Party.

Hoe, when that man was finally exposed for engaging in sexual impropriety himself, the Prime Minister fought to protect him for almost 24 hours by arguing he should retain the Conservative Party whip. And how that Prime Minister constructed a tissue of lies about what he personally knew about the perpetrator, what he was told, and when he was told it.

‘A fish rots from the head,’ a Tory grandee told me yesterday.

The Pincher case stinks. And the responsibility for that rests with Boris Johnson.