Top Stories: Labour Sets Sights On Sue Gray, SNP Leadership Hustings Begin, Tories Hold Away Day
Labour is reportedly making moves to hire Sue Gray, the top civil servant who produced last year's damning Partygate report into Covid lawbreaking in Downing Street during lockdown.
According to Sky News, Sue Gray is among the list of names Labour leader Keir Starmer is considering for his new chief of staff after the departure of Sam White in October.
Gray joined the Civil Service in the 1990s, and is currently head of the Union and Constitution Directorate at the Cabinet Office.
Widely seen as one of the country’s most influential civil servants, the former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2017 in his memoirs wrote: “Like Tony before me and two prime ministers since, I was able to draw on the support of Sue Gray, a senior official in the Cabinet Office, who was always there with wise advice when – as all too regularly happened – mini-crises and crises befell.”
A Labour spokesperson has said that "nobody has been offered the job," and that the process is "ongoing". Gray has not commented on the claims.
According to Politico, one senior Conservative said: “This is a staggering revelation which the cabinet secretary needs to fully investigate.
“And not the usual whitewash — a proper investigation as this calls into question the impartiality of the Civil Service.”
SNP leadership hustings begin
The SNP’s leadership hustings began last night at the Cumbernauld Theatre in North Lanarkshire with candidates at odds over the party’s controversial Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill.
The party is set to hold nine hustings over the next several weeks – with health secretary Humza Yousaf, MSP Ash Regan, and finance secretary Kate Forbes the contenders. A final result of the contest is expected on 27 March.
Last night candidates made a range of arguments – with Yousaf pledging to “unequivocally” challenge the UK government’s Section 35 decision to block the GRR bill.
Forbes, who opposed the GRR bill, said while she believed that the use of Section 35 by Westminster did serve to undermine Scottish sovereignty, she would not support a legal challenge before “a grown up conversation” is had.
But Regan, who resigned as community safety minister over the SNP’s decision to pursue the GRR bill in 2022, said she would not seek to oppose the veto arguing a successful legal challenge would be unlikely.
The candidates’ remarks come after the party faced criticism for attempting to block journalists from attending last night's hustings – triggering claims that it was infringing on press freedoms before being forced to reverse its decision.
Responding to the U-turn, the Society of Editors said: “While the Society welcomes the decision by party bosses to U-turn on allowing the media access to this evening’s event, the default position should always have been in favour of openness and transparency.
“It is essential that proper media access is permitted for all the upcoming hustings events to ensure proper scrutiny of the candidates for the benefit of the Scottish people.”
The Conservative party is holding an "away day" for backbench MPs to plan election strategy
Tory backbenchers are heading off to an away day in Windsor today where they will reportedly spend 24 hours exploring election polling, social media strategies, as well as receiving a speech from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a "Tory grandee".
Among other reported plans for the trip are a pub quiz, dinner with Sunak, and after dinner drinks.
Sunak’s Windsor Framework gives the party, which is currently 22 points behind Labour, some reason for optimism after years of deadlock on Northern Ireland.
Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson appeared to accuse teaching unions of resisting keeping schools open during lockdown in WhatsApp leak
Former health secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApps continue to be explored today in the Telegraph which has revealed more details on the government’s private conversations on Covid management – this time on schools.
In a message to Hancock while serving as education secretary on 10 May 2020, Gavin Williamson suggested teachers were using concerns about lack of PPE in schools to "have an excuse to avoid having to teach".
Another message shows Hancock referring to teachers unions as “a bunch of absolute arses” on 1 October 2020, to which Williamson replies: “I know they really really do just hate work”. Hancock responds with two laughing emojis and a bullseye emoji.
Responding to the Telegraph’s story, Williamson has said: “Further to reports in the Telegraph and other outlets, I wish to clarify that these messages were about some unions and not teachers. As demonstrated in the exchange, I was responding regarding unions.
“I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students. During the pandemic, teachers went above and beyond during very challenging times and very much continue to do so.”
Hancock has described the publication of the private messages as a “massive betrayal” after Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who ghost-wrote his book on the government’s management of the pandemic, leaked the messages to the Telegraph.
“I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott,” said Hancock in a statement this morning.
“I am also sorry for the impact on the very many people – political colleagues, civil servants and friends – who worked hard with me to get through the pandemic and save lives.
“There is absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach. All the materials for the book have already been made available to the inquiry, which is the right, and only, place for everything to be considered properly and the right lessons to be learned.”
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