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Ministers and backbenchers banded together to see off any bid by rebels to force the Prime Minister out of No10 once the Gray report into the Downing Street drinks scandal is published. But Mr Johnson’s defenders also urged him urgently to focus his fightback on traditional Tory policies, including a rethink on the planned National Insurance rise. Their morale was boosted as the embattled PM gave a barnstorming Commons performance to trounce critics demanding his resignation on both sides of the House.
He declared: “We have got the big calls right. I am getting on with the job.” Mr Johnson’s allies mobi- lised last night as the nation awaited the findings of the Cabinet Office inquiry by top civil servant Sue Gray into claims of partying in No10 during Covid restrictions.
It is thought more than 100 Tory MPs have joined an informal network titled Support to coordinate backing for him. One such backbencher told the Express last night there was a “limited timeframe” in which the Prime Minister needed to show his MPs he is still committed to delivering on causes they back.
These include scrapping mandatory coronavirus jabs, reconsidering the NI tax rise and tackling the soaring cost of living – such as by stopping the “nanny state” axe for buy-one-get-one-free offers on foods high in fat, sugar and salt, due in October.
The PM’s press secretary said: “He is entirely focused on doing ‘There’s timeframe the PM on the of Tory his job at the moment – that is leading our country, that is recovering from the pandemic, making sure more people get into work and addressing the cost of living.”
Complex talks between lawyers, Civil Service chiefs and the police were said to be holding up the publication of Ms Gray’s report. Some Whitehall sources indicated the dossier may not be released until next week. But pressing ahead with his fightback, Mr Johnson will today unveil an ambitious target of helping 500,000 benefit claimants into jobs by June.
His Way to Work campaign aims to accelerate the economic surge as more Covid curbs are lifted today. And it’s key to his bid to bounce back from the row over alleged partying, claiming he can be trusted to deliver for Britain.
At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Johnson rebuffed attacks and resignation demands from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and from other opposition MPs. He said he was tackling serious challenges such as a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia, as they indulged in petty party politics. And he suggested the push to oust him was motivated by Remainers seeking revenge for Brexit. Mr Johnson said: “We are doing everything in our power to help this country.”
He said of Sir Keir: “Many people may want me out of the way, but the reason he wants me out of the way is that he knows that this Government can be trusted to deliver, and we did.We delivered on Brexit. We delivered the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe and we will deliver on our plan to unite and level up across the whole of the UK.”
Teasing today’s announcement, he added: “We are launching a plan…to get half a million people off welfare and into work.” Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), plans to get people off Universal Credit (UC) by matching them to soaring job vacancies.
There are 1.2 million – up nearly 60 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Jobseekers will be encouraged to widen their search for work from their previous role, from the fourth week of claiming UC rather than after three months as now. Claimants who refuse to do so may see their benefits cut.
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “Way to Work is a step change in our offer to claimants and employers, making sure our jobcentre network and excellent work coaches can deliver opportunities, jobs and prosperity to all.” Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the campaign would “harness the talent of jobseekers and support employers to fill vacancies”.
More than 350 jobs fairs will be set up as major employers back the campaign. Tony Ellender, head of professional development at Balfour Beatty, said the construction giant was “delighted to be working with DWP to promote our wide range of opportunities”.
Lisa Taylor, head of resourcing at hospitality firm Whitbread said: “Many of those who have joined us from the jobcentres during our time working closely together have gone on to build a successful career with us.”
Daniel Kasmir, procurement chief at telecoms group TalkTalk, said: “We are happy to be working with DWP in exploring all recruitment solutions.” ? Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told Channel 4 News Mr Johnson would not need to resign if he was interviewed by the police over Partygate as “people are innocent until proved guilty”.
Comment by Thérèse Coffey
BRITAIN has got talent everywhere. We have the people to power our recovery from the pandemic – as soon as we can get them a fresh start in work. As restrictions are finally lifted, there is a huge opportunity to seize the moment – to match that talent with 1.2 million vacancies, at a faster pace and on a bigger scale than ever before.
We are setting our sights high. We want to get half a million jobseekers into work by the end of June. And we’re going to do it by using our Jobcentres in a new way, bringing employers into our sites and matching them with people looking for work.
This boosted effort starts today, with the launch of the Way to Work campaign. I call it the ABC strategy: Helping people get Any job now, means they can get a Better job next and progress into a Career. Having met jobseekers, I know they walk into our Jobcentres for many different reasons. But they do have something in common: the need for a fresh start.
This drive to match jobseekers with the vacancies employers need filled brings a laser focus on getting people into the first job they are offered, fast. Universal Credit always means they end up with more money than they get from benefits alone and with our continued support, we’ll see people build their skills, move into better jobs and progress to earn more.
We are also ramping up our work with business. We know the talent is out there. Employers from Eddie Stobart truckers to Balfour Beatty builders already know too, regularly tapping into it through our nationwide Jobcentre network.
Now, we are bringing in more businesses who need help filling vacancies. We will be the broker, matching live roles to candidates. And we’ll be an accelerator, getting people in place quickly by funding processes like criminal checks. By unlocking half a million job-ready candidates, we can fill the vacancies holding back our crucial sectors and power up the whole of our economy as part of levelling up the country.
A maverick who draws energy from dramatic crises he creates
Comment by Leo McKinstry
BORIS Johnson is supposed to be a dead man walking. According to conventional wisdom at Westminster, his premiership is now doomed, his fate sealed. Yet for someone who is meant to be finished as our national leader, he gave a remarkably ebullient performance at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.
There was no sense of humiliation or defeat about him. On the contrary, he was combative, even bullish, like a batsman who is expected to fall cheaply after a poor run of form, but suddenly starts to smash the ball all round the park.
Sir Keir Starmer’s deliveries, which had seemed so deadly only a fortnight ago, were now treated with contempt. “You’re a lawyer, not a leader,” the PM shouted across the dispatch box at his opposite number.
But his effort involved far more than just defiant bluster. There was also substance on the looming conflict in Ukraine, Covid policy and the Government’s welfareto-work programme. A reminder that, for all his many flaws, Johnson has usually got the big decisions right during his controversial time in Downing Street.
Paradoxically, the decision on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police to launch an investigation into the alleged lockdown breaches in No 10 worked in his favour in the Commons. He was able to use the threat of future court action as a rhetorical defensive shield to avoid having to say anything on the subject.
That was another illustration of his incredible survival instinct. Most other politicians would have been broken by the scandal that has engulfed him, yet if anything he has got stronger as the furore has dragged on.
In addition to yesterday’s rumbustious appearance, he gave a well-received speech in the House about Ukraine on Monday, following another surprisingly effective display at last week. great orator, the Victorian statesman William Gladstone used to draw energy from the vast crowds that gathered to hear him. As a political maverick, Johnson seems to draw energy from the dramatic crises he creates around himself.
It is as if he needs a self-inflicted catastrophe to bring out his best. Indeed, when his former aide Dominic Cummings, now his most bitter foe, complained to him about the chaos of Downing Street, Johnson replied: “Chaos isn’t bad. It means that everyone has to look to me to see who’s in charge.”
The Prime Minister rallied his backbenchers yesterday. Some now claim the tide has turned in his favour, partly because the public are said to be increasingly fed up with Partygate and sense that there is a witch-hunt against him.
But this may be wishful thinking. Johnson’s authority has been badly damaged and the report by senior civil servant Sue Gray could quickly swell the ranks of Tory rebels if it is sufficiently damning, with the result that a confidence ballot has to be held.
That would be a heavy, perhaps terminal, blow. Such votes always spell trouble in the Tory party even if the incumbent wins. Margaret Thatcher barely survived another year in office after she was challenged by backbencher Sir Anthony Meyer in 1989.
John Major’s heavy election defeat in 1997 was presaged by a lacklustre victory over John Redwood in 1995 and Theresa May hung on grimly for just a few months after winning a confidence vote in January 2019 before her downfall. But there could be a very different outcome in Johnson’s case. As he has shown throughout his career, the normal rules do not apply to him.
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