A dysfunctional week for the Tories and Labour amid honeytrap scandal and ‘tax dodging’ claims | Politics News

We may have been in Easter recess the past couple of weeks, but on both sides of the party divide, there were those who did not get a rest from politics.

MP William Wragg undoubtedly had a dysfunctional week as the man at the centre of the Westminster honeytrap scandal.

He resigned the Conservative party whip as some colleagues looked on with a mixture of bemusement and anger at Number 10’s handling of the whole sorry affair.

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Meanwhile, on the Labour side, deputy leader Angela Rayner can’t seem to shake off or shut down the persistent questions about whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago.

She insists she has done nothing wrong while there are Conservatives looking to weaponise the issue in this election year – with at least one local Tory councillor and other protesters this week hounding her on a visit to Teesside, with banners dubbing her a “tax dodger” in the hope it will stick.

This week in Electoral Dysfunction, Jess, Ruth and I chew over both the substance and the politics of these difficult situations and ask whether Number 10 and Labour are making tricky issues better or worse.

When it comes to Mr Wragg, who admitted sharing MPs’ and journalists’ phone numbers with someone he met on Grindr who had “compromising things” on him, there is widespread incredulity that a sitting MP would do such a thing, overlaid with some anger over Number 10’s handling of it – with some arguing that Rishi Sunak failed to move quickly enough to take control of the story, suspend Mr Wragg and look decisive.

Instead, ministers were dispatched to defend the MP as ”courageous”, while it was Mr Wragg himself who decided to give up the Tory whip his week. He is now sitting as an independent MP.

“Madness [to send pictures and give out personal details] and yet our leadership decided to defend him,” one former cabinet minister texted this week. “If it wasn’t so stupid. It would be genuinely funny. The script of the Thick Of It. A few of us messaged centre at weekend to say WTF. His resignation was inevitable.”

Ruth agrees, and says – while she has sympathy for Mr Wragg being in this “horrible situation” – that he is “somebody in an important job who has responsibilities” to the place he works and people with whom he works.

“The idea you throw all of that out of the window for a quick shag or to exchange a pic is so wilfully irresponsible that actually I don’t think [much of] the level of understanding, or acceptance or excuse that the government made on his behalf.

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Sexting MP ‘right to quit’

“I think it’s bad judgement and I think this is another one where you look at the judgement of the prime minister and go, you know this, this doesn’t fly.”

But aside from questions about the political handling from the centre – and there are issues around safeguarding a vulnerable MP, which I talk about in the pod – there are also wider questions, again, around MPs’ security in a world where contacts count and phone numbers are currency.

“People give numbers out all the time. Having people’s phone numbers is a massive currency in Westminster,” explains Jess, who points out that MPs are using personal phones in parliament.

“The trouble is that I think people think we have parliamentary phones but it’s just my personal phone, so they don’t own it. I’m way more careful about my parliamentary computer and the iPad they gave me.

“So I imagine what will come out of this is probably that we all have to have parliamentary-issued phones that are locked down by the security services. I imagine that’s where it’s going.”

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Starmer: Rayner tax story is ‘smear’

With a sex scandal engulfing the Conservatives once more, on the other side of the political divide, Ms Rayner is struggling to put to bed questions over whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago, before she became an MP.

Ms Rayner has made it clear she took tax advice at the time and has done nothing wrong, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out to defend her and accused the Tories of trying to smear her over a story with no substance.

Neither Ruth nor Jess think the story is getting much cut through, largely because of the complexity of it all, but that isn’t stopping the Conservatives pursuing Ms Rayner with real ferocity.

Ruth thinks the Tories are going in hard for a number of reasons.

First, she thinks Labour “hasn’t had this level of scrutiny for a long time”, so this is an opportunity for the party machine to “try to flex its muscles”. Second, Ms Rayner has been used as “an attack dog” for the party on these issues so “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.

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Angela Rayner’s tax affairs – a smear or a real trust problem for Labour?

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She also argues that “there is a purpose to man-mark her off the pitch”, but it won’t change the public’s view of Ms Rayner: “She’ll be a Marmite politician for the whole of her career because of the strength of her character. The people who love her will love her and the people who can’t stand her will turn the TV off when she comes on.”

Jess concedes the issue is hurting Ms Rayner but thinks she will ride it out and believes there’s a risk that “if it starts to look like the Conservatives are picking on her, it has a counter effect”.

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But, in a similar way to the Beergate story that hounded Sir Keir and Ms Rayner during 2021 – they were accused, and cleared, of breaking lockdown rules in Durham – the Conservatives show little sign of letting go of Ms Rayner or her tax affairs until they have wrung every single drop out of it.

And if, in an election year, they can try to make “tax dodger” land – or at least disrupt her campaigning – Conservative campaign headquarters will chalk it up as a win.

So while the hope from Ms Rayner’s and Sir Keir’s respective offices is that the story will burn itself out, it may be that Ms Rayner, in the end, has to do more to put it properly to bed: on that, all three of us agree.

This episode was recorded before the development from Greater Manchester Police.


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