Political editor WALTER CRONXITE delves into the shadowy south London connections that Sue Gray will encounter when she starts work as the Labour leader’s Chief of Staff
The grey man of British politics, the terminally boring Keir Starmer, now has a Gray Chief of Staff, former senior civil servant Sue Gray.
It will place Gray at the heart of a Labour Party machine which has a complex web of Croydon connections.
Gray’s appointment by the Labour leader, announced this week, has proved controversial because as Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, she was the author of the Partygate report into Boris Johnson’s law-breaking when he was Prime Minister.
Johnson fanboy Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Daily Mail and various Conservative conspiracy theorists seized upon this and invented come clandestine plot which presumably involved Sue Gray forcing the PM and staff to hold illegal piss-ups in Downing Street during lockdown.
Of course, it wasn’t Partygate that brought down Johnson, but his lies surrounding the case of alleged sex pest and Conservative whip Chris Pincher.
While Gray has been described by Westminster insiders as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of”, no one has ever alleged she has the superpower to hypnotise Conservative ministers and even a Prime Minister into acting in inappropriate and even illegal ways.
As the Institute for Government points out, “If anything the criticism of her Partygate report was that it diverted blame from Boris Johnson.”
For all the hyperbole, there is nothing new in senior civil servants going to work for politicians: diplomat Jonathan Powell became the Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff when he was opposition leader in 1995, and Dan Rosenfield served as Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff having previously served as a senior civil servant in HM Treasury.
The revolving door can spin around the other way, too, to accommodate failed politicians in the Civil Service, as happened when Gavin Barwell lost his Croydon Central parliamentary seat and walked into No10 as Theresa May’s Chief of Staff and another cushty salary at the public’s expense.
The post of Chief of Staff has been vacant in Starmer’s office since the departure of Sam White – a New Labour-era apparatchik, and son of ex-Guardian hack Michael White. Sam White was sacked in October, with his numerous critics citing his “excessive caution”. A more dynamic Starmer, unencumbered by White’s restraint, has yet to emerge.
At the time, Starmer appeared to try to soften the blow for White by suggesting his exit was all some kind of planned restructuring around the Labour leader’s office. “Running the leader’s office becomes a smaller role than Sam signed up for and we both agree, as we’re making this change, now is the right time to go,” Starmer said then. No one now believes Sue Gray is walking into a diminished role.
Starmer’s original Chief of Staff, and White’s predecessor, was Morgan McSweeney. McSweeney continues to thrive under Starmer, and now works in Labour HQ with the party’s General Secretary David Evans. McSweeney has the role of Executive Director of Campaigns, planning Labour’s General Election campaign.
Evans and McSweeney previously worked together in Croydon, at The Campaign Company, the consultancy set up by Evans when he finished working as campaign organiser for Blair in 2001.
Between 2014 and 2018, the years immediately after Evans helped Labour win control of the Town Hall for Tony Newman and deputy Alison Butler, his company was handed at least £200,000-worth of contracts by Croydon Council.
Butler and Evans share a daughter together. One of Butler’s other children, Jed Mohammed, managed to get some intern work with The Campaign Company, just around the time that Evans’s firm landed a consultancy contract with Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing company. Butler, as the Labour council’s cabinet member for housing, was responsible for setting up Brick by Brick.
Someone else who worked at The Campaign Company was Ruth Bannister, who after Inside Croydon was hacked in 2021 handed the stolen data to Labour Party officials in Croydon, and leading all the way to Evans at Labour HQ, as exposed in Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files.
When Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, Morgan McSweeney founded and was the managing director of Labour Together, a Blairite front organisation.
In 2021, Labour Together was fined by the Electoral Commission after failing to declare more than £800,000 in donations within the required period. Labour apparently sees no problem in its now Executive Director of Elections having been the managing director of a company fined by the Electoral Commission.
Among the directors on the board of Labour Together at the time of the fine was Croydon North MP Steve Reed.
McSweeney is said to be playing a key role in Labour’s selection of candidates for the General Election. Michael Crick, the veteran journalist political journalist, has said, “It’s increasingly clear that Labour’s selection processes are unfair and verge on corrupt.”
Croydon’s parliamentary seats are to be subject of boundary changes, and with suggestions that Reed will opt to contest the new Streatham and Norbury seat, rather than Croydon West, McSweeney may soon have a hand in stitching things up for his old boss. Reed, when he was leader of Lambeth Council, had employed McSweeney in the role of “Head of the Leader’s Office”.
The Croydon connections don’t end there.
In the immediate aftermath of Croydon Council’s financial collapse in November 2020 and following the resignation of Newman as council leader, Imogen Walker, was hired by Hamida Ali as the Head of the Leader’s Office. Walker is married to Morgan McSweeney.
Part of Walker’s role was to offer strategic and communications advice. It actually led to Ali giving a succession of car crash interviews.
Walker was a Lambeth Labour councillor at this time, and her employment with Croydon Council was controversial, as the bankrupt council responded to a Freedom of Information request, saying “There is no documentation” relating to any interview or appointment process.
Walker is reputed to have spent much of her time drafting a communications strategy for Labour’s 2022 local elections campaign – the one in which they lost the Mayoral election to the Tories and control of the Town Hall after losing six council seats.
For the sake of grey man Starmer and Sue Gray, you’d have to hope that Walker’s husband does a better job with the General Election campaign…
Read more: Council deputy Butler fails to declare company directorship
Read more: ‘No records’ after council hired Starmer ally to advise leader
Read more: Brick by Brick hires firm which has Butler’s son on staff
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