Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said he was “shocked” by the emergence of video footage of members of the campaign team of the then Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey “dancing and mixing in close proximity with others at a pre-arranged Christmas party at a time in December 2020 when socialising indoors was banned in London” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Responding to a request for a verbal update about what was termed “lawbreaking during the pandemic” during this morning’s Mayor’s Question Time session (MQT), the Mayor said the footage “will have been deeply upsetting to many Londoners” and criticised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the London Assembly Conservative group and those seeking to become Tory candidate for next year’s mayoral election for saying nothing about the video.
Bailey, who is a member of the Assembly Conservative group, was not present at MQT and his fellow Assembly members (AMs) were told by Assembly chair Andrew Boff that this was because “he is suffering a bereavement at the moment”. Bailey is among the seven people awarded a life peerage as part of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list and is reportedly set to be confirmed as a member of the House of Lords within weeks.
“The actions of Assembly Member Shaun Bailey and his team are simply indefensible and yet they are being rewarded,” Khan said, and went on to refer to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley saying earlier this week that although historical allegations of Covid rule breaches are not routinely followed up, officers would be looking at the footage of Bailey campaign members to see if it provides a basis for further investigations.
Rowley told The New Agents that, in his view, it was “very obvious a video tells a much richer, clearer story than a photo” and that the footage in question “tells a story way beyond the original photo”. After stating that he needed to let the relevant Met team “work through that” Rowley concluded: “I think we can all guess which way it’ll go.”
Bailey does not appear in the video footage of the party, which was pre-advertised to invitees as a “jingle and mingle” event and held at Conservative campaign headquarters at a time when the race to be elected Mayor in May 2021 was well underway. However, Bailey appeared prominently in a photograph taken at the same event which emerged in late 2021.
Following that revelation, Bailey resigned as chair of the Assembly’s police and crime committee and was rebuked by the then leader of the Conservative group, Susan Hall, who said she and colleagues had been “deeply disappointed” to see the photograph and that “to have a party last year was wrong”. The Met investigated the incident following the emergence of the photograph but decided to take no further action.
Hall, who has been a strong defender of Johnson, is still a member of the Assembly and is also one of the Tory trio vying to be selected as her party’s mayoral candidate for next year, when Khan will be seeking a record third term at City Hall. Both she and Bailey are current members of the Assembly police and crime committee, and Bailey also chairs the housing committee.
Labour AM Leonie Cooper (pictured) asked the Mayor if he thought it appropriate for an AM under police investigation to be a police and crime committee member, or the chair of an Assembly committee, or to accept or be offered a peerage, and put it to him that such a situation brings “all of us in public life into disrepute”.
Khan agreed with her that “this is a plague on all our houses” because of “law-makers being law-breakers” and the “perception that there is one law for one group of people and one rule for another”. He warned of public concern about someone being rewarded for “supporting the disgraced Prime Minister [Johnson] of the time, who was also a law-breaker” and that those acquiescent by their silence over Bailey’s promotion to the Lords “will regret that in the long term”.
Johnson was forced to step down as Prime Minister following a string of revelations about social events that took place at 10 Downing Street, one of which resulted in him being fined by the police. Earlier this month Johnson resigned as an MP after the Commons privileges committee concluded that he had deliberately misled parliament about his knowledge of Covid rules being breached at the time.
One of those seen in the video, Ben Mallet, was in charge of the Bailey campaign, whose tactics included distributing leaflets disguised as a Council Tax demand from Khan, a website purporting to provide “facts” about Transport for London’s finances and the false claim that Khan would charge “anyone driving into Greater London” £5.50 if re-elected.
Mallet, who was also involved in Zac Goldsmith‘s widely-criticised and also unsuccessful 2016 campaign against Khan, was awarded an OBE in Johnson’s resignation honours and is currently working on the mayoral bid of Moz Hossain, one of Hall’s rivals to become the Tory candidate for 2024.
The public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic began a week ago.
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