“Under Starmer it has been two steps forward and one step back,” said Mr. Fielding, “and he hasn’t addressed the problem of how you win back the red wall without losing metropolitan liberal voters.”

View Source

U.K.’s Johnson on the Defensive as Ethical Questions Mount

LONDON — The ethical allegations swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson got more serious on Wednesday after Britain’s Electoral Commission announced it would open a formal investigation into whether Mr. Johnson secretly used political donations to refurbish his apartment in Downing Street.

The commission said it found “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offense or offenses may have occurred.” Mr. Johnson is accused of using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement the budget for upgrading his official quarters, which are above the offices at 11 Downing Street.

Mr. Johnson insisted he paid for the refurbishment out of his own pocket, but he has not disclosed whether he repaid a donation made to the Conservative Party once the accusations surfaced. He is entitled to £30,000 ($41,600) a year in public funds to decorate his apartment, but apparently concluded that budget was inadequate.

The news of a formal investigation raised the political stakes for Mr. Johnson, who has been engaged in an ugly exchange of charges and countercharges with his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. In Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson seemed uncharacteristically rattled and angry.

tough questioning from the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, the prime minister said, “I have paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally.” He said he would make more disclosures about the financing if an independent adviser just appointed by the government deemed it necessary.

“I conformed in full with the code of conduct and officials have kept advising me through this whole thing,” Mr. Johnson said.

Questions about the prime minister’s apartment makeover are only one of multiple issues dogging him as his government has become bogged down in an ethical quagmire. He is also accused of making callous statements about imposing another lockdown and giving wealthy businesspeople unusual access.

Mr. Johnson denied news reports that he told aides last fall he would rather let “the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown. But he acknowledged that he had expressed deep frustration, saying “they were very bitter, very difficult decisions for any prime minister.”

government’s successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines, which he predicted voters would reward in regional elections on May 6.

He defended his contacts with a British billionaire, James Dyson, over his company’s emergency manufacturing of ventilator machines in the early days of the pandemic, noting that Mr. Dyson, whose company is known for making high-end vacuums, said this week that the two men were not close.

Still, the cloud of allegations kept Mr. Johnson on the defensive, with a succession of lawmakers accusing him of deflecting, dissembling or worse.

“Are you a liar, Mr. Prime Minister?” said the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, drawing a slap on the wrist from the speaker of the House of Commons, who said the question was “unsavory.”

Mr. Starmer, a former crown prosecutor, tried to pin down Mr. Johnson on specific points regarding the refurbishment, noting that ministers who knowingly utter untrue statements in the House are obliged to resign.

He pressed Mr. Johnson about who paid the initial invoice for the work on the apartment, and asked him to respond to a report that a wealthy Conservative Party donor, David Brownlow, had contributed £58,000 ($80,000), which was used to pay for part of the upgrade.

Mr. Johnson declined to address either point, repeating only that he paid for the refurbishment. He tried to turn the attack back on the opposition, claiming that it was ignoring public health and economic issues that ordinary people care about in favor of frivolous questions about interior decoration.

“He goes on and on about wallpaper, which as I’ve told him umpteen times, ‘I paid for,’” Mr. Johnson said, gesticulating angrily.

View Source

Shirley Williams, Breakaway Political Force in Britain, Dies at 90

LONDON — Shirley Williams, a pioneering British lawmaker and former cabinet member who broke from the Labour Party in the 1980s to help found a centrist movement that briefly promised to upend British politics, died on Monday at her home in England. She was 90.

Her death was announced by one of the parties she had helped establish, the Liberal Democrats. No other details were provided.

Charismatic and principled, Ms. Williams was long a force in British politics, serving in senior positions in a male-dominated Parliament and rising to cabinet ministerial posts. Many lawmakers have cited her career as an inspiration. Mark Peel, author of “Shirley Williams: The Biography,” said in an interview, “She gave politics a very good name.”

In 1981, concerned that the Labour Party was veering too far to the left, Ms. Williams and three other senior Labour lawmakers, known as the Gang of Four, founded the more centrist Social Democratic Party. It then formed an alliance with the old centrist Liberal Party and attracted a surge of support.

“Testament of Youth,” in which she described losing her fiancé, brother and two close male friends in the fighting, is widely considered a classic.

to chair the Labour Club there, in 1950. At Oxford she studied politics, economics and philosophy and acted in drama productions. She later won a Fulbright scholarship to study American trade unions at Columbia University.

Returning to Britain, she took up journalism, working for The Daily Mirror and The Financial Times. But she also kept her eyes on a political career, running unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate for Parliament in the 1950s before winning a seat in 1964, from the town of Hitchin, in southern England.

She quickly climbed the ranks, becoming minister for education and science in the Labour governments of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the ’60s. After the 1970 general election, when Labour lost power, she served as Labour’s spokeswoman on home affairs. In subsequent Labour governments in the ’70s she served as a trade secretary and then secretary of education under Prime Minister James Callaghan.

Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers — announced the formation of the centrist Social Democratic Party in January 1981.

“She was not somebody who liked taking orders from party whips or party machines,” Mr. Peel said. “She was in many ways a free spirit, an individual who did her own thing.”

At a time when few women had climbed to senior positions in politics, Ms. Williams faced extra challenges. She spoke in a 1979 interview about the difficulties of balancing domestic life with her parliamentary duties. Women, she observed, “have the business of trying to keep two lives going.”

She later said that the political demands on her time led in part to the annulment of her first marriage, to the philosopher Bernard Williams, whom she married in 1955 and with whom she had a daughter, Rebecca, her only immediate survivor. Mr. Williams died in 2003. Ms. Williams married the American historian and presidential adviser Richard E. Neustadt in 1987. He also died in 2003.

After forming the Social Democrats in 1981, Ms. Williams won the party’s first parliamentary seat that year, in Crosby, in northwestern England, taking it from the Conservatives. But she lost the seat in the disastrous 1983 general election.

Sky News interview.

In her final speech in the House of Lords, Ms. Williams reminded her colleagues that Britain had a tradition of leadership that was “not just national but global — where we are part of a larger group of human beings seeking a better world and a better life.”

“I think it would be a tragedy if the country gave up that kind of leadership,” she said.

View Source