He sweated under the glare like a saveloy in a chip shop: HENRY DEEDES sees Robert Jenrick face questions in Parliament over his links to Tory donor
Robert Jenrick sat on the Government front bench, arms folded, feet still, his mouth occasionally gulping like a cornered koi carp.
Perched all alone, with no colleague nearby, he could have been a lonely seafarer bobbing inside a lifeboat as the waves crashed around him. Which was apt really. Attacks were raining in at him from all over the chamber.
The Housing Secretary had returned to the Commons to face questions over his links to Richard Desmond, whose £1billion housing application Jenrick had intervened to wave through just before the developer made a £12,000 donation to the Tories.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in the House of Commons, London, he has faced accusations of ‘cash for favours’
This murky saga has rolled on for weeks now. How’s Jenrick holding up? Passing him late on Tuesday along Whitehall, he looked a little green around the gills, as though the weight of the world was hanging from his shoulders. To give him his due, he showed unexpected mettle through yesterday’s tussle.
Labour’s Housing spokesman Steve Reed clearly smelt blood and had worked himself into an appropriate froth. He arrived in the chamber with his hair ruffled and his tie askew. It’s possible he’d been psyching himself up in front of the mirror.
Reed accused Jenrick of having something to hide. He’d come armed with a stack of headline-friendly cliches to hammer this home. We heard phrases like ‘cash for honours’ and ‘mates’ rates for friends of Tories’. A couple of times he trotted out that old Labour favourite: ‘One rule for billionaire donors and one for the rest of us.’
Jenrick looked on, a little twitch of irritation occasionally dancing across his temple. Sometimes he would begin gesticulating the way unruly pupils do. ‘What sir, me sir?’
It emerged the developer, ex-Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, had personally given the Conservative Party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved
Perched all alone, with no colleague nearby, he could have been a lonely seafarer bobbing inside a lifeboat as the waves crashed around him
When he finally rose, someone – Labour’s Toby Perkins, possibly – immediately tried to make an intervention. Jenrick airily questioned whether his opponents were genuinely interested in what he had to say. Punchy.
He agreed to publish all documentation on the matter, but insisted Mr Desmond’s application had been made ‘with an open mind’ and ‘after a thorough decision-making process’.
More from Henry Deedes for the Daily Mail…
We heard about the night he sat next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraiser while his planning application was still pending. He reiterated that he had no idea they would be placed next to one another. Cue several sly smirks around the House.
At the same table that evening, we were told, was the editor of The Mirror. Editor of the Left-wing Mirror at a Tory fundraiser? Must be a first. There was also a ‘former Tory MP.’ This was apparently Norfolk grandee Sir Henry Bellingham. What an old gent like Sir Henry’s doing mixed up with Mr Desmond is anyone’s guess. By now, a thin film of sweat had formed on Jenrick’s forehead. Fifteen minutes under the Commons lights will do that to you. Before long his brow was shinier than a saveloy in a chippie’s broiler.
Meanwhile, just inside the chamber door sat the Prime Minister’s PPS Alex Burghart (Con, Brentwood and Ongar). Preparing a match report for the boss, no doubt.
Jenrick scored a decent hit following an intervention from Apsana Begum (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse) in whose constituency the development falls. Miss Begum appeared critical of the decision to grant the application.
Mr Jenrick is embroiled in a ‘cash for favours’ row over his approval of Richard Desmond’s (pictured) plan for 1,500 homes in east London
Mr Jenrick also waived affordable housing rules, giving the billionaire businessman an estimated £106million in extra revenue. Two weeks later, Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party
Yet Jenrick said when he asked officials what representations she’d made when it was first lodged, they had told him she had ‘taken no interest’ in it at all. Boom! Miss Begum reeled in her neck. Worth noting was Jenrick’s menace toward Reed, whom he went for doggedly at the end. He accused him of ‘living for smears and innuendos, not substance’. It was biting stuff. Reed affected an air of apathy by giving his goatee whiskers a casual rake of the fingernails. As the Minister returned to his seat, the attacks resumed. David Linden (SNP, Glasgow E) said the whole business ‘stunk to high heaven.’
Rupa Huq (Lab, Ealing Central and Acton) claimed that ‘the wheels were coming off this oven-ready Government’. Jenrick continued to sit there, twisting and turning, though just about keeping his mouth above the surf.
For how long?
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