Election Daily: ..are you live from the Downing Street kitchen?

57 days to go

MAYBE WE’LL NEVER KNOW

IF we added it up, I’d probably have to admit that the Peeps column has spent more time teasing Henry Newman than any other councillor at the Town Hall.

He seems like a good sport about it, probably because he’s had far worse from other journalists during his time in the Downing Street inner circle. I never called him a chatty rat;, I just said he had one coat in particular which looked a bit like Arthur Daley trying to sell a clapped out Sierra.

It was only later that I realised Rishi Madlani has similar lapels on the Labour side.

Before he was elevated, Cllr Newman spent his days taking a catalogue of photos of himself next to bin bags and Camden’s fly-tipping hotspots, perfecting the concerned councillor look so well he was rushed from unwinnable Highgate to easy-peasy Frognal and Fitzjohns.

Around then he was an almost permanent fixture on Sky News and BBC, endlessly reviewing the next day’s newspapers. As an aside, we are told newspapers are dead or dying and yet everybody in the game can still get a right stress-on about what’s on the front page of the Daily Mail; you can’t have it both ways.

Henry Newman at his final scheduled full council meeting

There was the Henry Newman drinking game which I patented. It would get you very peculiar if you played along at home; half the cup if he appears on your screen, the whole strawpedo if tells us why Britain would be better off out of Europe.

Back at the Camden Council ranch over the last few years, Cllr Newman was teased too by fellow members. That great wit, Awale Olad, would ask him if he was broadcasting from the Downing Street kitchens when he turned up to Culture and Environment Scrutiny Committee meetings on videocall during lockdown.

But truth be told, all eyes track him when he turns up in person to a council meeting. He usually comes in a little late, waylaid now as an aide again to Michael Gove, but when he does he’s watched to his seat.

I’m not sure if that’s all jealousy, people are just intrigued. There are some Labour people he gets on very well with too.

On Monday night, he once more arrived after it had all started and sat down in Maria Higson’s vacant seat. Maybe some people thought he wouldn’t come because he can’t answer those questions about whether he was, as has been suggested by the national press, at the Downing Street lockdown garden party.

But he’s always had a little more respect for the local process than we probably give him credit for; or I give him credit for when I peeps on about his important role as Carrie Johnson’s dogsitter.

I think the parties thing is the only thing he has dodged a call or text from me during his time as a councillor; and he has spoken at meetings more often than other special advisers and party staffers who have doubled up as rarely-seen and never heard  councillors over the years.

His final appearance at a full council – he is stepping down voluntarily in May – was ultimately too tempting for Labour’s Jonathan Simpson, who drew guffaws from the ruling group and groans from the Tories when he asked/performed a question about the standards board hypotheticals should a councillor be found to have broken the lockdown rules.

Andrew Maughan, the borough solicitor, batted that one away for another day. Maybe we’ll never know.

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