Theresa May is facing fresh reshuffle embarrassment amid claims that she breached the Ministerial Code with her Downing Street PR stunt to promote the Tory party’s new top ranks.
Labour has written to the Prime Minister to complain that she was in clear breach of rules which forbid the use of any Government and taxpayer-funded property for party political purposes, HuffPost can reveal.
May led a parade of Conservative party chairmen and vice-chairmen in Downing Street on Monday as she started her shake-up of ministerial ranks.
The Conservative Party subsequently retweeted the picture on both their main twitter account and the Conservative Press account.
But just one of the appointees, party chairman Brandon Lewis, was given a Government post and the rest were all party jobs.
Section 6 of the Ministerial Code – which was updated only this week - says that Government property should not be used for “party political activities”, a strict rule that carries sanctions if breached.
It declares: “Ministers are provided with facilities at Government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties. These facilities should not generally be used for Party or constituency activities.”
Those found guilty of any breach face the humiliation of an official reprimand by the independent adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allen, and possible calls for an apology.
Jon Trickett, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, told HuffPost UK: “Theresa May’s shambolic and much-hyped reshuffle was just a smokescreen for an overhaul of the Tory Party machine that failed to deliver the Prime Minister a majority at the General Election.
“Her shameless use of public property to bolster publicity for her hollow attempt to revitalise her broken party is a clear breach of the ministerial code.
“This is yet another example of Theresa May and her Government undermining the high standards of public office and she should apologise immediately.”
However, any breach of the ministerial code relies on the Prime Minister triggering an investigation first.
Section 1 of the code states that the process can only look at an allegation if “the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary feels that it warrants further investigation”.
No.10 may also rely on a possible get-out clause that states “a particular exception is recognised in the case of official residences”.
Yet the Conservatives could be forced to pay up for the stunt. The code adds: “Where Ministers host Party or personal events in these residences it should be at their own or Party expense with no cost falling to the public purse.”
It remains unclear if the use of Downing Street for party purposes was cleared by Sue Gray, the Cabinet Office’s head of Propriety and Ethics.
One Tory insider told HuffPost: “As soon as they took that photo outside Number 10, my head banged the desk. An avoidable mistake.”
A Government spokesman said: “Given that section 6.2 of the Ministerial Code explicitly states that official residences can be used to host party events, there has clearly been no wrongdoing.
“A photo with a party political dimension, on the doorstep of the official residence of No10, is quite acceptable – and as Labour know that has been the case under successive administrations.”
Trickett’s letter to the Prime Minister reads thus
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP January 10 2018
Dear Prime Minister
During this week’s reshuffle, you made a number of appointments to political roles in the Conservative Party including promoting Brandon Lewis MP to Party Chairperson, James Cleverly as his Deputy and announcing a further nine Vice Chairs.
Following these appointments you and the new appointees appeared on the steps of Downing Street for photographs, which have been widely covered in the media.
As I understand it, whilst the Chairperson will be invited to Cabinet, the remaining appointments are strictly party political positions, whose work, responsibilities and output will be focused entirely on the Conservative Party.
In addition to the use in media coverage, it has also come to my attention that the photos have been used on both the Conservative Party’s main Twitter account, and the Conservative Party’s press Twitter account, which are used for political campaign purposes.
Therefore, this is a clear breach of the Ministerial Code as it applies to the use of Government property and resources. The most recent version of the code states:
“6.2 Government property should not generally be used for constituency work or party political activities. A particular exception is recognised in the case of official residences. Where Ministers host Party or personal events in these residences it should be at their own or Party expense with no cost falling to the public purse. (See also paragraph 7.10)
6.3 Official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political. The conventions governing the work of the Government Communication Service are set out in the Government Communication Service’s Propriety Guidance – Guidance on Government Communications.”
It is vital that Ministers are held to, and indeed meet, the high standards the public expects. However, yesterday’s episode is one in a long line of examples which damage the fabric of our democracy.
Given that this was a clear breach of the Ministerial Code I hope that you will do the honourable thing and make a full public apology for your actions.
Jon Trickett MP
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Cc Sir Jeremy Heywood
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said this was “further evidence” the reshuffle was “nothing more than a hollow PR stunt”.