As 2017 is not a leap year, there is no 29th day in February. Instead, the number 29 has come to signify what the Daily Mail might have called troubling questions for the Tories, as the election expense scandal has been fired back into life by the people at Channel 4 News, fronted by Michael Crick, seen on video doggedly pursuing Theresa May’s right hand man Nick Timothy across Whitehall yesterday afternoon.
What is the significance of the number 29? Well, there are two instances of it cropping up in the expense imbroglio today: 29 is the number of constituencies where investigations into what the Tories spent, when they spent it and what they spent it on are still ongoing. And 29 is the date in March 2015 when Nick Timothy was still employed by the then Cameron Government as a civil servant, but was already working on other matters.
Those other matters were the upcoming General Election campaign, and specifically the fight to keep Nigel “Thirsty” Farage from winning Thanet South from Tory pretender Craig Mackinlay. All Government advisors left their employment on March 30, and from that point, they could therefore work on what they wanted to. But until then, their code of conduct prohibited them from working on election campaigns.
That is where Nick Timothy has problems. Presenting a straight bat to Crick, ignoring the questions and the microphone in his face, and silently maintaining his composure all the way to the Downing Street gate, was the easy bit. Explaining how he came to be already working on the Thanet South campaign before the all-important cut-off date is going to be a more challenging proposition. And it may not just be one day we’re talking about.
Here’s what Channel 4 has uncovered: “at 17:38 [on March 29, Timothy] sends another email to senior Conservatives entitled ‘First draft of messages’, containing a carefully crafted 500-word messaging document, with headings such as ‘Craig Mackinlay is a local man through and through’ … In the email he writes: “Let me know what you think of the first cut of the message sheet. So far, I’ve only worked off the polling book, some local research, and what Craig seems to have been saying locally”.
Colour me cynical - because I am cynical - but that suggests, with Timothy saying that he has been working off the polling book and some local research, that it is highly likely he had been working on the Thanet South campaign before March 29. The problem for the Channel 4 News team is finding the proverbial smoking gun.
That there may be a smoking gun has not been dispelled by the lameness of the excuses being deployed in Timothy’s defence: first, the media is warned not to “besmirch” The Great Man’s reputation, and now we are told “It is clear that the emails of 29 March were sent on a Sunday from Mr Timothy’s personal email account, clearly in his own time and on the afternoon before his last day in Government. They show he was preparing for what he would do once he was no longer in Government service”.
So that’s straight out of the Monty Python Argument sketch, then: “I could be arguing in my spare time”. We need answers, and this time before the 29th of the month.