Mr Rules and Ms Integrity

For years – long before she shot to fame as the Partygate inquisitor – Sue Gray’s name was a byword for integrity on Whitehall.

She dethroned Cabinet ministers over ethics breaches and shocked David Cameron by intervening to block some of his decisions within a week of his arrival in 10 Downing Street.

Her sudden defection to Labour after secret talks with Sir Keir Starmer came as a surprise, given the risk of undermining her own reputation and that of the Civil Service as a whole.

But her outright refusal to co-operate with her old colleagues at the Cabinet Office who are investigating the circumstances of her departure is a still bigger blow to the idea that she represented an ideal of doing government by the book.

If – as seems almost certain – Ms Gray did open discussions with Sir Keir’s team while still employed by the Civil Service, and failed to tell her bosses, it is a clear breach of the rules that are designed to ensure senior mandarins are impartial and seen to be so.

Sir Keir himself has been nicknamed “Mr Rules” by colleagues, but he was no stickler in this case. No wonder the Conservatives are fuming.

It is now apparent that Ms Gray learned one lesson above all from her decades in government: the key to politics is power, and the way to impose your will is to ignore any obstacle that is not truly immovable.

Her new boss knows this too. Sir Keir is laser-focused on taking Labour to election victory, no matter what conventions – such as the one which states you shouldn’t become party leader based on policy promises you have no intention of delivering – might need to be flouted along the way.

Labour may need to be careful. Boris Johnson was a noted constitutional vandal, but he got results; does Sir Keir really want the same tag attached to him?

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