'Swivelgate' engulfs Tory party: who said what and when
Lord Feldman denies 'mad, swivel-eyed loons' remark – but his pal David Cameron has used similar language before
THE Tory party was thrown into disarray at the weekend thanks to a remark allegedly made by a "close ally" of David Cameron as he bantered with political journalists at the Blue Boar Smokehouse restaurant near Westminster. The Saturday editions of the Times and the Daily Telegraph claimed the man – who the papers did not name - described eurosceptic activists within the Conservative party as "mad, swivel-eyed loons". It was later claimed on social media that the culprit was Lord Feldman, co-chairman of the party. Feldman denied making the comment – but the damage was done. "It would be difficult to imagine a more incendiary remark in the febrile atmosphere that exists among rank-and-file party members over Mr Cameron's leadership," says the Daily Mail. Here's how 'Swivelgate' unfolded:
The restaurant: The Blue Boar is situated in the Intercontinental Hotel on Tothill Street. It is popular with MPs and political journalists because of its proximity to Westminster and the "discreet hospitality" afforded by its leather-lined booths. Ensconced in a booth, reporters and politicians trade information over plates of ribs and barbecued pulled pork.
The players: Last Wednesday night, four senior political reporters from different newspapers were chatting with Steve Field, the prime minister's former spokesman. Lord Feldman was also at the restaurant that night, a guest at a dinner organised by Friends of Pakistan. Feldman is a key member of David Cameron's inner circle, and a close friend and contemporary of the PM from their Oxford days. "The suave, former barrister has never stood for office, rarely speaks to the media and is virtually unknown outside the Westminster bubble," says the Daily Telegraph.
The encounter: Feldman was reportedly on his way to the Blue Boar's washroom when he passed the journalists' table. The reporter from the Times made a jibe about events in Parliament a couple of hours earlier when 114 Tory MPs had voted against the Queen's Speech in protest over the EU referendum. At this point, Feldman allegedly responded that Cameron's problem wasn't so much Tory backbenchers, but party activists – "adding for good measure that they were just 'mad, swivel-eyed loons'."
The furore: According to The Guardian, "the reporters [from The Times and the Daily Telegraph] sat on their little scoop until Saturday's editions, knowing that it would make more impact at the weekend". They were right. Although neither paper named Feldman, he was identified on social media as the man at the centre of 'Swivelgate' within hours of the papers hitting newsstands. Feldman denied he had made the remark and said he was consulting his lawyers. Cameron backed Feldman while Downing Street "suggested discreetly that alcohol may have played a part in the furore, perhaps muddying the reporters' recollection of events", says the Daily Mail.
The repercussions: Feldman will be "asked to explain himself" when he appears before a meeting of the Tory party board today, reports The Guardian. The involvement of the board, which represents the views of Tory activists, will "dismay Downing Street after it spent the weekend rubbishing reports about Feldman's alleged comments" But the PM has been damaged by the incident, particularly because the alleged remarks appear to echo the prime minister's language, the paper says. It points to a report in the Financial Times in March in which Cameron reportedly "tells colleagues that anyone who wants to talk to him about the EU is 'swivel-eyed'". The article was not challenged by No 10.