Missing emails and a groping denial: A London mayoral candidate's past life as David Cameron’s ‘enforcer’
Everything you should know about Daniel Korski's time in Downing Street
Morning — in a campaign video released this week, mayoral hopeful Daniel Korski described himself as “a digital native, an entrepreneur, an immigrant — a 21st century Londoner”. There’s one more thing he could have added to that list: David Cameron’s old enforcer. Korski had a pretty fascinating stint working in Number Ten before launching his campaign to be the Conservative candidate for London mayor. It involves missing emails about Uber and a denial of any inappropriate behaviour. You’ll find Daniel Korski’s Downing Street days after your Sunday briefing below.
Plus: time might be up for Salt Bae in the capital, grim mortgage news and controversy over Tottenham’s new training ground for its women’s team.
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What we’ve spied
🥩 There’s some speculation that Salt Bae’s London restaurant could be in trouble. Salt Bae is best known for being a meme, but he also owns a global chain of luxury steak houses, including one in London where a single piece of meat can cost £680. This week the sudden closure of his New York restaurant prompted speculation that the days could be numbered for his London branch too, especially since it’s been inundated with bad reviews. The Spy checked out its TripAdvisor page and can confirm that the most common rating is one star. Recent highlights include: “Messy dining with salt everywhere” and “his hand movements are not even his”.
🧄 While we’re on food: a London park manager has called out ‘greedy’ fine-dining chefs for pinching too much wild garlic. Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park runs a scheme where people can apply for permission to forage ingredients for personal use, but park workers say they’ve caught chefs helping themselves to large quantities. “We had to get enforcement officers involved in one restaurant… they were taking large amounts of garlic for free but when we looked, their cheapest dish was £48,” said one park manager.
💸 The coming mortgage crunch will raise mortgage bills for London homeowners by £8,000 a year on average, according to new estimates in the Evening Standard. Unsurprisingly, Londoners are getting hit the hardest by rising mortgage rates, with many heading for a painful payment bump when their fix comes to an end. The whole mortgage situation has been much commented on this week, with the Guardian describing it as a “Tory timebomb”, and some MPs even speculating that it’ll prompt the government to call an early general election.
🗳️ A south London mayor has launched a bid to become an MP in a constituency, er, 120 miles away. Damien Egan is currently mayor of Lewisham, but he now wants to be the Labour candidate for Bristol North East, a safe Labour seat. As spotted by MyLondon, Egan has erased all mention of his role as Lewisham mayor in his Twitter bio and updated his location to Bristol, but he says he’ll stay on as mayor for the duration of the campaign.
💉 Vaccines for mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, have been extended in London after 11 new cases were discovered. The national vaccination programme is due to finish at the end of July, but shots will remain available in London beyond this date. The viral disease is said to spread primarily through interconnected sexual networks of gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.
⚽ Plans for a vast new training ground for Tottenham's women and girls’ teams have sparked anger in Enfield. The Premier League team wants to secure a long-term lease for 60% of Whitewebbs park in Enfield, where it plans to build a training academy and several pitches. The plans might be great news for women’s football but come as terrible news for residents, who argue the land should remain open to the public, and have started crowdfunding for a judicial review. If approved, the team has signed up to pay the council £500 million as an initial premium, followed by £75,000 a year on the lease.
🍸 Plans for a massive rooftop bar and restaurant in Piccadilly Circus have been given the green light. The venue, which is set to be called ‘the Devonshire Arms’, will span three-floors with a sports bar, a pub and rooftop restaurant and bar. It’ll be right by the big advertising display.
🖊️ Two good London feature pieces to tuck into this weekend:
The Telegraph has a nice write-up of the Bromley ‘oak tree massacre’, which includes a number of details that were missing from the story when we covered it on Thursday. The piece hears from a local who says she arrived one morning to find the wooded area guarded by three men, with chainsaws whirring in the background. The Telegraph also interviewed Prince Choudhary, the man behind the incident, who insisted he wouldn't have cut down the trees had he known about the TPO, and said he holds a lease on the land to create sports facilities for children.
Jonathan Nunn of food Substack Vittles writes about the battle over barbecues in Burgess Park in the Guardian. He explains how the pandemic has been used as an excuse to accelerate closing off access to space without due process. Southwark council, he says, seems to be embarrassed about how much of a success Burgess Park’s barbecues became, and has snuffed out its thriving barbecue culture without a proper public consultation.
🌞 Frustration from some as they try to enjoy the gorgeous summer weather in London. Revellers in central London have hit out at the early closing time of Soho Square. Others reckon there are not enough drinking fountains in the city for a heatwave, and have set up a petition. Meanwhile, a lido in south west London has caused controversy by telling local residents sunbathing is no longer permitted at the facility.
🎭 Some good reviews for a new “innovative” Romeo and Juliet production in London. “Powerfully atmospheric and delightfully basic,” said Timeout of its dance sequences, while the Guardian said it has a “beguiling intensity”.
Daniel Korski’s Downing Street days
There’s a new frontrunner in the race to be the Conservative candidate for London mayor: Daniel Korski, a tech entrepreneur you’ve probably never heard of. He’s one of three relatively unknown figures who made the Conservative’s shortlist this week, in a sign the party reckons an outsider has the best chance of beating Sadiq Khan in next year’s election. Along with Korski, there’s Susan Hall, a London Assembly member, and Mozammel Hossain, a lawyer — not exactly household names for Londoners.
It’s worth paying particular attention to Korski though, as bookies give him the best odds of winning out of the three. He’s also got the most public endorsements from Conservative MPs — the Spy counts 20 as of writing — including senior figures like Michael Gove, Kit Malthouse and Tom Tugendhat. At one point Korski even tweeted he had the endorsement of Penny Mordaunt, of recent fame for carrying the sword at the Coronation, though some awkward messages must have been exchanged, as he later quietly deleted the tweets.
Korski’s pitch is that he wants to “restore the London dream”. He’s already fired off quite a few ideas on what that entails: scrapping the ULEZ expansion “on day one”; giving free burglar alarms to all pensioners; turning off red lights at night to speed up traffic; ‘noise cameras’ on streets to catch roaring motorbikes; confirmatory votes for residents on new low-traffic neighbourhoods; even an airport-like data dashboard for City Hall targets so we can watch in real-time how good of a job he’s doing.
It’s at this point a sceptic might wonder: can someone like Korski, who’s never held elected office before, really have the political chops to deliver all this? Well fear not — as Korski himself boasts in a recent campaign video, he’s actually had experience “in the heart of government in Downing Street”. From 2013 until 2016, Korski was a special advisor to prime minister David Cameron. His official title was deputy head of policy, a role that netted him a salary of £93,000 by the end of his time at Number Ten. Unofficially in the press, he was known as ‘Dave’s enforcer’. Such was his loyalty that he once made a cake with one of Cameron’s slogans on it for a baking competition at Downing Street.
So in the spirit of background-checking our potential next mayor, the Spy’s had a dig through what Korski got up to at Downing Street. We’ve gone in the weeds with this story, so here’s a summary before our deep dive:
Korski acted as a fixer for Cameron, with the most high-profile example being his involvement in efforts to protect Uber from more regulation in London
He helped draw up and enforce Cameron’s policy on the EU and the Brexit referendum, at one point becoming embroiled in the controversial firing of a business chief over a pro-Brexit speech
In 2017 Korski denied allegations of inappropriate behaviour after a TV producer claimed she was groped by an unnamed official in Downing Street
He drew up some radical policy ideas that were never implemented while at Number Ten, including exploring the idea of making the UK a cashless society and encouraging more foreign students to study at state schools
Korski set up a company helping start-ups win government contracts after he and Cameron left Downing Street, with some criticising the potential ‘revolving door’ given his prior role. His company subsequently came up in reporting around the Greensill scandal, though there is no indication of any wrongdoing by Korski
That’s the gist — the full details of Korski’s Downing Street days are below.
THE UBER EMAILS
It turns out Korski already has experience with policy in London. He was a key figure in David Cameron’s attempts to protect Uber from tough regulation in the capital proposed by then-mayor, Boris Johnson.
As detailed in the Guardian’s Uber Files investigation, this story starts around 2014, when Johnson was considering new rules for the taxi app. After the rapid and largely unregulated growth of Uber in London, Johnson was beginning to voice concerns, publicly hitting out at the “brash attitudes of these gigantic American internet companies and the way they think they can come over and disrupt the market”. Uber was riding high at the time, having eaten into the business of black cabs, but the company faced accusations from critics that it was operating on the edges of the law. Things came to a head when TfL decided to launch a consultation in September 2015 on some possible new restrictions on the company, like capping driver numbers or asking customers to wait five minutes between booking and getting in the vehicle.
Amid a flurry of lobbying by Uber to stop the changes appears Korski, who, in his capacity as a Downing Street digital advisor, sent emails to TfL, the mayor’s office and Uber discussing the consultation. The emails didn’t come to light easily — at one point Downing Street faced accusations of a “cover-up” when it denied Korski’s correspondence existed, only for TfL to then publish the emails anyway. But they eventually revealed that Korski was making the case in favour of Uber, accusing TfL of attempting “insane and luddite things” in relation to the consultation. He would also go on to visit Uber HQ in California a few months later and attend a dinner organised by a Google executive where a prominent Uber lobbyist, Rachel Whetstone was present. All the while David Cameron and George Osborne were understood to be reaching out directly to Johnson by phone.
By 2016, Johnson had dropped his most controversial proposals, including the proposed waiting times after booking and a cap on driver numbers. In response to the Guardian’s Uber Files story in 2022, Korski said: “I did not take orders from Uber, lobby on behalf of any one company including Uber, [give] the company any special insight into non-disclosed policy deliberation nor did I or anyone I worked with seek to give Uber a special favour.”
THE BREXIT ASSASSINATION
Korski hasn’t hidden the fact he was an “unashamed Remainer” while working for Cameron, but for evidence of his dedication to the cause, look no further than his alleged part in getting a business chief fired for a pro-Brexit speech.
The context: Korski played a key role in helping Cameron negotiate his new deal with the EU in an effort to stop Brexit. He was the right man for the job, with experience of how Brussels worked — in 2012 Korski worked for an EU foreign policy chief as a spin doctor on a salary of about £150,000. Korski was tasked with negotiating the deal that was eventually put to voters — and rejected — in the EU referendum as the alternative to leaving. And once the deal was agreed with Brussels, Korski was on the frontline of drumming up support for Remain in the referendum.
As the vote approached in 2016, John Longworth, the then director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), a body representing thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses in the UK, made a speech in which he outlined his personal views in favour of Brexit. That was despite the BCC’s strict policy of neutrality on the EU referendum. By some accounts, Number Ten was livid.
According to the Times, Korski was alerted to Longworth’s speech and promptly texted him to ask if he had reflected the views of BCC members, 60% of whom preferred to stay in the EU, a recent poll found. When Longwidth didn’t respond, Korski called the BCC president Nora Senior, who, a source says, expressed her shock and disappointment at Longworth’s move. By the following day, Longworth had been suspended by the BBC’s board for abandoning the organisation’s neutrality.
Downing Street gave a slightly different version of events at the time. Though it did not deny Korski had contacted Longworth, it insisted that no one from Number Ten had put him under pressure to go.
Whatever Korski’s actual role, Brexiteers were angry. Tory MP David Davis called Longworth a “Brexit martyr” while another, Bernard Jenkin, demanded the release of all emails and phone records related to the incident. They kept on grumbling even after Leave won the referendum and kicked up a fuss when Korski was awarded a CBE by Cameron in his resignation honours, along with other Remainers.
THE GROPING DENIAL
In 2017 a TV producer revealed in the Radio Times that she was “groped” during a visit to Downing Street while David Cameron was prime minister. After an article reportedly linked Korski to the incident, he issued a strong denial to the Telegraph, calling any accusation of inappropriate behaviour “not only false but also totally bizarre”.
Daisy Goodwin never named anyone in her original column. She wrote in the Radio Times that an official had “put his hand on my breast” during a meeting to discuss an idea for a TV programme. She said: "I had met the official at a dinner and he had followed up with an email. As I waited to see him I drank in the aroma of Downing Street, which took me straight back to the boys’ public school I had attended – a sweaty combination of testosterone, socks and lust.”
"The official, who was a few years younger than me, showed me into a room dominated by a portrait of Mrs T [Thatcher] and we sat at a table carved, he told me, from one piece of wood. Then to my surprise he put his feet on my chair (we were sitting side by side) and said that my sunglasses made me look like a Bond Girl."
“I attempted to turn the conversation to turning exports into unmissable TV. At the end of the meeting we both stood up and the official, to my astonishment, put his hand on my breast," she said. "I looked at the hand and then in my best Lady Bracknell voice said, 'Are you actually touching my breast?' He dropped his hand and laughed nervously. I swept out in what can only be called high dudgeon”. Goodwin went on to say she never considered reporting the matter and only reconsidered following recent sexual assault allegations in Westminster and Hollywood.
PoliticsHome reported that Korski’s denial had followed a Guido Fawkes article linking him to the incident. The Spy has been unable to verify the contents of any such report by Guido Fawkes — an article on Korski published by the site on the same day as the denial with the headline ‘MAN IN THE NEWS’ now ends abruptly, without mentioning Goodwin.
In his denial of any allegation, Korski told the Telegraph: “I am shocked to find this is in any way connected to me. I met with Mrs Goodwin in No 10 twice I think, and she may have met others too.
“But I categorically deny any allegation of inappropriate behaviour. Any such allegation would not only be totally false but also totally bizarre.”
A spokesperson for Number Ten at the time said: “We are looking into this claim and where there is something we can act upon we will do so.” The Spy contacted Korski to offer further opportunity for comment and to clarify the outcome of any investigation, but we did not receive a response.
THE CASHLESS SOCIETY
Working at Downing Street’s policy unit gave Korski the chance for some blue-sky thinking, though a few of his ideas were left on the cutting room floor.
Like his plan for a cashless society. Korski drew up a proposal that would have laid down an ambition to end all cash transactions by 2020 as a way to drive up productivity and disrupt some forms of criminal activity. It was part of a bundle of ideas submitted for the Conservative party conference in autumn 2015, but George Osborne apparently took it out, saying words to the effect of ‘Look, it is an interesting idea but it will scare people’.
Another idea was to charge foreign students for places at elite state schools. A leaked letter from David Cameron’s office in 2013 suggested Britain should be encouraging large numbers of foreign pupils to attend state schools, a move likely to have meant the introduction of charges worth thousands of pounds. Cameron had to agree to drop the proposal after some backlash, with blame for the idea laid at the door of Korski.
Korski’s policy unit could definitely frustrate some in Whitehall. One source told the Times: “These are very smart people, but I worry they have little idea how toxic some of their ideas can be when they hit the media.”
THE REVOLVING DOOR
In 2016 Korski left Downing Street when his boss resigned over the EU referendum, ending a three-year stint at the heart of power. Not to put that insider experience to waste, Korski’s next venture was to set up a business that helps tech start-ups win public sector contracts.
He got the go-ahead to found PUBLIC from the Cabinet Office — and in a bit of foreshadowing for his mayoral election campaign, got a ringing endorsement from Michael Gove. There was some bad press as well though, over what some saw as evidence of the ‘revolving door’ between politics and the private sector. As one Daily Mail article put it: “Top Cameron crony to make a mint from connections”. Indeed Korski’s new job caught the attention of BuzzFeed News in April 2017, when the site reported he had dropped a scheme offering access to currently serving government special advisors. The SpAds had all been listed on PUBLIC’s website under the title ‘Learn from experts’, but their names disappeared following inquiries from BuzzFeed. Korski said at the time: “We just asked special advisers if they wanted to do it, it’s up to them to get sign off. We’re not asking them to give any privileged information, I’m not trying to get privileged information out of anybody."
PUBLIC helped a few companies over the coming years, including an app called FreeUp, which let NHS staff access their wages before their regular payday if they needed extra cash. So successful was the startup that it got acquired by, er, Greensill Capital — yes, that Greensill, the company that got David Cameron and some civil servants in a bit of hot water over accusations of lobbying. Indeed PUBLIC got dragged into the Greensill mess when it was reported one of the civil servants accused of helping Greensill’s lobbying efforts, Bill Crothers, had sat on PUBLIC’s advisory board. It followed an early report that month that the Cabinet Office minister in charge of procurement, Lord Agnew, had millions of pounds worth of shares in PUBLIC.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of PUBLIC, its investors or Korski though — for one thing, a PUBLIC spokesperson said the board Crothers sat on never actually met. The Spy couldn’t help but notice one thing though — a tweet by Korski on the sale of FreeUp to Greensill now appears to have been deleted…
WHAT KORSKI SAYS
The Spy reached out to Korski’s campaign ahead of this piece, but unfortunately, we got no response. To be fair to Korski, he’s not shying away from his Downing Street past, and he says he’s proud of his work with Cameron. He told the Evening Standard in an interview this week: “Every policy issue, from health to energy, from transport to defence issues, crosses your desk before it goes to the prime minister — or the prime minister asks for your advice on a range of these issues.
“In the course of my time in Downing St, I really was able to cover the range of issues. We had the Libya conflict. We had the first phase of the Ukraine war in 2014, when we put forward a package of sanctions against Vladimir Putin, which I worked on.
“The other thing we worked on was legalising same-sex marriage, which is something I’m hugely proud of.”
And on accusations that he was Cameron’s fixer? “I think it’s wonderful if people think of you as a fixer,” he said. “I ought to probably fix more things, including in my own house.”
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