Newsnight segment featuring Allegra Stratton ‘humiliating’ a woman on benefits resurfaces

Newsnight segment featuring Allegra Stratton ‘humiliating’ a woman on benefits resurfaces

A leaked video of Downing Street staff laughing and joking about an alleged party that the government hosted during last year’s Christmas lockdown has sparked uproar and reignited criticism of Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s former press secretary.

Stratton, who worked as Boris Johnson’s press secretary between November 2020 and April 2021, is front and centre of the footage, which was leaked to ITV News and published on Tuesday evening.

In the clip, Stratton is asked by fellow aide Ed Oldfield whether she attended a party that was held “on Friday night”. The date would have coincided with a gathering that is reported to have been held for a top Downing Street staffer who was leaving on 18th December 2020.

Stratton tells Oldfield, during the mock press conference rehearsal, that she “went home” and didn’t go to the party. Another aide then adds: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”.

“Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Ms Stratton then replies, to laughter in the room. Ms Stratton then noted “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”

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Stratton is a former journalist who worked as BBC Newsnight’s political editor from 2012 to 2016. A controversial segment has since resurfaced from her time on the show in the wake of the Downing Street video being published.

The incident, which was filmed in May 2012, involves Stratton interviewing a young single mother named Shanene Thorpe who worked for Tower Hamlets council, who had been claiming housing benefits to help cover her rent. Stratton grills Thorpe as to why she and her child are living in their own house rather than her mother’s two-bedroom house telling her: “It’s a choice you’re making, and it’s a choice that comes with a price tag attached.”

After the interview, Stratton tells the camera: “The government is thinking of saying to young people: if you don’t have work, don’t leave home,” as reported by The New Statesman.

Thorpe, who wasn’t unemployed, launched a petition shortly after the interview aired where she stated: “I was approached by the BBC to be interviewed on Newsnight to talk about what it’s like being a working mum struggling to pay rent and housing costs. Of course, I was happy to do it, being a working mum is something I’m proud of. It hasn’t always been plain sailing. But I did not expect to be personally scrutinised, have judgements made about my choices and asked why I chose to have my child - a beautiful, sociable and happy three-year-old girl. I have done my best for her and wanted to bring her up independently. But the BBC has humiliated me and I want them to apologise for portraying me and my family in this way.”

After the petition was signed by more than 27,000 people, Newsnight offered an apology. A spokesperson for BBC News said in December 2012: “Newsnight contacted Shanene Thorpe when we became aware of the petition. An apology was made personally to Shanene and published on the programme’s website and the BBC complaints website on 1 June, a week after the interview was broadcast.

“Shanene then decided to lodge an official complaint to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit. Following its ruling in August, a correction and apology was made on-air.”

You can watch the on -air apology from presenter Gavin Esler in the video below.

Stratton was due to lead televised White House-style press briefings for the government, hence the aforementioned rehearsal but those plans were scrapped in April. She more recently worked as a spokesperson for COP26 president Alok Sharma but announced on Wednesday afternoon, in the wake of the leaked video, that she would be resigning from the position.

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