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1 March 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:25pm

Commons Confidential: Is George Osborne plotting his political comeback?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Tongues are wagging about why seven-job George Osborne clears time in his busy diary to meet Tory strategist Lynton Crosby. The London Evening Standard editor’s regular Wednesday appointments with the Lizard of Oz’s CTF outfit surely couldn’t herald an audacious political comeback by a former chancellor plotting the ultimate vengeance against his nemesis, Theresa May? My snout whispered that cops would know where to go if the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, was pushed under a London bus. I’m sure May will be relaxed that her party’s highly paid adviser counsels a deadly rival who’d like her chopped up in bags in his freezer.

Tory high command is newly optimistic that it can rig the next general election by abolishing 50 mainly Labour, Lib Dem and SNP seats to bolster the Conservatives in a 600-seat parliament. The word is that the DUP may be onside after a proposed redrawing of Northern Irish boundaries that would leave May’s Praetorian Guard with 10 seats, with independent unionist Sylvia Hermon sacrificed in a reduction from 18 MPs to 17. The sectarian DUP takes no prisoners.

How much Jeremy Corbyn’s customs union shift owes to politics, rather than economics, is rooted in an exchange during a meeting of the shadow Brexit warring committee. Even Europhile Diane Abbott is motivated by power. “Jeremy and I have one chance of being in government,” opined Abbott, “and we’re not going to let fucking Blairites blow it.” Back in the day, Blairites took a similar approach to the Labour left.

Yours truly was forwarded a backslapping memo to Tory troops by Julian Smith, a chief whip who rose without trace and serves as former boss Gavin “Private Pike” Williamson’s campaign chief. Studiously ignoring the humiliating defeat over a “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal, Smith declared his and the party’s Commons performance “excellent”, unwittingly revealing this is operation cling-on. “Remaining united in parliament,” declared Smith, “is a vital part of ensuring that Jeremy Corbyn remains in opposition.” With a crunch customs union vote looming, the Tories are surviving, not governing.

Maybe the Sun, Daily Express,​ Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph weren’t particularly interested in the truth when smearing Comrade Corbyn as a Cold War spy. But Mansfield’s expensively humiliated Tory vice chair Ben Bradley could have saved himself a small fortune and a grovel if he’d asked the Lib Dems. The sneaky yellow peril checked Stasi files three years ago and discovered that Corbyn wasn’t on the books. Eastern bloc agents were uninterested in the secrets of Jezza’s damson jam recipe.

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This article appears in the 28 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the radical left