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11 September 2019

Commons Confidential: Andrea Leadsom’s steely threats

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Brextremist Andrea Leadsom’s bullying of companies would be headline news if a Labour minister was intimidating firms into silence. The Business Secretary darkly hinted that public-sector contracts could be withheld from firms which warn that exiting Europe is national economic self-harm. One steel boss mutters that he was told to “pipe down” or else. Thumbscrews have also been turned on BT, according to a well-placed informant. Boris Johnson’s business adviser, multimillionaire former Sky executive Andrew Griffith, who lent his £10m London flat to the PM during the Tory leadership campaign, is fond of using the Downing Street switchboard to hunt down recalcitrants for an ear-bashing. Taking back control includes muting experts.

Brexit may not be Boris Johnson’s first die-in-a-ditch moment. Word reaches this column from Exmoor of a farmer towing the Prime Minister’s car out of a ditch after the blond bumbler in his salad days swerved off a road near the family’s home. Johnson will need more than a tractor to rescue him if he falls into the 31 October ditch he’s dug and Britain is saved in Europe.

Heads turned on Jeremy Hunt’s arrival with Philip Hammond at a soirée in west London’s exclusive River Café, where Amber Rudd also nibbled the microscopic titbits during whispered discussions about Johnson’s prospects of survival. Hunt fancies his chances, I’m told, the runner-up hoping No 10 will still be his. So too does Michael Gove. The Labour opposition is in front of Johnson when parliament isn’t suspended. Tory enemies aren’t behind him only when it sits.

Undiplomatic language from Chris Pincher, a Europe minister. My radar-lugged snout overheard the Tory former deputy chief whip growling near carriage gates: “We need to get rid of Bercow. He’s a c***.” Charming. And they did.

Sticking with expletives, TUC’s prim leaderene Frances O’Grady was unable in Brighton to coax Unite bruiser Steve Turner into shouting “feck” not “fuck” in a colourful tirade against Boris “fuck business” Johnson. Brother Turner is a former London bus conductor with a fierce working-class contempt for Tory poshos. Ding ding fuck.

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Ukip’s aptly named Dick Braine’s headaches continue with his Ukip fanatics and Nigel Farage’s breakaway Brexit Party zealots planning rival gatherings a stone’s throw apart on the same day in Newport this month. The clash in south Wales should be spicy, with considerable ill-feeling between the Brexit People’s Front and the People’s Front of Brexit. Splitters! Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

This article appears in the 11 Sep 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron’s legacy of chaos