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24 June 2020

Commons confidential: Gavin Williamson and Dominic Cummings display relegation form

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Surviving longer as acting leader of the Liberal Democrats than Jo Swinson lasted in the actual job, Sir Ed Davey’s got more questions than answers. The knighted energy secretary of the benighted ConDem coalition is running up a hefty public bill to land the leadership permanently. Tabling around 50 parliamentary written questions a week to generate press releases, one Whitehall watcher totted up the taxpayers’ tab at £14,000 over a recent fortnight. Inquiries have included asking Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to create a nature conservation GCSE and a bid to flush out Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on the closure of public toilets during the Covid-19 lockdown. Fewer grumbles might be heard if Davey only spent a penny instead of the average £140 it costs for each reply. 

The impression that Williamson devises coronavirus education policy in a pointed hat with a big D as he faces the wall in a classroom corner was reinforced when his department issued four corrections to a press notice on the £1bn pupil catch-up plan. My Downing Street snout whispered Williamson and “Damaged Dom” led the opposition when Marcus Rashford peppered the No 10 goal with free school meal shots. The struggling pair display relegation form.

Keir Starmer should brace for pushback from Harvey Proctor if the Labour leader continues pressing for a peerage for Tom Watson, the party’s former deputy leader. The hounded ex-Tory MP received a police payout after losing his home and being interviewed twice under caution (but never arrested, as I asserted last week) on the basis of Westminster paedophile stories invented by since-jailed liar “Nick”, which Watson amplified. Proctor also accuses Starmer of believing all complainants when he was DPP to advance his Labour career.

Since the release of the 150-page Labour Together inquest on the party’s 2019 election horror show, the word in Westminster is that many in Jeremy Corbyn’s closest team are now privately dumping on him by briefing that their old boss would never make decisions. Schisms are the history of socialism. Splitters!

Layla Moran, also vying for the Lib Dem crown, muttered that her first word was daw, Arabic for light. The Oxford MP, daughter of a Palestinian Christian mother from Jerusalem, regrets no longer speaking the language. The lineage could still be worth crucial votes in a party committed to the Palestinian cause.

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No cause for alarm but England’s virus track-and-trace chief Dido Harding had to pause a briefing because her iPad battery was flat. Is it too much to hope she’s fully charged and plugged in?

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Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

This article appears in the 24 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Political football