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9 September 2020

Commons Confidential: A crushing miscount

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Cash-for-access rates charged by the Tories at next month’s online annual conference are at pre-pandemic sweaty flesh prices. The party’s commercial brochure emailed my way reveals companies will be fleeced as much as £25,500 plus VAT to join a virtual exhibition area. That £30,600 guarantees cyber visits from “senior members of the cabinet”. The bill for a four-day fringe slot hits £48,000, with prominent government figures appearing from a special studio. Last November, the porn baron turned property speculator Richard Desmond bought a table for £12,000 at a Conservative fundraiser and sat with Robert Jenrick. The Housing Secretary later attempted to do his host a £45m tax favour. Vested interests shelling out large sums to rub shoulders on the web will also presumably want a return on their investments.

Keir Starmer’s attempt to persuade Labour’s only Scottish MP and the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, Ian Murray, not to reveal that he almost defected to Change UK has merely delayed, rather than avoided, a day of reckoning. The Edinburgh One had hoped to steal a march on the disclosure in Left Out, the account of the Corbyn era by journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire (lately of this parish), that Murray even rehearsed a resignation speech before, somewhat appropriately, changing his mind. Team Starmer feared the failed deputy leadership candidate’s confession would distract from the boss’s summer offensive against Boris Johnson. My snout muttered the gaffer is now lumbered with a Scottish envoy stripped of the authority to press embattled Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard finally to go in the interests of the party.

Defeated Liberal Democrat Layla Moran has been accused by her disgruntled leadership campaign of “doing a Hillary” in failing to thank them after she lost to Ed Davey. The informant whispered that Moran was assured on the eve of the result she was within 200 votes of her rival. So his 18,192 majority was understandably crushing. To be out by 8,996 per cent might also be a clue as to why the Lib Dumbs failed to win many Westminster seats in the last three general elections.

Economic class is a form of apartheid that is ignored at a BBC vocally committed to ending discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. New director-general Tim Davie’s determination to embrace those beyond a cosy social circle faces an early test, argued a high-profile broadcaster, in the contest to replace Times Radio defector John Pienaar as the Beeb’s deputy political editor. I’m told all four contenders are white, two are women, but only one is from a working-class home – Glasgow council house boy Iain Watson. We’ll see. 

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