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2 September 2020

Commons Confidential: Rishi Sunak’s indigestion

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Meal deal Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Ronald McDonald of Boris Johnson’s cabinet chain, is developing financial indigestion. With public borrowing and national debt ballooning to startling levels, my snout reports a panicking Treasury money man may be on the verge of cancelling his autumn big Budget. The statement, setting out spending plans for the rest of the parliament, was billed as the defining economic moment of Johnson’s government. Amid fears of a devastating second Covid-19 wave, it may be replaced by a short-term package until the plague is contained. Ending the furlough scheme on Halloween risks a jobs bloodbath horror. The Chancellor’s traditional Tory instincts are to cut and raise taxes to rebalance the books. Sunak, basking in popularity bought by £10 off dinners, may find the praise lasts as long as it takes to eat a Big Mac.

The chap is for turning and Johnson’s dizzying U-turns are a crisis proving an opportunity for certain Tories. A newly elected “Red Wall” MP revealed she sends sympathetic responses to constituents writing to complain about government policies, pledging to lobby the relevant ministers. When the almost inevitable climbdown is announced by No 10, she and colleagues adopting the same strategy share the credit. The only consistent side of Johnson is his inconsistency.

Football’s boardroom battles and dressing room brawls are child’s play compared with the fight over who captains the Westminster team. Play is halted not by the virus but a civil war. Labour MPs are boycotting posts on the all-parliamentary group after veteran Clive Betts was ousted as chair by studs-up Tory Karl McCartney, so the squad cannot be formally constituted. McCartney has refused to compromise by accepting bite-yer-legs Betts as co-chair. In SW1 the VAR system isn’t football’s most controversial development.

Taking time out from moving the Prime Minister’s top advisers into a cavernous call centre in 70 Whitehall – billed as a Nasa-style control room – weirdo misfit Dominic Cummings is poised to visit secretive Porton Down, on his bucket list of military outposts. One of the mandarins responsible for the tour whispered they intend to flatter the geek with high-grade science. Perhaps the onetime home of Britain’s biological and chemical weapons research could develop a simple eye test to save concerned motorists a 30-mile drive to Barnard Castle.

Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Cat Smith, and Holly Lynch, the shadow immigration minister, are the latest MPs for Doppelganger Central. The BBC incorrectly captioned Halifax’s Lynch as Lancaster’s Smith. Both will hope Keir Starmer knows the difference when he has a promotion to hand out. 

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

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