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14 July 2021

Commons Confidential: Hancock: the director’s cut

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.  

By Kevin Maguire

Sexual predator Rob Roberts was suspended for six weeks at the end of May, and finally had the Conservative whip withdrawn, after an independent expert panel found the Delyn MP made repeated unwanted sexual advances towards a male staff member. BBC Wales revealed a year earlier he also pestered an upset 21-year-old female intern struggling with her mental health to “fool around” with him in London. So imagine the revulsion when a young woman in his constituency received a personalised 18th birthday card from Roberts with the printed invitation: “If I can help with any query or if you would just like to meet me for a chat about an issue do let me know by getting in touch…” Many MPs send automated greetings, but my snout described this one as “creepy”, particularly when the originator is holding a seat the Tories won by just 865 votes and is exploiting a recall law loophole to avoid a by-election.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s Tyrone Mings problem is bigger than you think]

Civil servants in the Department of Health and Social Care returning Matt Hancock’s personal possessions couldn’t locate the Covid lothario’s retro black director’s chair with HANCOCK emblazoned on the back – a gift from Pinewood Studios during days when the then culture secretary was Minister for Fun rather than a figure of fun. Unsure whether he’d removed it during the pandemic or when his affair was exposed, a mandarin quipped that if only the suite had CCTV they could discover where it had gone. Hancock’s successor Sajid Javid, by the way, ordered the entrance camera to be taped over from prying eyes. I’ve not heard if he asked for the door to be disinfected.

[See also: The England team have exposed the lie of the government’s culture war]

The curse of Robbie Gibb has struck again. The BBC non-executive director had gone to ground after being accused of trying to block journalist Jess Brammar from a senior job at the corporation on political grounds, but the No 10 comms director during Theresa May’s ill-starred premiership surfaced on a Leeds United Westminster WhatsApp group to predict England would be European champions. My snout grumbled he knew the Three Lions didn’t stand a chance the moment he read Mystic Gibb’s post.

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I spied from the press gallery that Boris Johnson and PPS Trudy Harrison have a large photograph of the Copeland MP asking a question from crib sheets prepared for PMQs on Wednesdays. From on high, no pictures for Johnson to colour in could be seen on the pages.

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[See also: The Tories are learning that culture wars make you enemies as well as friends]

We lobby hacks have switched to a new WhatsApp group with mobile phone verification for Downing Street’s daily briefings. City analysts and even a European ambassador were believed to be eavesdropping under the old system. The interlopers must’ve been bored rigid. 

This article appears in the 14 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Apple vs Facebook