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7 July 2021

Commons Confidential: The Tories’ blame game

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.  

By Kevin Maguire

Parking-and-potholes MP Kim Leadbeater’s Batley and Spen success marked the Blairite band getting back together. Lance Price, a former No 10 spinner and Labour director of comms, was her consigliere throughout the campaign. With some Corbyn cheerleaders and MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group failing to hide disappointment at Labour holding the West Yorkshire seat, Keir Starmer’s in a bind. He can’t win a general election without the party’s left and right yet struggles to unite the two. Harold Wilson, Starmer’s favourite Labour leader, did bring both wings together in an uneasy peace to win four elections. One MP suggested he buy a pipe, pretend to like HP sauce, and hope.


The upside of the Conservatives’ by-election defeat, snarled a Tory MP, might be Amanda Milling’s removal as co-chair after losing both Chesham and Amersham and Batley and Spen. “The by-election was also a referendum on her,” he whined, a little harshly. Labour isn’t the only party with personal enmities.


Shameless hypocrite Matt Hancock’s public humiliation is a goodbye gift for Simon Stevens, NHS England’s outgoing CEO. The pair didn’t get on, I’m told. Before the now ex-health secretary was filmed redefining hands-face-space rules with his aide Gina Coladangelo, Stevens squirmed silently on TV as he was asked whether Hancock was “hopeless”. Relations were strained because he felt Hancock forever dumped on the health service. Stevens’ allies quipped that it was ironic that a man forever “covering his own arse” lost his job for covering a backside with his hands.

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Rumours flew for months about Michael Gove and Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, who have now announced they’re to divorce. The Cabinet Office minister’s shopping basket, which was filled with ready-cooked meals for one during a visit to a Victoria supermarket, was evidence all was not well. With a diet that unhealthy, Gove has a vested interest in banning TV junk food ads.


Growing legions of Scots Nat MPs are escaping Nicola Sturgeon’s tartan Covid cage to enjoy the relative freedom of Westminster. One of my snouts spotted the SNP’s Angus MacNeil deep in comradely conversation in New Palace Yard with former party colleague Neale Hanvey, a defector to Alex Salmond’s ill-starred Alba. The First Minister might not have approved of such fraternising at Holyrood.


James Bond enjoyed fast cars and martinis, yet the world of espionage isn’t all glamour. Spare a thought for the MI5 operative tasked with discovering if other cabinet ministers’ telephone numbers are on the internet after Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab’s emerged. Googling Agent 118 could find more exciting employment in a call centre. 

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This article appears in the 07 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The baby bust