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Has the Mail spoiled its own party?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The Mail newspapers’ basic instinct to come out punching for sexism threatens to take the fizz out of Lady Rothermere’s soiree of the year. The row over Angela Rayner’s legs erupted as invitations to politicians started arriving to a glittering evening in Claridge’s next month for a Covid-delayed 125th Daily Mail birthday party. How awkward that the PM, who the Labour deputy leader was accused of trying to distract with her pins, denounced the Mail on Sunday’s Sharon Stone story as “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe” and vowed King Lear “terrors of the Earth” vengeance if an anonymous Tory MP was unmasked. Relations were already strained after the Mail accused Boris Johnson of lying when it revealed a Tory party donor bought his wallpaper last year.

Keir Starmer has something else in his diary so can’t go but other Labour folk are invited. Will Rayner accept? And what about the Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, who was snubbed by the Mail on Sunday editor David Dillon? The Mail enjoys flaunting its links to power: as PM, Theresa May partied at a 2017 bash for Paul Dacre, now the group’s editor-in-chief. Attendance could be sparse. Every woman going, including Rayner if she accepts, should wear a trouser suit.

Labour’s Warley warrior John Spellar popped into the chamber to check eyelines and found that the clerks’ table and despatch boxes either side block a PM’s view of opposition legs. Spellar recalled Michael Howard erupting in pompous fury to giggling by Labour MPs when he was home secretary. Haughty Howard, believing the chuckles were directed at him, screamed “this is no laughing matter!” as he addressed some serious point. What the secretary of state couldn’t see, but the opposition MPs could, was that David Blunkett’s guide dog had rolled on to its back, stuck four paws in the air and poked out its tongue. Perhaps the cartoon pose was canine judgement on the former cabinet minister.

The decision for the PM, rather than the Chancellor, to chair the cabinet cost-of-living committee has fuelled Tory speculation that battered Rishi Sunak will quit as an MP at the next election. “Why would he hang around? He’s off, I tell you,” cried one Conservative backbencher into his pint. Having made a packet in banking and married an heiress richer than the Queen, Sunak can afford to take a £250,000 financial hit to have a swimming pool complex installed in his £2m North Yorkshire manor house in the Richmond constituency.

The shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves may be relieved that, after letting speculation build for nearly two weeks, Ed Balls ruled himself out of standing in Wakefield. Labour MPs noted that the Strictly star didn’t add that he wouldn’t return to Westminster at a general election. Mary Creagh, who lost the Red Wall seat to the Tories in 2019, has her heart set on replacing or challenging Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North. Lost leader David Miliband has repeatedly been linked to Huddersfield. He could issue a denial from New York though that’s unlikely to be accepted in the current febrile atmosphere.

The well-regarded Frances O’Grady’s impending retirement after a decade heading the Trades Union Congress is fuelling gossip over whether she will stand for parliament or enter draped in ermine. One of the ennobled union barons in the Lords has predicted she’ll soon join them. And all is not lost for Tom Watson, according to his friends. His ermine was left hanging on a peg when three Jeremy Corbyn nominees (John Bercow and Karie Murphy were the others) were blocked by the Lords appointments commission. Watson was vetoed for demanding action over sex abuse allegations, including claims made by Carl Beech who turned out to be a fantasist. Starmer is said to be considering renominating Watson, whose chances may be improved by revelations that Johnson brushed aside intelligence concerns to reward Baron Evgeny Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia.

Ralph Palmer, the oxymoronic elected hereditary peer, is recruiting lords for a “full-bore rifle match” against MPs at Bisley in July. The old Etonian informed members that “no experience is necessary”, with coaching provided and “all disabilities (except impaired vision) catered for”. What could possibly go wrong?

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