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Jacob Rees-Mogg’s four-day work week

Your weekly dose of the gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Until partygate detonated, Covid VIP lanes for Tory cronies and donors were the biggest scandal engulfing the government. Conservative peer James Bethell, a health minister during the pandemic, admitted deleting texts and WhatsApp messages about £90m worth of testing contracts that were challenged in court, pleading that he mistakenly believed there would be back-ups. Official guidance stating ministers should use government systems or, if going private, ensure copies are provided to their department, isn’t deterring Bethell. He’s to speak at an Institute for Government “WhatsApp in Westminster” seminar as a digital comms evangelist, asking colleagues for successful examples. It’s akin to inviting Dracula to head the NHS blood service.

Haughty Jacob Rees-Mogg notoriously dismissed partygate as “fluff”, and now the office bore risks being, as he might say, hoist with his own petard. The Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, who obsessively hounds civil servants working from home, is accused of putting in only a four-day week himself and takes no official papers back to Somerset for long weekends. “The minister does not take a box on Fridays,” advised a Whitehall email. One grafter observed it smacks of 21st-century hypocrisy from an 18th-century throwback.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street needs to get out more. His assertion that the “Conservative Party conference is the biggest political event in Europe” – in a bid to cajole Tory members into registering for October’s gathering in Birmingham – wouldn’t survive fact-checking. Attendance at Tory conferences is far lower than at Labour’s and, in recent years, miffed cabinet ministers have been banished to side rooms to avoid rows of empty seats in the main hall. The Durham Miners’ Gala, which is likely to attract a six-figure crowd in July, is a political city compared with Labour’s town and the Tory village fete.

Sneers for Tony Blair, who skipped the recent 25th anniversary party celebrating Labour’s 1997 general election victory, to hawk cryptocurrency alongside old mucker Bill Clinton at a conference in the Bahamas, a tax haven trip presumably profitable for both. The crypto markets coincidentally suffered a major crash soon afterwards. “Things can only get richer for Tony, if nobody else,” scoffed an uninvited Labour survivor of the Blair era.

More on foot-in-mouth Tory and working-class troll Lee Anderson. The great reactionary claimed on Facebook that his dad, 77, also a former Nottinghamshire miner, confessed that during the pit strike, when he was unpaid, he lifted two bags of potatoes from a farmer’s field to feed his hungry family. Couldn’t he cook?

Hereditary press baron Lord Lebedev of Siberia’s peerage continues to backfire on Boris Johnson. No 10 suspects the Daily Telegraph’s noticeably harsher coverage over recent months of its one-time star columnist is because the newspaper group’s chair Aidan Barclay, his deceased father, David, and David’s twin, Frederick, were never draped in ermine. Patronage dispensed breeds resentment from the overlooked.

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This article appears in the 25 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Out of Control