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Sue Gray’s last hurrah

Your weekly dose of the gossip from Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The only person who knows precisely how many Tories have submitted letters formally requesting a confidence vote in Boris Johnson is Graham Brady, the frustratingly discreet chair of the 1922 Committee. A panicked Downing Street spewing crowd-pleasing policies at the PM’s reactionary base (imperial measures, grammar schools) suggests the total is edging closer to the incendiary 54. Evidence that the partying premier tried to knobble Sue Gray over boozy bashes is going down like a cup of cold sick. Mandarin colleagues whisper that the veteran civil servant resented the political interference and that the report will be her last big job in government. She’s going to quit Whitehall, they say.

Talk of a ministerial reshuffle is resurfacing, but Rishi Sunak won’t be moved when he is Johnson’s human shield in the cost-of-living battle, muttered a usually reliable source. The Chancellor’s battered prospects of succeeding the PM won’t be revived, however, by spending £21bn and imposing a “temporary, targeted energy profits levy”, more colloquially known as a windfall tax. The Tory party’s right-whingers are furious. “We can’t tell where the tax-cutter starts and Rachel Reeves ends,” moaned one dismayed MP.

Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign is up and running. A 2019er who asked if the former health secretary would stand recounted being advised by a member of the team: “Ask us after the Wakefield and Tiverton by-elections.” The Red and Blue Wall contests are on 23 June.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart repeats a whiskery story so often at receptions in Gwydyr House that it must qualify for a preservation order. The well-worn tale involves Labour predecessor Peter Hain and Fusilier William Windsor, also known as Billy. He was the goat mascot of 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh. Hart records him emptying his bowels on a Gwydyr House carpet during a visit to the Wales Office. My snout murmured that it serves as a metaphor for Johnson’s soiling of public life.

The freedom of information revelation that four-day-weeker Jacob Rees-Mogg produced only three “Sorry you were out when I visited” notes, which were left on the desks of civil servants working from home, exposed the wheeze as a cheap stunt. Card and “printing ink” cost less than £1, said the Cabinet Office, and the Moggmonster spent only five minutes delivering them on his way to a government meeting in 1 Horse Guards Road. The haughty minister for the 18th century, who dismissed partygate as “fluff”, isn’t as high-minded as he poses.

South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson, knighted for services to Johnson, wrote to Lord Speaker John McFall requesting that the House of Cronies meet in Wolverhampton during parliamentary renovations. The surprise is that the former education secretary didn’t tout Somaliland, where Sir Shameless is an unlikely hero because – hissed a jaundiced colleague – they’ve never heard of Ofqual.

[See also: Jacob Rees-Mogg’s four-day work week]

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This article appears in the 01 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Platinum Jubilee Special