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15 June 2022updated 16 Jun 2022 10:48am

Team Truss are already truffling for a second no-confidence vote

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Brexit-war convert Liz Truss championing a battle with Brussels over the Northern Ireland protocol isn’t the first time this ex-Remainer has dramatically changed her mind. The former president of Oxford University Liberal Democrats, anti-monarchist and woke warrior’s conversion to Brexit zealotry will appeal to the Conservatives’ Eurosceptic wing when there’s a leadership contest. And my Tory snout whispers that Team Truss are quietly suggesting to the 1922 Committee’s executive members that they reduce to six months the year-long ban on a second no-confidence challenge to Boris Johnson. The Foreign Secretary, one of the front-runners to succeed him, is fighting on the home front as well as abroad.

“Waitrose Woman” has turned against the Tories. Dazed Damian Hinds was assailed by an angry East Hampshire constituent over Boris Johnson’s conduct while the security minister was at the checkout of Waitrose in Petersfield. The shopper thought the MP was off his trolley to back the lying lawbreaker. If sheepish Hinds switches to Tesco, it won’t be because of the cost-of-living crisis.

The word in Tory ranks is that an ambitious junior minister used a secret second phone to give whips photographic evidence of their support for Johnson in the confidence ballot. The 1922 Committee chair, Graham Brady, required Tory MPs to leave mobiles in a box before voting, to stop No 10 demanding loyalty pictures. The lackey minister was another who opposed Brexit before the referendum.

[ See also: What does Christopher Geidt’s resignation mean for Labour? ]

Downing Street wasn’t surprised that Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “very happy” that Johnson remained in office, as No 10 had told the Ukrainian president in advance that a politically beleaguered PM would appreciate some public applause. The praise-for-arms deal cost Zelensky nothing and fulfils Johnson’s desire for flattery.

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With Keir Starmer branded boring, the Labour leader’s camp take comfort from the example of Tory wit William Hague – who as leader of the opposition was known for his gags at the despatch box. Hague proved conclusively that a sense of humour doesn’t guarantee votes after his hammering at the 2001 general election. One Labour wag, meanwhile, has suggested Starmer tell jokes about his own dullness to polish his image.

Liverpool fan and former Tory leader Michael Howard was mugged outside the Stade de France in Paris after the chaotic Champions League final, I hear. Thugs jostling the 80-year-old peer stole his pocket diary and London bus pass. Madame la Guillotine might have been too good for them when Howard was a hard-line home secretary. He’s mellowed a little since, and now worries appointments may be missed without his diary.

Sneering minister Heather “godawful” Wheeler’s dismissal of Birmingham guarantees a warm welcome when England’s second city hosts this October’s Conservative conference. Wheeler bought an early cheap pass before the price doubled, ahead of opening her mouth and putting her foot in it.

[See also: No 10 advisers look to Truss]

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This article appears in the 15 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Big Slow Down