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The Lib Dems name their price for a deal with Labour

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The price of Liberal Democrat support for a Labour minority government would start with electoral reform without a referendum, in a confidence and supply agreement, I’m informed. Senior Labour and Lib Dem figures are turning thoughts to potential arrangements as the by-election results from Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, Boris Johnson’s continuing leadership and the cost-of-living crisis heighten the prospect of Tory election defeat. Keir Starmer is unlikely to secure an overall majority, so the Con-Dem coalition veteran Ed Davey’s current thinking is to demand a fairer voting system instead of short-term ministerial posts, red boxes and cars. Tories who fear that a Lab-Lib pincer movement could lock them out of power will go spare. Avoiding Nick Clegg’s 2011 electoral referendum mistake would fuel Johnson’s claims that both opposition parties would also ignore the EU referendum result and get Brexit undone. “We’ve just got to bite the bullet,” screamed my snout.

[See also: Boris Johnson remaining in office is only helping the Liberal Democrats triumph]

Talk of Matt Hancock’s possible cabinet return coincides with the Department of Health and Social Care spending £10,000 for external legal advice on removing CCTV that caught the lockdown lothario snogging aide Gina Coladangelo. Ministers with wandering lips can relax when documents reveal that the equivalent of four months’ pay for a nurse will help pull the plug on cameras supplied by state-owned Chinese firm Hikvision.

Sitting on laps, vomiting, fisticuffs, red wine on walls and abused cleaners doesn’t cover all the outrageous behaviour at No 10’s boozy lockdown parties. Two staffers named to me are, I’m told, relieved Sue Gray’s report didn’t include them having sex in a toilet – not least because one’s married to somebody else while the other has a partner. Emperor Johnson’s court makes Nero’s Rome appear tame.

[See also: Sajid Javid: Voters have every right to be upset by partygate]

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The word is that Johnson delayed a post no-confidence vote reshuffle to avoid creating hostile ex-ministers. One loyalist believes the “moment of maximum danger” is the imminent 1922 Committee elections. Should rebels win a majority and approve a second vote this year, Johnson will be toast. Whereas should backbench lackeys triumph, he’ll be safe until the general election. Or at least that’s her theory. We’ll see.

Ministers are digging dirt on trade union leaders after working-class hero Mick “The Hood” Lynch mangled Tories and television interviewers, defying the government’s rail strike script. Tory HQ realises it’s ignorant about the new awkward squad. Sharon Graham, Christina McAnea, Patrick Roach et al are more than capable of biting back.

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The Tories’ decision to charge hacks £125 to cover the party’s autumn conference ends a cross-party tradition of free media access. Perhaps the loss of Russian roubles creates a financial black hole. One Labour official deemed the Tories rude for billing the Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun when the papers give the Conservatives so much free publicity.

[See also: Shadow ministers rail against Starmer’s picket-line ban]

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This article appears in the 29 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, American Darkness