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Tory diversity scuppers Labour’s white male hopefuls

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The Conservative Party installing either a first person of colour or third woman as prime minister is bad news for Wes Streeting, Andy Burnham, Jonathan Reynolds, Peter Kyle and Richard Burgon. When Keir Starmer eventually snaps shut his briefcase, replacing him with another member of the white boys’ club would trigger a revolt by women and ethnic minority MPs. Streeting or Kyle might pitch themselves as the party’s first openly gay leader, but a Labour source in Westminster moaned that the Tories discovering identity politics meant curtains for white leftie men like him.

Rishi Sunak taunting Liz Truss over whether her greatest regret was being a former Liberal Democrat or a 2016 Remainer coincided with the disinterring of a leaflet from the party’s 1994 conference, when Paddy Ashdown was leader. The “Carry On Conference” spoof flyer cast a student activist Truss as the Lib Dem Charles Hawtrey. Ashdown was so angry that she and other upstarts had demanded the abolition of the monarchy that he stormed off the stage in Brighton, pretending he was meeting an ambassador. Truss these days prefers to play the Iron Lady.

[See also: Keir Starmer must fill Labour’s foreign policy vacuum]

When Kemi Badenoch tried to obscure her comfortable background by touting her student days spent flipping McDonald’s burgers and cleaning toilets – though her GP father owned a hospital in Nigeria and her mother was a university professor – it prompted another Tory to liken the contest to Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch. As in the famous skit, in which well-to-do rivals compete to claim the grimmest background, “Kemi prefers ‘rags to riches’ to Rishi’s ‘riches to greater riches’”, observed my snout, adding: “It doesn’t pay to be boringly comfortable and middle class in the Conservative Party any more.”

A yah-boo raspberry from Boris Johnson after five of the Tory leadership candidates said they wouldn’t have him in their government. “Well, Boris wouldn’t want to serve in their cabinets,” sniffed a No 10-er. Presumably he’ll be too busy earning a fortune. Living in the style to which Johnson and Carrie have become accustomed won’t be cheap. And he has to fund all those children.

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Nadhim Zahawi’s campaign was the Chancellor’s worst car crash since a zealous traffic warden slapped a parking ticket on his mangled moped as the then Wandsworth councillor was carried into an ambulance with a broken leg. Zahawi inadvertently shining a spotlight on his wealth, business dealings and a reported HMRC inquiry will be on the mind of the next PM when ministerial appointments are made, predicted a source.

The ruthless efficiency with which a second Tory leader in just over three years was ousted, and the field of candidates whittled down, leaves Labour MPs lusting for similar clout. The opposition’s parliamentary party was humiliated by its left-wing membership in 2016, when Jeremy Corbyn saw off a leadership challenge from Owen Smith. “The Conservative Party exists to be in power,” taunted a Tory mover and shaker. “Labour exists to be cross.”

[See also: How the Tories lost their way – by David Gauke]

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This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party