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When Liz Truss asked a Lib Dem MP for Tory support

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Keen to make sure their by-election boost doesn’t end with Johnson’s exit, the Lib Dems have set up a “Liz Truss unit”. Masterminded by the organisers who helped Ed Davey’s party storm the recent Tiverton and Chesham by-elections, the strategy group is aiming to cause maximum pain for Conservatives in other so-called Blue Wall constituencies in the south and west of England. During a Blue Wall summit held by the Lib Dems in July, one MP revealed she had been approached by Truss herself, who, mistaking her for a Tory colleague, asked for her support in the leadership contest. Cue much joking about Truss still being a Lib Dem at heart.

While Keir Starmer was in Mallorca with his family at the start of August, he had to take time out to finalise the party’s energy-bills strategy. My mole tells me the workaholic Labour leader got up at 6am most days to tweak the policy. When asked by an aide how he balanced this with his holiday, Starmer said: “It’s fine. As long as I get my work done before they get up, everyone’s happy.”

[See also: Liz Truss’s aide provides some entry-level media training]

While NHS emergency services have been descending into crisis, Conservative figures in east Lancashire have been celebrating the launch of a new private-ambulance business. With the NHS North West Ambulance Service having to pay for additional capacity – it spent some £6.7m on private ambulances in 2019 – NorWest Medical has opened a new base near Preston. One of the firm’s directors is Jonathan Foxcroft, who stood to be a Tory councillor in May, while on hand to open the operation in June was Jake Berry, Conservative MP for the nearby constituency of Rossendale and Darwen.

A Twitter storm involving Labour’s Rosena Allin-Khan has reignited speculation that Starmer is preparing a mini-reshuffle to coincide with Truss’s arrival in No 10. The shadow mental health minister was accused of prepping for a leadership run after a LabourList poll on shadow ministers’ performance was accidentally headlined “Rosena questions”. While Starmer’s previous shake-up was intended to be the last before the election, some believe he’ll want a refresh to promote figures such as shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle and shadow transport secretary Lou Haigh.

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The former science minister George Freeman, Tory MP for Mid Norfolk, (belatedly) joined the flood of resigning frontbenchers when Boris Johnson was on his way out. Just 24 hours later, Freeman performed an about-turn and declared the science sector “needs ministerial leadership” and that he was happy to go back to work. He even, according to one well-placed source, put calls in to No 10. Freeman’s Twitter profile confirms he is indeed an “ex” minister. One suspects, after his generous offer was not taken up by an administration supportive of incoming PM Liz Truss, he may remain so.

Kevin Maguire is away

[See also: Nadine Dorries and the earrings of power]

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This article appears in the 24 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Inflation Wars