Normal political hostilities returned swiftly after a ten-day pause following the Queen’s death – and so too did the gloominess of some Conservative MPs. After Brexit convert Liz Truss admitted on a flight to New York that a trade deal with the US won’t be happening any time soon, one Tory former cabinet minister confided in me that he expected Keir Starmer to be the UK’s next premier. “We don’t want a Labour government in hock to the SNP,” he sniffed, “which means it would be better if we lost big.”
Speaking of the young republican turned middle-aged monarchist, Starmer decreeing that “God Save the King” would be sung at Labour’s conference in Liverpool has terrified members of the shadow cabinet. The leader’s lieutenants fear TV footage of empty seats, Jeremy Corbyn’s unmoving lips, and the bellowing of alternative republican lyrics. “Labour’s a party of roundheads, not royalist cavaliers,” wailed my snout. “The Mail and Telegraph can’t believe their luck.” The informant added front-bench comrades will be learning the words to avoid the fate of John Redwood, who as Welsh secretary in 1993 was mercilessly mocked for miming along to the national anthem of Wales.
Liz Truss’s new chief economic adviser, Matthew Sinclair, is the latest graduate of the TaxPayers’ Alliance to jump on to the state payroll. The former head of the right-wing organisation, which routinely smears public spending, seems to display no compunction when it comes to personally pocketing taxpayers’ money as a government staffer. Sinclair joining a public sector he has repeatedly attacked is the Trussonomics version of Boris Johnson’s cakeism.
Tory ecologist Zac Goldsmith lost the green half of his own government role – as a minister with responsibilities for both the UK environment and foreign affairs – over, I’m told, bad blood with the new farming, fisheries and food secretary, Mark Spencer. A personality clash between the Nottinghamshire farmer MP and the wealthy west London peer has sparked, I am informed, fears of departmental paralysis. “Spencer thinks Goldsmith’s a dilettante and Goldsmith that Spencer’s lot poison the land,” growled my source. “It would’ve been like putting two bulls in a field.”
An enduring Disney-esque touch in the House of Commons is the loops of pink ribbon, originally used to hang swords from coat pegs, in the members’ cloakroom. Cheeky MPs often use them to dangle toy weapons and other joke items – among them a wooden implement used in the hockey-like Highland game of shinty, owned by the Liberal Democrat chief whip, Wendy Chamberlain. Woe betide any Lib Dumb who incurs the wrath of the Scottish former police officer. She speaks softly and carries a big stick.
This article appears in the 21 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going for broke