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26 October 2022updated 12 Oct 2023 11:24am

Ruddy-faced Boris Johnson still harbours hope of a comeback

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The richest prime minister in recent British history, Rishi Sunak, will continue to be dogged by the first to be penalised for breaking the law. Boris Johnson still believes Cincinnatus will be summoned from his Caribbean sun lounger to save the Conservative Party before the election. One former cabinet minister who spoke with the red-faced flop whispered that Johnson gives Sunak a maximum of 18 months. Another acolyte compared Johnson to Australia’s Kevin Rudd. Hmm. Rudd was PM from 2007 to 2010 before being usurped by Julia Gillard – only to replace her in 2013 as the Aussie Labor Party faced defeat. Johnsonites overlook that Rudd lost the ensuing election.

Observed pumping iron and flexing her muscles with dumb-bells in No 10 the day before the briefest premiership in British history ended, Liz Truss has lost friends as well as made enemies. Kami-Kwasi warned that if she ditched him as chancellor, Tories opposed to their tax plans would come after her. It proved his only correct prediction in the Treasury. The old pals are no longer speaking, I’m told, and Kwarteng has stopped replying to her texts and emails. Awks when the discarded duo are near-neighbours in Greenwich.

[See also: The Conservatives’ Birmingham conference: more Speaky Blunders than Peaky Blinders]

Few MPs are as full of themselves as Abimbola “Bim” Afolami, a Sunak super-fan with the subtlety of a bulldozer. The self-important Old Etonian (aren’t they all?) was accused by a fellow Tory of putting extra pomp into “pompous” and openly anticipating preferment from the new premier. My Conservative snout snarled that MPs scramble to avoid being “Bimmed” – regaled with tales of his considerable influence – whenever Afolami is spotted approaching, pretending to take phone calls or leaping into doorways. The Mock Gothic Fun Palace is as dysfunctional as any other workplace.

No tears were shed in Whitehall over Truss’s dramatic downfall. My informant, dreaming of one day collecting a civil service pension, accused the now ex-PM of dismissing and belittling officials who didn’t tell her what she wanted to hear. The ears of Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, should be burning. My informant snarled that harried staff didn’t bother complaining, charging head-Case with being more concerned about keeping his own job than standing up for the workers.

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Spare a thought for political scribblers Harry Cole and James Heale, authors of a Truss biography being published in November. Her resignation was also Out of the Blue. An upside for the sidelined Johnson is that he has more time to write a £500,000 tome on Shakespeare. That’s if he can hire academics to help with a book self-consciously titled The Riddle of Genius.

[See also: How corporate Britain is forecasting Keir Starmer in Downing Street]

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This article appears in the 26 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Disorder