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The Conservatives’ Birmingham conference: more Speaky Blunders than Peaky Blinders

Your weekly dose of political gossip.

By Kevin Maguire

Undertaker Liz Truss is burying herself after overseeing the Conservative Party’s funeral in Birmingham. Bewildered mourners grieving the death of the governing party didn’t conceal their hostility. Johnsonite MPs who opposed deposing Boris now threaten to send letters of no confidence in Truss after kami-Kwasi Kwarteng’s screeching 45p tax U-turn was followed by clashes on benefits and public services. One backbencher growled that he had rejected a parliamentary private secretary role because he’s defending a seat that “only” has a low five-figure majority. Every battleground constituency is now a defensive operation for the Tories, whispered a strategist, with zero resources earmarked for targeting seats. Tory bricks in Red and Blue walls are crumbling.

Kwarteng’s “a little turbulence” comment on a costly political and financial crisis echoed the former chancellor Norman Lamont’s “Je ne regrette rien” declaration after Black Wednesday cost the Tories every last penny of economic credibility in 1992. “The problem with Kwasi,” an ex-cabinet minister blubbed into his warm white wine, “is Eton. Those whom the gods would destroy they first send to that cursed school.” Nadine Dorries would approve of class war in Brum.

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

There was no singing of “God Save the King” to open the Conservative bloodfest (unlike at Labour’s conference, which began with a rendition of the national anthem), but a royal refrain reached my ears nonetheless. Liz Truss kept the late Queen waiting, I’m reliably informed, before their meeting at Balmoral in which Truss was sworn in as prime minister. Apparently, an urgent bathroom visit for nervous Truss was the cause.

Two-faced Grant Shapps was ahead of the whips on the 45p tax rebellion, proudly showing another of his famous spreadsheets on his mobile, which flips open to show two screens. Shapps’ numbers proved the top-rate cut would be crushed by rebels in parliament. The name of Truss’s chief whip, Wendy Morton, was mud as Truss loyalists (there are still some) accused her of failing to do a ring round and discover the policy would be a lost cause. It so happens that Morton was defeated by her Labour shadow, Alan Campbell, in Tynemouth at the 2010 general election before inheriting Aldridge-Brownhills in the West Midlands five years later. She could always beg “Iron Alan” for a few tips on how to impose discipline.

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Play a small violin: life’s tough for tweeting scribes. Speaking in Birmingham at one of the conference’s fringe events, the Spice Girl Mel B called out a MailOnline journo for typing on his phone while she talked about domestic abuse. The luckless hack was giving her cause an audience far wider than a room in a conference centre.

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[See also: Why some Tories are hoping for a Labour landslide]

This article appears in the 05 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed!