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Unwhippable Tory MPs have carte blanche to rebel

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The survival prospects of double duds Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were on the lips of every MP – including Conservatives – when Westminster returned. A revolting Tory voiced incredulity that the party’s chief whip, Wendy Morton, hadn’t instructed her shepherds to contact their flocks and guide them behind Truss-tless and kami-Kwasi. Some unhappy MPs feel they have carte blanche to rebel. One declared: “I might still lose my seat, but I might make it less bad for the country.”

Spend-and-don’t-tax Kwarteng endured the indignity of economic and political criticism from Norman Lamont during a video confrontation with peers. Lord Lamont of Black Wednesday instructed a squirming Chancellor, recounted my snout who was on the call, that challenging economic orthodoxy would always result in economic orthodoxy biting back. Lamont might be forgiven if he’s secretly relieved no longer to be considered the worst Tory Treasury-bodger since Anthony Barber.

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

Thérèse Coffey’s lionisation of Sir Henry Willink, an Old Etonian baronet and MP whom she unconvincingly hailed as the Tory father of the NHS (Nye who?), prompted Labour to disinter some truths our cigar-smokin’, beer-drinkin’ current Health Secretary ignored. Back in the day, the Conservatives voted 22 times against the NHS bill and Coffey’s hero opposed the nationalisation of hospitals, declaring they “will destroy so much in this country that we value”. They didn’t. Willink subsequently advocated scything doctor training places by 12 per cent. Coffey could always boast that she’s living the Willink dream after the Tories slashed medical-school places in the summer despite a shortage of doctors.

In Liz we don’t Truss when prominent Conservatives abandon a collapsing party. Zillionaire “Pollfather” Michael Ashcroft is a former Tory deputy chair, peer and donor who these days delights in publishing books embarrassing Conservative leaders. Truss is next on his hit list after skewerings of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Ashcroft was overheard laughing that he might start supporting and funding Keir Starmer’s Labour. At least I think he was joking.

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A cabinet colleague of Suella Braverman exclaimed that he only learned her first name is actually Sue-Ellen when it was used on Privy Council papers. The reactionary Home Secretary’s parents picked the name in 1980 to pay homage to Sue Ellen Ewing in Dallas. Unluckily for Braverman, they weren’t fans of Coronation Street – she might have been named after Hilda Ogden, and could have passed it off as a tribute to Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

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

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This article appears in the 12 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Will Putin go Nuclear?