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Will Boris Johnson’s million-pound donation fund a political comeback?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Voracious, insatiable egotist Boris Johnson’s £1m donation from wealthy Christopher Harborne – a Thai-based, British Brexiteer who previously financed Nigel Farage’s obsessions – is making Rishi Sunak worried. The Prime Minister’s aides fret that his predecessor-but-one will spend the windfall on a comeback tour billed as raising Tory morale and defeating Labour in Red Wall and Blue Wall seats. Johnson is rarely glimpsed in Westminster, and is accused of shunning his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, but MPs know the money may also help him land a safer seat. Johnson is living rent-free in a £20m Knightsbridge home owned by the wife of a major Tory donor, despite banking £1m from a few speeches and an estimated £6m from his as-yet-unwritten memoir. Boris fearing for his 7,210 majority is a tacit admission, said my snout, that he isn’t as popular as fanatical Johnsonites proclaim.

Hardship and poverty are among the few growth areas under the Tories. Jeremy Hunt was reminded of this by constituents after visiting Waitrose in Farnham to champion a supermarket donating unsold grub to food projects. The living-standards-squeezing Chancellor, MP for South West Surrey, appeared on behalf of a local charity to collect unwanted sandwiches, hummus and salads. Demand is rising when the economy’s in such a pickle on his watch.

[See also: Will more Red Wall Tories defect to Labour as funds dry up?]

One MP battling a public spending squeeze watched open-mouthed outside Westminster Hall as Liz Truss emerged from a blacked-out Range Rover with three close protection officers. With former PMs afforded personal security for life by the Met Police – and with Truss aged just 47 – her fleeting, disastrous reign could well prove British history’s most expensive tenure by days in No 10.

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t abandoning hope despite Keir Starmer insisting he won’t let him stand again as an MP for the Labour Party. An Islington North resident was surprised to receive the first leaflet for some time from whipless Jezza. To run or not run, that is the question… With a thumping 26,188 majority, Corbyn could split the Labour vote as an independent in the London constituency and either he or the party’s official candidate could still win – with the Lib Dems and Cons so far behind they’d be risking their deposits.

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Former private school teacher Caroline Ansell is a mistress of understatement. In a mini mag distributed in hotels, the Tory MP for Eastbourne opined: “I do not think anyone would have foreseen not one but two changes in prime ministers. Having worked with both Boris and Liz, I know they truly had the best interests of our nation at heart.” Really? Next time, Ansell writes on why Prince Harry is a huge fan of Jeremy Clarkson.

[See also: Tory MP Stuart Andrew finds himself an unlikely hero of the left]

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This article appears in the 18 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, How to fix Britain’s public health crisis