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Another Rishi reshuffle won’t help him restore party discipline

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Three prime ministers go to war when vanquished Liz Truss returns from the wilderness to join Rishi Sunak and his stalker, Boris Johnson, in a scrap to shape Tory Britain. The splintering of the Conservative Party is destroying discipline and, according to my snout, it’s unlikely that Sunak’s second ministerial reshuffle in little more than 100 days will strengthen the premier’s authority. “Rishi could be doing this again in a few weeks,” he opined, “with Boris and Liz laughing their little socks off.” Labour is the opposition, but Sunak’s real enemies are Johnson and Truss.

In Labour-land, the mounting influence of Peter Mandelson, aka the Prince of Darkness, is causing concern. The Labour peer and first secretary of state under Gordon Brown emerged from the shadows to pontificate alongside Keir Starmer at a Labour London conference. This has infuriated left-wing MPs, yet they remain cowed. The strategy, said one, is protect and survive: keeping their heads down to avoid suspension while hoping to increase their power in the party after a Labour win at the next general election.

[See also: Who will be Keir Starmer’s chief of staff?]

The severity of Conservative plans to sack strikers who refuse to cross picket lines can be judged by international reactions. British trade unions have supported brothers and sisters in Colombia during the country’s decades-long civil war – which has claimed thousands of lives in violence that is ongoing despite a peace agreement in 2016. Now, Francisco Maltés Tello, the head of Colombia’s largest trade union federation, has sent a solidarity message to TUC colleagues and invited the British government to guarantee the right to strike. As a Labour frontbencher observed, it comes to something when a South American country with an appalling recent human rights record is taking pity on oppressed Britons.

Railroading striker-sacking legislation through the Commons in the guise of minimum service standards may well backfire on Sunak, mused a Tory comrade, by proving unworkable. One Conservative MP has called the proposed law a “Phone-in-Sick Bill”.

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Gaelic-speaking hack Torcuil Crichton – selected by Labour to contest the Na h-Eileanan an Iar seat and oust the SNP’s Angus MacNeil in the Western Isles – is a lobby legend. The Daily Record’s former Westminster editor once enjoyed a sartorial seal of approval from Barack Obama at a summit. Crichton’s heather-hued Harris tweed stood out in a sea of grey suits. The story goes that Obama cooed, “Nice threads, dude”, but Crichton says the US president in fact gave a double take, looked his outfit up and down, then smiled admiringly before bounding off. I knew I shouldn’t have checked.

[See also: Will Boris Johnson’s million-pound donation fund a political comeback?]

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This article appears in the 08 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Silent Sunak