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Boris Johnson is plotting to oust Sunak, says George Osborne – and No 10 is worried

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

George Osborne’s accusation that Boris Johnson is plotting to supplant Rishi Sunak was, by remarkable coincidence, nearly word-for-word the private view of Downing Street. My snout in the know insisted the former chancellor’s outburst against his fellow Bullingdon Club luminary wasn’t sanctioned but did echo the No 10 line. For Johnson, dashing Northern Ireland’s peace and prosperity is a price he’d happily pay for a comeback. Sunak is pleading with influential MPs close to Johnson and Liz Truss, I’m told, to persuade his rivals to pipe down. Good luck with that.

Damian Green’s defenestration by the Tory party’s Borisite tendency is terrifying One Nationers ahead of the 23 July vesting day – the deadline for local associations to readopt or dump their MPs. Vengeful Johnsonists may be doing Green an unintended favour, though. He is in his late sixties, and a cushy seat in the Lords might prove more convivial than opposition hard labour in the Commons. Green is reckoned a shoo-in for a consolation peerage.

[See also: Why the Tory right wants hush from Truss on tax-cuts]

Z-list celeb Matt Hancock’s squeeze, Gina Coladangelo, was paid £13,000 from public funds before CCTV of his fondling her derrière triggered the resignations of the health secretary and the then departmental non-exec director. Recently published Whitehall accounts give the sum, to the nearest thousand, for the first time. Meanwhile, the next scheduled stop on Hancock’s rehabilitation tour is a Covid “in conversation” webinar to discuss his lampooned Pandemic Diaries. Ahead of the event, organisers invited those attending to submit their questions via an online form. May we suggest one, in relation to his publishing deal: how much of your fee will you be donating to charity this time?

The swifter justice promised by former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper doesn’t extend to Labour’s sclerotic disciplinary system. Left hanging after whip suspensions are the MPs: Conor McGinn (December 2022), Christina Rees (October 2022), Nick Brown and Rupa Huq (both September 2022), Neil Coyle (February 2022) and Jeremy Corbyn (October 2020). Ex-Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn, suspended in October 2019, so unable to run in that year’s election, still awaits a verdict on his membership despite having paid his dues ever since.

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Starmer vowing to block Corbyn from standing again despite allowing him, for now, to remain a party member turns thoughts to who might fight Islington North for Labour. One veteran strategist reckons Labour needs a candidate with a surname beginning with an A or a B, to be ahead of Corbyn on the ballot paper. That would be a blow for Mary Creagh, who fancies a pop.

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

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This article appears in the 22 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Undoing of Nicola Sturgeon