Jeremy Hunt’s £1bn pension-pot bung for higher earners is particularly popular with one group: older MPs and ministers. Westminster was filled with grafters, both for and against the abolition of the £1.07m lifetime allowance, doing their personal sums – including a fair number of venerable Labourites calculating they’d be quids in. The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, ruled the party would vote against tax handouts for the wealthier. One greying MP quipped: “It’s wrong, but the shrewder heads told us not to worry – the vote will be lost.”
Turnip fan-girl Thérèse Coffey is bristling after two decades were briefly added to her age. Word reaches me of a conversation at a music awards ceremony when a cloth-eared hanger-on overheard the Environment Secretary trill she was 71. “No way,” he interrupted. “Seventy-one? You don’t look 71!” Looking as if she’d swallowed a wasp, the riled minister spat back: “I’m not 71. That is the year I was born.” Indeed it is: November 1971, which makes Coffey 51. Still a few years off the state pension age, then.
The Westminster One, Boris Johnson, was incandescent, I’m informed, that the Privileges Committee didn’t publish his partygate dodgy dossier the afternoon it was received. Citing the need to redact names and details as the delay’s cause, the committee punctured Johnson’s PR bandwagon ahead of the much anticipated grilling. Its chair, Harriet Harman, is a stickler for rules and procedure – particularly when her impartiality is questioned.
Denied a peerage by a vengeful Johnson, John Bercow, unlike the dumped premier, is greeted warmly by the general public. An informant watched fellow Arsenal fans buying shots for the former Commons speaker in The Plimsoll public house in north London after a recent Gunners victory. By closing time, a merry Bercow was prevailed upon to call “Last orders” in his grand “Order, order” tone. It’s hard to imagine Johnson being asked to shout “Covid parties” in a similar situation.
Like all good libraries, the one in the House of Lords has newspapers to read. A newish peer observed the daily scramble isn’t for the broadsheets – or even the red-tops – but the Racing Post. The place still retains the air of a gentlemen’s club. And they’re off.
What public engagement stopped Nicola Sturgeon accepting a request from one of her SNP MPs, Pete Wishart, to appear on 20 March before the Scottish Affairs Committee he chairs? Sturgeon, in one of her last interviews as Scotland’s First Minister, preferred to be on Loose Women discussing “braless Mondays”.
This article appears in the 22 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Banks on the brink