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Why the prospect of Dorries’ stories worries Tories

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Nadine Dorries, incandescent over Tory critics whispering darkly that she hadn’t spoken in the Commons during the eight months since her hero Boris Johnson resigned, texted Rishi Sunak offering to quit as an MP. If a by-election took place in her Mid Bedfordshire constituency, even her huge 24,664 Tory majority would be vulnerable at the moment. The panicked PM instantly messaged back reassuring the former culture secretary that he’d love her to stay until she steps down at the next general election.

Sunak may have second thoughts after Dorries’ next book detonates, with publication due shortly before this year’s Conservative conference. The “novel” is an assault on Johnson’s enemies – and there’ll be a thinly disguised Sunak character. We won’t need WhatsApp messages to know what she really thinks of Tory colleagues.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list promises to be a nepotistic gong show]

Dorries, along with Nigel Adams, Alister Jack and Alok Sharma, has supposedly been nominated for a deferred peerage by Johnson – a constitutional invention which is another reason why the former PM’s resignation honours list has been delayed. The flak flying around the knighthood for Sir Dad – Johnson’s father, Stanley – is a blessing in disguise for the near 100 others. One who’s on the list confided to a mutual acquaintance that they couldn’t decide whether it meant their gong would be waved through, or that the whole lot would be damned. I’m going for the latter.

With Keir Starmer’s poaching of Whitehall gamekeeper Sue Gray ruffling feathers, one Labour MP grumbled that Tory tails are up for the first time in months. “Voters hate them but they don’t love us,” bleated the Red Waller, “but if I said that publicly, I’d probably be suspended.” A fundamental weakness of Starmerism, much like Stalinism, is that comrades are terrified of speaking home truths.

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Matt Hancock’s ministerial life becoming public with the WhatsApp leak led a source to wonder what had happened to a TV showreel the superhero was producing. Eyebrows were raised when the former health secretary arrived at a meeting with a film crew to discuss a tribute to David Amess – with Hancock saying he was one of the MPs closest to the Tory member for Southend West, who was murdered in 2021. Perhaps the Telegraph’s treasure trove may assist.

Resentment brews in the Commons tea room at the light scrutiny of peers. MPs must put a figure on their earnings from outside interests. Not so in “the other place”. Baroness Karren Brady, West Ham United vice-chair and star of The Apprentice, was, for example, able to register a paid speaking engagement in Saudi Arabia in 2022 without disclosing how much she pocketed. A TV presenter who declined a similar approach was offered £80,000.

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

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This article appears in the 08 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why universities are making us stupid