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Suella Braverman is branded a “loose cannon” by unhappy ministers in the Home Office

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

“Absolute nightmare”, “loose cannon” and “law unto herself” are three of the more printable descriptions of freewheelin’ Suella Braverman’s home secretaryship. These comments come not from exasperated civil servants, but from unhappy ministers in the department. One scathing Tory suggested that Braverman’s obsession with cheap headlines is like appointing “Knollsy” – a burly West Ham football fan with a black eye and torn shirt who went viral swapping punches with hordes of Dutch hooligans – commissioner of the Met. Perhaps her critic may inadvertently inspire the Home Secretary’s next announcement.

Now living rent-free in the head of Tory Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, the Labour MP Andy McDonald is like a Rottweiler with a bone. The member for Middlesbrough, a solicitor well versed in what may be said legally in parliament and not outside, made allegations of “industrial-scale corruption” at the levelling-up flagship Teesworks development. Houchen has denied any wrongdoing and said he supports an investigation into the project. But he also admitted to a degree of political “naivety”, saying: “I still see myself as a lad who got accidentally elected just doing his best.” But that didn’t pacify the Rottie. “When learner drivers crash the car,” replied McDonald, “they’re held to the same standards as every other driver. Inexperience doesn’t cut it.”

Labour’s internal battle for its new top target – the redrawn seat of West Bromwich East – is one of the selection season’s tastiest, pitting West Midlands allies Tom Watson and John Spellar against each other. The pair are said to be no longer on speaking terms unless it is to row. Watson, the former deputy leader who stood down from the old West Bromwich East in 2019, supports Sarah Coombes, who used to work for him and is now Sadiq Khan’s senior adviser. Spellar backs Gerard Coyne, a local lad and former Unite regional secretary who almost replaced Len McCluskey before being beaten by Sharon Graham for the union’s top job. Labour MPs are relieved Watson and Spellar are no longer both in the Commons.

The old New Labour band continues to reform. Expelled during the Corbyn interregnum for voting Lib Dem in the 2019 European elections, Alastair Campbell is poised to rejoin his old party. Once Tony Blair’s chief roadie, the return of the prodigal spin doctor would enable Campbell to rig Starmer’s 2024 general election group for light and sound.

Starved of Russian roubles, Rishi Sunak’s launched a Conservative Party lottery. First prize includes, seriously, a ten-minute phone call with the PM. Is the second prize half an hour?

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[See also: Sunak is too busy firefighting in his own party to govern]

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This article appears in the 24 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Crack-Up