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Caught red handed

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Bad hangovers won’t have been confined to the House of Commons at the start of the summer recess, after a row in the Lords involving the Tory peer Daniel Hannan and illicit plonk. A snout informs me Baron Hannan of Brexit, a Johnson creation, threw a wobbly when caught bringing his own booze on to the estate to oil a soirée with like-minded Conservative MPs and the Swiss ambassador. It is a long-standing convention that wine is bought from parliamentary catering. The author of The New Road to Serfdom failed to take back control, and the Lords Speaker, John McFall, a kindly chap until crossed, is apparently not amused.

With one shadow cabinet member and several frontbenchers considering quitting over Keir Starmer’s declaration that Labour would keep the Tories’ two-child benefit cap, the leader’s team heads into the holidays seething. One shadow cabinet fixture complained that Starmer was treating them like schoolchildren. Another groaned that child poverty would rise under Labour too unless Starmer shifted. I hear Angela Rayner’s reaction was unprintable.

[See also: “We’re all Blairites now” in the Labour Party]

It’s back to the future at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, with a group of despairing staffers urging Rishi Sunak to persuade John Major to tub-thump for the Tories in 2024. The idea is to recall the party’s unexpected comeback to win in 1992, but the concern is that Major will remind voters of his other election as PM: 1997, which produced Tony Blair’s landslide. Should Sunak risk it? It’s a Major dilemma.

David Frost, the Scotch whisky cheerleader and Brextremist made a Lord by Johnson, isn’t as juicy a catch as he thinks. A snout overheard a councillor asking the chair of a vacant Midlands Tory seat with a five-figure majority why “Frosty” – who’s said he’s ready to renounce his peerage and return to the Commons – wasn’t on the shortlist. “We’re treating it as a marginal,” replied the bigwig, “and writing a Daily Telegraph column isn’t enough.” Ouch.

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North-east England Labour MPs grumble that the Starmerite machine blew a gasket by blocking Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor now standing as an independent for an enlarged mayoralty next year. From right to left, the view is that the Northumbria police commissioner Kim McGuinness would probably have won a fair party selection anyway. Driscoll isn’t alone in believing London control freaks are out of touch with the rest of Britain.

Spotted sprayed on the pavement over the road from parliament: “No honours list for Liz Truss”, with – this being a modern world – a QR code. Nadine Dorries is not thought to be responsible.

[See also: Local Conservative clubs are still clamouring for reckless right-wingers]

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This article appears in the 19 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, How Saudi Arabia is buying the world