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Michael Gove is considering stepping down to avoid a “Portillo moment”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Remember the “Portillo moment”? Michael Gove doesn’t want us watching him lose his Surrey Heath seat next year. Tory MPs whisper the schemer – who Nadine Dorries places at the centre of every political plot since Spencer Perceval’s assassination in 1812 – is “seriously considering” jumping before he’s potentially pushed. The Levelling-Down Secretary is aware of the danger of being buried by a crumbling Blue Wall. Even if he were to avoid that humiliation, for Gove – who has held various cabinet seats for most of the past 13 years – a potential decade in opposition would be a hard grind. Seven cabinet ministers were swept away in Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide and Michael Portillo thinks Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Alex Chalk and Greg Hands could repeat his fate, should Keir Starmer sustain Labour’s big poll leads.

If Donald Trump wins next November, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are bound to be a nightmare for whoever is in Downing Street. Whitehall is waking up to the possibility of the capricious pair flaunting their connections and enjoying influence on the combustible serial liar. In his first term, the former president labelled Johnson “Britain Trump” and wanted Farage to be our man in Washington. Next time – if, gawd forbid, there is to be a next time – Trump’s Brextremist allies would be all over him like a rash, which would bring out the UK foreign and defence secretaries in hives.

[See also: GB News isn’t a news channel – it’s Tory TV]

Everybody in Westminster seems to know the identities of the supposed rapist Tory MP and the rabbit killer monikered “Dr No” in The Plot, Nadine Dorries’ hatchet job on Johnson’s enemies. Legal reasons prevent me from naming them. If you wish to know, just ask a Commons cleaner, bartender, cook, waiter…

The state opening of parliament triggered memories of an incident in November 1998 to be retold by Denis MacShane in Labour Takes Power, his diaries from 1997 to 2001. The 1998 Queen’s Speech was dull until she read out the bit about abolishing the rights of hereditary peers. The Labour MP and future Europe minister, who was standing at the back of the Lords chamber, broke the convention of silence with a very gentle rumble of “hear, hear”. Diane Abbott, on Denis the Menace’s left, turned to whisper, “You ruffian.” A number of peers grunted disapproval and Her Maj hesitated for a second. Those were the days.

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The Israel-Hamas conflict has put Holly Lynch – Labour’s deputy chief whip, who is straining to impose a controversial no-ceasefire party line – in a difficult position. Her Halifax majority is only 2,569 and one in eight of the West Yorkshire town’s folk are Muslim. Colleagues fear she may be a victim of Labour’s internal war.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

[See also: What would Scottish Labour do?]

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This article appears in the 08 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Fury