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Holden out for a hero: seatless Tory chair pitches up in Wellingborough

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The soon-to-be-seatless Conservative Party chair Richard Holden is exciting Tory chatter about his own selection hopes after pitching up in Wellingborough to oversee the hoisting of the tattered blue flag over Helen Harrison in the by-election there. Harrison is the girlfriend of the outgoing MP Peter Bone, and Rishi Sunak pointedly refused to endorse her nomination for a tricky contest triggered by a recall ballot following Bone’s suspension from the Commons – he was found to have bullied and harassed a member of staff. Hapless Holden is searching for a seat of his own because boundary changes will abolish his North West Durham base. Harrison’s selection guarantees Bone won’t stand as an independent, but is considered a gift for Keir Starmer. One Tory conspirator whispered that if she loses an 18,000 majority, Holden could present himself as the hero to win it back at this year’s general election.

My snout was not alone in overhearing the avocado-hating Tory reactionary Jonathan Gullis moaning to Labour’s Neil Coyle that stopping the boats was essential to saving his Stoke North Red Wall seat. Scottish Nat David Linden was also travelling on the Portcullis House escalator. Turning to the pair, the tartan MP told them: “The government should have commissioned the SNP to stop the boats. We can’t even get one ferry in the water in Scotland.” A sinking feeling is plunging many MPs into the abyss.

The Zambia-born Welsh economy minister Vaughan Gething is battling his education counterpart Jeremy Miles to succeed Mark Drakeford as first minister of Wales. This reminded one source of when Gething sat on the stage at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Plain-speaking pitmen leader Davey Hopper introduced him as the youngest president of the Wales Trades Union Congress: “And what’s more,” thundered Hopper, “he’s a black man.” As the crowd applauded, Gething asked a Labour veteran if he should stand up to identify himself. “Look around you,” muttered the regular, “they’ll know it’s you.”

The one-woman welfare state Carolyn Harris distributed 2,000 Christmas hampers in South Wales. The Swansea East MP covered part of the cost with £3,500 raised auctioning gifts from Rod Stewart, including his own signed Celtic shirt. Possessions of the late Betty Boothroyd, the first woman Commons Speaker, are also going under the hammer for charities. Among them is a diamond solitaire ring expected to fetch up to £100,000, and a statue of Boothroyd that the baroness never liked – which is catalogued for as little as £300. What sparkles is worth more than bust.

[See also: A very British scandal]

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This article appears in the 10 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Year of Voting Dangerously

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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