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Rwanda rabble-rousers claim asylum from their own rebellion

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Tough guy former miner “30p Lee” Anderson is the laughing stock of the great Rwanda rebellion retreat, moaning that giggling Labour MPs made him turn heel and flee the “No” division lobby. Rishi Sunak’s praetorians, however, reckon the biggest loser is pompous, self-important Sir John Hayes. The vainglorious president of the righteous New Conservatives group was observed marching with the rebel first 11 before waving them goodbye to vote against the bill while he, like 30p Lee, abstained. My snout likened Sir John to a First World War general sending cannon fodder over the top from the safety of the HQ behind the lines. The sound of Tory scores being settled is heard all over Westminster.

General Hayes abandoning his troops is also the first crack in his long ideological relationship with Suella Braverman. The former home secretary – sacked the first time by Liz Truss for breaching security in sending her mentor, Hayes, an official document – was among the 11 diehard Rwanda rebels. MPs saw Braverman rubbing watery eyes, blaming an ear infection. Perhaps it was caused by hearing her former guide’s backbone crumble.

Rueful 30p Lee, by the way, is said to regret resigning from a party deputy-chair decorative role. The Ashfield mouth enjoyed the attention, particularly “Lagers with Lee” events that fed his ego. He quit Labour for the Tories, so if Anderson fancies switching pub tables again that leaves Reform UK, a hard-right rival the MP previously claimed offered him large amounts of defection money (which Reform denied). One Nation Tories hope he’s tempted.

Over in Labour land, Comrade Starmer’s iron rule is privately derided as democratic centralism without the democratic element by a cell of lefties keeping their heads down to avoid expulsion. It was Red Ed Miliband, not Starmer the red knight, who ended MP elections for the shadow cabinet and chief whip in the Commons. Ironically, in the unelected House of Lords, the Labour peers still vote for their leader, deputy leader and chief whip every two years. Angela Smith, Ray Collins and Roy Kennedy were very recently returned unopposed again. Challenges are for warring Tories.

A veteran of the Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan administrations, the Labour peer Bernard Donoughue is a walking political history book. He’s also exceedingly proper. Word reached me of Donoughue asking an ermined colleague if it was OK to offer his experience to the leader of the opposition’s team. He was duly assured any approach would be in order. “I wanted to check,” explained Donoughue, “because when I worked for Harold I would have been peed off had the Attlee lot just turned up.”

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[See also: Tories pray for electoral salvation. Will St Boris intercede?]

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This article appears in the 24 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Media Wars