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The dirty half-dozen: Tory right divides to rule, again

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

With the Mafia-like “five families” poised to become a Tory dirty half dozen next week – as yet another right-wing grouplet launches – the centrist One Nation gang is likening attacks on Rishi Sunak to a series of drone assaults. An irritated former minister has turned Churchillian over the prospect of a far-from-popular Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “Popular Conservatism” faction bombing the PM too – joining the offensive alongside the New Conservatives, the European Research Group, the Common Sense Group, No Turning Back, and the Northern Research Group. “Never in the field of human conflict,” growled the ex-red boxer, “were so many groups launched by so few.” We shall fight on the benches?

Vainglorious Robert Jenrick’s Caesar haircut is perhaps a sign of ambition going to his head. He fancies his chances as a grass-roots favourite after election defeat, and talk of a pact with Suella Braverman is, I’m told, hot air unless she plays second fiddle. Jaundiced Jenrick’s stated reason for resigning from the cabinet was the Rwanda Bill – but pique that first Braverman then James Cleverly were appointed home secretary over him is the explanation muttered in the smoking room. They really do all hate each other.

The Lib Dem parliamentary party gave Ed Davey a rough ride over the Post Office scandal at a Westminster meeting, I hear. Half the 14 under his command, including chief whip Wendy Chamberlain, believed he should apologise profusely. They fear it will dog him – and them – during the election campaign. Davey is holding out, desperate to stamp out criticism.

Public accounts of political chicanery are shaped by who briefs and who doesn’t, as Sue Gray is discovering. Keir Starmer’s chief of staff largely shuns contact with lobby hacks, leaving a vacuum currently filled by internal critics muttering that Gray exerts too much control. Starmer has read the riot act and demanded that she isn’t targeted. Former civil servants like to stick together.

Whitehall Spads are revving up a drive to fill vacant quango posts with Tory-friendly sleepers before Labour wins the election. Starmer has accused the Cons of a scorched-earth approach, but this is more a case of planting bulbs to grow during opposition years.

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An informant in the world of spin reports that two big PR companies are advising clients that there is little to be gained from attending the Conservative conference in Birmingham in the autumn. Far better to prioritise Labour in Liverpool the week before. Corporate time and money are reliable signs of where the political wind is blowing.

[See also: British steel’s apocalyptic future]

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This article appears in the 31 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Rotten State