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How low will Sunak go to keep power?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Toryologists whisper that confused Rishi Sunak is spinning over conflicting advice, as his own camp splinters. Talk in No 10 says chief of staff Liam Booth-Smith and Lynton Crosby protégé Isaac Levido – an Aussie strategist reappointed as party campaign director to spend Frank Hester’s nasty millions – are urging the Prime Minister to fight low and dirty. Meanwhile Sunak’s fellow Winchester College alumnus James Forsyth – a former journalist appointed political secretary – counsels a PM who was best man at his wedding not to step off the moral kerb and into the gutter. The GB News MP, 30p Lee Anderson, was the cause of one such dispute; Forsyth was happy to wave goodbye while Booth-Smith and Levido wanted to keep him.

With authority visibly draining away, 53 is Sunak’s trigger number. My radar-lugged snout reckons 20 no-confidence letters are lodged with executioner Graham Brady – and that total would double if the Tories are hammered at the 2 May English local elections. It’s nip and tuck for Sunak, who praetorians implausibly claim would jump before he’s pushed, and call a general election if confronted by a leadership contest.

Talking of 30p Lee, our hardman former coal miner with the butterfly-wing skin is frothing over a local newspaper lampooning him as “Lee Anderthol” and listing 12 “lows and lows” in his political career. The Chad is read by just about everybody in Ashfield so mockery has consequences. Forecasting site Electoral Calculus gives Labour a 56 per cent chance in the redrawn Nottinghamshire seat. No wonder Lee Anderthol is scraping his knuckles in anger.

Dropping in to Sunderland Uni to broadcast a £37m public investment in what will be one of Europe’s largest film-making complexes, two-takes Sunak was asked to re-record a little jingle for Spark community radio, whereas Jeremy Hunt did it off pat. Calling himself “Prime Minister Rishi” – dropping the Sunak – was the airwave equivalent of dad dancing. The Tories need a better youth pitch than plastic cool.

Tea drinkers in Portcullis House were transfixed by Jeremy Corbyn’s protracted battle with a Post Office cash machine. Frustrated hand movements and head-shaking suggested the former Labour leader found bank notes as difficult to obtain as 2019 votes. The cashless economy will be a blessing for him.

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I’ve yet to see the picture, but a snout who swears he did relayed that an MP WhatsApping while sitting on the toilet inadvertently sent a topless snap of himself to a Tory group before deleting it ten minutes later. It wasn’t, I’m told, a pretty sight.

[See also: Lee Anderson’s defection triggers bye-bye elation among Tories]

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This article appears in the 20 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special 2024

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. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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