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Lee Anderson’s defection triggers bye-bye elation among Tories

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

By-election bottler 30p Lee’s defection – to fellow GB News host Nigel Farage’s hard-right Reform UK – was toasted as the first good news in months for Conservatives by many Tory MPs. The lack of love or respect for the Ashfield chancer was telling; one of the twister’s former colleagues observed those who know him best, rate him least. “It’s all about his GB News cheque so that he can remain relevant,” sniffed a northern Tory MP. “He’ll go completely tonto now to secure his future employment with them. I hope a few more follow him – Marco Longhi, Brendan Clarke-Smith, et al.”

Who, if anybody, will follow Anderson to Reform? He previously dismissed the party as irrelevant and its leader Richard Tice as a “pound-shop Nigel Farage”, claimed he’d declined “a lot of money” to jump ship, and voted for a private members’ bill to force party-switchers to fight by-elections (like the one he’s now dodging). The initial consensus from the talk in parliament’s bars was that one, two or none would follow. Should an unlikely ten join the anti-migrant party, predicted a minister, it would be game over for Rishi Sunak, who would have to call an election to “stop the bleeding”… and then lose. It’s called being trapped between a rock and a hard place.

GB News’s most ardent supporter is… Peter Mandelson. The Labour peer and former cabinet minister, revelling in having his own party back after the Jeremy Corbyn interregnum, is cooing over the station stirring the Conservative pot. Who needs a left-wing news channel when a right-wing one assists Labour into power for free?

March marks the seventh anniversary of police officer Keith Palmer’s murder at parliament by an Islamist terrorist. This prompted a former senior police officer to allege that two MPs had filmed the stricken PC (the footage was seized and never released). The source declined, alas, to identify the pair.

Congratulations to the Four Elms in Cardiff, reigning Parliamentary Pub of the Year, and its landlord Gareth Morgan. The fine hostelry won the inaugural contest in 2019, the last time it was held. It was delayed first by Covid, then because Toby Perkins, Chesterfield’s pub bouncer-sized MP and competition organiser, was put on Labour’s front bench. Five years must be the longest drinking-up time in history.

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Boris Johnson leaving the Tory deep freeze to have his ego stroked during an election could leave the current PM overshadowed by two predecessors: David Cameron and Johnson. “When you only look half-decent next to May and Truss,” growled an adviser, “we’re pressing the panic button.” Quite.

[See also: The Chancellor’s biggest budget giveaway is to his own re-election campaign]

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This article appears in the 13 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Keir Starmer’s soul