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The Chancellor’s biggest budget giveaway is to his own re-election campaign

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Jeremy Hunt’s mind is on his seat as well as the Budget. Treasury officials whisper no chancellor of the Exchequer in modern times has spent as many hours on constituency business. Hunt regularly uses his Treasury office, I’m told, to sign letters and make calls to Surrey. Lib Dems are breathing down the Chancellor’s neck in Godalming and Ash. The £107,261 Hunt donated to the local Conservative association to campaign for him must be as close to buying votes an MP can get without breaching a law.

George Galloway swaggered into the Commons chamber without his hat. Headgear is banned in the Westminster colosseum so the Rochdale rumbler’s bald pate glistened as he was sworn in. MPs reckon Galloway, leader of his Workers Party of Britain, will give 30p Lee Anderson a run for his money as the place’s most outspoken member. Currently suspended by the Conservative Party, 30p Lee remains a big draw on the Tory rubber-chicken circuit. He’s still taking bookings for dinners and fundraisers. No rules are breached, I’m informed, as long as he’s billed as MP for Ashfield and not the Conservative, independent or, perhaps in the future, Reform UK MP for the Nottinghamshire seat.

Tory Trumpite Liz Truss supposedly not hearing Steve Bannon hail as a hero the British far-right thug Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) wasn’t as bad as it could have got for her at the fanatical Conservative Political Action Conference in the US. Asked what he thought of her contribution, crazed white nationalist Jared Taylor said he enjoyed Truss’s argument, then added, “What about keeping Britain white? That’s going to help. She didn’t say that, but she should have.” Truss, gifted a free pass by Rishi Sunak, rubbed shoulders with extremists who’d be barred from meeting MPs and ministers under her No 10 successor’s clampdown.

Word reaches me of tumbleweed blowing at the end of a speech by the Tory peer Keith Stewart KC, advocate general for Scotland. The Burns supper “toast to the lassies” is supposed to be rousing, but Baron Stewart of Dirleton’s prosecutorial approach went down like a ton of cold neeps. The complete silence from peers and MPs at its conclusion was a deafening verdict. The choice of the Burns song “Cock up Your Beaver” proved too risqué a note.

Not all is running smoothly in the Tory election machine. Chief mechanic Isaac Levido berated ministers dodging publicity for fear of awkward questions when cabinet members are dispatched in “starbursts” around the country. And Spads complain that David Cameron’s journalist sister-in-law Emily Sheffield “barks” at them. In Labour’s campaign they just cry.

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[See also: Angry Anderson now chairs the Tory party’s Unpopularity Committee]


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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Bust Britain

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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