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Plebgate’s Andrew Mitchell furnishes himself with a downmarket ministerial title

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Shy bairns get no sweets, and Andrew Mitchell was calling himself Deputy Foreign Secretary long before Rishi Sunak bestowed the showy honorific title on a Minister of State (Development and Africa) covering in the Commons for Lord Dave Cameron. The initials DFS triggered mirth among Tory MPs giggling that the Old Rugbeian best be careful when a furniture chain of that name exists. One misjudged quip about “plebs” buying cheap furnishings and Andrew Sofa Sale, as he is now called, could be on his bike a second time.

Trade union general secretaries are mobilising support for Tory target numero uno Angela Rayner. Industrial praetorians fear the New Deal for Working People, Labour’s radical package of individual and collective employment rights, might go the way of the £28bn green energy plan without its shadow cabinet champion. Talk is of letting Keir Starmer know they’d revolt should he cut loose his deputy. Her fate, their fate and the fate of workplace rights may all be in the hands of Greater Manchester Police.

Where Rayner used to hang her hat in Stockport isn’t an issue in the Blackpool South by-election if Labour canvassers are to be believed. Five, including a shadow minister and a peer, that were on the knocker one recent weekend reported it was raised only once on hundreds of doorsteps. Could there be a gulf between media interest and public interest?

Meek and mild was combative Conservative peer Ben Houchen when eyeballed from ten feet by Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald, whom he’d branded a “liar and a coward” on the airwaves. McDonald, a ferocious critic of public funds enriching a couple of port property developers on the Tees Valley mayor’s watch, had hobbled over to the House of Lords’ Attlee and Reid Room to put the wind up Houchen. The Tory poster-boy mayor, facing re-election on 2 May, didn’t reference his tormentor and, I’m told, avoided eye contact. Shame.

Jill Mortimer, the Hartlepool by-election Tory victor now tipped for the order of the boot, asked McDonald if he was walking with a stick because of gout caused by rich living. Cue her embarrassment as the quip backfired, with famously frugal McDonald replying he’s recovering from a knee replacement.

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Circling of the Tory wagons. Word is the embattled party will defend only its eight most marginal seats, with saving just 20 the best-case scenario. Surrendered Red Wallers and others will be informed shortly of slashed funding, followed by P45s.

[See also: Priti situations vacant: Tories plot to install Patel as PM]

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This article appears in the 17 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran