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Priti situations vacant: Tories plot to install Patel as PM

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The latest madness from plotters scheming to oust Rishi Sunak after 2 May’s local elections is to persuade Boris Johnson to endorse Priti Patel – Liz Truss then piles in and, hey presto, the former home secretary is miraculously installed as prime minister to popular acclaim. Sunak is pleading with his No 10 team to stick with him rather than quit now while still employable. Talk around Downing Street is that he’s privately promising to look after them following the almost inevitable defeat. Nobody buys Sunak’s denials. They all think he’s contemplating life after politics.

The honeytrap sleaze scandal, whereby blackmailed Tory MP William Wragg slipped his tormentor the telephone numbers of colleagues (Wragg has now resigned the whip), has only intensified Conservative attempts to hound Angela Rayner over a former council house sale nine years ago. Labour’s deputy leader is straining to come out all guns blazing against billionaire Michael Ashcroft, identified in the 2017 Paradise Papers as a non-dom, and Mail and Mail on Sunday owner Jonathan Harmsworth, who inherited the newspapers through a Jersey trust and an offshore entity. But she’s held back, I’m told, by party spinner Matthew Doyle, who believes a more conciliatory approach with the Tory press may pay future dividends. Good luck with that.

Away from vowing bitter medicine for the NHS, Wes Streeting’s April Fools’ joke – that he was about to start a weekly cooking slot on ITV’s Lorraine “with low-cost, quick and healthy recipes that you can make yourself at home in 15 minutes” – duped dozy right-whingers, with Ofcom receiving complaints about a spoof slot.

MPs enliven proceedings during dull debates with private quips. Back-bench bad boy Alec Shelbrooke, a former defence minister with a Gaston-like mane, messaged Simon Hoare to complain that the nodding local government minister’s bald patch created a strobe effect. The reply used unparliamentary language. Tory lads need to make their own distractions in uncertain times, after all.

We live in an email era yet it transpires King Charles had to be faxed Mark Drakeford’s formal resignation, then a second fax to record Vaughan Gething’s election as Wales’ new First Minister. Presumably the carrier pigeons were all on holiday.

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Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle’s father, the former trade union leader, Labour MP and peer Doug Hoyle, shaved four years off his age a while back in the Lords, which led some media outlets to report he died at 94 (incorrect) and others 98 (correct). Old comrades whispered the skilful tactician remained young at heart.

[See also: George Galloway makes the top three flightiest MPs of all time]

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This article appears in the 10 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Trauma Ward