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Esther McVey’s war on rainbow lanyards and homeless prisoners

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

With sense not very common in a flailing Conservative regime, the self-styled common-sense minister Esther McVey has been urged to drop her war on rainbow lanyards and turn her attention to jails. Prisons are still handing out sleeping bags and tents to inmates who are being released without a roof to return to. The Home Secretary James Cleverly, to quell a revolt, dropped a plan of Suella Braverman’s (who, incidentally, wanted to ban homeless people from sleeping in tents) to criminalise rough sleepers deemed smelly. The successor to the 1824 Vagrancy Act, however, would still give the police powers to move on the homeless. So much for rehabilitation and preventing reoffending. Kevin Brennan, shadow minister for victims and sentencing, is urging McNasty to use her common sense and require jails to find accommodation rather than distributing bags and tents. At the moment, it is unjoined-up government in action. McVey prefers easy woke wars.

Trouble in Toryland, where the party’s whips messed up the slips for an American embassy reception, and angry Conservative crew on the Foreign Affairs Committee, including its chair Alicia Kearns, were refused permission to go. And all on the day that Rishi Sunak grandly informed the country that it would be safer with him. Mutinous Kearns and the Smiths (Henry and Royston), plus Ranil Jayawardena, went anyway, alongside Labour’s Neil Coyle and Dan Carden. Two Tories, Bob Seely and Andrew Rosindell, obeyed orders and withdrew. “Sunak said trust him with the nuclear button,” mused Coyle, “but you couldn’t trust this lot with a light switch.”

Keir Starmer controlling future jobs and destinies resulted in zero criticism of the party’s embrace of Tory zealot Natalie Elphicke at the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting – to the relief of John Cryer, a chair braced for the storm that never blew. MPs in all parties speak of where they first heard the news, much as older folk recall the deaths of JFK and John Lennon. One Nation Tory Bob Neill was informed by the Labour deputy chief whip Mark Tami. “I see you’ve had another MP defect,” said Tami. “Who?” asked Neill. “Natalie Elphicke.” “Reform is welcome to her.” “No, to us.” “Are you sure?” “Yes!” Neill confided to colleagues he didn’t know whether to laugh or faint, so opted for a sustained grimace.

The chat on parliament’s waterside terrace is of which rat might abandon the sinking Tory ship next. Three or four (depending on who you speak to) names are in the frame, including a couple of former ministers. The ex-science minister George Freeman is reported to be sick of being included in the speculation. All that praise he has lavished on Rachel Reeves must be finally catching up with him.

[See also: PMQs review: Sunak and Starmer need to grow up]

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This article appears in the 15 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Stink