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Tory plotters thicken as Sunak clings on

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Behind an uneasy truce with battered Rishi Sunak, the Tory plotters are continuing to arm themselves for an assault on the leadership, whenever a foray is triggered. My snout screams three are particularly brazen. Mordaunt offers Penny’s Package – of a fundraiser, and a plug at business questions. Shapps’ Spreadsheet includes an invitation to an online campaigning session hosted by Grant himself. And the Patel Patrol involves Priti door-knocking with MPs, canvassing a vote for her as leader as well as the party at the general election. Labour is the official opposition, but Sunak’s real enemies sit on his own benches and in the cabinet.

The latest whisper is that Tory defector Dan Poulter may be rewarded with a peerage by Keir Starmer after the MP stands down in Central Suffolk. Labour maintains nothing was promised, but there is a recent precedent in Quentin Davies. He was cloaked in ermine after switching from the Tories to Labour in 2007, toiling as a junior defence minister under Gordon Brown along the way.

New Ronnie Barker-style thick glasses didn’t see Labour wisecracker Jonathan “Sparkle” Ashworth playing entirely for laughs when calling the balls in a Doncaster bingo hall. To the titters of regular players he described “88” as two people rather than the traditional two fat ladies. To the immense relief of Sparkle, the ball he feared most, 69, didn’t come up.

Treading a path well worn by shamed and failed politicians, Simon Danczuk is lobbying for the fur industry. The former Labour MP, who finished sixth for Reform in February’s Rochdale by-election, invited the shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, for dinner. Haigh, a vegetarian, understandably declined. What could be less appetising than listening over a meal – steak, perhaps? – to an opponent extolling the value of killing animals for their skins?

Worryingly, no previous experience is required for a Lords vs Commons shoot-out at Bisley in July. Old Etonian Conservative hereditary peer Ralph Lucas informed potential gunmen that most disabilities apart from bad eyesight could be accommodated. Unpractised octogenarian peers, armed with rifles, firing at targets up to 1,000 yards away sounds pretty scary to colleagues playing it safe by seeking shelter in the Cholmondeley Room.

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Starmer fat-shamer Peter Mandelson was seen preening himself at a guest appearance in the Garrick, the Labour grandee seemingly unperturbed by the club’s row over admitting women members. With annual membership fees reported to be around £1,600, it could be the ideal place for Mandelson to “shed a few pounds” himself.

[See also: Westminster parties engulfed by a cost-of-conference crisis]

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This article appears in the 08 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Doom Scroll