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Sunak’s honours list faces a Starmer peer review

Your weekly dose of gossip from the campaign trail.

By Kevin Maguire

The first victim of Keir Starmer’s crusade to clean up British politics could be Rishi Sunak’s resignation honours’ list. Word is, the Labour leader isn’t prepared to rubber-stamp scores of Tory crony peerages. There is a precedent. Tony Blair in 1997 challenged names on John Major’s goodbye roll. Post-election, the queue for tax-free, £342-a-day baronies will be stretching nearly as long as the line for the late Queen’s mourners, wailed a Tory former cabinet minister who is eyeing ermine as a consolation prize. The 275-171 Tory advantage over Labour in the Lords is another reason Starmer is unlikely to play ball. He is considering up to 40 Labour reinforcements, I’m told.

“Keir Starmer needs you,” screamed a leaflet headline next to a photo of the Labour leader, “to vote Reform.” It was only on the back of personalised cards delivered to homes by paid-for direct mail that householders were urged instead to “vote Conservative”. That Labour double agent in Tory HQ must have worked overtime during the worst political campaign for generations.

We knew Rishi Sunak needed a miracle, but this was an omen: the Tory candidate in Cardiff East is an exorcist. Reverend Beatrice Brandon in the Church of England’s deliverance ministry helps souls who “feel they may be haunted, cursed or possessed”. The Rev didn’t attend church hustings. That must have set heads spinning.

Not far from Cardiff in Gavin & Stacey’s seaside Barry, Labour’s Kanishka Narayan would be crowned the party’s first Old Etonian MP since Stoke’s Mark Fisher hung up his straw boater in 2010, should the scholarship boy take the Vale of Glamorgan seat from the Tory ex-minister Alun Cairns. Identified as a rising star, Narayan is a former civil servant and investment banker who champions social mobility. The route to widening opportunities takes many paths.

Sticking with Eton, VAT on £52,750 fees paid by Britain’s well-heeled and international plutocrats would be a mere downpayment if those on Labour’s left had their way. One of them was only half-joking in grumbling that the school’s playing fields should be seized as reparations for the harm inflicted by Cameron, Johnson and Truss.

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Alastair Campbell delayed rejoining Labour to advocate tactical voting. I hear Rory Stewart wasn’t Gary Lineker’s first-choice Tory for the pair’s successful podcast; Dominic Cummings and William Hague were apparently considered before him. The rest is politics.

“Wear sunglasses for walking around,” Labour advised canvassers, “but take them off when talking to someone at the door.” The fear was that keeping them on could be polarising, I presume.

[See also: Sunak’s shrinking campaign: from the door of No 10 to doorsteps in his constituency…]

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain