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26 January 2022

Commons Confidential: Whips at war

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Assisting police with their enquiries into a Downing Street that rivalled the Ibiza party scene, Boris Johnson’s political operation is creating blowback. Government whips are at war with the Prime Minister’s emergency battalion of parliamentary enforcers. My snout whispered that official whips marshalled by tottering Mark “and” Spencer resent Johnson’s unofficial troika – Chris Pincher, Chris Heaton-Harris and Nigel Adams – swaggering into their office, occupying desks and loudly accusing them of letting down a beleaguered PM before marching out to demand loyalty from restless backbenchers. UN blue helmets may be required to keep the peace.

And there’s no rest for Tory MPs at their end of the tea room, where Downing Street posts a nark on every table. Loyal Johnsonites emailing intelligence for Grant Shapps’s spreadsheet are instructed to extol the extraordinary vote-winning powers of a PM answering questions from the cops. Derbyshire Dales newbie Sarah Dines, a 2019er carrying Johnson’s bags as one of two unpaid parliamentary private secretaries, was overheard moaning that she couldn’t leave until a replacement arrived. The reception for Operation Tea Room is as lukewarm as “Operation Save Big Dog” and an “Operation Red Meat” proving all bones and no beef. My displaced informant gurgled that he’s sipping cuppas in his office until the circus leaves town.

Johnson taking the cabinet for granted by failing to inform ministers he’d been notified in advance that Cressida Dick would announce that plod was moving, created more bad blood. Also in revolt are No 10 grafters terrified they’re about to be thrown under the bus and handed fixed-penalty notices. The machine to save Johnson is rickety, with a 2019er confiding that they’re thinking of sending their no-confidence letter after Sue Gray’s report, but that nobody’s contacted them. If there’s many more like this overlooked MP, Johnson might soon be asking the Daily Torygraph to resume his column.

An intriguing snippet from a prominent Conservative MP muttering that a party donor met Johnson in his sister Rachel’s home. Labour’s Keir Starmer is reluctant to schmooze donors, but the PM is happy to follow the money and seek gifts.

Kwasi Kwarteng received a warm Geordie welcome from the former Labour chair Ian Lavery as he got off a train in Newcastle. The ex-miners’ union leader forcefully advised the Business Secretary that a 3,000-job Britishvolt gigafactory the Conservatives were spinning as a success for Blyth Valley’s Ian Levy is actually in his Wansbeck constituency. Tory levelling up is stealing credit for jobs in Labour seats.

The BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Nick Robinson’s crusade to save the BBC from Conservative culture war onslaughts nudged a snout to recall Downing Street’s complaint after Robbo demanded the Prime Waffler “stop talking” during an interview. Accused of Boris-bashing by BBC-hating Tories, Robbo protested to David Davis that he couldn’t be biased because in the 1980s he chaired the Young Conservatives. DD, now on manoeuvres to oust Johnson, guffawed and replied that membership of the Tory youth wing demonstrated ideological unreliability.

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