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21 April 2016

Commons confidential: Škoda of conduct

Charles Walker, Zac Goldsmith - and the battle for the Tory crown.

By Kevin Maguire

George Osborne is grumbling that his chum Dave Cameron has cost him the Tory crown. My snout at the Treasury informs me that the Chancellor thinks the EU referendum is a mistake . . . the Prime Minister’s mistake.

Osborne is in it to win it, as his magical £4,300-per-household price tag for Brexit proved. But when – regardless of the outcome on 23 June – a split Conservative Party elects someone who is not called George Osborne, a smarting Chancer of the Exchequer will know who to thank.

Knock me down with a feather: Bill Cash, the Eurobore’s Eurobore, an obsessive Brexiteer whose idea of a light read is the EU’s collected treaties from Rome 1957 to present, has been overheard fretting that the Leave campaign started too early. There must be a risk of a low turnout if Cash, who has waited 41 years for this moment, is worried that the mud-wrestling might be a turn-off.

Staff in parliament secretly hope that the Tory Zac Goldsmith loses to Labour’s Sadiq Khan in the spat over becoming London mayor. Not for partisan reasons, I hasten to add. Goldsmith’s Fortnum & Mason hampers at Christmas are much appreciated and would cease, should he swap Westminster for City Hall.

I am reminded of a quip about UK Uncut protesters causing £5,000 of damage during an occupation of the upmarket food purveyor’s emporium on Piccadilly. A small jar of organic olives was accidentally knocked over.

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The ambitious Tory Charles Walker has spent months courting Labour in the hope of succeeding John Bercow when the Speaker hangs up his gown. Those hopes were squandered, I am informed, by his arrogant dismissal of Cameron’s £19,000 Panama profits as barely “enough to buy a Škoda Octavia”. The current deputy speaker and front-runner for the job, Lindsay Hoyle, is the main beneficiary. A surprising number of MPs drive the Czech-built cars.

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The cross-party Britain Stronger in Europe lobby perfectly illustrated what the left discovered the hard way last May. Labour staffers and volunteers are despairing that their Conservative opposite numbers possess far better data on Tory voters than they
do on their own.

The fiction maintained by the chair of Progress, Alison McGovern – that the organisation is merely a “campaigning group” – is undermined by its slate for Labour’s NEC elections. The militant moderates are the Progress Tendency.

I am told that when asked if he is resident in Britain – for financial purposes – Michael “Blofeld” Ashcroft, the billionaire Tory, smiles and asks: “What is tax?” The guy must be joking . . . right?

This article appears in the 20 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Shakespeare 400 years Iater