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25 March 2020

Commons Confidential: Classic Dom goes strangely quiet

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The strain is showing publicly on Boris Johnson and I’m told that Dominic Cummings isn’t his usual cocky self. The puppet master pulling the Prime Marionette’s strings did him no favours with bad advice, relying on herd immunity to keep down the coronavirus body bags. My Tory informant reports that Cummings isn’t quite as loud or strident. Winning a Brexit vote with a £350m lie written on the side of a red bus isn’t replicated by throwing folk under a pandemic bus. One day a master of the universe, the next a black hole.

During Boris Johnson’s blasé days about a fortnight ago, when washing our hands was his strategy to defeat coronavirus, Whitehall’s nudge unit warned people would get bored if asked to make sacrifices too early. Now the panicking PM is belatedly issuing draconian edicts, the behavioural insights boffins may find grim confirmation of their fatigue theory in the Health Secretary. Matt Hancock and three minions had to be asked to use hand sanitiser before a Good Morning Britain interview in ITV’s Millbank studios. Piers Morgan wouldn’t approve of unsafe behaviour from a little squirt preaching cleanliness to the country.

Whether tellers counting votes in Labour’s leadership battle are classed as key workers depends on which candidate activists back. If it is likely winner Keir Starmer, that’s a yes. Probable loser Rebecca Long-Bailey and it’s a no. The declaration’s set for 4 April yet there’s a rearguard action to halt the election, citing May’s cancelled council contests as supporting evidence. A race so long it began in another era is stumbling into a new world.

Keepers of the Jezza flame are planning a Corbyn Foundation that makes Richard Burgon’s Tony Benn University look like a good idea. Perhaps it could offer courses on losing consecutive general elections. The cult’s messiah is likely to suffer an adulation deficit as speaking engagements dry up. He was miffed, I hear, when July’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival didn’t repeat its invitations of the past few years to address the Dorset crowd. Covid-19 scything the annual gathering avoids a diplomatic incident.

Son of privilege Bernard Jenkin was sweating after Labour shouted “object” to block Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sneaky motion outside normal standing orders to parachute No 10’s Brextremist chum into the £15,000 chair of the liaison committee. Previously the post was decided by chairs of other Westminster committees. Johnson’s chumocracy is anxious to reward a co-conspirator pipped to the defence committee seat by ex-minister Tobias Ellwood. Blue prince Bernie must be worrying that his benefactor’s mind is on bigger issues.

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This article appears in the 25 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The crisis chancellor