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4 March 2020

Commons Confidential: The Sun King bets big on Times Radio

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

The announcement of pram minister Boris Johnson’s shotgun wedding and sixth child that we’re able to identify was brought forward to divert public attention from a string of disasters, whispers my Tory snout. The old romantic lounging in No 10 had intended to wait until after his divorce, but a premature engagement and baby talk with Carrie Symonds were needed to try to save struggling Home Secretary Priti Patel. The choice of honeymoon could be interesting. Johnson might fancy a country offering a Brexit trade deal.

Many Tory MPs, by the way, believe aggressive Patel was set up to fail in the Home Office by the pram minister. The chief evidence is disbelief that a right-whinger who’d never be first pick on a pub quiz team should be gifted a complex department. Conservatives who think Johnson would never conspire against another Brextemist should consult ditched Andrea Leadsom and Theresa Villiers.

Aussie-Yankee billionaire media baron Rupert Murdoch is certainly splashing the cash on Times Radio. It’s alleged Chris Mason, a BBC rising star and host of Radio 4’s Any Questions?, declined an offer to more than double his salary to £250,000. John Pienaar clinched a three-year contract reputedly worth £400,000 annually plus a column in the Times. LBC star Nick Ferrari was invited to name his price but is staying put. Word is a former Labour MP has secured a nice number. Broadcasting used to be a licence to print money. For the Sun King it’s a franchise to write fat cheques.

All isn’t sweetness and light between Labour’s famous five, a theatrical group auditioning all over the country to play the role of deputy leader. Richard Burgon is as popular as a dose of coronavirus after rejecting Angela Rayner’s request to record a TV interview ahead of him so she could get home to her kids. The Burgonator’s fraternal socialism is an aspiration.

Perhaps I should issue informants with photographic guides to new MPs after a source failed to identify the fresh-faced Tory loudly informing Colonel “Bonking Bob” Stewart that the government could do whatever it wants because the manifesto was intentionally thin. I’ve narrowed him down to three potentials. Stickler Stewart looked suitably unimpressed at backchat in the ranks. 

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Every member of Unite’s staff received a copy of Len McCluskey’s new book, Why You Should Be a Trade Unionist. Surely the comrades are in the wrong job if they didn’t already know? 

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This article appears in the 04 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Inside No 10