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29 April 2020updated 04 May 2020 3:47pm

Commons Confidential: Grayling’s grey matter

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Hiding his intellect from MI5 and MI6, Chris “Failing” Grayling’s appointment as chairman of parliament’s intelligence and security committee would be the most inappropriate posting since Caligula considered making his horse a consul. The coronavirus emergency delayed Boris Johnson’s plot to reward his fellow Brexiteer with the sensitive post, the Prime Minister twisting Tory arms to vote for someone born on 1 April.

The mystery of why the PM was so determined to risk a backlash by rewarding the man behind a no-deal £50m ferry fiasco was resolved by a Tory peer. That both backed Brexit is part of the answer, obviously. The other is that Johnson wants Grayling “taken care of” after he struggled to land lucrative outside interests – no firm risked the reputation damage of having him on its letterhead. Johnny English, never mind James Bond, could run rings  around Grayling.

Keeping his head down over the coronavirus backlash against China is David Cameron. The former PM set up a $1bn UK-China Fund promoting healthcare and technology joint ventures and  enjoyed a flourishing Beijing bromance wih President Xi Jinping, sealed with a pint of Greene King IPA in the Plough pub in Cadsden near Chequers. Perhaps we haven’t heard Dodgy Dave speaking up for his Chinese chums because he can’t get a signal after covidiots destroyed mobile masts over Huawei’s 5G involvement.

A frontline job offer from Keir Starmer and coronavirus have combined to delay the latest project of South Wales Valleys renaissance man Nick Thomas-Symonds. The Oxford don, barrister, historian, author, Torfaen MP and now shadow home secretary has postponed his new biography of Harold Wilson for a year. Time isn’t the only enemy of the comp boy with two well-received books on Attlee and Bevan on his shelf. Covid-19 has locked down archives. 

Starmer’s loyalty to old friends prompted a snout to recall his surprise that the then shadow Brexit secretary found time during the melée over Britain leaving Europe to attend the funeral of a school chum. The body of the BBC producer Paul Vickers, 54, was carried by old-fashioned horse and carriage to Clandon Wood nature reserve in Surrey, where it was given a natural burial. If trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated, then the startled mourner reckons Labour’s leader demonstrated the third of those in a field.

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No vacancy officially exists but a fresh name touted as the next Labour general secretary is that of Simon Fletcher, chief of staff to Ken Livingstone in City Hall and briefly to Jeremy Corbyn in opposition, plus, crucially, a senior figure in Starmer’s campaign team. Pip-pip. 

Editor’s Note: This article was amended on 4 May to remove a reference to the £16,000 post of intelligence and security committee chairman. The role is unpaid. 

This article appears in the 29 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The second wave