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22 April 2020

Commons Confidential: Raab-it in the headlights

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Karate black belt Dominic Raab is fighting a losing battle to assert his authority over Michael Gove and Matt Hancock while deputising for a recuperating Boris Johnson. Both the Cabinet Office Minister and Health Secretary think they’d do a better job, whispered my Tory snout, so barely conceal their contempt for an inferior who resembles a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming HGV. Raab’s fight is questioned. Before parliament went on Easter hols, he meekly surrendered a seat in the smoking room when the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Lou Haigh, returned from voting and insisted Raab was in her place. The giggles suggest most of Westminster knows it.

The leaked (or should that be written to be planted in the media?) Labour report showing that some officials in the party’s HQ wanted Jeremy Corbyn to lose the 2017 election has huge ramifications. One is kiboshing the prospect of Emilie Oldknow returning to Southside from Unison to succeed Jennie Formby as general secretary. One snout whispered that Formby has already rejected overtures from Keir Starmer to resign but her departure is considered when not if. The new front-runner is GMB’s external relations director, Lisa Johnson. She’s highly rated by Gordon Brown and on friendly terms with Jon Lansman. The left thinking she’s on the right and the right believing she’s on the left helps. Starmer’s blessing would be the clincher.

Knighted and the son of a baron and other half of a peer, Tory blue prince Bernard Jenkin hasn’t triggered so much derision since self-unconsciously declaring on BBC One’s Question Time we “should stop talking about class” because “it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from”. Tory whips were due to pull in the virtual parliament a Boris Johnson motion parachuting his Brexit chum into the £16,422 liaison committee chair – a post previously elected by other select committee top dogs – when the Cardiff state-schooled combatant Kevin Brennan threatened to risk coronavirus to block the stitch-up by shouting “object” again in the chamber. Jenkin, defeated by Tobias Ellwood for the defence committee post, must wait longer for his privileged pay day.

Just a minute as disciplinarian Keir Starmer orchestrates strict Tuesday 9.30am Zoom shadow cabinet sessions. Windy participants are pulled up for hesitation, repetition or deviation. I’m told Ed Miliband sits as gloomily upright as the Ed Stone. David Lammy, captioned “Nicola”, used his wife’s account rather than a nom de guerre.

The PLP chair John Cryer’s doorbell rang during an electronic meeting of MPs. Can’t have been a delivery. The postman always rings twice.

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This article appears in the 22 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The coronavirus timebomb