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Commons confidential: The end of the daily briefing?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The revolting cabinet is smarting after Boris Johnson turned humiliated secretaries of state into an army of Russian bots obediently tweeting cringing support for lockdown rule-making rule breaker Dominic Cummings. “They’re sick of being treated like piñatas,” muttered my No 10 source. The decorated papier-mâché figures popular in Mexico are strung from a height and smashed open by blindfolded children to reveal hidden goodies. Battered ministers grumble saving Cummings is a booby prize not worth having.

Questions day after day about Cummings’s wanderings confirmed Johnson’s instinct to halt the regular 5pm televised briefings in No 10. The PM is waiting for an opportunity, says my insider, to declare an end to the daily press conferences. The break will be dressed up as a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic but Johnson wants to take back control from the media.

Trouble, too, on a Sage committee that is stalked by science fan-boy Cummings. One of the esteemed members moaned that his fellow experts resent their deployment as “human shields” to justify political decisions on everything from travelling on public transport to reopening schools and shops. I’m told some boffins are making near contemporaneous notes after meeting ministers to avoid being scapegoated when the inevitable Covid-19 blame game is played publicly.

Footage of the Cummings Towers, behind imposing gates guarding the family estate, punctured the privately educated Oxbridge posh chap’s self-promotion as a pleb fighting the establishment. Cummings’s wealthy background is conceivably impoverished only when compared with that of his wife Mary Wakefield, whose family owns Northumberland’s Chillingham Castle. One of my moneyed snouts chortled that Mary’s father would gripe about how his son-in-law didn’t possess significant blue blood and is a bit thick. I assumed Sir Humphry was joking until that ludicrous Barnard Castle drive eye test excuse prompted many to say the same thing.

BTW, Cummings’s mother, Morag, was a fervent supporter of the Durham Free School, opened when her son was wreaking expensive and harmful ideological havoc across education while abusing teachers for then education secretary, Michael Gove. The school was shut after just two years by Gove’s successor, following a calamitous Ofsted inspection. 

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Talking of Gove, an eagle-eyed near neighbour of the Cabinet Office minister reports a “posh pink basket weave bike” locked at the front of Mickey’s west London home. It could, of course, belong to Mail columnist and Gove’s significant other Sarah Vine. I prefer to imagine it isn’t. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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This article appears in the 27 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The peak