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Commons Confidential: Fresh boxers, but no trousers

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Resurrection man Boris Johnson is well versed in evading responsibility when anything goes wrong, so Matt Hancock and Michael Gove are left plotting for the other to carry the can over coronavirus PPE fiascos. My snout at the eye of the storm alleges that Gove’s Cabinet Office blocked a large order because the UK manufacturer wasn’t on an NHS approved supplier list, while a docile Health Secretary didn’t demand the decision be overturned. The best outcome would be both losing, with two cans ordered. From China, obviously.

Naive arrivistes in Downing Street accuse TUC chief Frances O’Grady of discussing economy-rescuing deals with – shock! horror! – Labour leader Keir Starmer. Unaware the labour movement historically consists of two wings, the political and industrial, No 10’s Year Zero brainboxes were rattled by Starmer demanding a job retention initiative within an hour of O’Grady agreeing the £40bn furlough scheme with the government. Coincidence, perhaps, but my informant whispered the control freaks remain bruised at being beaten to their own announcement.

Dominic Cummings appears über-relaxed in a snap pinged my way, with Boris Johnson’s hitman lounging on a bench with a football under his right arm in Woodberry Down, north London. With cops moving the herd on, Cummings’ “do as I say and not as I do” immunity serves as a telling image for a shameless Vote Leave government.

All is not as it appears when Commons stickler Lindsay Hoyle imposes a chamber dress code on MPs joining from home. Take former Labour chair Ian Lavery, seated patiently behind a desk in smart jacket, shirt and tie in the hope he’d be summoned at Prime Minister’s Questions. The Northumberland burly ex-miner just missed Hoyle’s cut. Had the Speaker reached him and in confusion the MP stood, Pavlov-like, a watching public would have glimpsed fresh boxers but no trousers.

Corbyn ally Jennie Formby’s resignation as Labour general secretary came just before the party HQ was rocked by another extensive email dump. One Southside senior official was disturbed to answer a call from a hostile hack reading back his confidential 2019 election advice. The party’s got more leaks than a pitman’s allotment.

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In last week’s column I wrote that the chair of the intelligence committee was a “£16,000 post”. The Cabinet Office informs me that the position, unlike other select committees, is unpaid. I’ve therefore sacked the unpaid informant who told me it was a £16,000-a-year job like all the rest. We apologise for the error.

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This article appears in the 06 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Remaking Britain