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10 June 2020

Commons Confidential: No 10 begs for ideas

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

More smarting than smart these days, Dominic Cummings isn’t taking his fall from grace very well. Damaged Dom, who in his pomp would relish intimidating young Spads and had Sajid Javid’s Treasury aide Sonia Khan escorted out of Downing Street by an armed police officer, is screeching that suddenly everybody’s got it in for him. Dom’s victimhood would be as funny as Kenneth Williams’s in Carry On Cleo, if his self-pity didn’t include a sinister dark side. My snout muttered disapprovingly that a dejected Cummings moaned that enemies who claimed he was prepared to let tens of thousands die to breed coronavirus herd immunity, and dubbed him a reckless Co Durham super-spreader, are portraying him as a Mengele figure. Worried No 10 officials fear the chief adviser’s grip on reality is as loose as that of his boss, Boris Johnson, who presents a few telephone calls as a world-beating test and trace programme.

Plotting to topple the Prime Minister just as Black Lives Matter protesters toppled Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, Jeremy Hunt’s overweening ambition may be gauged from his hostile questioning of test and trace chief tracker Dido Harding. The friendship between the former health secretary and the Tory peer stretches back to their time at Oxford University’s Magdalen College, where both studied PPE in days when those initials signified philosophy, politics and economics, rather than personal protective equipment. No greater sacrifice can a wannabe PM make than to lay down a chum in the hope of dumping Boris Johnson in the dock.

Should Johnson fall, the Tory contest would be a battle between the private school ex-head boys. Winchester’s Rishi Sunak fancies his chances against Charterhouse’s Hunt. Straining to stay on her plinth and avoid permanent quarantine is low-flying Priti Patel. No 10 installs a platform behind the podium when the matchbox-sized Home Secretary is risked on a 5pm TV briefing. The added inches fail to make up the numbers in the garbled statistics given by Priti Useless.

Uh-uh. Seven members, or 22 per cent, of Keir Starmer’s 32-strong shadow cabinet are BAME, but an informant reports the overwhelming majority of Pads (political advisers in opposition, who are equivalent to Spads in government) appointed so
far are pale and male. The final list will show whether Black Jobs Matter in back rooms or only on the front bench.

Downing Street is ringing business organisations and think tanks to beg for ideas for Johnson to deliver in his billed big speech on the future of Britain after the plague. None, I hear, have suggested he resigns. So far. 

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This article appears in the 10 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, A world in revolt