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Commons Confidential: Weighty matters in No 10

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Self-publicist extraordinaire Boris Johnson getting down on his hands and knees in the Downing Street den to perform a couple of gimmicky press-ups during an interview can’t mask a weightier problem. Aged 56, around 16 stone and 5ft 9ins tall, our PM is clinically obese. Should Johnson be still writing a Daily Telegraph column, for £250,000 “chicken feed”, he might even be tempted to label a similarly rotund political opponent as a chubby, tubby, porky, flabby, portly, bloated, plump, well-upholstered fatty. My No 10 snout muttered that Johnson is marginally lighter than the hefty 17.5 stone he weighed when he was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital with coronavirus. But he struggles to shed the pounds. His vital statistics produce a BMI of 33.1, which is over the 30 obesity trigger. The healthy maximum for a chap of his height and age is thought to be 12st 1lb. Boris Johnson is a lightweight only in political stature.

Never short of chutzpah, the Prime Minister may be tempted by an idea that Tory strategists are proposing – that the party ceases talking about Labour’s “red wall” in the north of England and instead renames seats won in 2019 as the Conservatives’ “blue wall”. Pride comes before a fall, and the working class doesn’t like to be taken for granted, as Jeremy Corbyn found to Labour’s cost last December.

Housing Secretary Robert “four homes” Jenrick’s future is behind him after the Westferry “cash-for-favours” scandal. A Whitehall source whispered the controversy is also likely to have demolished any remaining prospects of an honour for Richard Desmond. The former owner of the Daily Express let David Cameron know, murmured my informant, that he’d like to be “Sir Richard”. No knighthood arrived for Mr Desmond. Theresa May considered Desmond for a peerage until the shy vicar’s daughter discovered he used to be a porn baron. Johnson wouldn’t. Would he?

Big-money Tory donors striking over ermine delays for the party’s paymasters are jeopardising jobs in the Matthew Parker Street HQ. Johnson’s touted peerages for ex-Labour MPs who assisted the Conservative cause – such as Frank Field, Ian Austin and John Woodcock – is a jolly jape to anger Labour. Yet delays are irritating monied Tory supporters who yearn for titles in appreciation for their largesse. The law of unintended consequences wasn’t in the script.

The spirit of trade unionists Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon has been revived in Tory and Labour whips’ offices, where party barons control block votes, collecting proxies from stayaway MPs. Nostalgic members coo Tory fogey Jacob Rees-Mogg has gone back to the future.

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This article appears in the 01 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Anatomy of a crisis