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30 September 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 1:32pm

Commons Confidential: No 10’s beleaguered tenant

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Poor old Boris Johnson is now ridiculed as a bumbling non-exec chair of the board by disgruntled Tory MPs. Michael Gove is viewed as the government’s powerful chief executive calling the shots with an aide – Dominic Cummings – said now to rate his old boss at education higher than the new line manager serving as the Prime Minister. One upside for Downing Street’s beleaguered tenant is the fading shine on the showy neighbour in No 11. Rishi Sunak’s meal deals appear to have fuelled the pandemic. Public Health England slipped out a report revealing “eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the 2-7 days prior to symptom onset”. “Eat out to help spread the virus” isn’t good news for the Chancellor’s career prospects. Still, he isn’t gormless Gavin Williamson. To save Christmas, Williamson is toying with shutting schools early. Socially distanced nativity plays in November would be a novelty.

Keir Starmer is taking the Jim Callaghan approach to trade unions, despite citing Harold Wilson as his favourite premier. The Labour leader is urging general secretaries to keep quiet as he courts rich donors, informing uneasy comrades he is their best and last chance. With Unison, Unite and the GMB all electing new heads, Starmer is offering a Covid-distanced smile in place of a bear hug.

Ed Davey’s voting record contradicts a “voice of carers” promise he made in a speech about caring for his mother and disabled son. Records show the Liberal Democrat leader trooped into parliament’s lobbies 50 times to impose welfare cuts or oppose raising benefits. My snout recalls the suffragettes elevated deeds over words.

A painful tip in Westminster, where Tory chumocracy’s Dido Harding is rumoured to be in the running to succeed Simon Stevens at NHS England. The elusive jockey, known as “Riding Hiding” among critics, was plopped by crony Matt Hancock into the saddle of the new National Institute for Health Protection, despite overseeing the coronavirus testing fiasco. My snout muttered the one-time Talk Talk chief operator would be like the virus app: NHS in name only and connected to the private sector.

Cabinet ministers are reluctant to travel to the Canary Wharf studio where the Tory Party will charge £2,500 a pop to beam them into fringe meetings at the party’s virtual conference. The exception eager to please? Sunak, obviously. The most dangerous place in London is the distance between the Chancellor and a TV camera.

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Sound judgement from newsreader Riz Lateef. The face of BBC London rebuffed Boris Johnson, I’m told, informing spin doctor Lee Cain it would be “career suicide” to be a £100,000 frontwoman for their White House-style briefings. 

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This article appears in the 30 Sep 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the Union