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28 October 2020

Commons Confidential: Boris Johnson’s own goal

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

No 10’s justification for why Boris Johnson didn’t reply to a personal letter from Marcus Rashford comes straight from the dog-ate-my-homework school of excuses. My snout insisted a female official in Downing Street’s communications unit, a body that answers correspondence from the public, is no football fan so failed to recognise the importance of a message from the Manchester United and England player. Incredibly, the official also missed Rashford’s profile beyond football, when, over the summer, he forced a free school meals U-turn by the Prime Minister. Defying Rashford is the worst own goal by a Tory leader since David Cameron thought he supported West Ham United, not Aston Villa.

Tory whips are frantically urging Johnson to scrap a manifesto commitment to create more city and regional mayors after Andy Burnham’s coronation as King of the North. One Tory enforcer apparently warned No 10 that it is gifting platforms to powerful Labour rivals, while grumbling that the Robespierre of Greater Manchester needs to “pipe down” or budgets will be cut.

Labour’s most northerly English MP, Wansbeck’s former Northumberland coal miner Ian Lavery, is busy correcting angry folk confusing him with Conservative Ian Levy next door in Blyth Valley. The former chief of the National Union of Mineworkers voted to feed hungry children while the neighbouring Red Wall Tory opposed meal vouchers. North-east right-whinger Levy, by the way, was denounced as a “self-serving waste of space” by his own brother. Lavery should be thankful people don’t think Levy chaired the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

[See also: Commons Confidential: Arron Banks and his “Bad Boys of Brexit” fail to take New Zealand]

The idea that political considerations influence Covid-19 restrictions is fuelled by education dunce Gavin Williamson’s South Staffordshire backyard. His patch remains in tier one, my West Midlands snout reports, despite a 67 per cent jump, in the week to 20 October, to 259 cases per 100,000, while Wolverhampton (205), Solihull (226), Sandwell (237), Birmingham (241) and Walsall (249) remain in tier two. Perhaps the Frank Spencer of the cabinet left an apple on Matt Hancock’s desk.

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Interviewed for a BBC series next year on the rise of New Labour nearly a quarter of a century ago, the party’s former spin doctor Peter Mandelson paused to consult typed notes before answering each question – the Prince of Darkness aware that only the replies would be broadcast. Once a control freak, always a control freak.

Friends of Jonathan “Sparkle” Ashworth tease the shadow health secretary, who worked in Gordon Brown’s Downing Street, that he looks uncannily like the ex-prime minister in his salad days. Who is most annoyed? My 20p’s on Sparkle.

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This article appears in the 28 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Reckoning