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4 November 2020

Commons Confidential: The PM who cried wolf

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Boris Johnson’s mind was made up on the English lockdown by a cabinet leaker. My snout whispers that the Prime Minister had not formally agreed to call time on pubs and restaurants by the end of the No 10 summit with Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock. Rather, he’d requested three additional papers from experts Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance ahead of a final decision. The account would help explain Saturday’s chaos, where a TV address to the nation was nearly three hours late – Johnson needed a delay to decide exactly what he would close. Downing Street points the finger at a special sieve in Gove’s team. My snout reports No 10 called other news organisations to reveal there had been a leak, confirming a shutdown was coming. In the government virus shambles there are no time-outs for struggling Johnson.


Treasury fury illustrates how Sunak and Keir Starmer are already preparing to face each other once Johnson is substituted by Tory MPs. The Chancellor’s minions grumbled to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) after Starmer was given a prime morning speaking spot at its virtual conference, and was invited to broadcast in person from ITN on Gray’s Inn Road instead of appearing remotely on a dodgy Labour link. The Treasury pointed out menacingly that No 10 hates the CBI, so it would be unwise to alienate No 11 when its occupant may soon move next door.


Spurs fan Iain Duncan Smith opened an online meeting with the manager José Mourinho by asking what went wrong when the team threw away a 3-0 lead over West Ham United with fewer than ten minutes to go. The Chingford MP and former Tory leader was less voluble as Tottenham Hotspur’s chairman, Daniel Levy, went studs up about Oliver Dowden. Levy complained the Culture Secretary displays little enthusiasm for football (I’d add nor for music and the arts) and snubs clubs producing Covid-secure plans to let supporters watch games in stadiums. Right-winger IDS, a critic of virus restrictions, might privately cheer if an uninterested Dowden was shown the red card.

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Johnson has built a career fabricating cynical lies, so it is karma that he now attracts a flurry of officially denied claims. The latest is that fiancée Carrie Symonds was helicoptered to Scotland specifically to pose for camping photographs last summer. The usually reliable source circulating this titbit maintains it is true; Johnson’s circle is adamant that it isn’t. Johnson discovering that he isn’t believed when, like the boy who cried wolf, he occasionally protests that he is telling the truth was celebrated as a delicious irony by one of his sniggering MPs. 

This article appears in the 04 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, American chaos