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25 November 2020

Commons Confidential: Sunak’s self-promotion

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Sustained shameless self-promotion is backfiring on Rishi Sunak. The obsessive publicity-seeker triggered a revolt in Tory ranks by plastering his moniker on a Conservative infographic boasting of higher military spending. One blue MP on the foreign affairs committee snarled Sunak’s “an arse, an arse, I tell you” because he’d resisted the increase until forced to surrender. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Blackadder’s Captain Darling in the cabinet, circulated a collective HM government image in the name of the PM. The Treasury braggart taking credit for colleagues’ successes is creating vengeful enemies.

No love’s lost in the Home Office between the bullying secretary, sweary Priti Patel, and the policing minister, uber-ambitious Kit Malthouse. Scenting blood, “friends” of the manoeuvring Malthouse swiftly spun he’d be her ideal replacement as home secretary. Barely 72 hours earlier the same friends punted Malthouse, a deputy mayor when Johnson was in London City Hall, as the perfect chief of staff for No 10. Word is the recruitment process for a Downing Street enforcer is on hold to find a high-flyer in the New Year. Malthouse’s friends probably think that means he needs a pilot’s licence.

Double strife for Keir Starmer as two old foes end his honeymoon. The first is Jeremy Corbyn: a majority of the shadow cabinet fear their leader’s failure to restore the Labour whip was a mistake by a man without a plan. The second is Brexit: a sizeable chunk of the shadow cabinet are also aghast that Starmer favours Labour backing any deal, however bad. There’s talk of resignation threats among staunch Europeans.

[see also: Rishi Sunak’s comprehensive spending review is a return to the rhetoric of austerity]

Grumblings are increasingly heard, too, about David Evans, Starmer’s pick as Labour general secretary. The National Executive Committee panel restoring the former leader’s party membership was no Corbynista cabal. Permitting Evans’s suspension of Jezza to be overturned after a mere 17 days, in a party never noted for expeditious disciplinary decisions – Jarndyce and Jarndyce resembles summary justice compared with lethargic Labour – was an embarrassing rebuff for the chief apparatchik.

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George Osborne is relieved that the Tory scribbler Sasha Swire erased embarrassing details of his divorce and his courtship with the former Treasury spad Thea Rogers, now his girlfriend, from her diary – while David Cameron is portrayed as a randy toff who said he wanted to “give [Swire] one” in some Cornish clifftop bushes. Osborne read a draft, I’m told, and Cameron didn’t bother. Cameron adopting a similar approach to Europe resulted in Brexit and his political defenestration.

Lord Cummings of Barnard Castle? I leave the thought hanging.

This article appears in the 25 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Trump