New Times,
New Thinking.

Commons Confidential: The puppet and puppeteer

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

As he is the pin-up boy for the porkiest of pork-barrel politics, Robert Jenrick’s shared responsibility for the £4bn “levelling up” slush fund is setting alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. Mandarins are discussing the need for “robust” rules on the kitty, which Labour views as re-election bribes for Red Wall Tories. Spender-in-chief Jenrick has form as long as his arm; last month he faced claims of bias when, after some departmental shenanigans, his Nottinghamshire constituency of Newark received £25m of the £3.6bn Towns Fund, while poorer areas missed out. The Housing Secretary also overruled official advice to assist Tory donor Richard Desmond to avoid a potential £45m community levy the day before a development tax came into force. Devising stringent rules is one thing, imposing them another.


Relocation, relocation, relocation. Rishi Sunak considering Darlington or Teesside for a Treasury outpost is surely not entirely unconnected to how much handier the move would be for the Chancellor than, say, Goole or Gateshead. With ministers expected to spend part of the week in satellite offices, Sunak could enjoy long weekends in his mansion set in 12 acres of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s not who you know, but where they live.


Where the finger of suspicion points in the Downing Street inquiry into who leaked Boris Johnson’s plan to impose the England-wide, month-long lockdown is discernible from this No 10 snout. “Why,” he whispered, “do you think Boris would sack the Govester when he’s suddenly the puppet and the PM the puppeteer?” With Gove back doing what he’s told, this may be another leak inquiry lost in the long grass.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.


[see also: Commons Confidential: Sunak’s self-promotion]


Keen to emphasise he is as Kentish as oasts and Pop Larkin, county MP Tom Tugendhat misses no opportunity to extol the charms of the Rock public house in Chiddingstone Hoath. Yet his doing so is upsetting regulars. “Seeing as no one in there would recognise our supposedly local MP,” messaged a beery fixture, “I hope he has a strong imaginative flair.” Short of standing a round every Friday night, I fear the chair of the foreign affairs committee may be put off his pint by the smouldering resentment of drinkers when he drops in.


Zoom calls are no longer polite between ministers and business leaders, I’m told. One head of a major company complained that the stop-start lockdowns had destroyed goodwill. His verdict on government players: Michael Gove is shifty, Alok Sharma clueless, Johnson annoyingly vague and falsely upbeat, while Sunak asks intelligent questions and is well briefed. 

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy

This article appears in the 02 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed