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10 December 2020

Commons Confidential: Shop-soiled mannequins

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Ministerial meetings in February and March pencilled rather than inked into diaries make this an unhappy Christmas for anxious cabinet members fearing redundancy in a coming reshuffle. Unemployment is forecast to hit 2.6 million but the job Alok Sharma worries about is his own. Gavin Williamson must be fretting too that Boris Johnson will realise that a Debenhams shop-soiled mannequin would prove a better education secretary. My snout whispers private offices are on alert for a bunch of nonentities to be replaced by a fresh spray of nonentities.


Going nowhere soon, or so Johnson hopes, is Rishi Sunak. Rumours are growing of a rift between the PM and an ambitious Chancellor making no secret of his desire to move from 11 to 10 Downing Street. The latest battleground is public spending. Johnson is urging Sunak to get out the national credit card next spring. The Chancellor, an Eeyore banker, insists that the plastic is maxed out as he begins implementing austerity cuts and calculating tax rises to pay virus bills. Johnson-Sunak tensions aren’t a Blair-Brown civil war, but nor is theirs a Cameron-Osborne bromance. The PM versus the Chancellor will be a fascinating 2021 bout.


Keir Starmer started December self-isolating after a staffer tested positive for the virus, and his deputy, Angela Rayner, is locked in a feud with John McDonnell. Angry messages have been exchanged between the pair, I am informed. The former shadow chancellor fumes that the party’s number two abandoned his protégé (and her old friend and flatmate), Rebecca Long-Bailey. Starmer dismissed Wrong-Daily in an anti-Semitism row. Rayner, who advocated Corbyn’s suspension and whip removal, raised the stakes, telling the Jewish Labour Movement that the party is prepared to suspend “thousands and thousands of members”. The chilliness between Rayner and Long-Bailey/McDonnell illustrates that in politics a friend in trouble is a bloody nuisance.

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[see also: Ian Hislop’s diary: Art on Zoom, podcast intrigue and box sets – 2020 hasn’t been all bad]

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Journalists briefed by the outgoing No 10 comms chief Lee Cain whisper he demands his musings are attributed to the Dominic Cummings camp, creating the impression that his views are directly from the co-Leaver. Once a spin doctor, always a spinner.


MPs detect an iciness between Lindsay Hoyle and Eleanor Laing, the Speaker’s senior deputy. The temperature plunged after he replaced her in the chair during tetchy clashes over a Jacob Rees-Mogg plot to dictate which shielding MPs could join debates by video.


A radar-lugged snout overheard Tory MPs discussing an evening’s revelry in a public house with an aristocratic moniker in Waterloo, London. Lockdown- breaking law-makers? 


This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special