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6 January 2021

Commons Confidential: Snubs and strategy secrets

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Rampaging Covid isn’t the only danger on the mind of paranoid Boris Johnson. The PM is spooked by his second ex-wife Marina Wheeler’s personal story of her family’s Indian roots. According to my dismayed snout, aides were horrified to find Johnson nervously devouring the barrister’s newly published book, The Lost Homestead, during the crucial final hours of Brexit negotiations. This account is supported by a slip in a propaganda photograph released shortly before Christmas that sought to portray Johnson as an impatient man of destiny. Look closely and an open copy is visible on the desk of his Downing Street study. The PM, I’m told, feared the former Mrs Johnson would include a coded snub, so scrutinised the pages himself. Examining the book in the office rather than at home also presumably avoids flaunting a past love in front of Carrie Symonds.

[See also: Keir Starmer faces his biggest challenge yet in lockdown three]

Paranoia in No 10 isn’t confined to the nominal boss. Officials are venting again at Rishi Sunak, accusing the Chancellor of unwittingly giving away secrets to TUC comrade Frances O’Grady during regular conversations. A Downing Street moaner has made unsubstantiated claims that O’Grady leaks to Keir Starmer, who has developed a habit of pre-empting government announcements. O’Grady is a champion of playing fair and obeying the rules, so these preposterous insinuations smack of sour grapes on the part of Downing Street officials.

[See also: Why the lockdown debate was always conducted on false terms]

Nor is Johnson’s pulling power what it was. Another aide whimpered the PM was kept hanging on the line by Captain Tom. The knighted NHS fundraiser prioritised an appearance on BBC Breakfast over taking No 10’s call. The self-styled People’s Premier is just another political huckster compared with Sir Thomas Moore, a true hero of the masses.

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Cabinet estate agent Robert Jenrick has suggested, I’m informed, that he may impose commissioners to run Liverpool after its mayor, Joe Anderson, the militant tyro turned property developer, and four others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and intimidation. All deny wrongdoing and the move would be politically incendiary in a solid Labour city. Liverpool should propose twinning with Jenrick’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to send a team to take control of the department after the secretary of state’s unlawful tax-saving deal with the Tory donor Richard Desmond.

Labour live wire Chris Bryant is finding that an extended online presence attracts inquiries such as when Lidl opens. The Rhondda rumbler would be off his trolley not to shop for votes with info items like that. 

This article appears in the 06 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control