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3 February 2021

Commons Confidential: Blue Wail Conservatives

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Hopeless Gavin Williamson is so serially inept that Boris Johnson’s inclusion of the Brainless of Britain on a National Economy Recovery Taskforce that the PM will chair with Rishi Sunak raised Treasury hackles. Names on the soon-to-launch cabinet sub-committee seem logical enough – Kwasi Kwarteng (Business), Liz Truss (Trade), Grant Shapps (Transport) and Michael Gove (Cabinet Office). But the school dunce? His inclusion is distinctly backhanded. “Just think about it,” whispered a snout. “If Gavin is spending long meetings with the PM and listening to government colleagues discussing the economy, then he has got less time to mess up education.”

The Treasury is thrilled, obviously, that a group shaping a post-virus world is to be convened comradely by the man in 11 Downing Street scheming to replace the chap in No 10. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. The arrangement is intended to show the pair marching in lockstep, yet Sunak believes he is winning a spending argument and is poised to start plugging a £400bn deficit before writing cheques for Johnson’s pet infrastructure projects. The next Budget will turn Red Wall Tories into Blue Wail Conservatives.

Knows his Harry Potter does muggle Julian Knight, ever quotable chair of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee that is generating a lot of noise. Take the ongoing inquiry into record companies’ music-streaming deals, which MPs suspect are inflating corporate profits at artists’ expense. The tone-deaf Universal boss David Joseph insisting labels weren’t Slytherin (cunning, devious) but Gryffindors (courageous, chivalrous) ended on a bum note. “I think the performance has been more Hufflepuff [nothing special] today, to be honest with you, Mr Joseph,” observed Knight. The committee has now summoned Geoff Taylor, chief executive of music trade body the BPI, after hearing rumours alleging a private firm had been paid to coach the Warner, Sony and Universal execs ahead of their grilling. Taylor must hope to avoid looking like a Vernon Dursley of Privet Drive.

Jeremy Hunt is proving a better Health Committee chair and Covid commentator than the Health Secretary, and is privately admitting he is worried about succumbing to yellow fever. The majority in his Surrey backyard more than halved to 8,817 at the last election, scythed by the biggest Lib Dem surge in any Conservative constituency. Hunt is reported to have raised the prospect of whether the political shift that rocked Labour in the north of England will eventually create southern discomfort for Tories such as him. Crikey! Discourses like that help explain why he lost the Conservative leadership crown to Johnson. Hunt is far too thoughtful. 

[see also: The dunce of Westminster]

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This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy