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10 February 2021

Commons Confidential: Machiavelli was a Boy Scout

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Itchy feet, Michael Gove. Having made a pig’s ear of Brexit, he is anxious to move on from the Cabinet Office. Whitehall officials working with him on the Covid-19 response whisper he is jabbing for Health, dropping unsubtle hints that Matt Hancock has “done a good job” and “deserves a move”. Taking the helm of a high-profile department in a virus recovery phase would inject oomph into leadership credentials and inoculate him against daily responsibility for lorry jams. Machiavelli was a Boy Scout compared with Gove. The cunning operator has even suggested Hancock might like Education. What about the incumbent, Gavin Williamson? Gavin who?

Operation “Come on Arlene” is under way in Downing Street, with the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, instructed to reinforce the province’s wobbling First Minister, Arlene Foster. Graffiti in east Belfast calling for Foster, a moderate in DUP terms, to go is alarming No 10 when her most likely successor is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a hardliner who opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Donaldson will leverage no surrender over an Irish Sea border.

No big yurt politics from the lanky dullard Daniel Kawczynski. The Faragist Tory appointed trade envoy to Mongolia by Boris Johnson made International Trade Secretary Liz Truss grimace during a briefing with Tory MPs. “We need to form new alliances outside Europe, so we must destroy the EU,” puffed the Shrewsbury beanpole. Even Conservative Brexiteers on the call agreed that a Derangedynski – formally rapped by his party for attending an Italian conference with far-right figures in 2020 – had gone too far. Again.

Royals are supposed to stay out of party politics, which is a blow for Ed Davey when his struggling Lib Dems need every vote they can get. A party insider whispered that Prince Charles had suggested to predecessors Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg that he was a fellow traveller, expressing delight that the latter was deputy PM in the ConDem coalition because “you have the best policies on the environment and you will be able to implement them”. Charlie’s mother may not be amused.

Stickler for standards, Lindsay Hoyle. The Commons Speaker is demanding that a shirt-tie-jacket dress code for male members is obeyed by MPs asking questions via video links. The chair summoned a government whip when the Tory Brextremist Bill Cash took back control to appear in short sleeves. Erskine May doesn’t include a Jackie Weaver mute button. Yet. 

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[see also: Blue Wail Conservatives]

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This article appears in the 10 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair