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17 February 2021

Commons Confidential: Rhodes won’t fall

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Is Boris Johnson prematurely planning VC Day – Victory over Covid? The false optimism of a Prime Minister who is his own chief cheerleader cost lives in the pandemic, yet the success of the NHS mass vaccination programme is reigniting recently concealed boosterism. Approaches have been made to the CBI and other business groups, whispered a snout, about a potential extra bank holiday this autumn to reward a weary public’s sacrifice. Johnson flicking Churchillian V for Victory signs as drinkers crowd into pubs would reinforce the self-image of a Tory with an ego the size of AstraZeneca’s order book.

Going weak at the knees at the sight of a soldier is Rishi Sunak. The Chancellor is so impressed by the army’s role in the vaccine roll-out that he told civil servants the military must be involved in every major initiative. The Royal Artillery bombarding Labour, the Parachute Regiment forcing teachers back into classrooms or Scots Guards combating Nicola Sturgeon’s independence referendum would be a triumph of Trumpism in British politics. In fairness to Sunak, whose constituency includes Catterick Garrison, the banker wishes to mobilise them peacefully. For now.

The Oxford statue of the Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes may be the first to be protected by Robert Jenrick, serving as defender of monuments to British history’s oppressors, racists and slavers. University dons mutter that Oriel College was warned the Culture Wars Secretary will fight to keep Rhodes standing even if a college commission and Oxford City Council agree he should fall. Emphasising the conserve in Conservative requires the imposition of Whitehall dictatorship over local democracy.

[see also: “It was intensely painful”: The Story of Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford]

Militant moderate Keir Starmer’s undemocratic centralism is muzzling frustrated shadow cabinet members straining at the leash to bite the Tories. Take the party’s response to taxpayer-funded snaps of Johnson’s pooch, Dilyn. “People may say we’re choked by indecision,” snarled a party official, “but I was only on three 20-minute phone calls about replying to a photograph of a dog.” Sarcasm is the lowest form of resistance, yet it’s usually followed by open revolt.

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With poll ratings in the political weeds, Ed Davey’s boast to constituents was unintentionally Pooterish: “I was also honoured to be elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in a nationwide campaign fought from my Surbiton home on Zoom.” The Good Life is a long way off for the centrist dad in south-west London. That hundreds of leaflets were wrongly delivered to homes outside Davey’s seat underlined a losing struggle for relevance.

This article appears in the 17 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, War against truth