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17 March 2021

Commons Confidential: The cabinet reactionary

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Home Office civil servants contrasted Priti Patel’s initially cautious response to ugly scenes of police officers arresting women on Clapham Common in south London with her molten anger that the Met didn’t crack more heads of Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protesters. “She isn’t two-faced,” observed an official, “but it is sometimes difficult to marry up her responses.” The cabinet reactionary, who on her appointment denied previously supporting the death penalty despite BBC Question Time footage from 2011 showing her calling for the return of capital punishment, is a knee-jerk politician creaking under scrutiny.


The London mayoral candidate from hell, Shaun Bailey, was picked to be a good loser, securing a base for a future Tory with a decent chance of winning London. His chaotic and offensive campaign, recently criticised for a crude attempt to capitalise on Sarah Everard’s murder, has Bailey going backwards fast. Conservatives are despairing, as polls suggest Sadiq Khan’s woeful challenger could finish below Zac Goldsmith’s first-round 35 per cent in 2016.

[see also: How Priti Patel became unsackable]

Boris Johnson’s £2.6m propaganda centre in Downing Street will be a gilded dock for Allegra Stratton when the former journalist, hired as a front of house apologist for the PM, hosts White House-style media briefings. At a recent off-camera lobby meeting, Stratton refused to apologise for her boss, who made a false claim at PMQs about Labour voting against an NHS pay rise. Antics like this will backfire spectacularly when televised. No wonder staffers whisper she can’t wait for previous employer and the best man at her wedding, Rishi Sunak, to succeed Johnson as PM. As long as hacks don’t focus on the fabulous wealth of a banker Chancellor and his heiress wife, obviously.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s UK spokesman, James Holt, may be the most interesting, as well as important, Liberal Democrat at the moment, according to stories told by colleagues of Nick Clegg’s former special adviser. His performing as a drag queen might appeal to the thespian Duchess, and a winged angel tattoo across his back could remind the Duke of flying helicopters in Afghanistan. The high-profile TV journalist said to have written a letter of apology after pulling at Holt’s shirt to glimpse the inked celestial figure will blush when he reads this.


Omitted in reports of the Commons Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans being jabbed in Blackburn Cathedral by transport minister Andrew Stephenson, who was working as an NHS volunteer, was the stage whisper of a watching medic. “To needle a speaker and get away with it must be satisfying,” mused the NHS staffer. Quite.

[see also: Commons Confidential: More regal than the royals]

This article appears in the 17 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The system cannot hold