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10 March 2021

Commons Confidential: More regal than the royals

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Wesminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Kwasi Kwarteng’s desire to rebrand his Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reflects the unashamed Thatcherite’s dislike of 1970s corporatism. Yet the Secretary of State privately acknowledges he requires the support of workers and communities to green the economy. Union general secretaries cannily steer clear of using the words “industrial strategy” to avoid inciting Kwarteng in meetings, instead calling it “competitiveness and productivity”. The cabinet minister, who disbanded an Industrial Strategy Council created in 2018 by predecessor Greg Clark, should study from all angles any fresh title when he takes the IS out of BEIS. Tony Blair proposed relaunching the Department of Trade and Industry as the Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry and Science, until Alan Johnson complained that when things went wrong the “n” in Energy would be capped up and he’d be called the PENIS Secretary.

[See also: Commons Confidential: The workers divided]

The most important Liberal Democrat at the moment isn’t Facebook apologist Nick Clegg but James Holt. James who? Holt, a former Lib Dem comms chief and special adviser to Clegg, is now the UK spokesman for Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle. Former colleagues describe him as more regal than the royals. He’ll need a tin hat after that Oprah interview.

Keir Starmer was denied a platform to address directly England’s massed Red Wall working class with the cancellation of the Durham Miners’ Gala for a second July running. Organisers complained the lockdown-easing timetable didn’t give them long enough to plan a jamboree attended by 200,000. Starmer’s debut invitation to what would have been the 150-year anniversary “Big Meeting” is to be rolled over to next year. Provided he’s still in the job.

[See also: Our search for a national story]

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Second-job MPs usually admit a few hours of work a week on the side for a juicy sum. Not Central Suffolk and North Ipswich’s Dan Poulter. During the pandemic Dr Dan has registered an average 112 hours per month – around 30 hours a week – for £3,734.73 toiling in the London NHS. Boris Johnson once claimed he spent ten hours a month scribbling Daily Telegraph columns for an annual £250,000 in “chicken feed”. Critical readers wondered how they took
him so long.

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Writing for the NS fulfils the boyhood dream of a columnist who discovered the magazine in his school library, but half-sizing from a four- to a two-bed house requires painful goodbyes. Does anybody have shelf space for 18 volumes of bound copies between July 1979 and June 1988? Free to the first NS reader to email me at the Mirror who is able to collect soon in London. Promise I’ll try not to blub on the doorstep. 

[See also: Mourning and melancholia: the psychological shadow-pandemic]

This article appears in the 10 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Grief nation