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9 June 2021updated 06 Jul 2021 8:27am

Commons Confidential: Taxi for Williamson?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

At a shadow cabinet briefing David Lammy asked Michael Marmot, a health inequality expert, how Labour should communicate to voters the terrible impact of worsening poverty over 11 Tory years. Marmot answered it should tell the truth about serious problems and be bold on how to fix them. Comrades around the party’s top table whisper the shadow justice secretary’s own intentions will reveal whether he believes Labour can win a general election to solve the issues. The next London mayoral election is May 2024, six months before Boris Johnson must go to the country. Should Sadiq Khan pull back from a third run, my snout says, a Tottenham MP who lost out to him in 2016 fancies his chances. A capital job for Lammy would be evidence of Labour’s national woes.

Dunce Gavin Williamson is treated with increasing disrespect by cabinet colleagues. Treasury snouts whisper one of the reasons Rishi Sunak gave the Education Secretary less than a tenth of the £15bn requested for the Covid catch-up plan was that the Chancellor didn’t wish to waste money on a win for a minister he expects to be sacked. Pupils denied extra help are collateral damage.

Alarm bells will soon be ringing at the Daily Mail with a vengeful Michael Ashcroft threatening to write an unflattering biography of its Old Etonian editor Geordie Greig or the paper’s hereditary press baron, Jonathan Harmsworth, aka 4th Viscount Rothermere. Ashcroft, the billionaire former Tory deputy chair, is spitting expensive tacks over the paper’s prickly coverage of the arrest in Belize of his son’s partner over the fatal shooting of a police officer. Settling scores is Ashcroft’s hobby. Just ask David Cameron about that pig’s head.

John McDonnell, a left-wing enfant terrible turned unlikely elder statesman, startled Socialist Campaign Group comrades by praising Gordon Brown’s cheerleading for global vaccinations and global tax rates plus his hostility to foreign aid cuts. The hammer of Hayes and Harlington reassured them he isn’t going soft, but he is reaching out to new audiences. McDonnell’s reincarnations include hosting a regular people’s history podcast described as a cross between Radio 4’s In Our Time and The Long View. In the first episode on the Peasants’ Revolt, brothers and sisters may rest assured, he sided with Wat Tyler.

Grant Shapps’ Great British Railways is a rip-off of the GB Rail title that Labour planned for its train set, so Middlesbrough frontbencher Andy McDonald, who came up with the name, texted the Transport Secretary to ask if there was anything else he could do. The reply “Haha” was a red light. 

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[See also: I find taking the knee depressing – but I wouldn’t boo it]

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This article appears in the 09 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Covid cover-up?