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8 September 2021

Commons Confidential: Theresa’s Tory boycott?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Accused of the longest sulk since Ted Heath devoted his post-premiership decades to pouting at Margaret Thatcher, wounded Theresa May is suddenly sensitive about stalking Boris Johnson. My Tory snout whispered that the deposed prime minister will either boycott or pay merely a fleeting pilgrimage to October’s Conservative conference in Manchester. Bruised May was never likely to upstage a shameless usurper whom she’s criticised and voted against – the unfair rise in National Insurance being merely the latest mistake she dislikes from a successor she views as something nasty on the bottom of a pair of Russell & Bromley heels. May’s absence from the conference would speak volumes about fundamental disunity in the governing party.

Sun lounger-lover Dominic Raab is discovering there are people who like him and those who’ve worked for him. A civil servant muttered that officials used to play a game when the control freak Foreign Secretary was a humble housing minister in the carefree days he’d eat the “Dom Raab Special” (Pret a Manger’s chicken Caesar and bacon baguette followed by a SuperFruit pot and Vitamin Volcano smoothie) every day. Mischievous officials competed to see who could insert an extra “a” most often into his surname. Four extras – “Dominic Raaaaaab” – made it into one document, but alas didn’t get past more serious censors.

Soaring temperatures and rising blood pressures are inciting a peasants’ revolt over speaker Lindsay Hoyle’s insistence the formal dress code is obeyed in the chamber. Several women MPs complained that pearly deputy Eleanor Laing is an unsisterly tricoteuse, summoning them to the chair for a dressing down. Banning sandals may be a step too far. Revolting women defiantly sneak on to the green back benches in illicit toeless footwear, out of sight of the eye of Sauron. Lib Dem men and Jeremy Corbyn may be more obvious, particularly if sandals are matched with bright socks.

Hoyle tells me his missing wig has been found but that it is so mangy the hairpiece couldn’t be decently worn. The Speaker of the Commons vowed before his election by MPs in 2019 that he’d revive the tradition of wearing a ceremonial rug to events such as the state opening of parliament. It’s nudging three decades since a speaker wore the full bottom wig in the chamber, Betty Boothroyd was the first to go without after succeeding Bernard Weatherill. Last seen when it was offered to and politely declined by Michael Martin 21 years ago, the lost postiche was discovered during fire safety work. It would require, I gather, more than a wash and comb to be revived, so neatly cropped Hoyle will continue to preside bareheaded.

Extravagantly coiffured Tory animation Michael Fabricant objected to photographs of him being taken, I’m told, because he was wearing a Mickey Mouse jumper at a party with the West Midlands mayor Andy Street. Would Mr Mouse insist on no pictures if he had a Michael Fabricant watch? Almost certainly.

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One-time Labour Europe minister and scribbler Denis MacShane, a diarist with a 2.5 million-word personal archive, recalls a tricky sartorial moment in a new book called Must Labour Always Lose? First elected in a 1994 Rotherham by-election, MacShane admits exclaiming “for f***’s sake” at Diane Abbott when she innocently tapped him on the shoulder before his nervous debut PMQ to John Major. Immediately afterwards an apologetic Abbott explained: “You did very well. Congratulations. I just wanted to know if this lovely suit you’re wearing is silk.” It wasn’t.