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13 October 2021

Commons Confidential: Gavin Williamson’s unpopularity drive

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

He was shown the cabinet door by equally incompetent Boris Johnson after a string of education fails, yet blundermouth Gavin Williamson continues to lose friends and alienate people. This time the MP for a Nimby-land, leafy chunk of Staffordshire has upset neighbouring Tories by calling for more houses to be built on Black Country “wastelands” to protect his green belt. Conservative colleagues in West Midlands areas such as Dudley and Sandwell are less than enamoured with his portrayal of their backyards as industrial badlands ripe for steamrollers, while Williamson erects a fence around his constituency. My snout grumbled that if the expected consolation knighthood was put to a vote by Downing Street, Williamson would be lucky to win a Tufty Club badge.

Peter Mandelson’s back under Keir Starmer’s new Labour regime and “Being Peter”. Word reaches me of a party dinner on foreign affairs at which the lobbyist peer talked regularly over the women present including Chi Onwurah, an engineer and the shadow digital and science minister. My informant relayed how Mandelson’s hectoring proved too much for another participant, Labour MP Chris Bryant. The one-time vicar snapped: “Oh do shut up, Peter” when the only voice Mandelson wished to hear was his own. Incredibly, he stopped Being Peter. For a brief period.

MP for the 18th-century Jacob Rees-Mogg continues his gilded passage through the 21st century with a remarkable lack of awareness. Margaret Thatcher was his heroine since middle-aged early boyhood and in Manchester’s Hawksmoor restaurant the self-absorbed leader of the Commons didn’t appear to hear a cheeky staff member putting on the 1980s anti-Thatcher anthem “Stand Down Margaret” by ska band the Beat. The Moggster would have been on his feet at the first muffled note of “Rule, Britannia!” 

Appointed a UN special representative, hands-face-space invader Matt Hancock looked as ex as any ex-cabinet minister earlier this week, forlornly wandering Portcullis House in recess on the eve of the MPs’ report condemning Covid mistakes that needlessly killed thousands of people. My spy watched the former health secretary going up and down lifts with a Longchamp travel bag over his shoulder. I checked and they don’t appear on sale in Oliver Bonas shops.

Welsh minister David TC Davies is non-reading proof an index can cost sales of political books. Discovering he isn’t mentioned in self-styled “reformed establishment lackey” Andrew Mitchell’s memoir Beyond a Fringe, prickly TC was overheard mumbling he wouldn’t buy a copy but might have needed to shell out cash to check had names not been listed. The other side of the coin is vain politicians purchase when they are included. By the way, rare unsigned copies of Mitchell’s work are available.

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