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10 November 2021

Commons Confidential: Liz’s leadership tour

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Back to the future as a sleaze-tainted Boris Johnson pines for an old consigliere’s return. No, not Dominic Cummings. All the Relate counsellors in the world would struggle to heal that rift. Steady Eddie, Eddie Lister, is the enforcer he’d like again as a right-hand man. My Tory snout whispered that Johnson values the judgement of the former Downing Street chief of staff and chief strategic adviser. Lister, who cleaned up for Johnson in City Hall before he entered No 10 and was rewarded with a peerage as Baron Udny-Lister, is enjoying making money at the mo. His lengthy entry in the House of Lords register of interests is filled with property developers including Stanhope, Delancey and Eco World. Johnson’s goal, revealed the snout, is to persuade Lister to return before the general election. Dan Rosenfield, the PM’s present chief of staff, won’t be happy. Johnson’s first instinct in a crisis is to reassemble the London band. He views his mayoralty as a golden period. Only the churlish would bring up the “garden bridge”, the water cannon, Boris island…

Busy, busy, busy is Instagram minister Liz Truss. She’s got the day job of Foreign Secretary and a second, evening role, vying with Rishi Sunak to succeed Johnson. Tory backbenchers are being invited to Mayfair soirees where Truss holds forth on politics. One 2019er who attended a dinner said Truss set out her Thatcherite credentials – a modern Maggie for 21st-century Global Britain. “Boris won my seat so it’s a bit early,” mused the MP, “but I was happy to eat a nice free dinner.” The Conservative Party votes with its stomach.

Farmer Mark “and” Spencer is digging in, refusing to carry the can for the Owen Paterson fiasco. The government chief whip’s little helpers were buttonholing Tory troops in Westminster before recess to inform them that they and their line manager were only following orders. Boris Johnson was the real villain behind the brutal whipping operation, MPs were told. Success has many parents; sleaze is Johnson’s unloved child.

Not all of the 2019 “Red Wall” Tory intake fought in the vanguard of the lost battle to save Paterson. But Bishop Auckland’s one-time reality TV contestant Dehenna Davison – Channel 4’s documentary series Bride and Prejudice features on her CV, alongside a spell as a parliamentary researcher for Jacob Rees-Mogg – circulated to dozens of colleagues a signed appeal for support from Paterson. Fellow MPs didn’t consider Davison’s pitch a decent advert for DSD 22 Limited, a public relations and communications company she founded. “Bad publicity and poor advice producing an electoral backlash crown Dehenna as the ideal woman to represent Geoffrey Cox,” sneered my informant.

[see also: What is the Geoffrey Cox scandal all about?]

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Hacks covering Cop26 report that avoiding Ed Miliband was a challenge, with Labour’s green evangelist keen to share his views. Relations are strained between the former Labour leader and the party’s current incumbent, I’m told. Cautious Keir is dropping radical policies such as energy nationalisation, and Miliband, who now thinks he wasn’t brave enough while leader, is said to hyperventilate in shadow cabinet meetings whenever any member dares suggest the party should be bolder. An increasingly rare occasion, by the way.