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8 December 2021updated 09 Dec 2021 3:28pm

Commons Confidential: Labour’s triumph lights up No 10

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

No festive cheer for the dazed party animal in Downing Street as the Prime Minister’s Christmas lights this year were switched on by a Labour MP. Yes, a Labour MP. Swansea East’s bustling Carolyn Harris inadvertently beat Boris Johnson to the honour by a good hour. Negotiating her way through the security gates for a meeting with the Prime Minister’s special adviser, Elena Narozanski, doughty Harris noticed a crowd of school kids and musicians were also queueing to enter. Up strode the redoubtable campaigner to the famous black door. No 10 has no doorbell. Wondering how to get in, she spied a small grey box to the left so pressed the button. The door swung open and Boris Johnson’s Christmas tree simultaneously burst into twinkling glory.

The timing was pure coincidence. Harris had accidentally activated the tree. Cue mini-panic and frantic pressing to turn off the power. Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith and the SNP’s Ronnie Cowan arrived to join the fun, giggling with Harris over the PM playing second fiddle.

Sixty minutes later when Johnson performed the official ceremony, surrounded by the now carol-singing children, the PM lacked the Harris touch. After leading the countdown from ten to one, he pressed the switch and the lights flickered briefly before fizzling out. His second push proved successful, yet the farce symbolised a premiership dimmed by the shadows of sleaze and cronyism. Carolyn Harris stealing the PM’s Christmas moment sealed an unhappy end to 2021.

Slider-wearing Rishi Sunak has a keen eye for a photo opportunity, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer looks reclusive next to the Instagram Secretary Liz Truss. Her posing on a tank in Estonia triggered one of his Treasury team to brand the rival for Johnson’s crown a Thatcher tribute act. Truss might embrace that dig as a backhanded compliment. “We sometimes can’t decide if her constantly smiling for the cameras is a bit of a joke or the start of a leadership campaign,” sniffed Sunak’s man. “We must at least pretend the pictures are something to do with Rishi’s current job.” The race is on.

Keir Starmer laying down his friends to save his leadership in the shadow cabinet reshuffle leaves him a manacled hostage of the Progress faction founded in 1996 to buttress Tony Blair. The grouping, which sits on Labour’s centre right and was relaunched to little fanfare as Progressive Britain, was discussing whether to ditch Starmer until he agreed to change internal electoral rules to stymie another Corbyn-style candidate, according to one disgruntled observer on the party’s soft left. Meanwhile, the row over the suspension of Jack McKenna, Angela Rayner’s chief spin doctor, is becoming dirty: there are claims he’s being privately smeared, as Starmer’s lot publicly accuse him of a personal data breach – allegations that McKenna categorically denies. My snout reckons the saga will end in another big Labour pay-off. ’Tis the season of goodwill, after all.

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Does Tory newbie Darren Henry go to Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire very often? I ask only because the MP, who unseated Anna Soubry after she defected to the ill-starred Change UK, tweeted on 4 December this year a shot of himself in a store to promote Small Business Saturday. It was identical to the picture he used on 24 December last year to promote local shopping. Recycling is eco-friendly and all the rage, I suppose.

Talking of recycling, two neighbours of a Tory peer – a doddery crony rewarded with a seat on the burgundy benches for lobby-fodder loyalty in the Commons and an unremarkable stint in cabinet – inform me that the Westminster block’s ermined tippler goes to great lengths to conceal his empties. Instead of putting them out with the rubbish, Baron Bottle leaves home with the glassware in bags to dump them one by one in bins he passes on the way to parliament. Maybe the route could be a new tourist trail.

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Conservative whips are proving annoyingly coy but I’m informed they believe a former minister snorted cocaine in parliament, as did somebody they describe as wanting a peerage but who will never wear ermine. Unless he donates, purely coincidentally, a larger small fortune to Conservative coffers, we may presume. Best not mention Michael Gove or Boris Johnson, who both admit past consumption.

Seeking a good home for half a lifetime’s Private Eyes is another ex-MP, Stephen Pound. He’s keen to be rid of 700-plus editions of the mag dating from the 1970s to the present. His daughter’s moving back in and the copies take up more room than she would I trust there’s still space for a Christmas tree.

This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special