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3 December 2021

Commons Confidential: No Drama Starmer

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

There were no fireworks between Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner when Labour’s reshuffled, slimmer shadow cabinet met this week for the first time. “Everybody feeling happy and the absence of a kerfuffle,” whispered my snout with a seat still at the table. There are three possible explanations, according to the snout: “a victory for the leader, she’s surrendered, or the deputy wasn’t unduly bothered at the lack of consultation”. Time will tell. Wigan’s levelled-across Lisa Nandy, redeployed for hand-to-hand Red Wall combat with Michael Gove, is a former shadow foreign secretary who in her old post didn’t go much beyond Oldham because of Covid travel curbs. David Lammy should at least get to use his passport.

[See also: Keir Starmer begins a reshuffle – and picks a fight New Statesman]

Fresh-faced Wes Streeting’s rise to the health brief is as rapid as his transition from Marxism to militant moderation. The 38-year-old was a teenage trot in Hornchurch where he made then local MP John Cryer, PLP chair and a left-winger who now represents Leyton and Wanstead, appear an orthodox man of the right. The young Streeting joined the socialist campaign group network and sold the faction’s newspaper. Quitting the Corbynista caucus was a smart career decision. Two years ago it dominated the shadow cabinet. Today it hasn’t a single member.

Party animal Boris Johnson’s clash with UK Health Security Agency chief Jenny Harries over socialising this Christmas isn’t the only Covid dispute causing consternation. No 10 and Sajid Javid fear mass resignations from Sage, I am told. My informant commented that the Department of Health and Social Care is so nervous it recognises that it needs to suddenly pretend it’s listening again to largely sidelined experts in order to avert an omishambles over the Omicron variant.

[see also: The global race to contain Omicron]

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Anxious to reassert his Thatcherite hostility to public spending, the Chancellor’s routine cropping of spending proposals from Whitehall departments is earning Sunak a new nickname among trimmed ministers: Rishi Scissorhands.

Former well-unfair secretary Esther McVey was retrospectively told by Acoba, the committee overseeing the business appointments of ex-ministers, that she is allowed to be a GB News presenter despite breaking rules by failing to seek approval in advance. The body’s chair, Tory peer Eric Pickles, ruled the risk of exploiting inside information was low, and so has recommended there be no sanctions. Viewers of McVey’s show might agree, but the DWP wasn’t as lenient with benefit claimants who fluffed full disclosure when she ran the welfare system.

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Publicly unabashed political bulldozer Nadine Dorries is said in Westminster to privately resent “Nadsplaining”. The culture wars secretary displayed such remarkable ignorance on Channel 4 that former deputy PM Damian Green had to explain it’s publicly owned, not publicly subsidised: a not-for-profit TV station being targeted for privatisation despite receiving no taxpayer pennies and, indeed, recording an operating surplus. Mansplaining is a man explaining to a woman what she knows better. Nadsplaining is everybody correcting Dorries.

Burly rugby-playing Tory ex-security minister Mike Penning, 64, is rehearsing to play Santa in his Hertfordshire patch by growing a beard. Let’s hope Brexit trade barriers and lorry driver shortages don’t leave him with a toyless sack.