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6 January 2022updated 12 Jan 2022 5:02pm

Commons Confidential: Will Streeting succeed Starmer?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Over in Labour land, Keir Starmer is more secure, notwithstanding a second bout of Covid and a sixth spell of isolation. Yet rave reviews for the newly promoted Wes Streeting – a City acquaintance reports that even bankers from the shadowy US investment fund BlackRock hailed the shadow health secretary as a left-winger they could do business with – could prove a blessing in disguise for a leader under house arrest. Jealousy, however, remains a curse in a party ostensibly committed to fraternity. Two shadow cabinet members accused Streeting in my hearing of running an unofficial leadership campaign while a third insisted they didn’t care as long as he helped win the general election. Starmer might be wise to keep friends close and the Ilford idol closer.

Mocked by one cropped member as the shortest poppy field in history, two rivals desperate to blossom in Boris Johnson’s dustbowl cabinet will be pivotal in 2022. A Prime Minister with a voracious, insatiable ego isn’t alone in cutting down competitors now that fan boys and girls of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss wield the secateurs. The Chancellor’s dirty tricks brigade is asking whether “fizz with Liz” enjoyed undeclared discounts whining and dining Tory MPs at the Conservative donor Robin Birley’s loss-making 5 Hertford Street private members’ club. The club offered a discount on a separate lunch she hosted in June provided the bill was paid immediately. The Truss gang returned fire by taunting the Treasury team over Sunak’s struggle to convince sceptical right-wingers that he’s a true Thatcherite tax cutter. The Chancellor’s charm offensive backfired in a tête-à-tête with David Davis, with Sunak looking ashen as the backbench bruiser and former Brexit secretary responded to the wannabe PM’s insistence that they’re both disciples of Maggie by demanding to know how that could be true of when the Chancellor is imposing the highest tax burden for 70 years. Johnson’s best chance of surviving may be potential successors scything fellow contenders for the crown, leaving nobody standing tall.

Tory clodhopper Daniel Kawczynski is giving up Polish lessons after a backlash against the Warsaw-born beanpole charging taxpayers £22,000 to learn a language he’d previously claimed to be fluent in. The Shrewsbury MP told his local paper that he’d wanted to improve reading and writing in Polish under a parliamentary scheme. Forced to apologise for bullying Commons staff and pleading with a fixer to secure a well-paid second job with a Saudi firm to help pay school fees, a lack of polish rather than Polish may be Disaster Dan’s downfall. Conservative MPs whisper Kawczynski frets he could be deselected with the Shropshire curse striking another Conservative after the self-destruction of former neighbour Owen Paterson.

The Lib Dems’ victory in Paterson’s former blue stronghold has Conservative Campaign Headquarters taking the Liberal Democrats seriously for the first time since they cannibalised their coalition partners in 2015. My snout whispered that a luckless Tory staffer is belatedly trawling the Lib Dem Voice website and watching endless YouTube party conference clips for ammunition. Ed Davey is entitled to regard it as a backhanded compliment from one-time government colleagues. I suggest the Tory snooper should fast-forward to the bit at the 1994 Lib Dem conference where a younger, idealistic Liz Truss opposes the monarchy before later defecting to the Conservatives.

Vainglorious Brextremist Mark Francois has sold at least one copy of his self-published Spartan story. Guffawing Tory MPs in the tearoom read aloud extracts in mockney accents. Come to think of it, the volume could’ve been a freebie. That would be a final insult.

[see also: Commons Confidential: The Tories’ poison pens]

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