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12 January 2022

Commons Confidential: Will Sue Gray doom Boris Johnson?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Downing Street’s besieged gang worry that the Geidt-out-of-jail-free card handed to Boris Johnson over his wallpaper will backfire on the party animal by further stiffening the resolve of Sue Gray, the civil servant in charge of the Downing Street parties inquiry. My No 10 snout wept that the formidable Gray will be determined to avoid the public opprobrium heaped on establishment crony Christopher Geidt, the PM’s adviser on ministers’ interests and former private secretary to the Queen, since the peer swallowed Johnson’s claim he forgot messages personally requesting cash from ermined Tory donor David Brownlow. “Gray has a fearsome reputation for probity that she’ll wish to protect more than ever,” wailed the snout, “so we’ll receive zero favours on parties. We’re bloody doomed!” Even Johnson’s silver linings are enveloped by large dark clouds.

Nor does the weather look lovely for BYOB emailer Martin “Party Marty” Reynolds. The word in Whitehall is that the search is already under way to replace the No 10 principal private secretary. An informant whispered that one female high-flyer in the Cabinet Office confided to colleagues that she’s been approached by Johnson as she canvassed fellow civil servants over whether it would be wise to accept the job. My free advice is to check the small print and ensure the post is working for whoever is PM rather than the current (as I write) incumbent.

The method used by the party leaker in photographing Reynolds’s email from their mobile instead of forwarding the invitation was the same deployed to release the Allegra Stratton giggly video clip. If the source is playing games to spook Downing Street, the ruse is a winner. No 10’s paranoia is off the scale. Johnson’s one-time chief adviser and Brexit co-conspirator Dominic Cummings wallows loudly in his quest to bring down the PM, a Rasputin departing Downing Street with a treasure trove of information. No 10 claims to also detect the hand of former comms chief and Cummings henchman Lee Cain, who walked out at the same time after the pair lost a power battle with Johnson’s influential wife, Carrie. Revenge is a dish best served spinning?

Among Conservative backbenchers denouncing Johnson was Shipley bookie Philip Davies, who gives short odds on the PM surviving. The right-winger called the parties “impossible to justify and defend” and the Tory tea room chat is that Davies, married to ex-cabinet minister Esther McVey, is so disillusioned he might quit at the next general election. A serial rebel, he may discover whoever is leader sheds few tears.

Taken off the airwaves since a BBC One Question Time audience laughed at her, the vanished vaccines minister Maggie Throup was compared by MPs to a submarine never allowed to surface. Two of her party’s backbenchers mischievously claim that she was only given the junior health position because she served as the Johnson camp’s eyes and ears during Matt Hancock’s 2019 leadership campaign. Cruel and utterly unfounded, I’m sure.

Unintended consequences and all that, as Covid closures of Strangers’ Bar and the Pugin Room in Wesminster has resulted in MPs crowding into the smoking room and competing with lords in the peers’ guest room. My thirsty complainer suggested that every drink should come with a free lateral flow test.

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