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16 March 2022

Commons Confidential: A not-so-fond farewell to local Tory candidate selection

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Tory bruiser Mike Penning, Essex boy, former firefighter and Grenadier Guardsman, is to axe David Cameron’s US-style constituency primaries. Put in charge of parliamentary selections after his recent appointment by Johnson as the party’s Vice Chairman for Candidates, Sergeant Major Penning fumes the local plebiscites produced closet Lib Dems instead of traditional Tories. Chief exhibit is GP Sarah Wollaston. Picked as a candidate by Totnes folk ahead of the 2010 election, as a Tory MP she rebelled over Brexit, defected to Change UK, sat as an independent then actually joined the Libs before losing in 2019. Never again, vows Penning.

Gnarled Tory veterans are dismissing the wet-behind-the-ears “pork pie plotters” as turncoats, some of whom are suspected of having been won over by Johnson (with promises from PPS roles to a ministerial red box and car). The PM has a plan to woo the grizzled veterans too. Whips were told nominations must be submitted by the end of next month for honours in the New Year list. Spurious citations require manufacturing and light vetting has to be completed. The Cabinet Office is also braced for more dodgy donors.

Keir Starmer is to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala after all in July, raising the spicy prospect of Labour’s leader sharing a platform with Unite syndicalist Sharon Graham. Relations between the pair are strained, to put it mildly. Graham threatened to break historical links with the party over Labour-run Coventry recruiting scabs to break a council bin strike. Talks between the duo on 3 March failed to resolve the Coventry flashpoint but Starmer agreed to examine Graham’s request for stronger collective rights in Labour’s employment policies. Solidarity, comrades!

That £2,200 pay rise for MPs will come in handy for privy councillors. My snout whispers that newer members of the 700-strong oversized body are blanching over a delicate matter: buying formal attire for the day they’re summoned en masse to an Accession Council in St James’s Palace to proclaim a new King Charles after his mother shuffles off this mortal coil. Bending the knee is expensive.

Putin’s chief tormentor in parliament, Chris Bryant, was a budding actor in the National Youth Theatre before the church, then politics, called. The senior Labour MP performed alongside Nathaniel Parker who stuck with the trade and enjoyed considerable success as Inspector Lynley on BBC One and King Henry VIII in stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. Thus award-winning Parker was Bryant’s warm-up man at the Rhondda Rumbler’s 60th birthday bash. Where did it all go wrong for… Parker?

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) at the Daily Mirror  

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