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2 March 2022

Commons Confidential: Putin saves Johnson

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The first casualty of war is partygate, with a consensus emerging among Conservative MPs that Vladimir Putin has saved Boris Johnson. A critic on the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers predicted that the Prime Minister would survive even a lockdown fine during the war in Ukraine and that, if he is still in No 10 in September, he would make it all the way to the next general election. Napoleon reputedly wanted lucky generals. Reckless, damaged Johnson is fortunate that a deranged despot in the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

Former Labour leaders who lost three general elections between them, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn shuffled like strangers in a bus queue while waiting for coffee at the Despatch Box café in Portcullis House. Only two other customers separated them in the line yet it could have been a million as the pair studiously avoided each other, not even glancing, never mind flicking a smile or sharing a few words. Whipless Corbyn cut a lonely figure in his pastiche Chairman Mao cap while the younger Milibrother awkwardly chatted to aides before sloping off. Stalinist Starmer will approve of the cold shoulder for his predecessor.

The cost of the National Insurance rise is obsessing the Conservatives’ revolting MPs. My snout in the Tea Room overheard Tories calculating that most of a £2,212 pay increase to £84,144 will be grabbed by Rishi Sunak in tax, including a £900 increase from April. The grumbling echoes Labour renegades objecting to John Smith’s 1992 shadow budget after doing their personal sums. Back then most of the country would still have been quids in. Not now.

Also obsessing bellicose Tories nibbling crumpets are energy prices as sanctions against Vlad the Invader fuel higher petrol and gas bills. Bookie Philip Davies, a deep blue noisily hostile to green policies, was overheard betting that failing to frack or drill fresh North Sea fields would be the Conservatives’ next poll tax. One later grumbled that right-whinger Davies’ ideological forefathers had in fact championed the so-called community charge.

Boris Johnson has apologised to Matt Hancock for calling him “totally f***ing hopeless” during the pandemic in texts leaked by Dominic Cummings, an informant whispered. The PM blamed pressure for the outburst. Covid rule breaker Hancock and lover Gina Coladangelo’s rehabilitation includes posing for pics. A snout was amused to watch the Financial Times scribbler Sebastian Payne ask the pair for a selfie at the Brits. Edwardian stickler Jacob Rees-Mogg wouldn’t approve. The register of ministerial meetings records Payne staying overnight in Moggy’s home. Nanny may consider that levelling down.

Tone-deaf immigration minister Kevin Foster’s heartless advice that Ukrainian refugees should apply to work on farms hasn’t gone down well with colleagues. “He’s a few pickers short of a harvest,” sniffed another minister.

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