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23 March 2022

Commons Confidential: Shapps’s easy-fire ideology

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The Grant Shapps that denounced P&O’s instant mass sacking of 800 crew as “shameful and utterly unacceptable” is also a champion of making it easier for firms to fire workers. A snout remembered that the Transport Secretary, while Tory chair, denounced “crazy” employment laws and claimed companies were forced to invent excuses to dismiss staff. Shapps, who earned a fortune as his alter ego Michael Green promoting get-rich-quick schemes, argued in July 2013 that his own experience convinced him bosses deserved to be able to get rid of people untroubled. “I started a printing company 23 years ago – it still runs to this day – and we always sat there,” opined Shapps, “and wondered how it is that when you know that somebody is not working out right for the company, they are just not fitting in to that role, you have to effectively end up coming up with disingenuous reasons why you need to change that role.” P&O are testing to destruction the Tory easy-fire ideology.

Disorganisation and chaos is reckoned to have spared Nadine Dorries the fate of Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, who fell for a propaganda prank call from the Russian hoaxers Vovan and Lexus. “Your office is a s***show,” a Tory MP bellowed to one of the culture warrior’s team, “and I can never get through to you so that pair had no chance.” Incompetence is occasionally a useful defence.

The saga of Keir Starmer and this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala has more twists and turns than a country road over the Pennines. It has now emerged that the Labour leader was invited to wave to the crowds but not to speak to the throng at July’s brass bands and banners working-class festival. Starmer’s office was unable to confirm he’ll attend, citing a potential diary clash. Somebody who has accepted and so would stand alongside the current leader on a hotel balcony (if he goes) is the whipless Jeremy Corbyn. The excluded one is to deliver an address in Durham Cathedral. The initials JC are appropriate for the task.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and Boris Johnson toadies Chris Heaton-Harris and Chris Pincher, the Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip brusquely enforcing obedience to a Blofeld-like Prime Minister, are losing their bite. One Conservative MP whispered the pair are known to rebellious backbenchers as Wint and Kidd, a reference to the sadistic killers in the Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. Wint and Kidd come to a sticky end, Sean Connery’s Bond setting Kidd alight with a flaming kebab skewer before tying Wint’s hands to an exploding bomb. Cold shoulders and sneering behind their backs is the fate of Westminster’s Wint and Kidd.

Defending statues of slavers and myriad exploiters of downtrodden folk around the globe is official Conservative policy, with the party chair and chief stirrer Oliver Dowden screeching “retain and explain” whenever more tactful voices call for a sculpture or painting’s removal. There is one exception, however. It’s the portrait of John Bercow in Speaker’s House, a former resident accused of bullying and lying – charges that he vehemently denies. The Watford Tory MP Dean Russell, the chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, is debating whether to expunge Bercow from history, removing his portrait from the pantheon of past speakers and storing it unseen in a cellar. I look forward to Dowden padlocking himself to the doors of Speaker’s House, demanding Bercow remain looked up to.

Knighted for services to Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign, Sir Gavin Williamson wining and dining with an inordinate number of lobby hacks is alarming his party’s whips. The honour was to shut up and go away, growled one, not sing for his supper.

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