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9 March 2022

Commons Confidential: who will gain as Truss and Patel lose?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

No 10 was thrilled that Johnson enjoyed a “Boris” namecheck in Volodymyr Zelensky’s video speech to MPs and peers (which was hailed as historic in Britain but largely unreported in Ukraine). One Conservative mover and shaker whispered that the Prime Minister purred with appreciation. Tory troops think their leader’s having a good war, unlike Priti Patel and Liz Truss who are widely considered in Westminster to be enduring stinkers. The star rating, however, goes to Ben Wallace, with one fan hailing the Defence Secretary as “top of the tree” at the moment. The former army officer has received no direct Russian funding, unlike In-Justice Secretary Dominic Raab who it was reported last year had accepted £25,000 from a banker, Dmitry Leus, for his local party in Surrey despite the Prince of Wales’s charitable foundation declining a donation. Tory officials are, I’m informed, scrutinising every penny – or maybe that should be rouble – of Russian-linked money to, as another MP indelicately put it, be “bombproof” when Labour fires salvoes of criticism.

With Ukraine shifting the focus from partygate, Labour is preparing to dampen expectations ahead of May’s local elections. In a shadow cabinet briefing this week, the party’s campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood and her deputy Conor McGinn downplayed likely gains, arguing that a poor performance by the Tories when the seats were last contested in 2018 means painting more blue patches red will be difficult. Getting excuses in first?

No invitation this year to the banners-and-brass-bands Durham Miners’ Gala for Keir Starmer. The then-newly elected Labour leader was due in 2020 to wave to the crowds from a hotel balcony and speak from the platform to the masses at Britain’s largest political festival until Covid cancelled that and the 2021 Big Meeting, with Starmer instead posting a video message. The female heads of Unison and Unite will address the throng but there’ll be no Starmer. Officially the focus is on public services. Unofficially, the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, a gala favourite, may better explain Starmer’s absence.

Sacked twice from the cabinet, Gavin Williamson cashed in the promised knighthood because he doesn’t expect a third chance, unless chum Grant Shapps succeeds Boris Johnson (which is extremely unlikely). In a rare moment of self-deprecation, the Private Pike figure was overheard repeating his infamous advice to Vladimir Putin to justify the honour. “I was given it,” grinned Sir Gormless, “to go away and shut up.” It may be the first time that Williamson wasn’t wrong.

The unrepentant former Commons speaker, John Bercow, officially condemned as a serial bully and a liar after a two-year inquiry, came out all guns blazing instead of expressing regret. Emails forwarded to me show he was advised by the right-leaning PR company of Nick Wood, an ex-Times and Express hack. Wood’s clients included the sleazy Tory MP Owen Paterson who was equally unremorseful. That also ended terribly.

[See also: Commons Confidential: Putin saves Johnson]

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