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Curtains for Johnson?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Losing Wakefield, not council seats, could be Boris Johnson’s tipping point, predicted a plotter in the Conservative Red Wall self-preservation society. The Prime Minister’s blue nemesis claimed that a dozen or so waverers would submit letters demanding a leadership contest if the West Yorkshire seat grabbed by the Tories in 2019 goes red in its eventual by-election. Should Tiverton and Honiton, with a notionally impregnable 24,239 majority, fall it will be curtains for Johnson, forecast another backbench critic of the No 10 lawbreaker. Potential successors are stepping up manoeuvres. Worker ants championing Liz Truss have decided attack is the best form of defence, dripping particularly unpleasant personal poison about Ben Wallace, I’m told. The Foreign Secretary should remember that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

British broadcasters were called every day by Conservative Party and Downing Street spin doctors badgering them to cover the Daily Mail front page demand every morning for a week that Durham plod slap Keir Starmer in irons over a beer in April 2020. The incandescent Labour MP who observed it was the right-wing newspaper’s worst political smear since the Zinoviev letter of 1924 disturbingly sounded as if he was only half-joking.

Busy boy is Durham North West’s Richard Holden. The Tory MP, who took his Red Wall seat in 2019, knows all about hypocrisy after he got a £100 fine for dropping a cigarette butt on a pavement following his “don’t be a litter tosser” local campaign. He has been writing letters demanding Durham constabulary investigate Starmer, but that isn’t his only attack. Conservative whips cooed that hitman Holden was also one of the Mail papers’ sources for gaslighting assaults on Angela Rayner. Holden was spied in deep conversation with two Mail on Sunday hacks, according to my snout “sneaking off like a weasel down a hole” when he realised he was being watched. Immediately one of the journalists declared a source had confirmed their Rayner story.

Looking for tractors ranks alongside being ambushed by a birthday cake as one of the most mocked excuses in this parliament. Where are the Liberal Democrats toying with launching their Tiverton and Honiton by-election assault on a Blue Wall citadel after the resignation of Neil “Porn” Parish? You guessed it: a tractor dealership.

Labour MPs are feverishly speculating over who is briefing that hard-left MPs must be purged after names changed in curiously similar worded strikes. This week the Times quoted a party source asserting: “At the next election the Tories won’t make it about Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, it’ll be Keir Starmer in Richard Burgon’s pocket.” The paper said that a shadow cabinet member made the same point except with John McDonnell’s name instead of Burgon’s. Could that be the same shadow cabinet minister who Sky News back in March reported saying: “At the next election it won’t be Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, it’ll be Keir in John McDonnell’s”? My ears and WhatsApp messages are open.

Naughty boy, Nadhim Zahawi. His explanation to the NAHT school heads’ union that an unbreakable constituency commitment prevented him speaking at their annual conference in Telford was a dog ate my homework excuse. An eagle-eyed head noticed the local Telford Cons were selling £20 tickets for drinks the same night with the absent Education Secretary. Pupils have been suspended for less.

Rayner, by the way, isn’t among Labour bigwigs invited to next week’s glitzy Mail power bash in Claridges. “Think our invite may have got lost in the post sadly,” sniffed one of her team. “I assume the dress code for ladies is a burqa so the gents don’t get distracted.”

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