Commons Confidential: Gove goes Fox-hunting

Michael Gove and Liam Fox engaged in what an informant gleefully calls “blazing rows”. 

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Stung by barbs that ambition marches far ahead of ability, work experience Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is scrambling to recover a little of his lost authority. The former fireplace salesman, who quacks like a Yorkshire mallard, is receiving voice coaching, whispered a Tory snout, in the hope of sounding Churchillian. Wimpy Williamson, hurt by the Private Pike jibes, requires far more than a borrowed growl to armour up and be taken even half seriously. The stupid boy’s most famous attack, inviting Russia to “shut up and go away”, is toe-curlingly witless whatever the lightweight’s tone.

When Brextremists fall out will honest Remainers come by their own? Two old Leavers-in-arms, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, engaged in what an informant gleefully calls “blazing rows” over how far Britain sails from continental Europe. The dispute was triggered over the future of environmental rules. Green convert Gove believes it’s best to stick close to existing regulations, while fly-tipper Fox wants them dumped to free his hands in trade negotiations. The dispute’s more fundamental than whether Donald Trump insists British carnivores be force-fed chlorinated chicken as part of a UK-US deal. Cabinet Brextremists angrily falling out with each other is the first piece of good news Theresa May’s heard this year.

The Malaysian owners of the Gay Hussar don’t want the restaurant but they’re fighting to retain Martin Rowson’s caricatures which adorn the walls. The cartoonist, a director of the Goulash Co-operative scheming to save the famous London leftie canteen, insists the sketches of the great and bad, collectively worth £30,000 for insurance purposes, remain his and is insisting that the Corus company returns them. This bitter dispute’s unlikely to be settled over a lunchtime bowl of chilled wild cherry soup and three bottles of bull’s blood.

There’s grumbling from peers about Labour’s small Leaver band criticising the vermin in ermine for challenging Brexit. My lordly source remarked that MPs Frank Field and Kate Hoey regularly lunch in “the other place”, while Graham Stringer’s no stranger to the bars. The welcome may not be as warm in the future.

Bumptious Matt “goes off half-cocked” Hancock’s face was a picture when Tommy “no dinners” Watson turned the tables on the Culture Secretary at a music awards ceremony. Hancock looked pleased with himself after mocking Watson for low ticket sales to the JezFest. Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy, who responded by praising Half-cocked for adopting Labour policies banning fixed-odds terminals in betting shops and saving small music venues, showed it’s always better to have the last word.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Conservatives in crisis