Commons Confidential: Leadsom’s leakers

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With their foreign jollies summarily cancelled, there’s no such thing as summer for spads chafing under the yoke of Dom Cummings, the bald svengali who rules Boris Johnson’s Downing Street. But the presence of another northern baldy at the heart of the new politburo is a welcome source of mirth for surly aides. Reading the riot act to an errant spad in the twilight of the May regime, Robbie Gibb, Theresa’s comms supremo, warned the tearaway not to follow the example of Lee Cain, Johnson’s bluff spinner. My smirking snout recalls Gibb breezily decreeing that Cain would “never work in this building again”. Mere months on, ranting Robbie’s Lancastrian nemesis is now calling the shots from his old office in No 10.

Serial splitter Chuka Umunna, now preening in radioactive Lib Dem yellow, has work to do before Westminster concludes his latest Damascene conversion is the real deal. Such is the flip-flopper’s footloose attitude to party loyalty that wary Commons flunkies manning the pigeonholes in the Members’ Lobby – usually sticklers for detail – waited more than five weeks after his defection before they added a sticker signifying his new allegiance. Wary Swinsonistas fret they’ll be the next party cut adrift by the Streatham smoothie.

Up went the blue touch paper at last month’s meeting of Labour’s ruling national executive, which agreed to give lithe Tommy Watson the party conference speech he was initially denied last year. MPs whose survival strategies depend on the dark arts of Jezza’s nominal deputy are praying for their man to do a Kinnock and lay down the gauntlet to the left, as the Welsh windbag did more than three decades ago in Bournemouth.

Paranoia rules on Victoria Street, where Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s reign began with a mischievous leak to George Osborne’s Evening Standard. An incomprehensible stream of corporate gobbledygook from the Northants no-dealer’s first meeting with civil servants appeared verbatim in the freesheet’s diary pages. Leadsom – who’s looked askance at hacks ever since her comments on May and motherhood kiboshed her 2016 leadership bid – angrily ordered a leak enquiry. For loose-lipped mandarins, mum’s the word.

Help is at hand for Tories subjected to the tender mercies of Team Boris. Stacked high in a Commons Library display at the entrance to 1 Parliament Street – the back door of choice for MPs with cause to slink into Westminster unnoticed – are briefing notes on tackling loneliness, Oxbridge elitism and school uniform costs in England. With September looming, a PM with a chaotic personal life might find one of those more useful than others.

Patrick Maguire is an NS political correspondent

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 16 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The age of conspiracy

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