Commons confidential: Hancock faces the chop

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Straining to appear regal in Zoom broadcasts with a Damien Hirst “spin painting” of the Queen behind him, for Matt Hancock fighting Covid-19 isn’t enough. The hapless Health Secretary found time in his busy coronavirus schedule to discuss Brexit with business leaders. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings won’t be happy when they discover he veered from the government’s line that the UK will definitely be quids in from quitting the EU.

Hancock informed the webinar how International Trade Secretary Liz Truss discovered a possible deal with New Zealand that could actually cut GDP by 0.01 per cent should Kiwis ram shops with cheap lamb, putting out to grass Blighty’s poor hill farmers. The chop surely awaits.

Times are hard but Gordon Brown’s old photocopy boy and former shadow chancellor, Chris Leslie, resurfacing as an apologist for bailiffs and debt collectors, invited scorn. The new chief executive of the Credit Services Association isn’t the only discarded Change UK MP to secure a nice little earner. Angela “funny tinge” Smith joined Portsmouth Water’s board, while PR and lobbying outfit Edelman hired Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger. Slick Umunna is fronting an environmental unit, so his desire to “get involved at the coalface” went down like a hundred weight sack of carbon fossil fuel.

Forget TikTok when ministers are scared stiff over the tick-tock of retaliatory sanctions threatened by Beijing to make life unpleasant for Britain’s corporate jewels. My well-placed snout whispered that the Chinese Embassy has informed the government that British companies including Land Rover, GSK and BP are on its hit list after Johnson unplugged Huawei.

Quitting the customs union, single market and EU itself never looked a sillier act of national self-harm. Despatching warships to burn parts of Beijing to the ground, as Britain did when it destroyed the Summer Palace in 1860, is no longer an option. China could singe the UK economy but the Royal Navy sails barely enough ships to fill a bathtub.

The MC hosting a whisky tasting to select a malt for teetotal Lindsay Hoyle to flog in the Commons shop made a dry observation. Apparently, “the lady at the end of the table seemed to have a Meg Ryan moment” after she closed her eyes and showed ecstatic appreciation for one of the samples. The tentative smile on the reddening face of Eleanor Laing suggested the prim deputy speaker is aware of the fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally.

Labour ex-sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe’s new racehorse, Dawn Breaking, won 5-1 at Beverley. Sutcliffe owns a fifth of the nag so maintains it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. More a forelock and tail. 

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 appears in the 24 July 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special

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