Commons Confidential: Where sleeping Doms lie

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There may be a pandemic and a looming economic crisis, but in No 10, it seems, there’s always time for a nap. Dominic Cummings was enjoying a mid-afternoon snooze in the Downing Street garden a few weeks ago, when Boris Johnson’s private secretary came out. “The PM is looking for Dom,” he told staff members relaxing in the garden. They pointed to where Cummings lay asleep on the ground between two tables, sporting large headphones and his classic T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms combo. “Well, I’m not going to wake him,” the private secretary declared. “The PM is just going to have to wait.”

One brave staffer did, eventually, wake Cummings up that afternoon. An adviser who works with him came into the garden, gave the chief aide a poke in the chest, and the pair discussed policy for a few minutes. The adviser went away, and Cummings promptly went back to sleep. It’s best to let sleeping Doms lie.

The Prime Minister’s poor relationship with his backbenchers is no secret, but is the rift deepening? In the Tory MPs’ WhatsApp group chat, members were bickering about the government’s new policy on reducing obesity, when one vented her frustration at the plan to give overweight people free access to bikes. A colleague by the name of Boris Johnson MP popped up in reply, to explain the rationale behind the scheme. The MPs promptly moved to another WhatsApp group, to continue the conversation without him.

Meanwhile, over on Labour WhatsApp, everything is eerily quiet. “There’s a culture of not putting anything on a WhatsApp group as there are a number of people who have been asked to be designated spies,” one MP notes. Maybe Keir Starmer’s team could give Johnson some tips on WhatsApp discipline?

The Liberal Democrats are soon to elect a new leader, in a tight contest between acting leader Ed Davey and the party’s education spokesperson, Layla Moran. But what of the third candidate, Wera Hobhouse? The MP for Bath dropped out of the contest before nominations closed; none of her party colleagues would nominate her, citing a credibility issue. “Bless her cotton socks,” one MP remarked, wondering why Hobhouse stood before securing the single nomination required. But her campaign slogan, the niche but ideologically coherent “Abandon Equidistance”, sent both Davey and Moran into a spin about how the Lib Dems should relate to Labour. Figures close to the two leadership contenders muse that, having intellectually dominated a contest she barely participated in, it seems that Hobhouse has had the last laugh.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

This article appears in the 14 August 2020 issue of the New Statesman, This house must fall

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