Commons Confidential: Sing when you’re winning

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He may be a diminutive 5ft 7in, yet mini meal-deal Rishi Sunak is still a victim of tall poppy syndrome. Talk of tax rises triggered a Tory backlash against the over-sold chancellor. One MP who is outwardly supportive, calculating that public praise might earn his constituency a Treasury prize, sneakily mocks the former banker as a “show pony”. Another sneered that Sunak’s personalised hoodie must have cost £400 so will revolt Red Wall voters. Wearing hoodies goes down as badly with Tory traditionalists as hugging them.

Over in the Lords the ears of hereditary peer and junior health factotum James Bethell must be burning after tweeting he learned to “hustle” after fluffing his A-levels. Ermined colleagues behind their hands call the privileged scion “Baron Bootstraps” to acknowledge the Harrow-educated Tory’s heroic struggle against a sedan chair ride through life. Funny how they always think merit gets them to the top.

Flag-waving Keir Starmer has lefty republicans grumpily muttering that their boss will be opening shadow cabinet meetings with “Rule, Britannia!” after he hailed the imperial hymn “a staple of British summer” during the BBC Proms row. The former anti-monarchist wished to avoid the fate of Jeremy Corbyn, who was pilloried for not singing “God Save the Queen”. Starmer is more popular than Boris Johnson. Labour patriots only sing when they’re winning.

CBI head honcho Carolyn Fairbairn’s chauffeur hasn’t restarted driving her from Winchester to the business group’s London head office, I understand, despite the Dame adding her voice to Daily Mail screams for workers to return to desks. Surely not another case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do?

James Bethell isn’t the only peer reported this week by the House of Lords’ workerist cell. Lib Dumb Susan Kramer bemoaning that the closure of Hammersmith Bridge lumbers parents with longer school runs prompted a snout to declare that the governors of George Osborne’s £26,000-a-year old school, St Paul’s, and its counterpart for girls, would be nodding enthusiastically. I’m sure it is a coincidence that Kramer’s alma mater is St Paul’s Girls’ School.

Labour criticising Johnson’s award of a peerage for the Brexit Party’s Claire Fox, who once said she didn’t think child porn ought to be removed from the internet and has in the past defended the IRA, prompted a senior figure to recall Jeremy Corbyn halting an onslaught against the ex-MEP. Printed leaflets highlighting her record were pulped instead of being delivered on polling day in the 2019 Peterborough by-election. Disgruntled Labour campaigners suspected that Seumas Milne’s friendship with Baroness Brexit kiboshed the plan. 

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 18 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Planet Covid

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