Commons Confidential: Banished from the boozer

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Taxpayers have been good for Boris Johnson. Take the four-bedroom cottage near Thame in Oxfordshire that the Prime Minister is seeking to rent out for £4,250 per month while he splits his time between council housing in Downing Street and Chequers. Ownership of the Old Farm House, with its swimming pool and tennis court, was financed in part by parliamentary expenses. Johnson claimed £85,299 under the second-home allowance between 2004 and 2008 on a property bought in 2003 when he was MP for Henley. Old Etonians are partial to wealthfare, as David Cameron’s targeting of the NHS confirms.

The PM is likely to be sent only as far as the Midlands ahead of the 6 May elections. Conservative HQ pollsters detected a north-southish division on Johnson. Geordies and Mancunians are significantly less enamoured with the blond bungler than Black Country folk. The happy upside for Johnson is an extra hour or so in bed, rising later to travel nearer.

High-speed jobs for the boys, with talk in the West Midlands that Andy Street has been lined up to be Birmingham-based chair of HS2 should he fail to be re-elected as mayor of the region. Applications closing on 20 May – a fortnight after election day – is a coincidence, I’m sure. The £200,000 salary for a three-day week would be a chunky rise on Street’s current £79,000, if still a fraction of the £1m he earned when boss of John Lewis.

[see also: Commons Confidential: The House of Borgia]

Chased out of a Bath boozer by a Covidiot landlord, Keir Starmer groans whenever Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the PLP is raised. Labour is organising hotel accommodation for September’s annual conference in Brighton. Should it go ahead with Corbyn still suspended, the leader risks a backlash. Word is that supporters of the Islington One would invite their martyr to rallies outside the security zone: meaning most of the seaside city, including bars and pubs.

Ruffled ermine in the Lords. Suspicious peers opened with trepidation emails with the subject line, “end corporal punishment: high-level events”, after security warnings about spammers. One baron wondered whether some colleagues were disappointed the invitation concerned a noble cause rather than a campaign to ban the rich and influential from illicit spanking dinners.

Matt Hancock’s entanglement in the Cameron-Greensill scandal isn’t keeping Johnson awake at night. Every crisis is an opportunity for a chancer, and moving Hancock from health will now be easier in the coming months. Whips report that an ambitious 2019 intake seeking preferment is transparently keen to do the PM’s bidding.

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 21 April 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The unlikely radical

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