Commons Confidential: The Havant hustler

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MI5 phone tappers and WhatsApp hackers would struggle to extract a full confession from Dominic Cummings with thumb screws, never mind electronic records. Journalists familiar with the chameleon ways of the Prime Minister and his former senior adviser recall that over a year ago Cummings invited favoured lobby scribblers into No 10 for a drink. Cummings briefed that the PM wanted to remove Royal Charters from the BBC and CBI, both of which had been condemned as insufficiently supine. When the story appeared in public it was news to Boris Johnson, who rang one of the reporters and demanded to know where the inaccurate tale came from. As the flummoxed journo was explaining to the PM the source was one of his most trusted aides, Cummings swore it’s not me, guv. Donald Trump’s counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, called them “alternative facts”.

[See also: Commons Confidential: Banished from the boozer]

Tony Blair preferred wine and Gordon Brown was a champagne socialist. Bacon sarnies were Ed Miliband’s weakness while Jeremy Corbyn would order what pub landlord Al Murray sneered was a fruit-based drink for the lady. This crowns Keir Starmer as the first Labour leader in decades actually to like beer. Invited to pull and pose with a pint of Strongarm on a visit to Camerons Brewery in Hartlepool ahead of the by-election, aides were concerned he would neck the ale in a couple of swills instead of lightly brushing the froth with his lips. The co-owner of The Raven invited Starmer back after a landlord kicked the Labour chief out of the Bath boozer. His office considers a drink nearer home to be safer.

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

Once best known as the only Tory MP to appear topless in a shower gel ad, Johnny Mercer’s response to being sacked by text from Johnson’s government, which he described as “the most distrustful, awful” place he had worked, was a veterans’ minister going out with all guns blazing. The former commando captain’s barrage reminded a colleague of Mercer’s vain reply to being asked whether he had ever taken illegal drugs: “You’ve seen the advert. You don’t put diesel in a Ferrari.” He departed in a Challenger tank rather than a stylish Italian sports car.

[See also: Commons Confidential: The return of Lembit Öpik]

Made a whip in the reshuffle ripple following Mercer’s demobilisation, Alan Mak, Tory MP for Self-Promotion Central, might finally get to sit in the Commons chamber where he’ll be seen on TV. New boy Mak riled old-timers by placing himself ostentatiously behind David Cameron at PMQs. Never knowingly undersold, the Havant hustler was also accused of parading as a regular churchgoer in an election leaflet despite being seen only once in the previous two months. Mak is living proof the Church of England is no longer the Conservative Party actually at prayer. 

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 28 April 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new battle of ideas

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