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Are the Tories on the hunt for a new name?

The latest scandals and gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Image: The New European

Whatever else modern Conservatives are about, it isn’t about conserving anything, so it stands to reason the party’s own name – in use for almost 200 years – may now be about to be thrown into the dustbin of history.

I hear extraordinary whispers that Isaac Levido – currently advising Rishi Sunak on strategy for the next election – is conscious how toxic the word “Conservative” has become and is toying with names that have more nationalistic resonance, such as the Patriotic Party, to replace it.

There was a far right party of that name that ran in the 1964 general election – it eventually threw in its lot with the National Front – but that’s unlikely to put Levido off the idea. The party faithful may well have their own thoughts about this, but all the same Levido seems to be paving the way towards it, with Theresa May, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson all dropping the word Conservative from their social media bios. Dominic Raab, Alok Sharma, Sajid Javid, Tom Tugendhat and a large number of other MPs formerly known as Conservatives have followed suit. Michael Fabricant now describes himself somewhat comically as a “socially liberal MP”.

The New Conservative Party and the True Conservative Party have both, incidentally, been tried by small offshoots and got nowhere.

With his seven-figure deal with HarperCollins proving a real motivation, Boris Johnson has, I’m told, already penned about one-third of his Downing Street memoirs. 

The former prime minister is, however, known for hyperbole and, occasionally, an at best nodding acquaintance with the facts, so his publishers are naturally fretting about who they should engage to edit his tome.

One individual keen to take on the task is Susan Watt, now in her 80s, who has argued she is perfectly qualified since she edited two of Johnson’s previous books in the Noughties – one on London, the other an execrably bad novel called Seventy Two Virgins

Owned by the nonagenarian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, HarperCollins may well take a broader view than most companies of employees getting on a bit, but Watt’s position is said to be unassailable. She has a formidable protector in Bernard Cornwell, author of the hugely successful Sharpe series of novels, who considers her the finest editor in the business. Cornwell’s historical fiction may well be the perfect training before she starts work on Johnson’s raw prose. 

The French have every reason to be grateful to Suella Braverman, who just before Christmas signed yet another pyrrhic deal intended to put a halt to small boats crossing the Channel. It came with a £63m price tag, bringing the total the UK has handed over to the French since 2018 with this objective in mind to £175m.

It has now emerged that Gérald Darmanin, the home secretary’s wily opposite number in the French government, gave Braverman a bust of Marianne by way of appreciation for the latest windfall – quite possibly as a joke at her expense. In France, Marianne is a symbol of freedom and democracy against oppression.

Braverman may have railed all her political life about people who take handouts, but it has emerged quite a few have been coming her way lately. The latest transparency documents from the Home Office show she also accepted a Salvatore Ferragamo scarf from Matteo Piantedosi, the Italian interior minister.

Under the ministerial code, no gift worth more than £140 should be accepted, so Braverman had to return both the scarf and the bust for what is undiplomatically referred to as “disposal”. Happily for Braverman, the expenses system is a lot easier for her to use to her advantage and it has emerged that she managed to get -taxpayers to foot her energy bills, claiming nearly £25,000 in five years for her London house, while living rent-free with her parents when she was not at home.

Buried away on an inside page in the Sunday Times was a line saying that Paul Dacre’s name had “disappeared” from Boris Johnson’s list of peerages in the former PM’s long-delayed resignation honours list.

There has been a lot of speculation about the Daily Mail grandee’s putative honour, but this carries authority given the Sunday Times is edited by Ben Taylor, one of Dacre’s former executives who remains close to him.

Almost certainly a factor in this “disappearance” was Mr Justice Nicklin, the High Court judge now deciding whether to give the go-ahead to the phone-hacking and intrusion case that Prince Harry, Sir Elton John and Lady Doreen Lawrence, among others, are bringing against the Mail titles. They are vigorously contesting the allegations, but some journalists at the group – mindful that Rupert Murdoch set a precedent when he shut down the News of the World after it was caught up in the original phone-hacking scandal – are wondering it if could be conceivable, in a worst-case scenario, that their proprietor, Lord Rothermere, would ever countenance shutting the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday

The papers aren’t the money-spinners they once were, but still make piles of cash, and Rothermere’s sentimental attachment to them is said to be too great. 

Although Rishi Sunak appears reconciled to losing around 1,000 council seats in next month’s local elections, he can at least take some consolation from the fact that he has no obvious challengers for his job.

Boris Johnson now appears grimly reconciled to the fact he’s a busted flush after his disastrous appearance before the privileges committee – even his fanzine the Daily Mail seems to have given up on its dream of him making a comeback – and it’s a sure sign that none of Sunak’s own people fancy their chances when I hear Suella Braverman had to be more or less begged to do the rounds of the Sunday political shows recently.

The party is facing problems, not merely finding suitable candidates to stand in next month’s local elections, but also candidates to take the places of the many MPs stepping down at the next election. As for succeeding Sunak now, with barely a year to go until the next general election and humiliation all but guaranteed, who in their right mind – apart from Jacob Rees-Mogg, of course – would honestly want that gig?

Though one right wing newspaper claimed last week that Nigella Lawson was “breaking her silence” after the death of her father, Lord Lawson, the former Tory chancellor, all she had done was to thank her Twitter followers for their “kind” words. 

It would certainly be fascinating to hear Nigella talk at length about their relationship. She didn’t agree with her father on a lot of things – she was wary of both his climate science denial and enthusiasm for Brexit, for instance – but they remained close for all that.

Her celebrity amused him and it would almost certainly have made Lawson laugh out loud how People magazine reported his death – “Chef Nigella’s Politician Father Dead at 91.”

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