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Murdoch touts Kemi Badenoch as next Tory leader

The Sun ran an article under a headline championing the business secretary as the ‘new Mrs T’

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Kemi Badenoch may have assured Laura Kuenssberg that Rishi Sunak had her full support, but I hear that she, in turn, emphatically has the full support of Rupert Murdoch to replace the PM before the election.

The Sun on Sunday duly ran a less-than-subtle piece championing Badenoch that was headlined “Topple Rishi for ‘new Mrs T’ Kemi.” Even though he professes to have retired, I am told the story had the nonagenarian tycoon’s wrinkly fingerprints all over it.

“Rupert has had it up to here with Rothermere and what he calls his bloody Daily Mail,” says my man at Murdoch HQ, about the viscount who owns the rival title. “It’s made him livid that the Mail’s madcap policies – championing Truss as leader and now even harping on about a Johnson comeback – have got the country into a position that it seems all but inevitable we’ll end up with a Labour PM resolutely opposed to non-dom tax status.”

Non-dom Murdoch has never cared for men with facial hair, either, and his Sunday tabloid also ran a bizarre piece saying Tory candidates needed to shave off their beards if they were to stand any chance at all at the next election.

It’s a measure of the precariousness of Rishi Sunak’s position that it looked for a few moments last week as if he was about to be toppled by a certain Will Dry, a hitherto unknown Downing Street spad who announced he was quitting to focus full-time on plotting against his former employer. The lad looked so young the former Labour MP Michael Dugher wondered on social media if he was still in year 7.

The sight of him was even more startling for Kieran Lenihan, who remembers him in a very different incarnation as the co-founder of Our Future, Our Choice, an anti-Brexit youth group that operated out of Millbank Tower in London ahead of the last election, when a second referendum was still a possibility.

“I first met Will when he showed up as a guest of Lord Adonis at the Progress Political Weekend at Stoke Rochford Hall in Grantham,” Lenihan tells me. “He made out he was a member of the Labour Party, and, since I was president of my local university Labour Society, we agreed to work together.”

Dry was intensely hostile to the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and urged Lenihan to join his poster campaign calling out members of the shadow cabinet on their reluctance to back a second referendum. In 2018, Dry wrote, too, for the New European, sending an open letter to Corbyn demanding he back a second referendum.

“Seeing what Will is up to now, I can’t help but think he was just using the second referendum campaign as a front to attack Labour and sow dissent,” says Lenihan. “I just can’t see how he could otherwise have had such a sudden conversion to Conservative politics and the joys of Brexit.”

My New European colleague Alastair Campbell has already drawn attention to the at best opaque loyalties of others who worked out of Millbank in the run-up to the last election, not least Boris Johnson’s old Etonian mate Hugo Dixon, who subsequently showed up in a garish waistcoat at his wedding to his latest wife, Carrie.

Neville Dean, the Daily Mail executive entrusted with the task of shovelling the paper’s content behind a paywall, must qualify for having one of the worst jobs in history.

Mandrake hears that the pressure on Dean was so intense, with scant resources, that he needed some time off after overseeing the first phase of the operation. Lord Rothermere’s obsession with online content is proving exhausting for the troops in the newsroom, who are reluctantly having to double up as cameramen and women to provide video content for the site, which is ultimately being overseen by Lord Rothermere’s son and heir, Vere.

There are no doubt malicious whispers that Vere is not a huge fan of Sarah Vine and Andrew Pierce’s talk show, which, so the stories go, he doesn’t believe will appeal greatly to the younger generation. It hasn’t exactly helped matters that Pierce’s hair appears to have turned white overnight.

Sir Simon Clarke, the senior Tory MP no one had heard of until he involved himself in last week’s coup attempt against Rishi Sunak, turns out to have a well-known backer in the not inconsiderable shape of Lord Bamford, the JCB digger heir.

Bamford has put up £40,000 to pay for a “campaign manager” for Clarke, which made me wonder if the old boy who was once so besotted with Boris Johnson is now backing this bespectacled nobody for a shot at the top job.

Clarke himself speaks unctuously of Brexit-backing Bamford, but insists he knows his place in the scheme of things. As he tells me: “I have employed a campaign manager with a view to being re-elected as the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. JCB are one of the great British business success stories of recent decades and employ thousands of people powering Britain, and I am grateful to Lord Bamford for his support.”

One hopes this is true as no cause is truly lost until Bamford supports it.

There aren’t a great many Tories who still have the best interests of the country at heart, but Lord Nicholas Soames, the former Tory armed forces minister and grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, is an honourable exception.

He duly turned out at a bash in London for the launch of his pal Denis MacShane’s latest volume of diaries – covering the years 1997 to 2001 – and went so far as to say the former Europe minister had written the most entertaining diaries he’d read since Alan Clark’s. “Not sure that’s true, but nice of him all the same,” says MacShane.

Has the very ambitious former shadow cabinet member Mary Creagh bitten off more than she can chew by targeting the safe Labour seat of Coventry East at the general election? Creagh, who lost her Wakefield seat in 2019, has abandoned her Islington home for the next month to try to woo the selection panel in the West Midlands constituency and will have as her main opponent Kindy Sandhu, a long-time local resident, academic and senior Coventry council member whose father emigrated here from Punjab.

The selection, to be made by the end of February, will also be a test for Sir Keir Starmer. He wants Creagh, a Catholic and leading light among Labour’s Friends of Israel, partly as he knows her well, since they both live in north London, and partly because she has senior shadow cabinet experience under Ed Miliband.

But Coventry East, whose current Labour MP Colleen Fletcher is retiring, seems more inclined to back a local with an ethnic background and with vast experience of the city, even if Creagh was brought up there.

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