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Rats in a Sack: Badenoch’s issue is Gove, Actually

Our digest of the worst of Westminster looks at Nadine Dorries, Andrew Bridgen, Rishi Sunak and more

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Michael Gove was unusually coy when interviewed by Sky News last weekend on why he’d fallen out with former friend and fellow cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch. “Me being me, there are plenty of things I do that irritate my colleagues from time to time,” he told presenter Trevor Phillips.

Come, Michael! An irritating colleague is the type who replies to all on an email. Who slurps their tea. Who comes into work on Monday with a flurry of football banter about how “your lot did at the weekend”.

It’s that sort of stuff that can be classed as “irritating” – not, as is reported in Gove’s case, having an affair with one of Badenoch’s friends which caused the pal’s marriage to end.

The business secretary, noted for her warmth, has told the Times that her friendship with Gove is “not what it used to be but he’s somebody that I have to work with”.

Nadine Dorries, former culture secretary, airport novelist and Boris Johnson cheerleader-in-chief, was heartbroken, she told readers of her Daily Mail column this week, when a fan bought a biography of her on Amazon only to discover it had been churned out by AI.

“It broke my heart to read an Amazon review from someone who had bought it for his wife for Christmas to go alongside his purchase of The Plot [her book about her hero Johnson’s downfall],” she wrote.

Quite. Because there is absolutely nothing about the cover of Nadine Dorries Biography Book: The Untold Story of the Outspoken Boris Johnson Minister Shaking Things Up which suggests it might not be entirely kosher.

Potato magnate, conspiracy theorist and sometime MP Andrew Bridgen has been on a peripatetic political journey of late.

Chucked out of the Conservative Party after comparing the successful Covid vaccine roll-out to the Holocaust, he found a new home in Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party, briefly becoming its first MP before predictably quitting “because of a difference in the direction of the party”. He would, he hinted, stand as an independent in his North West Leicestershire come the general election.

At the weekend, though, Bridgen was spotted in Wellingborough campaigning for Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib, the party’s candidate in the by-election sparked by the recall of disgraced Tory Peter Bone. Clad in a ‘No Farmers No Food’ baseball cap and a giant paperclip adopted by anti-vaccine loons, it’s the endorsement precisely nobody was seeking!

Speaking of anti-vaxxers, one part of Rishi Sunak’s lengthy interview with ITV last week which ended up on the cutting room floor saw him speak of his love of Southampton FC and his favourite player.

Alas, that favourite player was Matt Le Tisser, the languid midfielder whose looping volleys have since been rather eclipsed by his views about the Covid jab.

Sunak encountered similar views from an audience member at GB News’ ‘People’s Forum’ in Darlington last week, which the channel is touting as a triumph despite average viewing figures of only around 150,000.

The move is widely seen as a precursor to what GB News really wants – to host one of the official leaders’ debates during the general election campaign later this year. Whether a station whose output is largely Tory MPs interviewing other Tory MPs about how great the Tories are should host a supposedly neutral debate is a questionable idea – but seeing as the toothless Ofcom appears to have no problem with the prime minister getting an hour of primetime TV three days before a set of key by-elections it may well happen anyway.

With George Galloway and his carpetbagging circus of horror descending upon the Rochdale by-election one hopes his possible return to the Commons won’t deny the world the benefit of his geopolitical punditry.

After all, yesterday marked two years since the spandex cat tweeted: “Y’all said #Russia was about to invade #Ukraine. I told you it wasn’t. You were wrong. I was right. Again. Show some bloody humility. Especially if they’re not even paying you to act like an idiot.”

As the man himself might say, most unwise.

Congratulations to Ayesha Hazarika, nominated by Labour for a life peerage in a series of appointments snuck out quietly at the weekend.

The elevation of Times Radio presenter Hazarika – a former stand-up comedian turned advisor to Ed Miliband as Labour leader – means a curious number of the station’s on-air talent are now decked out in ermine. She joins former Scottish Conservative leader Baroness Davidson, who presents on Fridays and former Tory culture minister Lord Vaizey, who takes over that evening. Added to that, Conservative Lord Finkelstein and Labour’s Lord Mandelson make up two-thirds of the panel on the station’s How To Win An Election programme.

Times Radio has rebranded itself as ‘the election station’ for 2024. Curious then that so many of its presenters have bagged themselves a seat in Westminster without standing in one…

Over at Times Radio’s inky stablemate, David Smith, economics editor of the Sunday Times, got a column in yesterday’s weekday edition to bemoan, correctly, the damaging impact of Brexit on the economy.

Pointing to a new assessment by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which estimated a cumulative hit to growth of 5 per cent of gross domestic product, he wrote: “Most of this was known in advance, as the authors note with their reference to previous studies. Indeed, I was writing as much eight years ago. Next Tuesday marks exactly eight years since David Cameron, now Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, the foreign secretary, announced the referendum date. It was clear that a vote for Brexit would damage trade and investment, particularly inward investment.”

If only he had made the point more clearly around the editorial table of his employers. The Sunday Times enthusiastically backed Brexit, attacking “scaremongering” in its editorial of June 19, 2016!

The elevation of 27-year-old Carmen Smith as a Plaid Cymru member of the House of Lords may have pleased Charlotte Owen – the controversial Boris Johnson appointee, 30, is no longer the upper house’s youngest member. But it hasn’t sat well with everyone in Plaid.

The Welsh nationalist party is unusual in holding internal elections to choose who to nominate for a seat in the Lords, if invited (Smith is only its second). When members were polled at the end of last year, Smith is understood to have been well beaten by Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and then Dwyfor Meirionnydd from 1992 until 2015. But Plaid’s NEC ruled that the top position would go to a woman.

There have been grumblings from members that this wasn’t made clear in the hustings and that Smith lacks the experience to be a working peer. A distinct lack of chwarae teg (fair play), one tells your correspondent.

Under the headline ‘Secret polling is a threat to our policy’, Conservative peer and polling expert Robert Hayward writes in the latest issue of The House magazine, Parliament’s in-house journal, about why he’s written to the Electoral Commission about the recent mega-poll in the Daily Telegraph predicting wipe-out for the Tories under Rishi Sunak’s leadership.

“We still do not know who is behind the elusive organisation that funded the poll, a group called the Conservative British Alliance,” he writes. “It’s a huge failure that nobody – not YouGov nor the Telegraph – identified who was funding or steering the poll. I don’t know why these people want to stay anonymous. Who are they?”.

For a clue, readers can look at the page directly opposite Hayward’s piece and the magazine’s diary column – this week written by David ‘Frosty’ Frost, hapless former Brexit negotiator, Hayward’s fellow Tory peer and the Conservative British Alliance’s frontman!

Finally, Johnny Mercer – veterans minister, former Army captain and a man who once called for all cutlery to be fitted with a GPS – was furious this week following a tweet from John Stevens, the Daily Mirror’s political editor.

Stevens had posted a photograph of Rishi Sunak eating a Cornish pasty with the caption: “That’s not how you eat a pasty.” Leaving aside that there didn’t seem to be much wrong with the prime minister’s Cornish-cramming technique, Mercer reacted with indignation.

“This is what he is up against. That’s literally how you eat a pasty; it’s my daily lunch,” he fumed. “Why don’t you leave the bloke alone? Doing his best in a bloody difficult job. And he has to put up with the self-appointed geniuses in the press who won’t give him a chance. Sad f**kers.”

It’s not clear what’s oddest here. That there appears to be no record of Mercer ever criticising The Sun which, on May 6, 2015, used its front page to tell its readers Ed Miliband couldn’t be trusted to be prime minister on the basis he had once been photographed struggling with a bacon sandwich (“This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours, he could be doing the same to Britain”). Or that a Cornish pasty is Johnny Mercer’s DAILY LUNCH.

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