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Rats in a Sack: Is Holly Valance a harbinger of doom for the PopCons?

Our digest of the worst of Westminster looks at News UK friendly fire, a new Tory deputy chair, Schnapps with Shapps and more

Holly Valance takes photographs in London, April 2016 (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Organisers of Liz Truss’ PopCon event this week, denying that they’re stuck in the past, may regret trumping pop star Holly Valance’s attendance as some sort of sprinkling of stardust. Vallance last troubled the hit parade 21 years ago.

Her last album, State of Mind, was released on November 6, 2003 – Iain Duncan Smith’s very last day as Conservative leader, as his party cottoned on his brand of old-school Thatcherite economics and hang-’em-and-flog-’em cultural views were not destined to beat the Labour Party. “Can I feel it, the same mistake?,” as the lyrics to the album’s title track go.

(Updated February 8: Valance’s husband, property tycoon and Conservative Party donor Nick Candy, has appeared to back Labour, telling Bloomberg it is “probably time for a change” in the country’s leadership and that Keir Starmer is “a decent man with good values and good morals”. So yes, it’s all going very well.)

Friendly fire at News UK, with Times cartoonist Morten Morland yesterday publishing a cartoon mocking some of the commentariat’s reaction to the King’s health news. Front of centre is a portly man opining into a microphone: “Could the emissions from Harry’s flight home cause more cancer?”.

The figure is virtually indistinguishable from right wing blowhard and TalkTV presenter Mike Graham. TalkTV is not only – like the Times – owned by News UK, but Graham’s Independent Republic show is regularly advertised in the paper’s pages.

With the departure of Lee Anderson – who quit as Tory deputy chairman to rebel against Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill, then didn’t because Labour MPs were “taking the mick” – the Conservatives have appointed a replacement.

In an embarrassing post on Twitter/X more reminiscent of a football club announcing a new signing, Conservative chair Richard Holden said James Daly “will be a huge asset as one of our Deputy Chairman [sic] for campaigning”. Not only has Holden hardly looked far and wide for Anderson’s successor – Daly is his housemate when the pair are at Westminster – but he better hope he’s a huge asset in campaigning. With his Bury North seat having a majority of just 105 – meaning Labour need just a 0.11% swing to win it – it’s Keir Starmer’s number one target in the forthcoming general election.

With the next Tory leadership campaign now well underway, it was reported at the weekend that defence secretary (at the time of writing) Grant Shapps had been hosting so-called “Schnapps with Shapps” drinks events in a bid to win over backbench colleagues.

It’s not reported where the self-awareness-lacking Shapps hosted the events, but let’s hope he was rather more diligent than his former colleague Liz Truss who, in her bid to become Conservative leader, hosted a remarkably similarly named “Fizz with Liz” event at swanky members’ club 5 Hertford Street. Labour claimed it may have breached spending rules for MPs as £3,000 was paid by club owner Robin Birley. Truss’ team made the unlikely claim their woman did not organise the event and only attended as one of a number of Tory MPs.

Anyway, where will this madness end? Hendrick’s with Jenrick? Aftershock with Badenoch? Twelve cans of Special Brew and a snog with Rees-Mogg?

The Daily Express clutched its pearls this week as it blasted BBC Breakfast for “wild speculation” over King Charles’ cancer diagnosis. Claiming the programme had “sparked a backlash among viewers” in its discussions, the paper suggested it “should not be speculating about the King’s diagnosis at all and… it should be kept as a private matter”. To back up its criticism it had found, er, five people on Twitter/X who were critical about the programme’s coverage of the King (who, at 75, would be among the Express’ younger readers).

Elsewhere, however, the paper did find room for the views of oncologist Angus Dalgleish, who was “positive” about the King’s diagnosis, saying it “does sound like a very early cancer” and “is eminently treatable, and that is a very good thing”. Good news indeed. But why no fury over the conjecture? Perhaps because, rather than BBC Breakfast, Dalgleish had been talking to Nigel Farage on GB News, the Express’ favourite channel!

The Daily Mail published this week a handy guide to surviving an attack by an XL Bully. “Distracting a dog with food can help divert their attention from you,” it told readers. “Bully dogs like cheese, chicken, ham and sausage.” So, er, just carry meat with you wherever you go and you should be fine!

Former Conservative, Reclaim and, happily, soon to be former MP entirely Andrew Bridgen held an event in Westminster this week to discuss “15 Minute cities, WHO power grab, Covid-19 pandemic response” and various other crackpot causes.

Among his speakers were Christine Anderson, a German MEP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party and former activist for the anti-Islam Pegida movement. The AfD is ardently anti-immigration, has flirted with Holocaust denial and recently sparked nationwide demonstrations when it emerged a number of its members had held a meeting to discuss deporting German citizens of immigrant heritage.

Still, Bridgen was on hand to thoroughly defend his pal, tweeting: “Christine is in no way a Nazi”. Perhaps that was her bio for the event’s literature?

SNP leader at Westminster Stephen Flynn has been an ardent critic of Westminster inaction in opposing Israel’s military operations in Gaza, tweeting this week of how more than 11,500 Palestinian children had been killed in the territory “as Westminster sits silent”.

Flynn has of course been a long-time vocal advocate of Gaza, its people and the wider Palestinian cause, going right back to the first time he spoke on the topic in the Commons… on October 16 last year.

Finally, last week we reported how Ukip leader Neil Hamilton had stepped down “to enjoy more time with his family” despite having no children and never being seen without his wife at his side anyway.

Now we can report the process is underway to select its new leader. In the unlikely event you’re interested in this exciting opportunity but fret you’re not actually a Ukip member, worry not – to attract the brightest and best, it’s open to anybody who joins right up until the close of the application process. All you need is 10 assentors from within the party (who, handily since there are so few members, may also give their backing to rival candidates) and a “non-refundable application fee” of £1,500.

If that seems a bit steep, there are at least ways of clawing the cash back. One of the new leader’s responsibilities will be to generate and maximise donations to the party “which will be shared 50/50 with the leader” – a perfectly normal and conventional thing to do from a perfectly normal and conventional party!

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