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Rats in a Sack: Michelle Donelan pens some expensive fiction

Our digest of the worst of Westminster looks at Lee Anderson, Andrew Neil, George Galloway and more

Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Science secretary Michelle Donelan is running a children’s short story competition on her Facebook page, inviting “creative and imaginative stories… they can be about anything as long as they are in the fiction genre”.

Donelan recently posted her own short story on her X account about an academic being a Hamas sympathiser. Alas for the hapless minister, it was indeed creative, imaginative and entirely fictional – to the extent that the professor cited, Kate Sang of Heriot-Watt University, took legal action for libel.

Donelan has now “fully accept[ed] that she is not an extremist, a supporter of Hamas or any other proscribed organisation”, deleted the post and paid libel damages and legal costs. These, of course, are being met by the taxpayer – and at £15,000, is considerably more than the pile of paperbacks up for grabs in Donelan’s competition.

Lee Anderson’s suspension as a Tory MP was a blow to those attending the launch of the new Queen’s Park and Maida Vale Conservative Association, which the former party deputy chairman had been due to attend as a guest of honour.

He was billed as speaking at a “grand ceremony” at a location which, entirely normally, was kept secret until shortly before. Members paid £30 apiece for a glass of bubbly, canapés and a chance to win apparently “excellent” raffle prizes.

Still, if they were worried about being denied a chance to hear crackpot views, they needn’t. Heading the bill were David ‘Frosty’ Frost, still banging the drum for his failed Brexit deal, and historian David Starkey, stripped of most of his honours, roles, fellowships and book deals in 2020 after telling a podcast that “slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?”.

Andrew Neil has been in full told-you-so mode on Twitter/X as it was revealed how GB News has, in two short years, cost its owners £75m. Neil, the channel’s founding chairman until he fell out with owners, has been happily skewering his former bosses.

“Of course those who bankroll it… know nothing about TV and are on an ideological kick (and what a price that now pay for their ignorance)… something will have to give.”

He’s definitely not bitter though. He managed to restrain his attacks on the channel to a mere 10 tweets before moving on to giving Michael Sheen a good kicking over his “far-left agitprop” BBC drama The Way. Nurse! A bromide for Mr Neil’s tea please…

Does George Galloway’s election as Workers Party of Britain MP for Rochdale mean we’re going to be denied his Dusty Springfield musical?

Back in 2010 Galloway told the Guardian that he and a friend, the writer Ron McKay, had turned their attention to documenting the life of Springfield, who died in 1999 – a project Galloway described as a “segue rather than a major change”.

An outline script had been written, he said, an unnamed lead actor chosen and the musical would hit the UK stage the following year.

But 14 years on, the project seems further away than ever. Next we’ll be told the Bad Boys of Brexit film which, the Daily Express reported in 2017 was set to feature, ahem, Kevin Spacey as Nigel Farage, is set to finally appear.

Boris Johnson, who continues to delight his Daily Mail bosses by taking his rumoured seven-figure columnist’s salary and writing about anything except politics, last week turned his attention to ultra-processed food.

Calling for tobacco-style warnings on the stuff, he name-checked former bodybuilder Eddie Abbew, who, the former prime minister said, “goes around supermarkets shouting at the junk he finds on the shelves”.

Alas, Abbew himself was not impressed. “I can’t help but think, why the hell didn’t he do something about this when he was in charge?,” he wrote on Instagram. “Some of us have been preaching about this for years. Imagine how much healthier we would all be if the ‘people who matter’, decided to help the masses instead of the corporations!

“I suppose we should be glad that at least he’s discussing the subject. The next step, BOJO, is to start eating properly and look after your health so people will take you seriously because right now, you don’t look healthy!” Ouch!

Another week, another gaffe for Jonathan Gullis, the oafish blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minister and, for another few months at least, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North.

Gullis was this week celebrating chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s freezing of fuel duty in his budget, posting on Twitter/X: “A big win for motorists with the Chancellor keeping the 5p cut in fuel duty & continuing the inflation freeze. Delighted to have campaigned with my friend [fuel campaigner] @HowardCCox & @TheSun to deliver this, with drivers £16.50 better off every time they fill up.”

Alas! As many pointed out to the former teacher, to make a saving of £16.50 each time, one would have to be filling up a 330-litre tank. Which suggests that Gullis is either very poor at maths, or literally drives Optimus Prime from Transformers.

Pity the hoteliers and landlords of Brighton who may have to make do without the cash of thirsty Liberal Democrats this autumn.

The party is considering cancelling its autumn conference amid fears it might clash with the general election, impacting on the party’s finances and, more importantly, meaning their members are getting aled-up on the coast rather than planting ‘Winning Here’ placards across the Blue Wall.

“We are thinking about options here. We can run a Conference as usual; adapt it; or replace it with a General Election launch event, which could also include training and socialising,” writes chairman Mark Pack in an email to members, who have been sent a survey to garner their views. It may depend on how much they will miss their annual Glee Club night with its ‘hilarious’ songs about senior politicians.

Nick Appleyard, the Treasury’s former head of strategic communications, spoke to the Politico website this week to give a peek behind the curtain of what goes on, media-wise, on the day of the Budget.

After his speech, he said, the chancellor will call newspaper editors to sell the contents. “The quad for a Tory chancellor — the Mail, Telegraph, Times and Sun — would be prioritised for sure,” says Appleyard.

What a kick in the teeth for Daily Express editor Gary Jones – considered so slavishly loyal to the Conservative cause that they don’t even think it necessary to give him a bell!

“Nine foods you should stop eating now” trumpeted the front page of the Times on Saturday, complete with a picture of a flavoured corn chip. “If it tastes salty or highly flavoured it is best avoided,” warned health writer Peta Bee inside.

Perhaps someone should tell the paper’s advertising department. Because elsewhere in the paper that day there were not one but two full-page ads for Doritos, the latter appearing to make the highly implausible claim that Manchester City and England footballer Chloe Kelly munches the salty snacks on the training field!

You can’t win ‘em all. Recent coverage of Keir Starmer’s vegetarian tendencies has cost him the support of at least one Labour voter.

“Starmer is a vegetarian but not a vegan, which says something about his character – that sitting on the fence thing,” vegan caller Simon phoned in to complain to LBC’s Iain Dale.

PING! An email arrives from Steve Grimes, Ukip’s spokesman for foreign affairs.

“As Ukip’s foreign affairs spokesman I am often asked about the party’s current position on the Middle East crisis,” he says.

No. You’re. Not.

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