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Rats in a Sack: Turmoil at Times over Tory endorsement

Our digest of the worst of Westminster looks at GB News, Rishi Sunak, Isabel Oakeshott, the Daily Telegraph and more

Photo Illustration by Mark Case/Getty Images

Rumblings at the Thunderer where Times staffers are apoplectic about editor Tony Gallagher’s determination to endorse the Conservatives before next week’s election.

Fortnightly surveys of the paper’s readers have made it clear that the overwhelming majority of them intend to vote Labour this time around. And even those staffers not on board with Project Starmer know the paper will look a bit silly throwing its lot in with the Tories just as they go down to a potentially historic defeat.

Rupert Murdoch is pretty hands-off with Times endorsements, at least in comparison with the Sun (the Times endorsed Remain in 2016, for example, although its Sunday stablemate was pro-Brexit). And Gallagher is almost as committed a Conservative as he is a Catholic and is said to be determined to endorse the Tories. 

Almost everyone else wants very much not to do this, and is trying to suggest pretty much anything else – giving no endorsement, backing anti-Labour candidates, hedging its bets. Time(s) will tell…

To the Conservatives’ online shop, and a lovely rain jacket. Described as a “navy blue jacket with Conservative tree logo embroidered to the left breast”, it would be ideal for somebody planning to, say, call a general election in the driving rain but it is, alas, currently out of stock.

Congratulations to Nigel Farage, named Best News Presenter at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) awards this week, receiving his trinket to a chorus of boos.

Leaving aside that the award was decided by online vote – meaning the GB News presenter’s loyal keyboard warriors could swing it for them regardless of whether they’d ever seen his questionable autocue reading or not – the actual title of the plaudit is a tad problematic for the channel.

GB News has previously got around the issue of employing active politicians to host their programmes by claiming they were not pretending to be impartial hosts of “news” programmes but were instead the openly opinionated presenters of “current affairs” programmes. Indeed, in March last year, Tory MPs and GB News presenters Esther McVey and Philip Davies changed their entries in the Commons Register of Interests from presenting a “news programme” to presenting a “current affairs programme” after Ofcom began sniffing around a fawning interview with Jeremy Hunt the pair had conducted.

As such, we have the weird spectacle of the channel celebrating their man winning a Best News Presenter award while simultaneously telling the regulator he’s no such thing!

Asked after launching the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto this week if he himself had ever bet on politics, Rishi Sunak had a one-word answer: “No.”

Except of course, in February this year when he agreed to take a £1,000 bet from Piers Morgan that no deportation flights to Rwanda would take place before a general election (a bet which Sunak has refused to pay up on despite (a) losing and (b) a grand being 0.00015% of Sunak’s net worth).

The wager was made on TalkTV, of course, so only about a dozen people actually witnessed it, but it’s still out there on YouTube…

Talk’s international editor, Isabel Oakeshott, was dismissive on social media this week about the betting scandal dominating the final weeks of the general election campaign.

“Political betting is rife at Westminster, just as betting on the horses is rife in the racing industry,” she sniffed. It’s a fair point, the only slight difference being THE LATTER INDUSTRY LITERALLY ONLY EXISTS BECAUSE OF IT.

Archie Manners, twenty-third in the line of succession to the Dukedom of Rutland, a former young Tory activist and writer for ConservativeHome, is now that most dispiritingly 2024 of things, a professional online prankster.

Planning to have some wacky fun in Islington North, he changed his name by deed poll to ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and set about standing in the general election, even getting a couple of unsuspecting voters to sign his nomination papers, thinking they were backing the real thing.

“They were stood outside one of the kebab shops that’s very pro-Corbyn, so I was like, how lovely, what a nice thing,” one constituent, bookseller Hope Purcell, tells the Islington Tribune.  “And then I realised I’d signed away my name and my address with no actual knowledge other than them suggesting they needed someone to sign something to help [the] real Corbyn. It left a really bad taste in my mouth.”

Manners/Corbyn has since been blocked from standing in the constituency, writing on Twitter/X: “My name is legally Jeremy Corbyn, but I was disallowed.”

Annoying for the privileged prankster, but things might get even worse: the Metropolitan Police have confirmed to the Tribune they are looking into it. Providing a nomination signature which the candidate knows was secured under false pretences is an offence.

Candidate of the campaign so far must surely be Julian Malins, another of the excellent Reform wannabes who have made it past Nigel Farage’s slick vetting machine.

“I have actually met Putin and had a 10-minute chat with him, and he seemed very good,” he told a hustings meeting, later doubling down to tell his local BBC radio station: “He’s a very popular Russian president – as such, he’s a good Russian president.”

Such views would be problematic in any constituency, but particularly in the one Malins seeks to represent – Salisbury, where a woman was poisoned and later died after a botched nerve agent attack by a pair of cathedral-bothering Russian agents.

Between April and May of this year, the Daily Telegraph published no fewer than 47 articles about Angela Rayner’s tax affairs, including ‘Rachel Reeves denies that Angela Rayner is a tax avoider’, ‘Angela’s taxes: It’s time for answers’, ‘Angela Rayner faces new questions over tax on homes’ and ‘The real reason Angela Rayner won’t reveal her tax affairs’.

With Rayner quite likely to be plonked into the deputy prime minister’s office next week, the paper’s tune has changed. It is currently running an ad campaign headlined ‘How can I shield my money from Labour taxes?’.

Non-sequitur of the week from Andrew Bridgen, former Tory MP, former Reclaim Party MP and, happily, soon to be just former MP, on Twitter/X:

“Germany is launching conscription. Labour wants a defence pact with Germany. How long before your children are on a plane to Ukraine?”

The Sun reported at the weekend that producers of ITV’s Big Brother reboot are searching for a “big political name” to star in this summer’s series… and then added that they had already approached, and been turned down by, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, a man not even a household name in his own household.

Whoever accepts – and an awful lot of Tories are going to have plenty of time to kill soon – they won’t even be following in the footsteps of Celebrity Big Brother alumni George Galloway, Ann Widdecombe, former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan and, er, Kellie Maloney (Ukip candidate for the 2004 London mayoral election).

Producers are casting for the non-celebrity version, meaning Jonathan Gullis, Lee Anderson or Johnny Mercer will be rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi (making them, in effect, the polar opposite of 2006’s Chantelle Houghton).

Proper rats in a sack stuff from the Conservative ranks on the red benches. On Twitter/X, Conservative peer, Boris Johnson fanboy and general oddball Daniel Moylan rubbished the idea the former prime minister had purged his party of anti-Brexit MPs in 2019, pointing out six of those stripped of the whip now sat as Tories in the Lords.

“More’s the pity,” responded fellow Tory peer and Brexit botcher David ‘Frosty’ Frost, in effect regretting sharing a grouping with Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, Ed Vaizey, Nicholas Soames, Richard Benyon and Richard Harrington. Should be a fun first meeting once Parliament resumes!

The scrapping between those parties to the right of the Tories continues. Ukip’s homepage features a screed from Steve Unwin, the party’s home affairs spokesman, again attacking Reform for refusing to unite with them.

“Further still, Reform’s tactics are very different from Ukip’s,” he writes. “Reform appear to be appealing to disaffected Conservative voters, and give a very much ‘Tory lite’ tame ‘not in front of the children’ image. Ukip’s strategy is virtually the opposite.”

Ukip’s actual current leader, Lois Perry, however, has been busy getting a snap with Reform’s candidate in Ashfield, Lee Anderson. “I officially endorse @reformparty_uk @LeeAndersonMP_ .. for Ashfield,” she wrote on Twitter/X. “He is a tremendous man and loves Britain x  @UKIP @Nigel_Farage xx”

Perry is a long-time Farage fan. Which begs the question of why Ukip is running a candidate, Andrew Pemberton, in Clacton.

Speaking of reality TV, there’s still no sight of the fly-on-the-wall reality show Jacob Rees-Mogg was reportedly in talks with Discovery+ about making about his home life with heiress wife Helena de Chair and their six children.

Your correspondent did contact the streamer for an update but alas did not get a response. Perhaps they are all too busy making Naked and Afraid of Love (season one, episode one title: The Accidental Erection, presumably about a local planning dispute).

The aforementioned Ann Widdecombe, who has been out on the campaign trail for Reform, is not technically a neurologist – she studied Latin at university – but she’s made quite the claim: people who say they are dyslexic aren’t really dyslexic (she can tell).

“Recently, someone told me that a mutual acquaintance is ‘seriously dyslexic’,” she writes in her Daily Express column. “I have been receiving communications from that person all my life and find no evidence of any dyslexia, let alone the ‘serious’ variety.

“She is poorly-educated, elderly and often too lazy to check back her texts but her letters and emails are as literate as her education allows.” Diagnosis done!

Widdecombe has also been out on the stump with Rupert Lowe, Reform candidate for Great Yarmouth. The pair rode a snail ride at the town’s Joyland amusement park.

“The snails reminded me of the Tories – a bumpy ride,” said Widdecombe. Nigel Farage, conversely, she added, “prefers a faster pace”. Ugh!

(Lowe is an excellent judge of quality, by the way. He was chair of Southampton FC in 1996 when they infamously signed Senegalese striker Alia Dia on the basis he was the cousin of the legendary George Weah. Not only was he not, the grand total of 53 minutes he played for the club suggested he had never seen a football before.)

Finally, with Gareth Southgate’s Glory Boys wilting in the German sun, perhaps it’s because they just don’t have a good official anthem this time around?

Without a Three Lions or World In Motion to get the blood pumping, perhaps Kane and co are lacking a motivator. As such, may we suggest something from the last time a major tournament took place in Germany?

In 2006, disgraced former Tory minister and future Ukip leader Neil Hamilton and wife Christine recorded England Are Jolly Dee, a footballing toe-tapper featuring such incisive lyrics as “They all play a game called football – you have to kick, not use your hand”. You’re welcome, boys!

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