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When will Sunak stop his dithering over a general election date?

Mandrake hears that the new favoured day is November 21

Photo: James Manning/WPA Pool/Getty

General election date rumours continue to come and go. There was plenty of gossip last weekend, for example, that Rishi Sunak would go to the country on Monday, but Mandrake hears that the new favoured day is November 21.

This column hasn’t been alone in putting forward well-sourced general election dates that have – so far – come and gone. The reality is Sunak is dithering. He has marched his soldiers up the hill at various points, only to march them down again. 

A pre-summer election looks less likely with each passing day, and one thing alone can be said for sure: even Sunak isn’t going to mess with the summer recess.

November 21 would be a respectful distance from the party conferences and the US elections (it’s not considered done for Nato and G7 members to hold elections that clash). I gather the king has made it clear to Sunak he does not care for the widely touted idea of holding the poll on November 14 as that’s the day he celebrates his 76th birthday – if not actually his official birthday, which is on June 17. 

Last spotted out on the town some months ago with that roly-poly funster Lord Frost – the Brexiteers’ answer to Christopher Biggins – I gather Michael Gove has lately been dining alone at One Carlton Gardens, the £25m grace-and-favour home normally reserved for the foreign secretary but which Gove has been allowed to squat in since his split from his ex-wife, the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine.

“Michael doesn’t have many friends,” a former colleague tells me, unstartlingly. “I think he’s trying to make the most of One Carlton Gardens while he still can.

“I certainly can’t see David Lammy when he’s installed as foreign secretary wanting to share the place with him. It’s a pity Michael didn’t get the no-fault eviction ban put into place before the election.”

Gove occupies a three-bedroom apartment in One Carlton Gardens, which also has two dining rooms, a ballroom for entertaining and roof space. However, it’s plainly not enough for the party-loving Gove – last month he was told off after he and some guests wandered on to the roof of the Institute for Government building next door.

The Garrick Club is finally admitting female members, but now another London club is facing questions about admitting a certain woman – the former home secretary Suella Braverman. The Walbrook, founded by former Arts Council chair Lord Peter Palumbo and now run by his son Philip, has made Cruella an honorary member, waiving the fee of £1,440. 

“It’s not gone down well with fellow members who are largely progressive types and include the American tycoon Mike Bloomberg, who once described Brexit as the single stupidest thing any country has ever done apart from America electing Trump,” one disgruntled Walbrook regular tells me. 

“Suella has already been making use of her free membership, largely lunching with rather dull-looking men in suits, which I take to mean she wants to secure a few directorships to tide her over after the election. Anyone who knows the Walbrook knows suits and ties are considered rather naff here.”

Mandrake broke the news last year that Dominic Cummings was setting up a political party – imaginatively called the Startup Party – so it’s a wonder the i newspaper made such a fuss about it last week, giving Boris Johnson’s discredited former henchman its front page, and making a headline out of his patently absurd claim that “Boris and I saved thousands from Covid”.

Contrary to his boast about Covid, the World Health Organization says the UK recorded 2,905.6 deaths per million people, higher than the EU average of 2,401.4, and higher than every western and southern EU member state, including Greece and Italy. 

The i story by Jordan Tyldesley could have made more of Cummings’ treacherous comments about how the west should never have got into a war with Putin over Ukraine. As it is, Cummings was left to nitpick with Tyldesley on social media about how he’d actually described Volodymyr Zelensky. Big Bad Dom said he had called him “Potemkin Zelensky” – a reference to Grigory Potemkin, a controversial favourite of Catherine the Great – but it had come out in the paper as “Pumpkin Zelensky”.

A chasm is opening up between what the Daily Mail sees as the state of the UK economy and the more sober view of respected forums such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Last Saturday, days after the OECD described Britain’s economic growth as “sluggish”, the paper seized on a remarkable quote by Grant Fitzner of the Office for National Statistics to roar on its front page that the “Economy’s going gangbusters”. 

For good measure, the paper ran an editorial reprimanding those who didn’t see this as reason to rejoice, asking the question: “Why do the lazy Left trash our economy?”

It did not note, as even the Telegraph did, that a recession-ending expansion of GDP by all of 0.6% in the first quarter of the year still could be regarded as “anaemic growth” and that “the economy is just 1.7% bigger now than it was in the final quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic. Only Germany has done worse.” 

My man at the Mail explains: “Word has come down to talk up the economy at every opportunity as it’s that which decides elections. It’s proving easier said than done to convince readers they’ve never had it so good, but I guess it makes a change from knocking copy about Angela Rayner.”

Those readers soon made themselves known in the comments beneath articles. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves – until we all feel it, a single growth figure for GDP is meaningless,” one wrote. “It’s tiresome being told that we’re all better off when patently that is not the case.”

There is disquiet on the Labour left about the increasing influence on the party of Fran Perrin, the philanthropist and former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who is also the daughter of Lord Sainsbury.

Perrin – who became the party’s first £1m female donor – is a director of Labour Together, which provides funds for its frontbench. Perrin has also gifted the membership organisation £210,000. In all, it has raised £3.6m from donors and is providing support to, among others, David Lammy, Rachel Reeves, Ian Murray, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shabana Mahmood and Yvette Cooper.

Since her father chose to turn on and turn off funding for Labour, Sainsbury money has been seen as a mixed blessing within the party. A particular bête noire of the communist Morning Star, Perrin is seen as using her cash to push the party to the Blairite right.

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