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The tug of war over Boris Johnson’s honours list is also a contest for favour from the Tory press

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Among the missing on Boris Johnson’s infamous dishonours list was Ted Verity, editor of the disgraced ex-PM’s fanzine, the Daily Mail. The Tory newspaperman reportedly told friends he was offered a knighthood but turned it down, saying he didn’t think it smart for a working journalist to accept a title. His boss and mentor Paul Dacre was also reportedly blocked again from becoming Lord Dacre of Associated Newspapers. The nightmare feared by paranoid Tory MPs – and Rishi Sunak – is that the new owners of the Telegraph (the paper is for sale) might appoint one-time £250,000 “chicken feed” columnist Johnson as editor. Cooler heads caution that Johnson is probably too lazy for the top job.

[See also: Rural Oxfordshire proves a hostile environment for Boris and Carrie Johnson]

Michael Gove has volunteered to do Sunak’s dirty work and finish off Johnson. The levelling down secretary scuppered Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016 after the Brexit referendum didn’t go to plan, at least for Johnson – because Remain lost, the result he did not expect. Fences were mended with Gove and Johnson later became PM. But during the dying hours of his regime, when Johnson was barricaded inside 10 Downing Street, he sacked Gove for disloyalty and is now said to have denied “Sir” Michael a knighthood. The worst of friends are no longer on speaking terms.

Caroline Lucas quitting parliament leaves behind two Green politicians in the Lords, Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett, who one hears don’t get along. Baronesses Jones of Brexit and Bennett of Brain Fade share an office yet, muttered my snout, “can’t stand each other”. The rumour on the burgundy benches is that mediation has failed to bring harmony. Should Lucas, standing down in Brighton Pavilion, accept synthetic ermine, the ex-MP could always top it off with a UN blue helmet to act as peacekeeper.

Irony bypassed an ambitious Gillian Keegan as she preached Thatcherite opportunity in the Guildhall. Inside the City of London Corporation’s feudal temple, the Education Secretary, billing herself as a working-class Scouser turned Tory businesswoman who keeps her grandfather’s miner’s lamp in her office, delivered a paean of praise to Maggie. It felt like an audition for the Conservative leadership contest to come, once Sunak is evicted from No 10.

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Wannabe Gove Mk II, the former FT and Spectator hack Sebastian “Seb” Payne, is hoping to emulate the cabinet minister, who swapped the Times for parliament. Payne, though, was not selected as Tory candidate for the Selby by-election. The Onward think tank director loftily informed lobby journalists before his defection to the world of politics that his mission was to save the Conservative Party from itself. Perhaps it doesn’t want saving. Backwards, not Onward.

[See also: Suella Braverman is branded a “loose cannon” by unhappy ministers in the Home Office]

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This article appears in the 14 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Over and Out