Word in Westminster: Visions of the Privy Council
The latest Commons Gossip from Alain Tolhurst
The special hustings for lobby journalists to grill the candidates to be the next House of Commons Speaker saw lots of shameless attempts by MPs to curry favour with political hacks. There were pledges there would be more desks than ever in the Press Gallery once Parliament returns from its refurbishment decant, a promise we wouldn’t end up behind glass like the public gallery in the chamber, and one even praised the Lobby for its new-found abstemiousness. But the award for leading brown-nose went to current Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing, who said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, before looking over to the row of reporters and saying: “And you are the sunlight”. Cue groans all round.
With the government successfully proroguing at the second attempt, the man at the heart of the process, Jacob Rees-Mogg, gave an insight into how it all goes down. With his dramatic drawl he explained: “I wasn't asking for the prorogation, the way the Privy Council works is that the Lord President of the Council, that's me, reads out what is going to happen and the Queen says 'approved'. It's no more than that, we don't sit around having a cup of tea chatting saying 'well your Majesty what do you think about this, ooh that Jeremy Corbyn'. I mean, you know. This vision of the Privy Council is false."
Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng was on fine form at a Q&A with the CPS think tank last week. As well as wrongly accusing Green MP Caroline Lucas of regularly flying to France despite advocating less air travel (he later sent her a written apology), he also revealed he shares a birthday with Jeremy Corbyn, which "shows that astrology is complete balls". He also remarked in his previous guise as Brexit minister: "My one job, which I'm afraid I failed, was to steer the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament". So you're the one to blame, he was asked? He demurred: "Well, in a small part, a very small part..."
Someone was always bound to try and shoe-horn the biggest story of the week, perhaps year, into politics. And just as night follows day, it was Liz Truss, with the International Trade Secretary telling the annual Commonwealth trade ministers meeting: "There has been a massive fall out between some very influential figures which has divided the nation. There has been finger pointing, there has been blame shifting, and there has been denials. But enough about Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy!" After some muted laughter Ms Truss added: “For those of you who don't know, those are footballers' wives who engaged in an Instagram spat." Always great when you have to explain the joke Liz…
As ever the extra-curricular aspects of Conservative party conference were brought to a close by the notorious ‘Toryoke’ night, where hacks, MPs and lobbyists stay up far too late on the last night and start to regret it just as the leader begins their big speech the following morning. But the well-oiled crowd got a surprise when the opening bars of “I feel good” by James Brown came through the PA system shortly after midnight. A cautious look to the stage thankfully revealed the veteran journalist taking on this soul classic had opted not to adopt Sir Desmond Swayne levels of authenticity.