The Hound

The Hound

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Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg attend a subdued Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Cabinet today about as much fun as a night out with John Bercow

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at Cabinet this morning. Luckily, no need to be a fly. For some bizarre reason, they invited in a TV crew to film proceedings. The mood looked gloomier than ever. Long gone are the days when a grinning PM used to lead the hostages, sorry cabinet ministers, in a round of call and response about how many hospitals he was going to build.

Today, the cabinet is embroiled in the tangled web of reports coming out of the No 10 machine over who knew what and when over the Chris Pincher affair.

In those pictures from Downing Street today they look, says a Tory MP, as though “they have been forced to go on a night out with John Bercow”, and listen to the former Speaker’s tales from the old days.

It can’t have helped that the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, is back in the headlines over the Pincher imbroglio. “Friends” have leaked emails which suggest she warned about the former deputy chief whip years ago.

The latest polling from the ConservativeHome website won’t have improved the mood either with Boris Johnson still at the bottom of the cabinet league table for the second month running with his score sinking from from -15 to -31. That means the PM has been in the red for four of this year’s six months.

Other ministers are down too. One-time golden boy, Rishi Sunak, is down into negative territory for the second time in three months. Almost everyone else is down, with former stars like Liz Truss and Michael Gove barely above water.

The only minister to move up – by 0.5 to 85.5 – was Ben Wallace, defence secretary, who also came out top in ConHome’s latest leadership poll, just beating Penny Mordaunt, the trade minister.

No wonder the Cabinet is so glum. According to one Tory activist who contacted Reaction after an evening out (everyone needs a hobby) attempting to persuade punters to stick with the Tories, the reception he had on the doorsteps has never been worse in the last thirty years. And he was alive and active in the Conservative party in the mid-1990s.

Voters are furious. Filling your car up and filling your radiators with gas or oil is now nearly double what it was last autumn, while filling your cupboards with food needs its own mortgage. 

Happy holidays, everyone!

Penny Mordaunt is popular with the Tory grassroots.

Wallace and Mordaunt top Tory leadership poll

Two senior ministers with experience of the military top the latest poll from the ConservativeHome website of Tory grassroots members as favourites to takeover from the Prime Minister – should there be a vacancy.

Top of the poll is Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who served as a Captain in the Scots Guards, a regiment of the British Army.

He received 119 votes from the 755 party members who were surveyed. It’s a big turn around for Wallace – who wasn’t even mentioned in the previous poll last December – giving him a 15.76 per cent share of those polled.

Second to Wallace is Penny Mordaunt, the first woman to hold the post of defence secretary, albeit for 85 days, and who is a Royal Naval reservist, holding the rank of acting sub-lieutenant. (Mordaunt’s father, John was a paratrooper before retraining as a teacher and, supposedly, named his daughter after the HMS Penelope, a Arethusa-class cruiser.)

Mordaunt, now minister for trade policy and MP for Portsmouth, is not far behind Wallace with 117 votes and 15.5 percent of the total. Considered a bit of a “freelancer” by many in the party, Mordaunt has cruised her way into politics via the most interesting route. A former magician’s assistant in her teenage years, she’s worked in PR, run communications for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and worked on George Bush’s campaign in 2004. 

Although a keen Brexiteer, Mordaunt backed Jeremy Hunt in the last leadership campaign and makes no secret of her antipathy towards the current PM. On big issues – such as tax cuts and LGBT rights  – she has taken an outspoken position and, if this latest poll is anything to go by, it has not dimmed her chances. On the latest trick question being fielded at politicians – what is a woman? – she has been particularly open, claiming a trans woman is a woman.

Why, though, is the defence secretary suddenly so popular? And is it a coincidence that the top two both have military experience? Is it that the public feels more comfortable with politicians who have some experience of what they are talking about? 

It could well be, and Wallace has led ConHome’s Cabinet League Table since February, when Russia first invaded Ukraine. Since then he has taken a leading role in Britain’s efforts to help Ukraine in its war against Russia, and has been unafraid of criticising President Putin. 

For her part, Mordaunt has made much of her military experience, letting it be known that she visited Ukraine some years ago to help train their forces. 

So it’s interesting that the Cabinet minister who has played the biggest anti-Russian hand – Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and once the darling of the Tory grassroots – only managed third position in the poll with 14 per cent. Has her loyalty to the PM taken off some of the shine?

We shall see. Other one-time favourites like Rishi Sunak have dropped right back. In fact, only the top three managed double-digit figures. If there is going to be a challenge, the field is still wide open.

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaves his home in London, Britain September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Dominic Cummings (still) needs to get a job

Dominic Cummings – still jobless – is at it again, sniping from the sidelines to great comic effect.

The latest shot the ex-Svengali has fired at the government reminds the Hound of its teenage owner’s favourite way of killing time – taking online personality quizzes, ranging from “Which Hogwarts house do you belong in?” to “Which Sex and the City character are you?”, and the like. It seems that Cummings remains in this mindset of teenage boredom as he shared what could be a list of all of the possible outcomes of a quiz entitled “Which Tory cabinet hopeful are you?” when describing in a Tweet (what else) the script reshuffle meetings often follow:

Options begin with “pervert”, file through “drunk”, “moron”, “under investigation by NCA (he doesn’t know)”, “she’s ok but she’s useless”, “dodgy donors”, “dodgepot”, and end on “she’s actually good [laughter]”.

If any prospective Cabinet members are tempted to triangulate which category they might fall into, they could do worse than take the following mini-quiz:

  1. How many drinks do you have at the Strangers Bar on a normal Friday?
    a) None
    b) 1-3
    c) 3-5
    d) 5+
  2. How would your friends describe you?
    a) “nice”
    b) “a laugh”
    c) “мой дорогой британский друг”
    d) I don’t have any friends
  3. Things are getting a little slow in the Commons Chamber. How do you pass some time?
    a) I wasn’t listening in first place and was busy looking at the Hobbs site
    b) Answering emails for my third consulting job
    c) Texting my friend Evgeny Lebedev
    d) Watching a video of some tractors

Equally, the list itself could be a fun way to pass the time at PMQs. If formulated into a grid, there’s almost enough for a bingo sheet.