Senior Conservative Party figures are currently engaged in a covert battle to replace Boris Johnson, who is on the ropes after overseeing many months of scandal and blunder.
In public, cabinet ministers insist all is well.
In private, many of them are putting out feelers and courting allies with a view to making a leadership bid when the inevitable happens and the services of the Prime Minister are dispatched with.
There’s talk of wannabe-leaders hosting private dinners and cosy drinks with the MPs they need to woo.
It’s Tory Tinder. But instead of shirtless selfies and ‘candid’ photos at the top of hills, lovers share whispered promises of a low-regulation economy and yet another brutal ‘crackdown’ on immigration.
One such hopeful is Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
In a sign that the upper echelons of the Conservative party truly is another world, she is somehow the runaway favourite to win a future leadership contest.
From cheesy speeches to Fizz with Liz
The darling of the party is best known for a bizarre speech she gave in 2014 where she despaired at the fact that Britain imports two-thirds of its cheese.
“That. Is. A. DISGRACE,’’ she gurned for the Tory party faithful.
Although, that statistic is probably out of date now.
It came before the decree was handed down that made cheese and wine compulsory during all work meetings at No. 10.
Apparently, her clandestine leadership campaign is already well under way. And she has taken to hosting ‘”Fizz with Liz’’ nights for MPs.
She has been successful at building up her core support, but being the heir apparent does have its downsides.
At the weekend, The Sunday Times revealed Liz Truss hosted an expensive lunch at a private member’s club owned by a Tory donor when she was trade secretary, despite being advised by civil servants to look for a cheaper venue.
The timing of this information coming out is interesting.
Who has the motive to spill the beans on Liz’s lunch now, as Tory members are increasingly making it clear that they’ve got their eye on a new blonde?
Devil is in the detail of Liz Truss gathering
Leaving aside the Game of Thrones-style antics of poshos with too much time on their hands, it is the details of the event that we should be concerned about.
Because they show, once again, that the party of fiscal responsibility is shamefully reckless when it comes to our money.
I predict today’s Sunday Times story by @Gabriel_Pogrund won’t be the last time Liz Truss gets in trouble asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for her expensive tastes. She had a bit of form during her time as Trade Secretary. Let me take you through another example…(1/6)
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) January 2, 2022
The leaked emails between panicked civil servants say Liz Truss “explicitly asked that we book 5 Hertford Street’’ and “refused to consider anywhere else’’ when advised that a £3k lunch might not be the best use of tax-payers’ cash.
It surely must only be a coincidence that Mr Birley also donated £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.
A prior agreement was made to reduce the cost of the final bill. So in the end we only paid £1,400 for the former trade secretary to wine (at £130 a bottle) and dine.
A spokesman for the Department for International Trade said: “This was a diplomatic working dinner attended by the previous international trade secretary, senior UK officials, and US counterparts from our largest single trading partner.’’
Politicians must have a stronger constitution than the rest of us.
Over the festive period, Sky News phoned me late one night to see if I was available for some political commentary.
I had to sheepishly admit that the only thing I was available for was my bed, given that I was three whiskies down at that point.
I should have said yes.
Maybe being drunk at work is the key to success.
It seems to work well for some politicians.
Lunch bill anger needn’t be a barrier to success
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was scathing in her reaction to the leaked emails.
“It is shameful to see Liz Truss pushing against official advice to book a luxury lunch that brings in thousands of pounds of business to a Tory donor,” she said.
“Without a US trade deal in sight, the sheer incompetence of wasting taxpayer money is truly jarring.
“Whilst working people see their household budgets squeezed, Conservative ministers always manage to find ways to line their mates’ pockets.”
This “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’’ approach is an established pattern within the party of government.
Whilst working people see their household budgets squeezed, Conservative Ministers always manage to find ways to line their mates pockets.
Eat Out to help Tory Donors Out. https://t.co/4s0Rjt6Yho
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) January 2, 2022
Ordinarily, you’d say that this latest revelation would damage a would-be leadership contender’s chances.
But we need only look at who Liz Truss is tipped to replace to be reminded that this is the way they do things.
Boris Johnson’s lies, misdemeanours and reckless indifference to standards in public life didn’t stop him landing the top job.
There’s no reason to think that Liz’s lavish lunch will be a barrier to her one day stealing his crown.