Westminster’s most gruesome rivalries

LONDON — There are bad spirits lurking in Westminster this All Hallows’ Eve.

More out of control than Frankenstein’s monster … more intense than the age-old battle between vampires and werewolves … and more un-killable than a swarm of flesh-eating zombies, these are the bitter rivalries that just can’t be doused in holy water and seen off.

Emerge from your crypt and join POLITICO as we reel off the Westminster feuds haunting British politics. Reader discretion … advised.

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson

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Behold a tale of true horror! There is serious bad blood between these former Downing Street neighbors.

Boris Johnson and his supporters continue to feel a deep sense of betrayal after nerdy ex-Chancellor Sunak quit Johnson’s government and eventually took his crown.

You don’t usually get on-the-record warfare between a sitting and a former prime minister, but their disdain for each other has burst into the open since their acrimonious parting of ways last year. 

In June, Johnson accused his successor of “talking rubbish” after Sunak told reporters the ex-PM had asked him “to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do.” It came amid claims he had stopped key Johnson allies being elevated to the House of Lords — the British political equivalent of a stake through the heart.

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn

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Jumping jack-o-lanterns! Sunak didn’t get the chance to kick his own predecessor out of the Tory party — but it’s something his opposite number has not been at all squeamish about.

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s unceremonious suspension of ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP over his response to a damning report on antisemitism in the party triggered a feud that sees no signs of easing.

It’s hard to believe Starmer once served in Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet — although the Tories would like to keep reminding voters about that one.

Starmer added insult to injury in April by denying he had ever been a “friend” of Corbyn when asked about their past association on an LBC talk show. 

Corbyn is not going quietly. He’s accused Starmer of launching “an assault on the rights of his own Labour members” and is expected to run as an independent MP at the next election. There’s even talk of a London mayoral run.

Corbyn told POLITICO: “I’m not interested in personal attacks. I’d rather spend my time and energy carrying on doing what I’ve done for the past 40 years: campaigning for a more equal, sustainable and peaceful world on behalf of the people of Islington North.”

Liz Truss and Dominic Raab

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Here’s a tale to chill the spine: two co-authors of a radical right-wing dossier, Britannia Unchained, who went from pamphlet pals to bitter enemies.

In the heat of the first Tory leadership contest in 2022, Raab used an article in the Times to say Truss’ strategy of prioritizing tax cuts would damage the living standards of millions of voters who would subsequently cast the Tories into “oblivion” at the next election.

Truss dismissed such talk as the “portents of doom,” a great Hammer Horror film title if ever we saw one. 

Truss may end up getting the last cackle — Raab has opted to quit parliament at the next election, while Truss intends to stand again and is already trying to influence where the Conservatives go next.

Nadine Dorries and … a lot of Tory MPs

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Oh the humanity! Unlike Boris Johnson, former Conservative MP Nadine Dorries seems to have no qualms about using her Daily Mail column to take direct aim at ex-colleagues.

In recent months she turned her pen on Commons foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns, writing that her appointment “came as a surprise to many of us. Others, who were far more experienced and alert to the dangers from hostile powers — including the wise and knowledgeable Iain Duncan Smith — had stood unsuccessfully against her.”

As for the current PM, who can forget Dorries’ diatribe about Rishi Sunak during last year’s Tory leadership campaign, where she warned party members not to be taken in by his super-slick style. “The assassin’s gleaming smile, his gentle voice and even his diminutive stature had many of us well and truly fooled,” she wrote — in the Mail, of course.

There is more to come. Her new tome — “The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson” — has promised to lift the coffin lid on the “shocking truth about powerful forces operating behind the scenes in the heart of Westminster and those who became the architects of a prime minister’s downfall.”

Dorries told POLITICO she was “always unhappy” when she saw people’s votes “abused and distorted by those in Westminster who appear to have little or no regard for how precious the principle of democracy is.” She added: “Where I see it, I will always call it out.”

Suella Braverman and Priti Patel

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You’d be a Braverman than POLITICO to venture down London’s Marsham Street alone on Halloween.

You might think the current home secretary and her predecessor Priti Patel would bond over the nightmare of running that street’s most famous government department — the Home Office. Fat chance.

Patel reportedly threatened to sue Braverman’s Home Office after being told it had put the blame on her for overcrowding at an asylum processing center.

More recently, Patel took to the airwaves to suggest Braverman may have been attention-seeking with a controversial migration speech in Washington, pointedly adding that making such interventions is “not a substitute for delivery” on actual government policies.

A post-election Tory leadership contest could turn frightful if these two are key players.

Ben Wallace and Johnny Mercer

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Neither of these two are known for their subtlety.

Back in February, Wallace and Mercer came to public blows when Wallace, then a Cabinet minister, slapped down his more junior colleague after he publicly disputed his claim the U.K. military had been “hollowed out.”

Asked about Mercer’s comments, Wallace retorted that Mercer was a “junior minister” who “doesn’t have to run the budget.”

Even Mercer’s wife has waded in … Felicity accused the-then defense secretary of treating her husband with “disdain.”

Wallace told POLITICO there is “no rivalry” between the pair and that the two men do in fact “get on.”

Grant Shapps and Kemi Badenoch

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How’s this for a spooky Cabinet of curiosities? As POLITICO reported earlier this year, Badenoch and Shapps clashed repeatedly in their respective roles as energy and business secretaries, on issues such as the idea of a new green border tax on carbon-intensive imports.

Some suspected Badenoch’s perceived leap-frogging of Shapps in the ministerial hierarchy at the start of the year might have been the root cause of the friction. 

Shapps, however, has since secured a significant promotion, to defense secretary — a brief less likely to clash with Badenoch’s. But both have reportedly been wooing MPs ahead of any future Tory leadership contest — so there could be a Freddy vs. Jason-style showdown still to come.

Penny Mordaunt and Anne-Marie Trevelyan 

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Things got ghoulish between these two during last year’s Tory leadership campaign.

Penny Mordaunt, now the sword-wielding leader of the House of Commons, but then a trade minister, was publicly accused by her then-boss Anne-Marie Trevelyan of missing key ministerial meetings because she was too busy working on her Conservative leadership bid.

Trevelyan said Mordaunt’s absence meant other colleagues in the department were left to take on additional work.

Mordaunt did not let the broadside go unremarked upon at the next parliamentary questions, making a dig about AMT’s own supposed work ethic. Given Mordaunt, famous weapons-handling experience, this one could escalate fast.

Wes Streeting and Sam Tarry 

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Ilford South MP Sam Tarry is not going down quietly after he was deselected from standing for Labour at the next election.

His replacement as a candidate, Jas Athwal, was backed by neighboring MP and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting.

Unsurprisingly Tarry, who was sacked from the front bench after giving a TV interview on a union picket line, has not pulled his punches over Streeting’s sometimes spiky relationship with the firebrand doctors’ union the BMA.

He told LBC he was “dismayed” by Streeting’s criticisms of the BMA, claiming it was “completely the wrong approach” when the NHS is in “severe crisis” and “staff morale is at an all-time low.”

Rosie Duffield and Lloyd Russell-Moyle

It is fair to say that Labour MPs Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Rosie Duffield do not see eye-to-eye on the thorny issue of gender identity. 

Things got heated in a House of Commons debate on the issue in January when Russell-Moyle vocally heckled Duffield. He later conceded that he “failed to control his passion” during the debate.

In August, LabourList reported Duffield was planning to report Russell-Moyle to her party whips over a planned visit to her constituency — although it’s unclear whether this happened. Either way, there’s little love lost.

Stephen Flynn and Ian Blackford

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Here’s another succession rivalry — this time among the Scottish nationalists, whose bitter internal battles makes a raging poltergeist look calm.

Stephen Flynn and Ian Blackford had a very public row earlier this year over the SNP’s cashflow — with Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, publicly disputing his predecessor’s claim that the party’s House of Commons reps had a new auditor in place amid scrutiny of its finances.

They were hardly the best of friends even before that, after Flynn — the SNP’s young upstart — was accused of staging a coup to remove the veteran Blackford. Flynn still publicly denies this happened. 

The pair made a public show of sharing a drink on the House of Commons terrace shortly after their clash over auditors in April. Protesting too much?

Lee Anderson and Steve Bray

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The specter of Brexit still haunts the streets of Westminster.

There have been actual skirmishes between professional anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray — aka “Stop Brexit Man” — and forthright Eurosceptic Conservative vice-chairman Lee Anderson.

Anderson has taken issue with Bray largely accosting Tory MPs on the streets of Whitehall. There were even rumors of an actual boxing match. The thought of the pair in gym shorts is sure to enter the pantheon of Halloween horrors.

Dominic Cummings and … half of Westminster

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Former Downing Street adviser and Brexit campaign strategist Cummings has been back in the headlines this week, like a zombie rising from the grave of the Johnson administration.

Cummings has made no secret of his disdain for many in SW1, often using his Substack to take aim at inhabitants past and present — and don’t even get him started on the spooky-sounding “blob” supposedly running Whitehall.

The campaigns whizz — whose record is being pored over again this week at the official U.K. COVID inquiry — has had Johnson in his sights for years, referring to the ex-PM as a “shopping trolley” for his careering approach to policymaking. He’s also taken plenty of potshots at Johnson’s wife Carrie.

And he didn’t hide his disdain for ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s handing of the pandemic either. Hancock got his own back in his pandemic diaries, accusing Cummings of “total idiocy.” Expect plenty more of this in the days ahead.

Eleni Courea, Esther Webber, Andrew McDonald, Bethany Dawson and Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.