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Cabinet Office turn the tables on Chris Bryant

When he’s not grovelling to the House for his latest error, there’s nothing that Chris Bryant likes more than a bit of Tory-bashing. Whether it’s popping up in parliament or firing off posts on his ever-active Twitter account, few Members bill themselves as being better at holding ministers’ feet to the fire than our Sir Chris. Lately, the chosen choice of weapon for the Rhondda rabble-rouser is the time-honoured favourite of the written question.

Bryant marked the new year by firing off one such inquiry to the Cabinet Office, the ministry known as the ‘thinking brain’ of government. His query concerned the status of one Dominic Cummings, back in the spotlight after his Sunday Times interview in which he disclosed details of private talks with Rishi Sunak. A fortnight after that interview, Bryant duly tabled his question, demanding to know details of all government meetings with Cummings throughout the past, er, 24 months.

Responsibility for the rejoinder fell to Tory MP Alex Burghart who, as Minister for Implementation, is the real-life equivalent of Yes Minister’s Jim Hacker in the Department of Administrative Affairs. And Sir Humphrey himself would be proud of Burghart’s reply. It cooly noted that long-standing Whitehall practice is to publish only details of official meetings with external organisations and senior media executives. It then turned the tables on Bryant’s party by noting drily that:

I would observe that since 2016, the Labour Party has stopped publishing its own meeting data on shadow frontbench meetings with senior media executives, breaking a commitment made by the then Labour Party leader (the Rt Hon Member for Doncaster North) during the Leveson Inquiry. The Hon. Member may recall how previous data illustrated his engagement with Evgeny Lebedev (now Lord Lebedev). As a shadow DCMS spokesman, the Hon. Member may wish to raise this subsequent shyness with his Opposition colleagues.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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