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Hain the Pain takes the strain

The resignation of Peter Hain, the only cabinet minister in history to have been charged with bank robbery (remember, Gordon Brown was accused of breaking the banks), deprives Ed Miliband’s shadow team of one of its quicker thinkers. Little fazes the anti-apartheid campaigner since spooks in South Africa’s BOSS squad tried to fit up “Hain the Pain” for a Barclays raid in London in the 1970s. The MP has the all-year, pop-star tan but is no Tom Jones. Realising that he alone was unable to sing in Welsh
at a karaoke evening in West Glamorgan, he saved his skin by chanting the local rugby refrain “Neath! Neath! Neath!” into the microphone. The tactic worked a treat and his blushes were spared.

In the lift of a TV studio, your correspondent bumped into Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader and Deputy PM looked knackered and pasty-faced, the weight on his shoulders of a shambolic Con-Dem coalition appearing to have shrunk in size a politico who’d walked tall in the wilderness. Clegg’s face lit up like a little child’s on hearing he’d bump into Pudsey the dancing dog. The glow disappeared as fast as it had come when I added he also risked meeting Brian Paddick, a former copper – and the party’s London mayoral candidate who finished fourth behind the Greens – who’d like to become Lord Paddick of Dock Green.

Guests on John Pienaar’s Sunday-evening show on Radio 5 Live included Philip Hammond, the assertive Defence Secretary, who considers attack the best form of defence. Tory high command ordered the cabinet minister over the top in an offensive to reclaim lost ground in the war of the Queen’s Speech. The battle-weary Corporal Hammond had clearly endured a demanding day, and failed to recognise himself on a TV in a corner of the studio. It took him a few moments to recall the interview. Perhaps he was confused by a change of clothes, having replaced his TV suit with country casuals that could’ve come straight from the pages of a Boden catalogue.

Lobby hacks are revolting over a plan to turn political reporting into a TV documentary dubbed The Only Way Is Westminster and so the cameras are unlikely to roll in the Press Gallery. Journos, particularly those toiling in print, were alert enough to suspect the BBC wouldn’t portray them as courageous souls battling the spin doctors to bring people the truth, but rather present a picture of spoon-fed captives of
the main parties. A counter-suggestion – record prearranged interviews in Moncrieff’s, that rare example of licensed premises named after a drinker-turned-teetotaller, any questions posed over a fizzy water or Diet Coke – is unlikely to make riveting TV. Which, presumably, is why it was proposed.

Ed Miliband has sidelined the mathematical ratio of 99 per cent:1 per cent when accusing David Cameron of favouring a rich few over the many. An apparatchik in the Labour leader’s politburo whispered that the division sounded “too Marxist”, a complaint the son of the Marxist thinker Ralph Miliband is anxious to avoid.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, European crisis

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Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.