Commons Confidential: Horseplay à la Cameroon

Plus: Ralph Miliband, a coalition contretemps and the death of a suffragette.

New Statesman
Hetty Bower, at 102 years old, was the oldest person to have marched at the first Stop the War March 5 years ago. Image: Getty

Ed Miliband will be discomfited by a celebration of his dad in the House of Commons. The band of Daily Mail-hating lefties embraces Miliband, Sr as a man who loved Britain but loathed its oppressive establishment and shackling capitalism. A debate on “Ralph Miliband and the Politics of Class Today” will be chaired on 27 November by the party’s Socialist Campaign Group MP John McDonnell. Listed speakers include Unite’s Andrew Murray and Hilary Wainwright of Red Pepper. It will mark the publication of the 50th volume of the Socialist Register, a highbrow theoretical journal founded by Papa Miliband and his fellow Marxist historian John Saville. Most present will believe Ed and his brother, David, have spent their careers proving Ralph right in arguing that there is no parliamentary road to socialism. The Labour leader isn’t expected to attend. I’m confident that Tory HQ will take careful notes, though, to quote back at him later.

Word reaches me of a coalition contretemps over croissants. Chairing a breakfast by the Commercial Broadcasters Association, Austin Mitchell, the garrulous Yorkshire TV news presenter-turned-Labour MP for Great Grimsby, asserted that the mass media are an electronic Burke and Hare, stealing body parts – Google taking our eyes, the BBC our hearts and minds – and then he asked Bob Russell which bit the Lib Dems desired. The Tory Nigel Evans, a former speaker now helping police with their inquiries, piped up “Survival”, which wasn’t well received. Russell, or Sir Bob, as the gaudily waistcoated knight is known in Commons circles, is easygoing until riled. The retort “You can bloody talk” chilled the coffee.

Dave’s mouthpiece Craig Oliver continues to open his gob and put his foot in it. Or, in this instance, a hoof. Cameron squirmed at a light grilling by hacks over Princess Anne’s call to let them eat horse. Perhaps he is troubled by memories of hacking round Chipping Norton on a retired police nag with a couple of friends. Crazy Olive was overheard appealing to the press posse: “Surely you’ve all ridden a horse?” In Fleet Street? Hobby horses, yes, but rarely equine.

BBC thought controllers are composing guidelines on how reporters must and must not describe Scotland’s date with destiny on 18 September next year. Calling it a vote on independence is permitted, of course, but not a separation or divorce. Nats should be happy, unionists maybe less so. In future, will quarrelling couples head for the independence courts?

The death of the suffragette Hetty Bower, 108, prompted me to recall her snubbing of Miliband in September, when he invited this veteran of the 1936 rout of fascists in east London to be in the hall at Brighton to hear his fuel-bill freeze speech. “Oh no,” Hetty replied. “I’ve a Cable Street meeting to go to.” RIP, you remarkable campaigner.

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

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