Commons Confidential: Cost-cutting with Kwarteng

Politics is full of knockers.

Kwasi Kwarteng MP is one of Cameron’s bankers and a member of the Brigade of Old Etonians. Not short of a few bob, he has called on Britain to work harder and longer and takes a hardline approach to welfare. He’s backed the docking of benefits for claimants who fail to turn up for a Jobcentre Plus interview. So the Hon Member must be mortified at failing to turn up for a visit by the work and pensions select committee to Bedfordshire to study the impact of cuts on council-tax benefit. The charabanc left Westminster without Kwarteng. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so I’m sure he’ll agree with me that his £66,396 salary should be “sanctioned” for missing the trip.

Ken Clarke remains an invisible man despite serving in every Tory regime since Ted Heath’s era. The woman behind the desk in Trade and Industry Towers didn’t click who the cabinet minister is when he tried to gain entry to the department. Clarke huffed and puffed about red tape as he was asked to fill in a form to hold a briefing with his fellow minister Michael Fallon on, er, cutting red tape. “Mercifully,” Clarke muttered under his breath, “I’m still not recognised in the majority of the places I go.” Anonymity may be the key to his longevity. Cameron won’t sack Clarke if he doesn’t notice that he attends cabinet meetings.

The Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, castigated the Labour government’s failure to release secret files on the “Shrewsbury 24” building workers, prosecuted for conspiracy following a 1972 national pay strike. Speaking at a Commons gathering before Labour MPs voted 120-3 for the ConDems to publish the files, Red Len said that Labour had missed a 13-year opportunity to do the same. The vote may be a moral victory for the campaign to show that the Shrewsbury pickets were victims of an establishment conspiracy, but publication of the files is not yet guaranteed.

Politics is full of knockers. There I was, reading the Tory maverick Douglas Carswell recounting how he heroically chased and caught a shoplifter in Clacton, when my phone beeped. It was from a snout claiming an eyewitness had seen two security guards stop the villain, not Essex’s answer to Batman. My informant may, of course, have been confused by the melee.

Should the Nazi uniform row Tory storm trooper Aidan Burley think he hears a low, droning sound when he walks down the library corridor, he’s right. Labour MPs have taken to humming the Dam Busters theme when they pass Dave’s Blue Shirt.

The things you hear in Westminster – a Labour MP asked parliamentary staff to work as waiters when she held a Saturday dinner party at her home.

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

Montage: Dan Murrell

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 29 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The seven per cent problem