Commons Confidential

Mata Hattie's mutiny

I for one didn't think she had it in her. But the Talibrown mutters that Harriet Harperson was the cabinet end of A Very Rubbish Coup. The word in Westminster is that Gordon Broon's disloyal deputy admitted that her long chats with Patsy Hewitt over the holidays were about more than their old days at the National Council for Civil Liberties. She was, I hear, poised to play the role of Mata Hattie, until a loss of nerve turned "the snow plot" to slush.

Weeping under the £134.50 pair of lamps he bought at our expense is Michael Gove. The Tory educashun spokesman was forced to give up his £65,000 column for the Times when David Cameron ordered frontbenchers to ditch outside earners. When Ken Clarke was asked how he got away with making his BBC jazz programme in January, the rogue chuckled that he had slipped under the wire by making it last year.

A disgruntled insurrectionist whispered that Hattie resents Premier Broon's unwillingness to pull out his finger to land Mr Harperson, Jack "the Knife" Dromey, a safe parliamentary seat. Local flak has unsettled plans to parachute the union baron into Leyton. Scurrilous MPs whisper that Tessa Jowell, a family friend, is willing to lay down Dulwich, a constituency neighbouring Hattie's Peckham patch. Lady Jowell certainly has a ring to it.

Witches feared ducking stools and politicians worry about Mumsnet. In pursuit of votes, the PM's human shield, Sarah Brown, is to endure the questions of yoghurt-knitters and political plants. Yummy Mummy Sammy Cameron was due to appear with her insignificant other until Tory spinners began to fear abuse over her £995 Smythson handbags.

Labour boasts many amateur actors but only one true thespian, the Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson. The Rada-trained MP has a Shakespearean command of the English language. Asked her view of the plotters by a whip, she was more Merry Wives of Windsor than Henry V. "They're a bunch of arseholes," was Queen Glenda's considered view.

The rarefied surroundings of the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords made an incongruous venue for the Electoral Reform Society's New Year bash. Perhaps the all-party CND group should check whether Aldermaston is available.

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.