Commons Confidential

This Morgan with Gordon.

The word in Westminster is that Sarah Brown convinced her hubby it would be a terrific idea to appear on Life Stories, Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan's ITV choke-fest. Morgan, used to interviewing D-listers such as Jordan and Vinnie Jones, couldn't believe his luck. The Mail on Sunday, which pays Morgan handsomely as a columnist, was spun the story that the PM had wept buckets about his ten-day-old daughter's death in 2002. But No 10 insisted that, while he had welled up, no tears flowed down the prime ministerial cheeks. A strategist muttered that what's good for Morgan ain't necessarily good for Labour.

The shoe repair millionaire Edward "Timmy" Timpson is feeling down at heel. The Tory MP was overheard complaining that David Cameron has barely spoken to him since the May 2008 by-election spectacular in Crewe. Now crestfallen, Timmy knows how the Tory front bench feels.

David Miliband speaks at so many Labour events that it's whispered he'd go to the opening of a milk bottle if there were party votes in it. Newly selected would-be Labour MPs receive a note of congratulations, I hear, from Ed Balls. The determined letter writers include Keith Vaz and Denis MacShane. It may be a coincidence that if Labour loses there'll be leadership and shadow cabinet ballots. Or maybe, just maybe, there's a direct connection.

New Labour's Stalinist Tendency mock the perpetually-pleased-with-himself Tony Wright's call for elected select committee chairs. Old hands recall Wright proposing his own, erm, appointment as head of the Commons reform body.

The impending departure of Gordon Brown's little helper, Nigel Griffiths, has triggered a scramble for his office. I'm told Keir Hardie once occupied his bolt-hole near the hairdressing salon. Wee Nigel was accused of cavorting with a scantily clad brunette on the sofa. A comrade mentally measuring the curtains added that he'd ask for the upholstery to be steam-cleaned.

Lurch-like Stephen Timms says the Treasury is unable to issue a constituency guide to estates benefiting from Cameron's £1m inheritance-tax giveaway. Postcodes, said Lurch, are often omitted from wills. Do the super-rich misplace mansions?

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

This article appears in this week's New Statesman.

 

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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.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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