Commons Confidential

Mandy: Labour’s Simon Cowell.

Thirty thirsty MPs have made the most significant decision of John Bercow's reign: selecting the ten-year-old malt for the House of Commons shop (sipping from a shortlist of three, in order to comply with EU tendering rules). I hear that the drink-off in the state room was preceded by a vigorous debate as to whether the decision should be made using first-past-the-post or the Alternative Vote. Tradition triumphed, in a blow to electoral reform; but the middle bottle won, AV-style, in the blind taste test. Thick-headed tipplers later wondered if it was worth the hangover. Speaker Bercow rarely indulges; his whisky is a Macallan, just like that of his teetotal predecessor, Michael Martin.

Peter Mandelson isn't just re-forming the band, with Tony Blair and John Prescott as Gordon Brown's backing singers. The Labour Party's Simon Cowell is recruiting old roadies, too. Spied at a campaign session, escorted by Douglas Alexander, was Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Mandy's one-time little helper. Benji fled Britain for Russia when Blair quit No 10, but has agreed to return for a final tour. Other blasts from the past are expected. Weepy Alastair Campbell isn't alone in coming out of retirement for one last gig.

A Jack Russell named Mars may be another reason why the hokey-cokey "Cameron cutie" Joanne Cash is in the doghouse with the Westminster North Tories. The in-out-in candidate Cash looks after Michael Gove's pooch when the leader's pet (and shadow schools minister) is on his Surrey Heath patch. Notting Hell's more rabid Cons suspect that she prefers walking Mars to spending time with them. My snout muttered that they may not be barking up the wrong tree.

Yomping over Westminster Bridge, your correspondent was asked by a spotty youth in a fluorescent jacket to cross the road, as a "commercial" was being filmed. Prius-like, I sped on and bumped into the star -- a sheepish Nick Clegg. I can see him sold as political Flora: neither Cameron butter nor Brown margarine.

Mandy fancies himself as king-maker when Brown is dethroned. That may explain an intemperate text to Ed Miliband, advising the jolly green minister against fraternising with Labour lefties.

John Bercow is to introduce a Mr Speaker bottled ale to the gift shop. Old Peculier, perhaps?

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

This article appears in this week's New Statesman.

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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Mister Lizard is not at home to bailiffs – he is eating salmon pâté by the river

Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”?

Summer’s nearly over. I look at the angle of the sunlight as it strikes the back terrace of the Hovel. I have been here long enough to use the terrace as a gnomon marking the passage of the year. I need, like the protagonists of Withnail and I, to go to the countryside to rejuvenate.

Last week when the Perseids were meant to be in full flow I asked frantically on a social medium for people to chum me along on a midnight walk on Hampstead Heath. In the end my new friends A— and her husband, C—, together with his new friend (whose initial I have forgotten, but he is Australian, if that helps), stepped up to the plate and after a couple at the Flask we went on a wide-ranging tour, which was a bust as far as seeing meteors – or my favourite tree – went, but was still hugely enjoyable. At about 2 am they packed me into an Uber and I went home happy, but I still felt as if I could do with more countryside.

The next few days made me even more anxious to get out of London. There are ominous signs that some serious roadworks are going to be taking place outside my bedroom window any day now. A bailiff came and rang the doorbell and I didn’t have the heart, or the nerve, to say that Nicholas Lezard was not at home at the moment and, is, in fact, on a walking tour of Patagonia now I come to think of it, due back some time next year. I just took the piece of paper into my hands as if it were a chicken come home to roost.

The previous day, presumably the same bailiff had come round and asked if Mr Lizard was in, and my housemate gallantly – and quite truthfully – said “no”. (Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”? Maybe it’s because they haven’t ever been.) In addition, as I said last week, the cleaning lady is on holiday and the Hovel is starting to look distinctly seedy.

So, then I get a call from a person who once featured quite prominently in this column, some time ago. This person is bored and wants me to go to his or her town and alleviate his or her boredom. This person and I parted company in circumstances that were far from ideal some time ago, and only recently have diplomatic relations been resumed.

It is too late, I say, for me to get on the train now; but when I have reviewed the book I am meant to be reviewing, I will hop on the train tomorrow around noon. And so I do, despite some monkey business from the departures board at King’s Cross, which tells passengers the 12:44 has been cancelled, then hasn’t been, then has, then hasn’t after all, while the 12:14 has slipped away like a thief in the night without telling anyone it was doing so.

I wonder if my return to the town of ——— is wise. As a dog returneth to its vomit, so doth a fool return to his folly. And the burnt hand fears the fire. Look, I say to myself, all we’re doing is going to have a picnic by the river. As we buy our supplies, the stallholder at the market asks if I am my companion’s husband. “No, he’s my picnic buddy,” he or she replies. “Never heard it called that before,” says the stallholder.

And the day passes perfectly pleasantly. We have two bottles of wine, cheese and smoked salmon pâté with crusty bread. People in punts drift past us, with varying degrees of competence. I remember it is A-level results day and call the eldest boy to ask how he’s done. He’s done well enough, it turns out, to get a place at university, though he feels obliged to point out that his results came in exactly a year ago. This is the kind of thing that happens when the number of children you have exceeds your mental bandwidth.

Later on, a porter from the college behind which we are picnicking asks me if I am a member, or an alumni. “Alumnus,” I correct him gently, hoping that this should establish my credentials. He asks for my name, and he radios the porters’ lodge to check my veracity. For some reason it takes him several goes to get my name right.

One of these goes is “Lizard”. We offer him some cheese, but he refuses, on the grounds that he has just had a banana and a cup of tea. I could live in a guest room here, I reflect, at not much higher rent than one pays in London. And the beauty of it is that the police, and presumably bailiffs, have to ask permission to go through the gates. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser