Commons Confidential: Grousing about Boy George

Plus: an apology to Paul Flynn MP.

Scribblers and telly hacks in the lobby plan to ape US journalists with a British version of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The unholy trinity of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will attend the inaugural annual shindig on 16 January next year.

Holding a Westminster correspondents’ dinner inevitably invites accusations of self-aggrandisement and cosiness with the political class. British reporters sneer at their US counterparts for standing when a president enters the room; remaining seated as a prime minister walks in is an act of passive defiance. The event may be enlivened by a bunfight, with only 70 places available for hacks plus partners, though there are close on 300 journalists with passes to the Mock-Gothic Fun Palace. Your columnist shall be otherwise engaged.

Oh dear. Two lawyers wrote to Diane Abbott asking their local MP to attend a backbench debate on the destruction of legal aid as we know it by the In-Justice Secretary, Chris “the Jackal” Grayling. The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington told the first that she was unable to attend “due to prior commitments in my constituency”. The second was informed: “My son graduates that day from Trinity College, Cambridge . . . and I will be with him for most of the day.” You wouldn’t need to be Rumpole of the Bailey to spot the contradiction.

Sticking with Abbott, I hear she’s sounding out trade union support for a potential tilt at the London mayoralty. Tottenham’s David Lammy, who thought he’d secured Abbott’s backing, is unimpressed. With Alan Johnson, Sadiq Khan and Tessa Jowell also mentioned in despatches, soon we may reach the point where it would be easier to ask which Londonborn Labour MPs aren’t interested in the City Hall job.

How the other 1 per cent lives: George Osborne’s baronetcy, his Buller past and the fee-charging schools of his children would, by the standards of most Britons, mark him out as “posh”, no matter how many times he might recite the untruthful mantra “we’re all in this together”. But not, it transpires, in the eyes of his father-in-law. A snout recounted a conversation in which Baron Howell of Guildford, a one-time minister under the Thatcher and Cameron regimes, sprang to the defence of Osborne: “He’s not posh – he lives in Notting Hill.” By the noble lord’s reckoning, perhaps, to be posh in today’s Con Party one needs to own a grouse moor and country pile.

Many apologies to the thrifty MP Paul Flynn, who informs me that when he went to Strasbourg on Council of Europe business he would drive, and never went first class by train as I was wrongly told. I’m delighted to set the record straight and regret upsetting Paul last week in a tale about the Labour frontbenchers Sadiq Khan and Wayne David. I salute Flynn for his integrity and his refusal to let a disability, which he says makes it difficult to travel by train or plane, get in the way of his duties.

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

Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

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 15 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Machiavelli

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Would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to? One time, I did

I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain.

Ever heard the phrase, “Would you jump off a cliff if they told you to?” It was the perpetual motif of my young teenage years: my daily escapades, all of which sprang from a need to impress a peer, were distressing and disgusting my parents.

At 13, this tomboyish streak developed further. I wrote urgent, angry poems containing lines like: “Who has desire for something higher than jumping for joy and smashing a light?” I wanted to push everything to its limits, to burst up through the ceiling of the small town I lived in and land in America, or London, or at least Derby. This was coupled with a potent and thumping appetite for attention.

At the height of these feelings, I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain. One of the cool girls started saying that her cousin had jumped off the bridge into the river and had just swum away – and that one of us should do it.

Then someone said that I should do it, because I always did that stuff. More people started saying I should. The group drew to a halt. Someone offered me a pound, which was the clincher. “I’m going to jump!” I yelled, and clambered on to the railing.

There wasn’t a complete hush, which annoyed me. I looked down. It was raining very hard and I couldn’t see the bottom of the riverbed. “It looks really deep because of the rain,” someone said. I told myself it would just be like jumping into a swimming pool. It would be over in a few minutes, and then everyone would know I’d done it. No one could ever take it away from me. Also, somebody would probably buy me some Embassy Filter, and maybe a Chomp.

So, surprising even myself, I jumped.

I was about three seconds in the air. I kept my eyes wide open, and saw the blur of trees, the white sky and my dyed red hair. I landed with my left foot at a 90-degree angle to my left ankle, and all I could see was red. “I’ve gone blind!” I thought, then realised it was my hair, which was plastered on to my eyes with rain.

When I pushed it out of the way and looked around, there was no one to be seen. They must have started running as I jumped. Then I heard a voice from the riverbank – a girl called Erin Condron, who I didn’t know very well. She pushed me home on someone’s skateboard, because my ankle was broken.

When we got to my house, I waited for Mum to say, “Would you jump off another cliff if they told you to?” but she was ashen. I had to lie that Dave McDonald’s brother had pushed me in the duck pond. And that’s when my ankle started to throb. I never got the pound, but I will always be grateful to Erin Condron. 

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