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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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.