Commons Confidential: Ed’s unaccompanied miner

PLUS: A curious incident in Strangers’ Bar.

Ed keeps digging. Montage: Valeria Escalona
 
MPs who embrace trade unions as part of the Labour family were put on the naughty step during the TUC conference. I hear Ian Lavery, a former miner and chair of the trade union group of Labour MPs, was refused permission to travel to Bournemouth by the whips’ office.
 
Lavery, by all accounts, was unhappy. Not least because he lost the money he’d spent on a booked hotel room.
 
My snout shouted how Lavery asked if it was a joke, then acquired a thunderous look as black as the bottom of a pit shaft when informed that he must remain in London. When in a hole, stop digging, Ed!
 
A curious incident in Strangers’ Bar at the House of Commons. That Lib Dem bomber Paddy Ashdown ordered a pint of lager. Bewitched by his smartphone, Captain Paddy reached into a trouser pocket and slapped down a pile of coins, inviting the barman to extract the price of the pint.
 
Rude – or acceptable behaviour by a seemingly busy peer of the realm? I invite the court of public opinion to be judge and jury.
 
Kelvin MacKenzie apologises for his Wapping short temper in the Elmbridge Lifestyle Magazine. The interviewer, Rosanna Greenstreet, reveals that in 1989 she toiled as a News International secretary. At the job interview, she was asked: “What would you do if MacKenzie called you a c***?”
 
It’s easy to see how an unrestrained and ranting reactionary printed lies about dead Liverpool fans. It isn’t the terrible Hillsborough calumny, however, that leaves MacKenzie most rueful. “My greatest regret,” he reveals, “is that I didn’t stop editing sooner. I worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week . . .” He’s still all me-me-me.
 
New pink ribbons were cut and tied to hang swords in a reorganisation of the members’ cloakroom, coat pegs now arranged by constituency rather than surname. The idea was to avoid the need to move everyone along if a Zeus was replaced by an Aardvark in a by-election. Missing from the fresh ribbons are the plastic and wooden swords slipped in by irreverent MPs. Parliament likes to stand on its dignity.
 
The thespian Ian Grieve plays the brooding eponymous leader in The Confessions of Gordon Brown, which will have a short run in Brighton during Labour conference.
 
One unexpected problem is audience members shouting out names when Grieve-Broon poses a rhetorical question about who was defence secretary during the Iraq war. The answer is Geoff Hoon, but this isn’t panto, so shush if you go.
 
Piers Morgan grumbles how he was twice mistaken for David Cameron. Something about the cheekbones. Has Cameron ever been mistaken for the CNN host? Crushing for both if he hasn’t.
 
Kevin Maguire is the 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.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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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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