Commons Confidential: Cameron's comb-over and Ed Miliband's jacket

News from the political grapevine.

Yvette Cooper delivers a nice line in self-deprecating humour, taking politics seriously but not herself. As a consequence, Labour’s shadow home secretary is much in demand as a speaker and she agreed to do the honours at a fundraiser in London for the perky grassroots website LabourList. Happy to make herself the butt of an anecdote, Cooper recounted how, sitting next to a royal protection officer at a monarchical event, she discovered the copper didn’t have a clue who she was. The invisibility, said Cooper, wasn’t a great verdict on her performance. She’s also happy to tell glorious tales at the expense of her insignificant other, Ed Balls. The protection officer, Cooper continued, enquired who else was present from the Labour Party. She pointed out the shadow chancellor. “Ah,” the relieved officer observed, “I wondered what Nick Griffin was doing here.” The physical resemblance must be uncomfortable for Balls, particularly as a snap exists of him as a young man in Nazi uniform during a dressing-up night at Oxford University.

Subsequent to this column disclosing that Ed Miliband has been instructed to keep his jacket on after a focus group found that female voters prefer him formally attired, I gather he’s also adopted a new handshake. MPs had likened physical exchanges of greetings with the Labour leader to grabbing a wet halibut. No longer. A visitor found the wannabe premier has developed a firmer handshake, squeezing tightly any proffered mitt to assert authority. One courtier handily posited this as evidence that Miliband goes from strength to strength.

Over in the Tory camp, the worry is Dave’s disappearing barnet. Despite an increasingly elaborate Cameron comb-over, the expanding white pate is visible from the press gallery. The PM’s cover-up is both strategic and vain. My snout whispered the bald fact is that the Lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby, would find it trickier to portray a visibly ageing Cameron as the future.

The imminent sale and potential closure of that lefty canteen, the Gay Hussar in Soho, may happen before its manager, John Wrobel, busy cooking up a staff buyout, tracks down Michael Foot’s walking stick. Since this column reported that the gaffer yearned to hang on the wall the prop of its best-known patron, a cane purportedly used by Footie was presented by a diner but was rejected by Wrobel, who doubted its provenance. The stick would be useful should regulars mount the barricades to repel property speculators or – far worse – nouvelle cuisine.

Another Tory snout muttered that Boris Johnson has retained a large family home in the Henley constituency he vacated five years ago. I pass this on without further comment as the London Mayor seeks a Commons perch.

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

Image: Montage by Dan Murrell

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 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

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