Henry's henchman: Montage by Dan Murrell
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Commons confidential: Dave’s Cromwell moment at Wolf Hall

While Sam Cam comandeers the disabled loo.

David Cameron isn’t a chap to let a global crisis such as the one in Ukraine get in the way of an evening at the theatre. My eagle-eyed snouts and radar-lugged informants were out in the audience when the Bullingdon boy tipped up with his wife, Samantha, in Stratford-upon-Avon to watch Wolf Hall. Electorally the least successful Tory premier in history, he may be seeking inspiration from Henry VIII’s henchman Thomas Cromwell. And with whom did the Downing Street couple dine in the rooftop restaurant? The City PR Sir Alan Parker, a chum Dave knighted a few months ago, and Parker’s missus, Jane Hardman, a political lobbyist. 

The foursome rubbed along famously. Dave’s bodyguards requested a coat stand be shifted so they could keep an eye on their employer from a discreet distance. The revelry was interrupted by a flunkey appearing at the table with a phone for the PM to take an important call. I trust Sir Alan, part of Dave’s recent posse to China, instantly forgot everything he overheard.

Tittering rippled around the auditorium as Cameron and party were ushered into front-row seats moments before the curtain went up at the Swan Theatre. Sir Alan’s brother Nathaniel “Inspector Lynley” Parker was a fine Henry but the star of the show was Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell. Dave, a snout whispered disapprovingly, was distracted by texts and emails on his own mobile. The PM placed the device on a programme so it appeared as if he was reading the play notes or profiles of the actors. Smart move. Luckily, the phone was on silent. 

Cameron’s security team needed to push its way through the crowded bar to deliver their charge to a private room for interval drinkies. One woman almost spilled a cup of water over him in the melee. Others muttered: “Is it really him?” Yes, it was. A disabled woman tried to gain entry to the room but was turned away, told it was a private party. The queue for the ladies’ was long. Sam Cam and Jane Hardman disappeared into the one disabled loo.

In the second half, the magnificent Miles intentionally aimed Cromwell’s line that “Government should always listen to the voice of the people” at Dave in the front row. It brought the house down. The usually disciplined RSC audience erupted, cheering and applauding. Theatregoers, otherwise known as voters, pointed and laughed at Cameron. The PM just smiled, as did Nathaniel Parker’s Henry VIII.

In the interests of fairness, I feel compelled to record that a fair number in the audience later wanted to shake the PM’s hand. Incidentally, it looks as if Dave’s back on the hair dye.

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 05 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's power game

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.