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Commons confidential: Meryl Streep and the self-publicist peril

Unluckily for MPs yearning for the limelight, Meryl Streep will be filming her role as Emmeline Pankhurst in Westminster during the Easter recess.

Voters can be awkward people, as Nick Clegg discovered during a stunt with Liberal Democrat MPs. The idea was to hold up a banner in Victoria Tower Gardens, the patch of green along the River Thames at the Lords end of parliament, declaring the Con-Dem coalition’s minor party to be marvellous or some such vacuous nonsense. TV crews assembled and commenced filming the Yellow Peril propaganda palaver – so far, so mundane. Until a demonstrator joined in. “Nick Clegg,” yelled the protester, “you know BEEP BEEP is a paedophile.” BEEP BEEP is the name of a once-prominent politician who may be recognisable to some NS readers. I understand that serious allegations have been made to the police about sexual abuse of boys and young men. Broadcasters, perhaps Clegg and certainly BEEP BEEP will be relieved that the event wasn’t transmitted live.

Colonel “Bonking” Bob Stewart is on manoeuvres. The commander of British forces in Bosnia-turned-Tory MP is the only Conservative on the Commons defence committee lobbying Labour MPs hard to succeed James Arbuthnot as chairman. I’m told that others – Julian Brazier, Adam Holloway and James Gray – are concentrating their drinks on fellow Tories. The position is decided by a vote of the entire House. A Tory MP by the name of Bercow successfully went behind enemy lines to be elected Speaker.

MPs are dividing into two camps after an email informed them that the veteran documentary-maker Michael Cockerell is preparing to make Parliament: the Movie. The Invisibles want nothing to do with the Beeb four-parter while the self-publicists clamour to be on the small screen. The authorities came up with a solution to prevent the self-publicists hassling Meryl Streep when she is filmed playing the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst: the Hollywood shoot is scheduled for the Easter recess, when they will be on holiday.

Should Streep be looking for an unusual memento, she could always buy a £16.95 model of the Houses of Parliament or a £19.95 House of Commons chamber. Both are assembled out of wooden blocks and sold in a gift shop. I counted a dozen nondescript MPs in the chamber box. That many shows it must be based on a busy day.

Back in TV land, a producer muttered disapprovingly that Diane Abbott was observed filling a paper bag with the pastries put out for guests.

The Egyptian rapper and star of Arabs Got Talent Mayam Mahmoud flew to Britain to collect the Freedom of Expression arts award from Index on Censorship. The teenager uses hip-hop to fight sexual harassment and stand up for women’s rights in Egypt but nothing prepared her for London. She was pickpocketed, the money being filched from her handbag. And we’re warned to be careful in Cairo. 

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 03 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, NEW COLD WAR

Paul Farrelly
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I represent a Leave constituency - but I want to delay triggering Brexit

Unlike most of his colleagues, Labour MP Paul Farrelly refused to vote for starting Brexit negotiations in March. He explains why. 

Not quite top marks, but eight out of 11 will do - for the justices on the United Kingdom Supreme Court, who have ruled that our country remains, indeed, a parliamentary democracy. 

Furthermore, they have ruled that legislation is necessary to trigger Article 50, which starts the Brexit process, not simply a plebiscite, nor a government diktat fancifully dressed up as a "royal prerogative".

Last June, my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the area home to the historic potteries industry voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent to leave the European Union. Yet in December, I was one of just nine Labour MPs to vote - twice - against rushing for the door by the end of March, come what may.

It was the third time since 2015 that I’d defied the Labour whip (quite modest compared with our leader’s record). The last was when - with the Tories’ true statesman, Ken Clarke - I refused to vote for the legislation paving the way for the referendum in the first place. 

I thought it a reckless gamble with our country’s future, which profoundly disregarded the lessons of the past. Six months down the line, I now realise that, of the "December nine", I was the only one with a Leave majority (though not a majority of all voters) in my seat.

Why? Was it a political death wish? A deliberate slap in the face for my electorate, who have returned a Labour MP now since 1919?

No, it simply made no coherent sense to hand the government a blank cheque before Christmas, before we'd seen what Prime Minister Theresa May wanted to achieve, and given our verdict in the national interest. 

Does that make me – like the judges again, no doubt, according to Ukip, some Tories and the Brexit press - an "enemy of the people"? Certainly not. 

My parliamentary next door neighbour Sir Bill Cash, doyen of the anti-EU lobby, has spent the last 40 years defying the "will of the people" from the overwhelming 1970s referendum. So I think we "rebels" can be cut a little slack for wanting to ask a few hard questions to hold the government to account.

On the face of it, Labour’s continued, official support for the government’s timetable renders today’s Supreme Court verdict of little practical consequence - in the Commons, at least. 

In December, our front bench had tried to be clever, crafting a mild motion calling for debate on a published plan before Article 50, to stir a Tory rebellion. But the PM smartly agreed to the demands, tacked on her timetable and Labour got trapped into riding her coat-tails. 

But at least now, through amendments to a government bill, we’ll have the chance – and so will the Lords – to influence the terms of departure, and who in the future has the final say.

In the PM’s speech a fortnight ago, I was pleased with her commitment to protecting the UK’s science base. Last week, I was at the opening of the fifth Innovation Centre at Keele University’s Science Park on my patch, for which European funding has been vital. That’s been hammered out, until 2020, but what happens further out is wholly up in the air. 

I was happy as well, of course, with the passage on workers’ rights. Ten years ago, I introduced the Private Member’s Bill to stop abuse of agency workers – a Labour 2005 manifesto commitment – which was then delivered at European level. That was aimed directly, too, at tackling the sort of levelling down that, all those years ago, was already stoking anger at immigration in areas like mine.

But these were, really, just warm words for the wider audience. The key concerns for our industry, local and national, about tariff-free trade and access to the single market are still there in spades. And in the 21st century economy, we have not squared "control of our borders". The demand for skills, not least when incomers from outside the EU – the element the government ostensibly can limit – formed the majority in the last statistics.

The reality is that, once Article 50 is triggered, the government will not control the agenda.  That will be in the hands, like it or loathe them, of the other 27 member states. 

The PM’s statement was workmanlike, with no real surprises; but what hardly helps the negotiations are the frenzied Noises Off-style gaffes. For Boris Johnson to liken any French President, on his way out or not, to a Colditz camp guard just stores up more trouble for tough times ahead.

In my formative years, way before politics, I organised international youth exchanges. Every summer, teenagers from all over Europe gathered to tend war graves in Berlin – where wounds of conflict were still fresh, and the Cold War divided the city by the Wall. 

My involvement came from growing up in Newcastle - in Staffordshire, where the German cemetery from both world wars lies next to the Commonwealth memorial on Cannock Chase. I grew up believing that the European Union and its forerunners, for all their frequent frustrations, were part and parcel of the architecture of peace, not just prosperity. 

Those loftier arguments, however, got lost sadly in the bewildering trading of facts and fictions in the referendum. "Turkey, population 76 million, is joining the EU. Vote Leave." Well no, it’s not, but those huge, bright red posters certainly changed the tone of the debate in the last few weeks on many a street last June, not just in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
 
After a narrow 52 per cent to 48 per cent Leave vote, we are now, though, where we are. 

For Labour, on our front bench Keir Starmer has been trying to make the best of a bad hand. Thanks to the Supreme Court, he now has an extra card. But I still just don’t like the way the dealer has stacked the deck.

Paul Farrelly is the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He has sat on numerous select committees, and currently sits on the Culture, Media and Sports committee.