All hail the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Lunching with a Latin lover

Plus: why has Red Ed turned a lighter shade of pink?

Rebellion is stirring in the Press Gallery after the introduction of Latin grace before formal lunches with politicians. The BBC Old Etonian James Landale, this year’s chair, replaced the usual mumble about being grateful for pan-fried Gressingham duck or whatever with incantations that few understand. And the TV performer summons reluctant hacks to their feet to listen to his Latin. The immediate target in the battle between traditionalists and modernisers isn’t grace, however. It’s the archaic loyal toast to Her Maj at the end of each meal. The head of the mods, Barney Jones, the editor of The Andrew Marr Show, has requested that the gallery committee cease instructing journalists to raise a glass to unelected power. A few of us stage sit-down protests. We all hope this thorny issue will be resolved without a second Leveson inquiry or state regulation.

Red Ed has turned a lighter shade of pink, passing up an opportunity to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala in July. Miliband hinted that he’d return before the election two years ago, when he was the first Labour leader to address the “Big Meeting” since Neil Kinnock. Tory taunts about resurrecting Old Labour seem to have frightened him away. On the platform with a general council of trade unionists will be Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover, an ex-miner and gala favourite, shares none of Miliband’s doubts or fears.

I’m told that Con-Dem spats over knives and school places are merely the opening shots in a coalition civil war. Cabinet ministers on both sides, an informant whispered, have amassed documents to unleash a barrage of leaks against their governing partners. Who needs the Freedom of Information Act when you have parties fighting like ferrets in a sack?

There was sniggering at an invitation to sit in the presence of the chair of the public accounts committee. The billing of the soirée as “an audience with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP” prompted her colleagues to wonder aloud if applause for bashing tax dodgers is going to her head. “I know she’s grand but this is ridiculous. I wonder if we have to bow?” muttered my snout. It’s been a long march from socialism at Islington Council to social acceptability as a national treasure.

To Ted Heath’s grand old home Arundells, in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral. In a selfless act of eternal aggrandisement, the Tory premier bequeathed the pile to the nation as a permanent shrine to himself. The House of Heath has reopened to the public. I learned a previous visitor had bridled as a guide recalled how Grocer Ted wouldn’t give the Daily Mail house room. Lady Rothermere, wife of the Mail owner Viscount Rothermere, was evidently very put out.

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 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.