Commons Confidential: Lunching with a Latin lover

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

All hail the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
All hail the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

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