Margaret Beckett by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Margaret Beckett’s naked truth

“I can’t speak to you now. I’m getting picked up in ten minutes and I have no clothes on.” Plus the price of Axelrod. 

Parliament’s bar staff are under orders to ply MPs and peers with more alcohol. They have been instructed in new booklets to implement what is known in the trade as “upselling”. So, when an MP asks for a glass of wine, the correct response is to offer a large one. The peer in need of a livener will be nudged into buying a double gin and tonic. The authorities had discussed instilling a spirit of temperance after an inebriated Eric “Rambo” Joyce headbutted and punched Tories in Strangers’ Bar. That’s gone out of the window in an effort to cash in on thirsty politicians.

The Beast of Bolsover was unhappy to find only the front wheel of his bike chained to a cycle rack in parliament. The other two-thirds had been nicked. The great bike theft was carried out 20 yards from a police box. Dennis Skinner’s mood wasn’t improved by an official notice affixed to the remaining wheel – telling him it was parked in the wrong place.

The Tory election strategist-cum-Chancellor, “Sir” George Osborne, the Lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby, and the No 10 spinner Craig “Crazy Olive” Oliver were spied by an eagle-eyed snout outside Mail on Sunday Towers with the paper’s Old Etonian editor, Geordie Greig. It’s a safe bet the Tory campaign cell wasn’t in Kensington to discuss Nigella Lawson’s recipes or fashion shoots in You magazine. Ed Miliband should avoid bacon butties in public. The Conservatives are banking on the right-wing press in the election.

Sticking with Miliband, the Labour leader was thrilled to chat with the Royal Navy veteran Mark Radley, 89, who had served on HMS Hilary with his father. The vessel was the command ship for Juno Beach on D-Day. Labour spin doctors privately acknowledged that it was a shame Mr Radley had never met Miliband Sr.

As an excuse, the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett told the naked truth. Called by a young reporter seeking a quote on the death sentence passed in Sudan onMeriam Yehya Ibrahim for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, Beckett answered: “I can’t speak to you now. I’m getting picked up in ten minutes and I have no clothes on.” Mercifully, the call was by phone, not Skype.

Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, refused point-blank to let the party’s NEC know how much it is wasting – sorry, spending – on Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod. Could it be higher than the mooted £250,000 to £300,000?

My informant was insistent, so his claim that the Mail fuddy-duddy Simon Heffer allegedly once lay on the floor to minimise his flabby chin in a photograph taken for a newspaper picture byline falls firmly into the category of stories too good to check.

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 11 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The last World Cup

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.