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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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism