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 the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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