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Commons Confidential: Ed, the vet, Yvette and Harriet

Harriet Harperson misunderstands her MP hubby Jack Dromey after the couple acquire a kitten called Otis.

The workers are revolting. Staff at United Utilities complain they were duped into forming an audience for David Cameron to deliver Tory propaganda. The water company, keen to board the fracking bandwagon, told employees to be at its Warrington HQ to receive “very important information”. The press-ganged staff were informed they were required to sit, smile and applaud Cameron blowing his Tory trumpet.

 

Two summer observations on Ed Miliband after talking in recent months to his office and Labour’s shadow cabinet: the first is that he swears more than he did. “Fucking” is the leader’s curse of choice. The second is his sensitivity to the merest hint of criticism of election maestro Douglas Alexander’s strategy. One Mili loyalist who had received a tongue-lashing told me that Sweary Ed uses the former whenever he detects the latter.

 

Veterans of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign report gazebo wars between the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party. The rival Trots apparently compete for the best plots to pitch tents on at Gaza protests and brag about who handed out the most placards. It might be funny if Palestinians weren’t being slaughtered.

 

I overlooked the grand digs that come with the Italian job should Cameron reward Old Etonian retainer Ed Llewellyn by appointing him our man in Rome. The Villa Wolkonsky is perhaps the grandest residence of any British ambassador, originally owned by a Russian princess and a Nazi hangout when Mussolini and Hitler were partners in crime. The Foreign Office bought the pile after the war. It was recently cased by a parliamentary delegation, including Charlie Elphicke, Chloe Smith and Stephen Pound. I’m assured that the bedrooms are vast and the swimming pool large enough to host a regatta. Cameron and Llewellyn would be in it together.

 

Fur is flying in Devon after ex-strawberry farmer George Eustice, a one-time Ukip candidate-turned-Tory environment minister, opposed building new homes for beavers. His excuse is that much has changed in the 500 years since the beavers left the river, before returning a few years ago. Surely he doesn’t fear that if the government built lodges for beavers Iain Duncan Smith would count occupants to impose the bedroom tax?

 

Harriet Harman was guilty of everyday sexism at a TUC dinner when she announced football gags could be dropped now that Frances O’Grady is the unions’ general secretary. Harperson’s stereotyping led her to believe, wrongly, that only blokes like footie. Sister O’Grady is a fanatical Arsenal fan. That faux pas aside, Hattie tells a nice joke. Her latest is misunderstanding her MP hubby, Jack Dromey, after the couple acquired Otis, a kitten. When Dromey shouted, “Call the vet, his balls have to go!” Harman claims she heard: “Call Yvette, Balls has to go!” My informant muttered that some in the audience preferred the misheard statement. 

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 06 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Gaza

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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred