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Commons Confidential: Bringing on the clowns in Uxbridge

Plus, why the sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin “Haddock” Mitchell. 

David Cameron’s incarcerated mouthpiece Andy Coulson continues to endure appalling indignities in prison. I hear he was visited by TV’s Piers Morgan. The guards watching on CCTV as Morgan arrived and departed Belmarsh may have been a larger audience than Morgan enjoyed with his axed CNN talk show. There’s something touching about the two former editors of the News of the World communing away from the Ivy. Morgan broadcasts almost every aspect of his life on Twitter but curiously found no time to record his time in jail with a hacked-off old pal. Perhaps it was too close to home. The Prime Minister has yet to visit the spin doctor, who stayed with him at Chequers. Mystic Dave predicted huge success for Coulson after he skulked out of No 10 in 2011 but presumably is too busy.


The sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin Mitchell after he used the pages of a socialist feminist rag, the Daily Mail, to suggest that women MPs aren’t interested in “big ideas”. Mitchell, whose high point in parliament was to change his name to Austin Haddock to promote fishing, is said to be not very interested in big constituency parties. Labour membership in Great Grimsby has dwindled to fewer than 200 during his tenure. The priority of his successor, the Unison organiser Melanie Onn, is to revive a local base neglected by Mitchell. I wonder if he’d have been so outspoken if his favoured female candidate had been selected.


Self-styled Old Testament prophet Bob Marshall-Andrews upset locals in Pembrokeshire by flying the Palestinian flag during the slaughter in Gaza. The lachrymose one-time Labour MP, who cried on TV on election night in 2001 when he thought – wrongly, as it turned out – that he’d lost his north Kent seat, showed solidarity with the suffering masses by nailing their colours to his mast outside his turf-covered “Teletubby” holiday home on the Welsh coast. The council rejected a complaint, replying that Marshall-Andrews was entitled to fly a flag. The struggle takes, as they say, many forms.


Alan Johnson, man of letters, is Labour chic. On the literary circuit, the former postie draws good crowds in towns and cities to hear his council-home-to-home-secretary story. My snout observed that fans waving a pen and a copy of the first instalment of Johnson’s autobiography for him to sign are advised to put their Biros away. He likes to inscribe his name with his own fountain pen. That’s surely a touch of Old Labour.


A group of lefties of my acquaintance are toying with running a “real clown” against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. In the election circus, for once, BoJo the baby machine might not be the only candidate unable to keep up his trousers. 

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 03 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The summer of blood

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Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.