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Commons Confidential: Milibandoned, Harman's hardships and Tony who?

Pick of the best gossip from Westminster.

I hear that Harriet Harman is grumbling that she never wanted to be Labour’s acting leader for a second time and blames Ed Miliband for leaving the party in the lurch.

Harman, who also stepped up from deputy to sheriff after Gordon Brown left office in 2010, has had her bouquets replaced by brickbats over the past few weeks. Favourable reviews have turned into a wall of moans in parliament. The first task of an acting leader is to hold the party together. Harman split hers right away over welfare cuts – in particular, David Cameron’s plot to breed Tory voters by ensuring that only wealthier families can afford to have three children or more.

My snout overheard Harman accusing Miliband of abandoning his post, arguing that her former boss should have overseen the election of a successor. Meanwhile, according to my snout, the carefree Ed is telling anyone who will listen how much he is enjoying life as a backbencher, adding insult to Harman’s injury after he left her to pick up the pieces. If the Labour Party were a card game, it would be Unhappy Families.

No Tory is grander in his own lunchtime than Sir Nicholas Soames, a blue blood who says what he likes and likes what he says, in a booming voice. Soames is a traditionalist who prefers the natural order of life, as one might expect from a grandson of Winston Churchill. The hereditary politician is exercised by his colleague Charlie Elphicke’s barnet. Tories report that Soames chunters disapprovingly that a member of the Whips’ Office is now dyeing his hair. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding.

The tightly knit SNP displays a Leninist discipline that is the envy of old lefties. To date, the only discernible split is between the “wets”, who drink in the Sports and Social, and the “drys”, who prefer Westminster’s restaurants. One Labour MP says that she knows when the Nats are on manoeuvres by the thud of 56 pairs of boots marching in unison. Most SNP MPs have offices in a block near the Red Lion; the Cry Freedom brigade refers to it as Caledonia House, a bit of England that is for ever Scotland. Until independence, anyway.

Andy Burnham’s step to the left surprised an informant who recalled the Labour leadership hopeful referring to Tony Blair as “my mate” in a Brighton bar at the 2006 TUC conference. These days, it’s: “Tony who?”

Austerity policy applied to the food, if not the booze, at a smug George Osborne summer preening session in front of invited hacks at the Treasury. The nibbles were smaller than a teacher’s pay rise but the alcohol flowed mightily well. The Chancer of the Exchequer’s crash diet has lost him a couple of dozen pounds. The national debt has soared by £400bn.

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 22 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.