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My man in the mankini

MPs and peers invited to Her Maj’s jubilee garden parties (the usual excuse of sheepish Labour Roundheads is that they attend because – snort – the wife wanted to go) were miffed to be told that photography was not permitted but a £19.50 DVD of the day was on sale. Liz certainly knows how to make a profit after 60 years. I suspect that not even Baroness Warsi would try to get a royal movie past the expenses police. Green parking passes for chauffeurs were included in invitation packs. The Queen has yet to realise that most members of both Houses of Parliament do not travel in the style to which she is accustomed.

Much talk in Lib Dem circles of Nick Clegg’s bag carrier Jo Swinson packing her own suitcases for a 400-mile trip to Bath. Parliamentary private secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister, Swinson will lose her East Dunbartonshire seat to Labour thanks to Boundary Commission surgeons. My snout claims young Swinson has been sniffing around Bath where Don Foster, a Lib Dem pensioner, is tipped to opt for a quieter life after the 2015 election.

Another attraction of the Georgian city is that Somerset is much nearer than Scotland to her significant other – Duncan Hames, Lib Dem MP for Chippenham in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire. It’s happy families meets musical chairs. Hames is also eyeing up a new seat, Trowbridge, because boundary changes paint his seat blue. The domestic arrangementsof Labour’s Mr and Mrs Westminster, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, sound Easy Street in comparison.

Is the porn proprietor Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond suddenly impervious to the charms of Alastair Campbell? Dirty Des and his henchman Paul Ashford were spied in their Thames-side lair with Ali C. In New Labour’s glory days, Dirty Des slipped the party £100,000 and bought the Daily Express from the Labour peer Clive Hollick.

My man in the mankini reported how the spinner – who under the pen name “Riviera Gigolo” wrote soft porn for the smutty Forum magazine – fancied a series on Dirty Des’s Channel 5, and not his hardcore Television X.

Instead, Campbell has taken the lobbyist’s shilling. He has thrown in his lot with Tim Allan’s McDonald’s-to-Mars-bars outfit Portland, which isn’t averse to banking Putin’s tarnished roubles.

I noticed newspapers erroneously lauding David Cameron and William Hague for inviting the world poster girl for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall on 21 June.

Readers who cast their minds back to this column in April may recall that it is John Bercow who should be garlanded. The Commons Speaker defied the stuffed shirts, led by the aristocratic Lord Strathclyde of Hereditary Title and Land, who complained that the Burmese heroine was a commoner, not a head of state.

Bercow, an Essex taxi driver’s son, is emerging as a finer champion of democracy and parliament than many of his predecessors and a fair few of his contemporaries.

Kevin Maguire is 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 2012 issue of the New Statesman, A-Z of Iran

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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.