Why the Hunt show must go on


Rupert Murdoch isn’t the only elderly gentleman giving Jeremy Hunt palpitations – the Duke of Edinburgh’s frailty has added to the Culture Secretary’s burden. Prince Philip’s hospitalisation during the Diamond Jubilee weekend prompted Whitehall departments to cast an eye over plans for a royal send-off on a ceremonial gun carriage when the 91-year-old curmudgeon shuffles off this mortal coil. Ministers discovered that, should the moment occur during London 2012, the International Olympic Committee will insist that the Games carry on. This could prove embarrassing, not least because the men’s and women’s marathons start and finish on the Mall, in front of Buck House. My snout whispered that the course would be moved, but Hunted fears a Daily Mail-inspired backlash over a perceived lack of respect. Footie was cancelled on the day of Di’s funeral, as was your correspondent’s cricket match between hacks and the TUC. The Olympics, however, stop for nobody.

The politburo of Labour’s Progress tendency should beware the old “seat trick” when granted an audience with Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary. Robert Philpot, the director of Progress, wrote to the union baron asking if he and the faction’s chair, the willowy Lord “More Andrew Than” Adonis of Camden Town, could put the turbo-Blairites’ case after Kenny demanded the group’s proscription. In the 1970s TV series The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, the boss of Sunshine Desserts, CJ, intimidated underlings by seating them in a chair that made a farting sound. A victim of PK said the union leader gets the upper hand by directing guests to furniture lower than his leather throne, so that he can peer down on them. Lord Sainsbury’s fortune can’t buy a level playing field in the court of King Kenny.

Likes to go the extra mile, Tim Loughton MP. Education Department bills show Michael Gove, Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather spent not a penny on taxis over 18 months – unlike the adoption minister, who clocked up £1,617. He also spent more taxpayers’ cash – £2,204 – than colleagues on cars supplied by Addison Lee, the Tories’ favourite minicab firm. Maybe Loughton should adopt public transport if they’re all in this together in Educashon.

Vicky Pryce, the estranged wife of Chris Huhne, isn’t hiding ahead of her court appearance alongside the former cabinet minister over speeding points and charges of perverting the course of justice. The Greek-born economist is all over the media commenting on the euro crisis. She’s retained more friends in Lib Dem circles than the insensitive Huhne. A snout said that Vince Cable wishes he’d persuaded Pryce to stay as chief economist at the Department for Business. A parliamentary seat may yet be hers.

Football rivalries run deep in Scotland. The Daily Record printed a “Rangers FC RIP” front page when the team collapsed financially. A member of the Labour shadow cabinet, a Celtic fan, bought six copies. As souvenirs. 

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 25 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s most dangerous leader

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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.