Commons Confidential: Blair’s got Ed’s back

Plus: Eric Pickles's image problem.

Image: Dan Murrell/New Statesman

Eric Pickles’s bluff Yorkshireman, “I say what I like and I like what I say” image is about to suffer a knock. The Tory incarnation of a Victorian mill owner makes great play of eradicating supposedly trendy ideas in the Department for Communities and Local Government, so it is with pleasure that I report Big Eric’s Whitehall gulag is developing a “self-test stress indicator tool”, whatever that is, for staff. The only tool Pickles knows is a sledgehammer. I’d advise Brandon Lewis, the minister responsible for the project, to buy a tin hat.

The fate of a wannabe Labour MP, Blair’s former adviser Patrick Diamond, is, I have learned, a source of considerable friction between the ex-prime minister and the man who wants to be the next Labour PM. Blair, I discovered, wanted his political protégé parachuted in to South Shields to succeed David Miliband, who is New York-bound. But Ed Milibrother recognised that the local Sandancers on the Tyne would’ve revolted. Blair was irritated that Ed couldn’t see Diamond’s sparkle. Ed’s lot accuse Blair of backseat driving, and pray he lands the big international job his restless soul desires, so he’s safely out of the way before the 2015 election.

My spy noticed that Jeremy Hunt hosted an “NHS dinner” in dining room C off the Commons Corridor of Sin. Unusually, no list of guests was posted near the door. Who could Hunt have invited? Labour insists the NHS isn’t safe in Tory hands as corporate vultures circle over the rich pickings from the coalition’s privatization friendly health service.

There was silence at a Parliamentary Labour Party gathering a few weeks back as John Robertson, a BT technician-turned-jovial Glasgow MP, proposed that it acknowledge Len McCluskey the Labourite’s re-election as Unite general secretary. MPs giggled when Robertson suggested that the alternative – the Trot-ish challenger Jerry Hicks –would have “presented even greater challenges”. They’re no longer laughing since Red Len demanded Blairite scalps.

The one-time defenceless secretary Liam Fox was overheard in the Commons library corridor, by a passing MP, telling whoever was listening at the other end of the phone that Labour was urging tactical voting for Nigel Farrago’s Ukip in order to unseat Conservatives in the 2 May local elections. Either paranoia or the uncovering of a fiendish socialist plot. Then again, maybe Out-Foxed was getting his excuses in early.

Investments appear to be one of the main sources of income for the Marx Memorial Library, contributing £64,414 to its accounts last year. The Father of Communism’s collaborator, the factory owner Friedrich Engels, would be proud of the eponymous institution’s embrace of capitalism.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror