Cabinet happy families and the Gordian not

The Monday Clubber-turned-moderate John Bercow’s ambition is boundless, so up he popped in Strangers’ Bar, canvassing Labour votes for the Speakership. Lord Lucan riding Shergar would have created less fuss than the sight of this Tory MP in a watering hole otherwise known as the Kremlin. Regulars mumbled that they’d rather be visited by Bercow’s statuesque wife, the Labour-supporting Sally Illman, but once order was restored a comrade bought Bercow a drink. The canvassing wasn’t entirely successful, however. Bercow ordered a tomato juice, and Labour’s old guard didn’t go into politics to buy soft drinks at the bar.

To Blackpool and GMB Congress, where the self-deposed leader of Little Labour, Hazel Blears, and her £180 brooch continue to create ripples. Paul Kenny, a general secretary capable of eating dinners bigger than the rebel morsel, is evidently no admirer of Mrs Pepperpot. “Rocking the boat – you must be joking,” the burly baron is fond of scoffing. “Blears wouldn’t create a wave in a kiddies’ paddling pool and would be out of her depth in a half-pint pot.”

Also still making ripples is the Guardian’s failed coup against Brown. A Blairite cabinet minister sniggered that the high-minded paper has travelled a long way politically since the Blair era, when it was known in No 10 as the Gordian. A Brownite colleague retorted that most of the paper’s hacks, including the political team, opposed the call for an Iranian-style uprising of Labour backbenchers to oust the great dictator Ahmadine-gordie.

A Downing Street apparatchik added that the offending item was “commissioned by a Liberal [the editor, Alan Rusbridger] and written by a Tory [its chief leader writer, Julian Glover], so ignored by Labour MPs”. Guardianistas, hoping all the fuss will soon die down, may be dismayed to learn that one minister has never forgiven the paper for advocating a Lib Dem vote in the Hartlepool by-election. That was five years ago.

A traveller bent your correspondent’s ear to tell of a close encounter with John Reid on a train from London to Scotland. The snout was enjoying the Daily Torygraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses when Reid, wandering along the carriage, suddenly halted to advise the chap not to believe everything he read. The Labour hard man may, of course, feel uncomfortable when he sits on his £29.99 black glitter toilet seat or £199 pouffe, but Reid was in fighting form as he dismissed the rag’s coverage as grossly exaggerated. After five minutes Reid walked off, then returned to inquire if he could buy the Torygraph reader a drink. Not on expenses, I trust.

Studying the latest cabinet family snap, a Kremlinologist spotted that Jack Straw sits on Brown’s immediate left. So the Justice Secretary is unseen by the PM’s blind left eye and Brown has Straw’s deaf right ear. The chief cook and bottle washer, Peter Mandelson, couldn’t have arranged it better if he’d tried to marginalise wily Straw. He didn’t, did he?

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 22 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Iran