Commons Confidential

The latest whispers from Westminster

Early in the week Jacqui Smith gave me her first print interview since she resigned. In close on two hours we covered a lot of ground, but I like to end up with quick-fire questions. “What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?” I asked. Quick as a flash, she replied: “Not make my husband sleep on the sofa for the last six months.”


I was up in my old stomping ground of Norwich at the weekend, sniffing the by-election air. The Lib Dems had achieved the remarkable feat on the same day of writing to the Tory candidate, Chloe Smith, saying they wanted a good clean campaign and, in the next breath, smearing the Green candidate, Rupert Read, as an “extremist”. How did they get a reputation as the nice guys of British politics? Most locals I spoke to reckoned Ian Gibson would stand as an independent, yet few said they would support him. He may have been treated badly, but his endorsement of Labour’s new standard-bearer, Chris Ostrowski, was quick and without caveat. What a paradox that Ostrowski works for John Lewis. Wasn’t it their “list” that sparked off the expenses furore in the first place?


Over the past few months the holidaying Kevin Maguire has been toying with the former shadow home secretary David Davis like a cat toys with a mouse. Davis’s famous ice pick went missing during an office move and in recent NS columns our intrepid reporter appeared to know more about its whereabouts than he was letting on. He kept hinting that it was to be found above a wardrobe. Last week Davis was peering at his new office cupboard and decided on a whim to clamber up and look on top. And what should he find? Yup, the missing ice pick. When he returns from his hols, Maguire had better watch his back.


I wonder what Polly Toynbee will make of this. Emap has announced 35 redundancies. What it hasn’t said is that four of them are women on maternity leave. Nice. David Gilbertson, Emap’s CEO, has developed a truly terrible company motto: “ABCDE-map”. A = accountable, B = brave, C = collaborative, D = decent, E = essential. The “D” in particular might be questioned by the editorial staff of the three public sector titles (Health Service Journal, Nursing Times and Local Government Chronicle) who were told six posts were being cut (two of them occupied by women on maternity leave), but alas the group director and editor, Alastair McLellan, couldn’t tell them in person because he was driving his new camper van down to Glastonbury. Why should Toynbee care? Because Guardian Media Group owns 30 per cent of Emap.


It is 20 years since the National Dock Labour Scheme was abolished, bringing joy and relief to many a port employer. On Monday, a motley crew of port bosses and Tory politicians will celebrate the occasion by holding a dinner at which the former employment secretary Norman (now Lord) Fowler will be the “star” attraction. The lead civil servant at the transport department at the time, John Dempster, will also be there, gathering anecdotes for his new book on the fall of the dockers. The trade union leader Ron Todd will be turning in his grave.

Kevin Maguire is away. Iain Dale is publisher of Total Politics

This article first appeared in HOWZAT!