Commons Confidential

TV, fridges and too-tight tailcoats

Brown's boys in the ring
The BBC is quietly plotting to steal a political march on ITV and Sky in February by hosting head-to-heads between Labour and the Tories. The idea, a Westminster snout muttered, is for Andrew Marr to play ringmaster. Already pencilled in for the circus is a locking of horns between Peter Mandelson and Ken Clarke, an Alistair Darling-George Osborne ready reckoner, and a playground scrap between Ed Balls and Michael Gove.

Nick Clegg has allegedly threatened to have a hissy fit if Gordon Brown and David Cameron leave him and his party out of the election
debates. But the informant mumbled that the rules allow TV to stay Lib Dem-free until the election campaign begins.

Out in the cold
The slamming of refrigerator doors is disturbing the Zen-like calm of the Foreign Office. Diplomats are seething over a fatwa on office fridges declared by Chris Bryant, the Europe minister. He thinks they're environmentally harmful and elitist, secretly doubling up as drinks cabinets and chilling the tonic for the gin. Horrified mandarins insist the little machines extend British influence abroad by keeping milk fresh for the tea and coffee served to visiting ambassadors. The row has been getting so heated that there is talk of a mediator negotiating a Treaty of King Charles Street, including a cooling-off period.

Tails of the unexpected
Cameron hired his gear and George "Oik" Osborne borrowed an outfit, but Boris Johnson paid hard cash to buy the full rig. Hanging in the Mayor of London's wardrobe are the mustard waistcoat and velvet-collared Edwardian tailcoat of the Bullingdon Club. However, Mrs Mayor is spared from Mr Mayor dressing up as a treat. Bozza admitted to your correspondent that he's put on a few pounds since his Hooray Henrying in Oxford, so the glad rags no longer fit. A relief for Mrs Johnson, perhaps, if not Labour's class warriors.

You snooze, you lose
Heavily armoured Robo-Premier Brown's kip in Kandahar on his mission to Afghanistan was so short it didn't count as a night's sleep. Simon Lewis, spin doctor, was seen padding about the base in his pyjamas at 2am, groaning that he was unable to go to bed until an underling finished typing a report for a PM who dismisses rest as an activity for mortals.

The House of Cronies
James Landale, Cameron's Eton contemporary and the BBC's deputy political editor, is the politest of broadcasters. Lanky Landale was all smiles and no sound when Mandelson dripped poison by mentioning that he was promoted without a formal BBC board. The Man from Auntie could equally have pointed out that the Prince of Darkness was parachuted into the cabinet via the House of Cronies without the formality of an election.

The rise of Finkelstein
A mole with a blue rosette whispered that the ermine will be draped on the shoulders of Danny Finkelstein should the Cons triumph next spring. The failed SDP and Tory parliamentary candidate toils these days as chief leader writer for the Times and remains very chummy with Osborne. I'm told that when Finkelstein was informed there had been chatter of his potential ennoblement, his brow furrowed and the absence of a denial was noted. Forget the Hon Kirstie Allsopp and prepare to greet Lord Fink of Wapping.

Sofa, so good
Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott must be relieved that Fame, the TV production company, didn't win the contract to make Andrew Neil's This Week. The bidder thought Portillo could be "surprisingly silent about an issue", and that Abbott "does not have his incisive intelligence". But the pair may have cause for concern. The bidder wanted to keep them on the sofa.

Bundred's thousands
To the BBC where, in the green room, your columnist bumped into Steve Bundred, NUM militant-turned-£212,000-a-year head of the Audit Commission. This public-sector fat cat was unhappy when I accused him of cosying up to Cameron by claiming that a wage freeze for low-earning binmen, dinner ladies and so on would be pain-free. But I'm sure it was a simple error when Blundered walked off with my coat holding my keys and Commons pass.

Mining her manners
At a gathering hosted by the pollster Bob Worcester, the former jailbird Jonathan Aitken recalled a vintage class-war moment from 1966, when he stood unsuccessfully in Meriden. A Tory lady canvasser's knock at the door dragged a miner, just off shift, out of his tin bath. "So sorry," she told the coal-smeared collier, "to disturb you while dressing for dinner."

Sharper shooting
High-definition TV is forcing Sky News political correspondents to smarten up. Glen Oglaza was ordered to pluck his eyebrows, the arm-waving Jon Craig to comb his hair. Stylists, I hear, are pondering where to start with the word-mountain Adam Boulton, a man once described as resembling a survivor from an explosion in a Savile Row gentlemen's outfitters.

Pie, minister?
Larger pies and pasties are on sale in Strangers' Bar after MPs complained the old mini versions left them peckish. Condemned parliamentarians evidently favour a hearty last meal before heading to the election execution block.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror
Commons Confidential returns as a weekly column in the new year

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 21 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special