Commons Confidential: Carry on up the lobby

Featuring Ed Miliband's accidental coup, MPs in the nude, and flying too close to the <em>Sun</em>.

Ed Miliband’s accidental coup against David Cameron – and, by extension, Barack Obama – was as much cock-up as conspiracy. The Prime Minister’s strategic amateurism led him to recall parliament before victory was assured on the Syria vote. Miliband, on the other hand, is no peacenik. His line hardened when Labour whips found that half the parliamentary party was against war, with front-bench resignations likely to fill a minibus. The whips were instructed to inform MPs resolutely opposed to missile strikes that they had permission to miss the vote. The tactic backfired. Told he could remain on holiday, the Blaydon anti-bomber Dave Anderson defied orders and waved goodbye to the Hebrides for Westminster. Carl von Clausewitz would have recognised the unpredictability of war in parliament.
 
By the way, the government source quoted anonymously in the Times dissing Miliband as “a f***ing c*** and a copper-bottomed shit” was, I gather, an uncivil servant in the Foreign Office and not a Downing Street politico. The misogynistic deployment of the C-word was particularly undiplomatic. I’ve heard a name and so, presumably, has William Hague.
 
Tom Harris and Iain Wright are the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau of British politics. A snout overheard Harris, the Glasgow South MP, complaining to Hartlepool’s Wright: “I have now seen both you and your dad naked.” Further inquiries established that the Labour odd couple share a London flat. Buy some towels, boys.
 
The Sun man Graeme Wilson exchanging Wapping for Cameron’s Downing Street should liven up the 7.03am train from Kingston to London Waterloo. Dave’s new press secretary has a house near Miliband’s director of communications, the former Mirror man Bob Roberts. Harry Hill would know how to judge the battle of the tabloid titans: “Which is better? There’s only one way to find out – fight!”
 
Feminist MPs are devising a new tactic to cover up page three topless models in the Sun. The plan is to slap “No More Page 3” stickers on the exposed chests of women in any copies in the House of Commons library. Not quite Emily Wilding Davison hiding in a broom cupboard on the night of the 1911 census or Marjory Hume chaining herself to a statue in St Stephen’s Hall but suffragettes would recognise this as “deeds not words”.
 
The pull of TV prompted 40 newspaper hacks, including at least one Fleet Street political editor, to apply to be number six on the Sky News lobby team. Because of the scramble, it would have been simpler if those political scribblers uninterested in the job had ruled themselves out. And before anybody asks, no, this journalist did not apply. 
 
Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror
 
 
Westminster. Photo: Getty

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 09 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt