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Commons Confidential: Zahawi’s horse has bolted

Plus: The last word (for a while) on Ed Miliband's appearance.

Closing the stable door after the heating bill bolted, Nadhim Zahawi won’t be left short of a few bob after repaying a wrongly claimed spare groom subsidy. As well as a country estate with a hitherto taxpayer-fuelled riding school attached, Zahawi owns a £5m Putney home and three London flats he rents out. No wonder he’s hosting a parliamentary reception on 17 December so that the British Property Federation can extol the profits to be banked from letting to students.

Labour’s awkward squad punctuate barracking of Tories with pranks. Thus John Cryer found Ian Mearns’s hand in his pocket trying to hold him down when called at Prime Minister’s Questions. Cryer’s pockets have been used before against him. The ex-miner Ronnie Campbell once passed a packet of Fisherman’s Friends lozenges down the line of benches. When they didn’t reappear, Campbell, easygoing until riled, demanded their return. Ian Lavery, another former pitman, suggested he look in Cryer’s pocket where an MP had hidden Campbell’s sweets. Sometimes, the chamber is like a rowdy school assembly.

Ministers recall with a vengeance the smallest indignities when dumped or shuffled off to fresh pastures. Bath bon viveur Don Foster remembers with a curled lip a “Dear Donald” letter from a faceless bureaucrat when Nick Clegg flipped him to deputy chief whip from communities and town halls. The departed department’s uncivil servant warned the affable Lib Dem that he’d signed a confidentiality agreement so he must stay schtum, and that failure to return a laptop to the ministry could result in prosecution. A thank-you note from Eric Pickles might’ve been nice.

An update on last week’s item that Yvette Cooper revealed a royal protection officer mistook her insignificant other, Ed Balls, for Nick Griffin of BNP notoriety. I’m told Ed B recounted a similar tale himself on the rubber chicken circuit. Except in the shadow chancellor’s version he is mistaken for Griffin at a dinner for the Chief Rabbi. That means the confusion must be kosher.

The right-whinge press will kick itself. The anti-union lot never miss an opportunity to portray Red Ed in the pocket of Red Len. So savour the disappointment of Tory editors at missing Miliband visiting Esher Place, the nothing’s-too-good-for-theworkers education centre of McCluskey’s Unite for a Labour NEC away day. The Milimites were mightily chuffed they slipped their man in and out undetected.

And finally . . .what may be my last word for a while on Miliband’s appearance. His office is split over whether the leader should button or unbutton his jacket when walking for TV cameras. I vote for openness.

Kevin Maguire is the 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 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.