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Do party organisers believe Blair is back in command?

Kevin Maguire on party galas, tattoos and bank accounts.

Wor Eddie had a reet aad canny good time at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Miliband, son of a Marxist historian, knew it’s pronounced “gayla” in Labour’s north-east England heartland. One of my parliamentary snouts was at the dinner on the eve of the bands, banners and speeches of the big meeting. Miliband, who has a timekeeping issue, arrived 30 minutes after the appointed hour. “Ahm sorry we’re layt starting,” Davey Hopper, the local NUM official, announced to the throng, all avuncular perspicacity, adding, “But ah divvent want te blame anybody,” as he glanced at Wor Eddie. Thankfully, Mili was mistakenly called Wor David just the once. The highlight for my left-winger was Wor Eddie sharing a joke with the uncivil servant Mark Serwotka before putting his arm on the shoulder of the train-stopper Bob Crowbar. The MP mutters that he was unsure whether Mili knew who the union duo were. Or whether the militant trade unionists recognised the leader of the Labour Party.

To Labour’s £500-a-plate gala (this one definitely not a “gayla”) dinner at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Manchester United’s red, the Labour-supporting Alex Ferguson, was billed as the star turn but didn’t show. The evening had an expensively retro 1996 feel. Blairites were out in force, a Progress tendency meeting with waiters. Tony Blair received a standing ovation before he spoke – unlike Ed Miliband, who didn’t even get a stander after he’d spoken.

I recall Blair describing Cherie as a “very scary woman”. I disagree. Mrs B was extremely chatty when party staff took her on a tour of the tables. Yep, it felt as if organisers believed Blair was back in charge. Perhaps he is.

Another snout blushed as Judy Steel, wife of the one-time Lib Dem leader Lord (David) Steel of Cowley Street, pulled down her top to reveal a three-inch tattoo of a leopard on her left shoulder. The unabashed lady explained that it was a 70th-birthday gift to herself, copied from her hubby’s coat of arms. The big question in Westminster is: does he have a matching tattoo? And where?

At that Labour gala dinner, Mary Creagh, the party’s agriculture spokeswoman, cycled to the soirée before changing into a blue dress. The score or so of Stop the War protesters shouting outside, spotting a woman in a fluorescent jacket, mistook the shadow frontbencher for one of them. So she enjoyed both cheers and jeers.

In his white linen summer suit, the hefty Tory tyke Alec Shelbrooke, a trencherman who’d lose a Slimmer of the Year contest with Nicholas “Fatty” Soames, resembled a marquee searching for a fete. Big Alec was walking a small dog on a lead in the Westminster precincts. Behind the Elmet eater, observed my informant, a female companion was dragging an enormous suitcase. I wonder if the Conservatives went into politics to avoid heavy lifting.

A snout picked up a receipt left on a cash machine of the scandal-hit Barclays in the Commons. The last digit of the current account was 8. And the holder’s balance was £21,525.41. These days, that could be an MP or peer, Labour or Tory.

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 23 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Israel: the future