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22 October 2015

Commons confidential: Ashcroft, absent

Man of mystery Michael Ashcroft’s dramatic announcement that he’d cheated death was worthy of James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld.

By Kevin Maguire

That man of mystery Michael Ashcroft’s dramatic announcement that he’d cheated death was worthy of James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld. Whispers of “swine flu” accompanied a video at the Call Me Dave launch made for Belize’s Channel 5 – a TV station owned by the Tory billionaire. No Georgi Markov poisoned umbrella nor Alexander Litvinenko polonium-210 were, as far as we know, involved. And so heroic of Ashcroft to send 39 tweets and write newspaper pieces during the 27 days since he first succumbed (including 18 days we were told he was in intensive care). Pig-gate’s David Cameron would need a heart of stone.

You’ve got to admire the honesty of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Tory MP for the 18th Century. The merchant banker was overheard saying of Chancer of the Exchequer George Osborne’s charter gimmick: “It is complete nonsense but we just had to vote for it.” John McDonnell infamously reached a similar conclusion before realising too late that Labour had a choice.

“We will force people like Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google and all the others to pay their fair share of taxes,” the same McDonnell declared in his speech at Labour conference. The shadow chancellor has since agreed, I hear, to meet Starbucks, after the coffee seller insisted it had mended its ways and is now a model corporate citizen. The assembly will presumably be welcomed by frontbenchers such as the Eagle twins, Angela and Maria, Michael Dugher, Luciana Berger, Heidi Alexander and Lisa Nandy – plus Corbyn’s spinner James Mills. All were clocked sipping free Starbucks coffee the week McHammer condemned the company.

The Scottish separatist Mhairi Black’s party piece attacking the drinking culture at Westminster prompts mischievous rivals to wonder if she’s enjoying a sly dig at her thirsty SNP colleagues who colonise the Sports and Social Club. My spy muttered the 21-year-old former student, who once tweeted, “Smirnoff Ice is the drink of the gods – I cannae handle this c*** man,” is also no stranger to the bar. Only to sup, I’m sure, Irn Bru.

Promotion to the front bench is not without cost for Labour’s Conor McGinn, the Northern Irish whip. The MP for St Helens North, in his early Westminster months, positioned himself behind the DUP’s Nigel Dodds so that the Speaker couldn’t identify the heckler with an Ulster brogue. No longer. Bercow can now put McGinn’s face to the Irish sniping as he moves closer to the Speaker’s chair.

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“Grammer School Head’s Association”. Perhaps the Commons official behind a notice directing school guests to a room booked by the Tory eleven-plus champion Graham Brady had a sense of humour.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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This article appears in the 21 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister