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3 December 2015

Commons Confidential: Blame it on the guru

Corbyn delayed, Starmer renamed - and teaching your white, working-class granny to suck eggs.

By Kevin Maguire

Chairman John’s Little Red Book was “well thumbed”, said a giggling member of George Osborne’s entourage. The Chancer of the Exchequer plans to auction McDonnell’s copy and donate the proceeds to charity, rather than to Tory coffers, to avoid digs that the Cultural Revolution funded the Cons. Later this month, Sotheby’s will auction a 1937 letter to Clement Attlee, signed by Mao Zedong, seeking British solidarity against Japanese invaders. “Long live the peace front of the democratic nations against fascism and imperialist war!” Mao declares. The Great Helmsman signed the appeal (in Chinese characters) after the quintessentially English salutation “Yours very sincerely”. The price estimate (as much as £150,000) is a bit out of McDonnell’s range.

You’ve got to admire the ongoing coolness under fire of the beleaguered Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader was 15 minutes late for a confidential briefing on Syria at his House of Commons office. A snout whispered that when the door opened, the assembled throng of spooks and shadow cabinet members looked up as Comrade Corbyn announced with the supreme nonchalance of a man who sees no need to change his ways: “Sorry, I was delayed by a Guru Nanak celebration.”

It isn’t easy to unite Tory and Labour frontbenchers, so hats off to Isabel Oakeshott, who is returning to Westminster as the “political editor at large” of the Daily Mail. Prominent figures in both the cabinet and the shadow cabinet are vowing never to speak to the hackette. The issue isn’t solely her employment by Michael Ashcroft to co-write what was intended to be Cameron’s obituary before he won a second term, but the jailing of Vicky Pryce – collateral damage from her Sunday Times scoop on the Lib Dem speedster Chris Huhne, who also ended up behind bars. Unpopularity is an occupational hazard for journos but we all rely on informants to spill the beans.

Loud grumbling was heard among Labour’s horny-handed sons and daughters of toil over an invitation from Kate Green, the nicely spoken shadow minister for women and equalities, to a seminar with a university professor on “reconnecting with Labour’s white working-class base”. One of the party’s former manual toilers, an MP who is no stranger to heavy lifting and represents a predominantly white working-class northern seat, growled: “If I want to be lectured on how to suck eggs, I’ll ask my grandmother.” I’m reliably informed that the MP did not attend, called away to fill the bath with coal and take the whippet to the vet’s.

Keith Vaz introduced Keir Starmer as “Keir Hardie” at a meeting. Half right, given that Starmer was half-named after Labour’s first leader.

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

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This article appears in the 02 Dec 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria and the impossible war