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21 January 2016

Commons Confidential: It should’ve been me

Osborne's make-up, Cameron's sugar and a Labour rivalry.

By Kevin Maguire

Whispers around the Treasury that Jeremy Hunt’s star is fading fast in the eyes of George Osborne are unlikely to improve the mood of the Health Secretary, suffering from the twin ailments of striking doctors and another financial crisis in the NHS.

Mr Osborne is head of personnel. Tearoom talk suggests that Boris Johnson, with his chummy bedside manner, might replace the tetchy Hunt before long – the Westminster equivalent of a full bedpan on the head.

Hunt’s political standing is so low that even Liberal Democrats look down on him. After spotting the Yellow Peril MPs Nick Harvey and Norman Lamb in the Commons lobby, Hunt marched up to berate the pair for “cynically criticising” his inept handling of the docs’ dispute.

“Cynical? You dare call us cynical?” boomed the usually herbivorous Harvey. “Your party tried to destroy us. That was cynical.” My snout watched Hunt slope off and pronounced a bleak prognosis for the wounded health honcho.

Labour shadow cabinet members refer to steely John McDonnell’s “It should have been me” stare when he spies the more collegiate Jeremy Corbyn. The shadow chancellor, rather than Leader Corbyn, is said to have been the driving force behind the recent rescuffle. I don’t buy the theory that either will get sick of the stick and quit any time soon, but it’s intriguing to find a senior officer in Corbyn’s Islington North Constituency Labour Party insisting they expect their local MP to retire in 2020 when he’ll be a few days short of his 71st birthday. An unexpected promotion can be so damned inconvenient.

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Osborne, by the way, is telling anybody who will listen – plus a few who overhear – that he watches the ITV news these days because he can’t stand the BBC. It didn’t stop him schmoozing heartily at a Today leaving bash for Jim Naughtie in Auntie’s council chamber. Or popping up on Newsnight, caked in make-up for his chat with Evan Davis. My snout sneered that it was the Chancellor’s “appalling old waxworks” tribute act for his newfound Chinese communist comrades.

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Your correspondent’s eye was belatedly directed to Alastair Campbell in the Yorkshire Post: “I like to play up my tough northern roots to my own London-born and bred children, telling them all manner of Monty Pythonesque hard luck (and tall) stories but in fact we lived in a big house with a nice garden . . .” This is the first example of Big Al sexing down a (life) story.

The Great British Bake Off’s free advertising for the sugar industry has become tricky in the Cameron household now that Dave has been converted to a tax on the white stuff but Sam cooks a calorific Surf’s Up cake on a charidee show. At least the heiress didn’t name it a “serf’s gateau”.

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

This article appears in the 20 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Middle East's 30 years war