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16 March 2017

Commons Confidential: The Brexit bugs

Why are Tory MPs paranoid about what they might have screamed at the TV? And how is "Red Ken" handling his suspension from Labour?

By Kevin Maguire

By agitating for a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon is adding to the stress on an accidental PM. Theresa May, only too well aware that David Cameron forfeited the job after losing the EU referendum, could be forgiven for feeling the strain of holding together a Disunited Kingdom amid Brexit and Budget blunders. A recent visitor to Downing Street whispered that May had confessed that the role is tougher than she anticipated. Sturgeon has made it much harder. The snout insisted May recognises that she must reinforce No 10.

Jeremy Corbyn’s hitman John McDonnell refers in private, I’m informed by a comrade of the shadow chancellor, to “the Left Project” – a plan to use Jezza to revolutionise the party. Key to this is reducing to 5 per cent from 15 per cent the proportion of MPs required to nominate a leadership candidate, so that the Socialist Campaign Group is always on the ballot. With the GMB and Unison hostile and many local constituencies unconvinced, a compromise 10 per cent is being discussed in the run-up to September’s party conference. The carrot is that it would ease Jeremy Corbyn towards retirement.

Leaked files showing that MI5 and the CIA plotted to make smartphones and TVs bugging devices have nudged a snout’s memory. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, has surprised colleagues in the past by removing the battery and sim card from his mobile. Tories who mocked Davis as paranoid now worry about what they screamed at the TV when Tory leaders were on.

Ken Livingstone isn’t giving up his Labour membership without a fight. The suspended ex-MP and former London mayor has “lawyered up” for an expulsion hearing into his Hitler-was-a-Zionist outbursts. I’m told that Red Ken has enlisted the solicitor Imran Khan and the barrister Michael Mansfield to argue his case. This conflict could make last summer’s bunfight over Corbyn’s re-election resemble a vicar’s tea party.

The Tory landowner Philip Dunne uses single transferable praise to tickle the chins of rebellious NHS workers. The health minister sounded so sincere praising midwives as “the best of the lot”, until a woman next to me grumbled that she’d heard him shower identical praise on paramedics.

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Angus Robertson, the SNP warrior, earns frequent plaudits for irking Tory prime ministers. For every Prime Minister’s Questions he memorises a reserve line of interrogation, should Jeremy Corbyn lead on Robertson’s favoured topic. He’s never yet had to resort to plan B. Read what you will into that.

“The Internationale” and the Eton Boating Song were both played at Tam Dalyell’s memorial service. Reds in the boats?

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

This article appears in the 15 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain