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20 January 2021

Commons Confidential: The workers divided

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Wesminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

The belief that Joe Biden’s team only really care about Northern Ireland and Cop26 is why, whispered my snout, Boris Johnson gave the European Union a UK internal border down the Irish Sea and instructed Alok Sharma to be a salesman for November’s climate change conference in Glasgow. Banking on Sharma to deliver the US president is a speculative punt. One of his last jobs as business secretary was to take part in an hour-long phone call with 250 captains of industry. A FTSE boss said he’d forgotten Sharma was involved until he popped up at the end to say bye.


MPs ponder why Boris Johnson wore a mask for that Olympic Park cycle ride after he was photographed more recently without a face covering while pushing baby son Wilf in a buggy. It’s almost as if the mask and hat on the bike were a disguise, muttered my suspicious snout, for a Prime Minister aware he was less likely to be spotted on a bike than rocking up in an armoured Jag. Maybe he went to Stratford to look at the Orbit tower. When he was mayor of London, an unpaid art adviser and the mother of a Johnson love child, Helen Macintyre, persuaded her then partner Pierre Rolin to donate £80,000 for the Orbit’s prominent erection.


As the PM weighs whether vaccinations will save May’s elections across Britain, I’m told that No 10 aide Sheridan Westlake is telling Tory council leaders any delay would only be a few months and the party must resist full postal ballots. His thinking is postal votes favour Labour. Given the low turnout in local authority contests, distancing in polling stations wouldn’t be a problem.

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[See also: How do you solve a problem like Marcus Rashford? It’s a question the Tories are struggling to answer]

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Factionalism worthy of The Life of Brian is splitting a Unite trade union that remains Labour’s most generous financial donor. Len McCluskey is still to announce exactly when he’ll formally retire as general secretary. But his close associate, lawyer Howard Beckett, is threatening to run with the backing of Unity Left, formed to rival the longstanding United Left after that group endorsed former bus conductor Steve Turner, who narrowly won its hustings. Jennie Formby, Labour general secretary in the Corbyn era, defecting to Unity Left with Beckett is good news for Gerard Coyne and Sharon Graham, two other candidates who will be hoping to benefit from the split. The workers, divided, will always be defeated.


Who is the Tory MP volunteering in a food bank who was abused by a hungry client and demanded his tormentor be denied help? My Conservative snout sneered it was their colleague’s own fault when the government refused to extend the £20 increase in Universal Credit payments.

[See also: Kevin Maguire’s Diary: My grudge with Boris Johnson, Labour leaks – and where is Allegra Stratton?]


This article appears in the 20 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Biden's Burden