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28 June 2007

Spotted: Harperson preparing speech on way to Manchester

The latest gossip from Westminster and Manchester...

By Kevin Maguire

Drunk-dry was the 6.03 Manchester-London crawler when Brownites, Harmanites and Kinnockites (actually just Neil and Glenys these days) crammed into a carriage for a Labour victory bevvy and sing-song. Virgin train staff had to radio ahead, restocking at Birmingham New Street. My man with the humongous hangover remembered the words “Tony” and “Blair” were barely uttered. After a ten-year premiership, they’ll never forget you, Tony Blur.

The secret of how Sky TV – motto: never wrong for long – erroneously declared Al Johnson winner of the Labour deputy’s tiara instead of Hattie Harperson was more of a case of mistaken identity than I initially realised. Candidates swore not to leak the result but AJ’s campaign chief, Gerry Sutcliffe, arranged a signal to supporters after meeting scrutineers. If he departed with his glasses on, they’d won. Without, they’d lost. In his distress, Sutcliffe forgot and left four-eyed.

Tony Blur would weekly sign dozens of whisky bottles for Labour raffles. So jokesters on 12-strong parliamentary committee thought it a wicked wheeze to present him with one signed by themselves. Very funny, but how deep they dug perhaps revealed what the dirty dozen shop stewards thought of the now ex-premier. The cheapskates bought him the £17.50 Commons blend rather than Mr Speaker Martin‘s superior malt at £26.75. If Blur’s kept the receipt, he’ll get a refund.

On a London-Manchester crawler heading north for Labour’s jamboree, Hattie Harperson (pictured) was supremely confident for a lady who sneaked home on the last count in a secret ballot. She loudly wrote her acceptance speech on the train, my radar-lugged snout conveniently feigning a snooze nearby reports. Thankfully she omitted a soundbite about joining the “top leadership team”.

Anyone ever heard of a “bottom leadership team”? Many words were wasted on a fruitless quest for a TV gag about how she, Blur and Big Gordie were Apprentices of Kinnock. She rang a friend. “You’re in touch with humanity. What are Alan Sugar‘s catchphrases?” Err, how about, “You’re hired”!

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Trivia corner: Lib Dem spinner, Mark Webster, once stepped out with the Coronation Street actress who plays social climber and femme fatale Sally Webster. Ming the Merciful‘s henchman Ed Davey is hirer-in-chief but with Mrs Ming a Corrie fan, Mark’s job is secure.

Spied gossiping in the Ivy about the good old bad days were that pair of dispossessed Blurites, Pepsi kid Alan Milburn and self-obsessed Times hackette Me-Me Sieghart. A power lunch is about as close as either will get to power these days, my informant with the fish cakes confessing the Pepsi kid looked every bit the slippery lobbyist in an unfeasibly bright electric blue suit.

Mr Harperson, garrulous T&G official Jack “Just three points, and fourthly” Dromey, has rivals for safe Labour seat Streatham. Also sniffing around are desperate Stephen Twigg and Oonagh “I don’t want to be an MP again” King, seemingly energised by sucking up to Big Gordie.

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