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16 February 2015

Commons Confidential: Clegg learns the Shard way

Rees-Mogg's history, taxation mystery - and an early warning from South Thanet.

By Kevin Maguire

The donors’ and tax avoiders’ ball held by the Tories at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London may raise more cash, but no constituency blowout is likely to attract a bigger crush than the party thrown for Virendra Sharma. The fundraiser to re-elect the Indian-born former bus driver as Labour MP for Ealing Southall was attended by 1,200 people. The guest of honour was Tom Watson, who, back when class politics was fashionable (that’s 2007), sent limos and activists dressed as waiters with silver trays to hound David Cameron in the by-election won by Sharma. Watson’s a heavyweight in more ways than one in the eyes of local Sikhs. Last year, he exposed evidence suggesting that the Thatcher government’s hands weren’t entirely clean of the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Tessa Jowell also spoke. I’m told that Sadiq Khan wasn’t formally invited but turned up. Surprisingly, David Lammy didn’t gatecrash the throng. Those present will have votes to pick Labour’s candidate for mayor of London.

No votes have been cast yet but an informant says the clerk’s office is preparing for a possible Ukip triumph in South Thanet. Should Nigel Farage be elected, he’ll be buddied up with a senior official to teach him the ropes. Word has now reached nervous Commons staff.

A Tory grandee grumbled after MPs were given 15-minute “Tesco time slots” in the robing room of the House of Lords to admire surviving copies of Magna Carta. The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, ribbed Jacob Rees-Mogg at the opening ceremony by suggesting that the young fogey was at Runnymede when King John and the barons agreed on peace. Rees-Mogg took it with good grace. This human relic from a bygone political era sounds as though he’d have been in long trousers 800 years ago, having fought William the Conqueror in 1066 and greeted Julius Caesar when he came ashore in 55 and 54BC.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were wrong to think they’d gone up in the world when they held a Lib Dem press conference on the 52nd floor of the Shard. The party’s failure to check if people could broadcast live from such a height proved problematic. The correspondents who’d trudged over from Westminster, including the BBC’s Norman Smith, were forced to descend to street level to deliver the Yellow Peril’s news. What goes up must come down, as Lib Dem polling since 2010 makes clear.

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“She won’t shed any tears if he loses.” Of whom was a prominent figure in the Tory firmament speaking? Sam Cam. Millions of Britons would share her reaction, should Call Me Dave be granted more time to reminisce about his days in the Bullingdon Club.

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

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