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5 February 2015

Commons Confidential: Inherent Vince

Playground Thatcherism, TV debates and the Karl Marx of Twickenham.

By Kevin Maguire

Dithering Dave’s desperation to avoid facing rivals during the election campaign has thrown a possible string of supporting TV bouts into jeopardy. Plans include a rerun of the Daily Politics debates refereed by Andrew Neil in 2010 between rivals for prominent offices of state. The likes of Osborne v Balls, May v Cooper and Hunt v Burnham would make for riveting viewing. My telly snout says Ed “Bruiser” Balls is raring to go against “Boy George” Osborne, but the Chancellor, who doubles as Tory campaign chief, is holding back.

The knives remain out among Cameron’s “useful idiots”, the Blairites battering Ed Miliband to establish a new dictatorship of high-earning, former New Labour ministers. One MP recounted a conversation with “little Alan” in which Milburn claimed he’d rejected a peerage. The disbelieving MP doubted that status-conscious Alan Milburn would turn down ermine, before cackling that it’s the former health secretary’s good fortune he doesn’t have to register earnings from NHS privatisation.

John Hutton, once DWP secretary, is a peer. He’s accused of continuing a war on the elderly. The bags under his eyes appear to have faded, observed one informant. I for one dismiss as scurrilous gossip the suggestion that he uses Botox. Nine registered paid positions, on top of £1,000-a-day received to slash public-sector pensions on behalf of the ConDems, should allow him to sleep in a comfortable bed.

Seeking to lure hacks to a conference, the woman from the British Chambers of Commerce called out: “We have senior cabinet ministers . . . and the likes of Vince Cable!” The Karl Marx of Twickenham is evidently polling as badly as his party.

The Tory peer Colin Moynihan has revealed a hitherto disguised sense of humour. The five-foot-nothing former sports minister stopped Dennis Skinner to inform the “Beast of Bolsover” he’d enjoyed reading his memoirs. Dubbed “Mr Subbuteo” by Skinner, the giggling Tory reminded the Beast he’d once suggested Moynihan could crawl unseen under turnstiles into football grounds.

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Battling to unseat the Tory Jane Ellison in Battersea, Labour’s Will Martindale has enjoyed a backhanded compliment from his opponents. Ravi Govindia, leader of the Tory Wandsworth council, is upset by Martindale’s agitation to keep a sports centre open. Govindia fumed that in over 30 years he’d “rarely seen such an egregious attempt to extract political capital” from an issue. Quite some boast from a Tory council infamous since the Thatcher era for political extremism, recently intending to charge children £2.50 to use a playground.

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

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