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27 March 2015

Office space, the debate race – and the pictures in Strangers’ Bar

A strange new exhition in the MPs' pub, post-election office upgrade - and a gentle fracas at the Grayson Perry auction.

By Kevin Maguire

The allocation of office space is a raw dividing line among MPs. Not a single vote has been cast, yet party whips have already invited members expected to retain their seats to say whether they would like a post-election upgrade. Nicholas Soames, one of the few people outside the royal family capable of making David Cameron feel common, is due to move to a grander suite. The Food Mountain for Bon Viveur Central won 51 per cent in 2010, so it’s a safe bet. Unconsulted MPs know their chances of success are rated low. Those elected for the first time are destined for windowless broom cupboards.

Cameron’s aversion to debate betrays an unpleasant sense of entitlement. He infamously chickened out of a TV head-to-head with Ed Miliband. Now the lord of the manor seems equally keen to avoid being challenged at hustings on his home turf. Dave has deigned to share a platform with other candidates, including Labour’s Duncan Enright, at an all-ticket constituency meeting on 10 April in Witney. Questions are to be agreed in advance. Opponents detect the dead hand of Tory propaganda.

How much is Jim Murphy paying John McTernan, Highland terrier? Quite a lot, if the behaviour of the Scottish Labour leader’s right-hand man is any guide. McTernan protested loudly after being beaten to a yellow Grayson Perry scarf by an £800 bid at an Islington fundraiser for Emily Thornberry. My snout reports that McTerrier harangued the auctioneer, complaining he’d put up his hand to offer more. Austerity must be over, north of the border.

The unveiling of a cartoon of regulars at Strangers’ Bar led to general bemusement as MPs struggled to identify themselves. For once, the befuddlement wasn’t due to industrial quantities of ale. They were accused of sending school photographs to be copied, then failing to recognise their former selves. Lounging near the bottom is Alan Haselhurst, an Oxbridge-educated Tory grandee. I spend more time in Strangers’ than is good for me but can’t recall Sir Alan being in there for a swift half. I gather his chairmanship of the administration committee guaranteed inclusion – and his permission was required. No Sir Alan, no cartoon.

Dave and George stand united in public but privately, according to a Tory snout, Cameron worries that Osborne sides a tad too enthusiastically with the Aussie dingo Lynton Crosby on negative campaigning. The PM and the Chancellor rub along nicely enough but the same cannot be said of their partners. Sam Cam and Frances O aren’t thought to be on the best of terms. Some Tories grumble that Boy George’s home distractions were the reason he fluffed the pasty tax Budget.

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