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14 May 2015

Commons Confidential: Return of the roaring hearties

Lurid headlines, Tory newspapers - and where to catch a pint with Salmond.

By Kevin Maguire

Evgeny Lebedev, the hereditary press baron, popped champagne corks to celebrate the Conservative majority. The Russian-born billionaire triggered a backlash among Labour-voting readers by decreeing the not-so-Independent would endorse a continuation of the Conservative-dominated coalition, albeit with a larger Lib Dem presence. Outright Tory victory appeared to energise, rather than disappoint, the oligarch’s son. My informant whispers that Lebedev visibly swooned in the presence of David Cameron, who acknowledged the support by appearing at his glitzy party to celebrate the twin triumphs of the election and his 35th birthday. Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage also stopped by, but of Ed Miliband there was no sign. No doubt Lebedev will save a few bob without a mansion tax and may be in for a tidy windfall when Cameron cuts the top rate of income tax.

Hooray Henrys and Henriettas did not hold back on election night. Young, loud Tory campaign workers swamped the Blue Boar Bar near St James’s Park. My informant watched open-mouthed as a woman took off a high-heeled shoe to allow a celebrating chap to drink champagne from it. This from a party poised to dismantle the welfare state. The onlooker was reminded of Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh’s acidic satire of high-society decadence. Victims of £12bn social security cuts will be forgiven if they hope the shoe lady has athlete’s foot.

Alex Salmond arrived late for an SNP 56 photocall outside parliament with his successor Nicola Sturgeon at the centre, even though she’s not an MP. Word is that the party will make the Sports and Social Club, rather than Strangers’ Bar, its watering hole. Labour MPs favour Strangers’, Tories the Smoking Room. The remaining Lib Dems will fit in any available snug.

Good humour at John Smith House, Labour’s Scottish HQ. A receptionist announced that it would be called “Ian Murray House” now, named for their sole remaining MP. Meanwhile Ed Balls, defeated in Morley, jokes he can go on Strictly Come Dancing. At least I think it was a joke. Balls confided he would quit if his wife, Yvette Cooper, became Labour leader, to avoid cramping her style. Maybe the voters saved him a job.

Appointing that hammer of the BBC and friend of newspaper self-regulation, John Whittingdale, as Culture Secretary is a reward to Tory press barons. Labour officials talk of counting coverage as part of campaign spending, given that most newspapers produced Tory propaganda.

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Lurid headlines about an alleged affair between Sally Bercow and Speaker John’s cousin were another blow for a couple on a slippery slope. They faced a £10,000 bill after her skiing accident. Saving on travel insurance proved a false economy.

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