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23 July 2015

Commons Confidential: Milibandoned, Harman’s hardships and Tony who?

Pick of the best gossip from Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

I hear that Harriet Harman is grumbling that she never wanted to be Labour’s acting leader for a second time and blames Ed Miliband for leaving the party in the lurch.

Harman, who also stepped up from deputy to sheriff after Gordon Brown left office in 2010, has had her bouquets replaced by brickbats over the past few weeks. Favourable reviews have turned into a wall of moans in parliament. The first task of an acting leader is to hold the party together. Harman split hers right away over welfare cuts – in particular, David Cameron’s plot to breed Tory voters by ensuring that only wealthier families can afford to have three children or more.

My snout overheard Harman accusing Miliband of abandoning his post, arguing that her former boss should have overseen the election of a successor. Meanwhile, according to my snout, the carefree Ed is telling anyone who will listen how much he is enjoying life as a backbencher, adding insult to Harman’s injury after he left her to pick up the pieces. If the Labour Party were a card game, it would be Unhappy Families.

No Tory is grander in his own lunchtime than Sir Nicholas Soames, a blue blood who says what he likes and likes what he says, in a booming voice. Soames is a traditionalist who prefers the natural order of life, as one might expect from a grandson of Winston Churchill. The hereditary politician is exercised by his colleague Charlie Elphicke’s barnet. Tories report that Soames chunters disapprovingly that a member of the Whips’ Office is now dyeing his hair. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding.

The tightly knit SNP displays a Leninist discipline that is the envy of old lefties. To date, the only discernible split is between the “wets”, who drink in the Sports and Social, and the “drys”, who prefer Westminster’s restaurants. One Labour MP says that she knows when the Nats are on manoeuvres by the thud of 56 pairs of boots marching in unison. Most SNP MPs have offices in a block near the Red Lion; the Cry Freedom brigade refers to it as Caledonia House, a bit of England that is for ever Scotland. Until independence, anyway.

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Andy Burnham’s step to the left surprised an informant who recalled the Labour leadership hopeful referring to Tony Blair as “my mate” in a Brighton bar at the 2006 TUC conference. These days, it’s: “Tony who?”

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Austerity policy applied to the food, if not the booze, at a smug George Osborne summer preening session in front of invited hacks at the Treasury. The nibbles were smaller than a teacher’s pay rise but the alcohol flowed mightily well. The Chancer of the Exchequer’s crash diet has lost him a couple of dozen pounds. The national debt has soared by £400bn.

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