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17 December 2015

Commons Confidential: In, out . . . and all about

Team In on the outs, Tory bullying allegations, and a shock in Oldham.

By Kevin Maguire

The European referendum’s official In team, Britain Stronger in Europe, looks like a bunch of losers. James McGrory, Nick Clegg’s old mouthpiece, is the new chief campaign spokesman. Ryan Coetzee, the mastermind of the Lib Dumb massacre in May, is the strategy director. The group’s executive director, Will Straw, failed to capture Labour’s target of Rossendale and Darwen. And another senior honcho, the Tory pollster and peer Andrew Cooper, lost a No 10 power struggle with the Lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby. With an aloof chair in the former M&S boss Stuart Rose, it’s a winning hand, as Westminster mischievously calls it – for the Out squad.

The misnomer that would be a Conservative Workers and Trade Union Movement is the latest casualty of a bullying scandal involving suicide, sex, claims of drug use, an alleged blackmail attempt, backstabbing, Freemasonry and supposedly ignorant party bigwigs. The propaganda front was to be launched before Christmas until Robert Halfon, a privately educated, self-styled champion of blue-collar Conservatism, became ensnared in lurid claims that a parliamentary seat would be extorted on pain of exposing his Tory totty trysts at a snooty club.

The special affection that Labour colleagues hold for Simon Danczuk, the MP for Tory Press Central, may be gauged from the positive responses to an email request for sponsorship for a charity fun run. “He would raise a fortune,” a Labour shadow minister messaged me, “if Simon simply promised to keep on running and never come back.” At five miles a day, he would be 35 miles from Westminster after the first week alone.

My eye was directed to some glorious one-downmanship in the House of Lords. Baron Tebbit’s declaration that he “lived not long ago in a place where there was no mains water supply” was trumped by Baroness (Lucy) Neville-Rolfe’s reply: “I, too, was brought up on a farm with no mains water supply and I survived.” Only in the House of Cronies could a broadband debate resemble Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch. The only thing missing was Baron (John) Prescott claiming, with some legitimacy, that he was dragged up in a small shoebox.

The year’s oddest political fact: because of the SNP’s strength, two suspended Nationalist MPs, Natalie “Missing Donations” McGarry and Michelle “Property Deals” Thomson, are Scotland’s second-largest party in Westminster.

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Still shaking from canvassing in the Oldham by-election is a female Labour MP who banged on the door of a house where a semi-naked bloke was watching porn on a giant TV. Then again, remember – it was a big majority.

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

This article appears in the 14 Dec 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special