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7 January 2016

Commons confidential: Öpik or Benn?

Unacknowledged Labour, Farron's Volvo - and a case of mistaken identity.

By Kevin Maguire

Cruel and unusual punishment is outlawed by the US constitution, yet in Britain the people of Sheffield Hallam have condemned limboland’s Nick Clegg to a political inferno. The humbled former deputy prime minister could be forgiven for envying the likes of Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Danny Alexander (househunting in Beijing after bagging a new China bank job), all of whom moved on after losing their seats. Clegg cuts a miserable figure on the back benches, reassuring Lib Dem colleagues, according to a snout, that he doesn’t plan to trigger a by-election the party would most likely lose. However, I’m told, at the 2020 election he’s off.

Lib Dem insiders mutter that Clegg’s wife, the Spanish senator’s daughter Miriam González Durántez, has mused privately in the past about running for office in her native land. It would be a big shock to have a popular politician in that family.

Photocalls wearing hi vis and a hard hat won’t make the Treasury top dog, George Osborne, any more likely to muck in with hoi polloi when the cameras leave. An informant on a Virgin flight from New York to London recalled with irritation how Osborne and his flunkeys ignored the seat-belt signs, jumping up to beat the queue at Heathrow. Chancellors and flunkeys first!

Bad news for Hilary “Bomber” Benn that might just put the shadow cabinet reshuffle into perspective. The former Lib Dem MP Lembit Öpik is being mistaken for the dynastic Labour politician. Öpik, the voluble human anagram, has said he dreams of waking up looking like George Clooney after a forthcoming operation to straighten his wonky face. He muttered within my earshot that when he wears his glasses he is often stopped by people who have confused him with Benn. I suppose it could be worse for the Labour scion. He could be the one being mistaken for Öpik.

I notice that Luciana Berger’s new business card doesn’t mention Labour. There’s a sweet cartoon of “your local MP” but the party is noticeable by its absence. Wavertree in Liverpool is an area where the party is popular. Perhaps the frontbencher considers the affiliation superfluous.

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Tim Farron missed a golden opportunity by buying a Volvo to replace the car swamped by flood waters in his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency. A Mazda Bongo is more suitable for a Lib Dem leader. With its eight seats, he could drive the entire party in the Commons.

The Department of Health hates smokers when it crusades against the great tobacco killer. Others in a government run by Dave’s brigade of Old Etonians find it unusual that when the care quality minister, Ben Gummer, pops out for a fag, he means a cigarette.

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

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This article appears in the 06 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The God issue