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31 March 2016

Commons Confidential: Doppelgänger defect

“Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he said he wouldn’t.”

By Kevin Maguire

Nye Bevan, the founder of the National Health Service, might well have turned in his grave had he not been cremated, with his ashes scattered on the green hills above Tredegar, Wales. Junior doctors in England preparing to down stethoscopes in accident and emergency units should brace themselves for a permanent revolution. I understand that the political norovirus Jeremy Hunt intends to resist eradication.

A mole in the minister’s Whitehall bunker whispered that Hunt plans to become the longest-serving health secretary in history and has already worked out that he needs to survive just over two more years. Appointed in September 2012, he has clocked up three years and seven months. Bevan did five years and five months, while the record-holder, Norman Fowler, chalked up five years and nine months during the Thatcher era.

Hunt, I hear, has the summer of 2018 marked in his diary for a personal celebration. But what if David Cameron retires early, and a new prime minister injects political penicillin into the NHS, ordering the appointment of someone with a better bedside manner to eliminate this disease?

The ladies serving in the canteen at the Welsh Assembly are excited at the prospect of Christine Hamilton – a survivor of “bushtucker trials” in I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! – eating lunch in the Senedd. Labour’s First Minister, Carwyn Jones, is distinctly less happy at the prospect of Hamilton’s insignificant other, the ex-Tory Ukipper Neil Hamilton, camping in Cardiff Bay with a group of Purple Shirts after May’s elections.

Despite serving as his country’s leader for almost seven years, Jones continues to be mistaken for the BBC Wales weatherman Derek Brockway. The two appear to have been separated at birth, though Brockway, as far as I could discover, has never been mistaken for Jones.

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John Prescott’s younger brother, Ray, is the dead spit of the former deputy PM. I did a double take on seeing him in Wrexham, but the former flight engineer, who negotiated deals to buy second-hand Jaguars for his sibling, swears much less than the old sea dog. So alike physically are the pair that Ray once walked unchallenged into parliament, greeted with a cheery “Morning, Mr Prescott” from the copper at the gate. The fun started when the elected Mr Prescott turned up shortly after that.

The former Lib Dem MP Lembit Öpik tells me that he requires a second operation to straighten his wonky features, after complaining that the first op left him looking more like Saddam Hussein than George Clooney. He has a point. Nor has it improved the failed comic’s jokes: “Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he said he wouldn’t.” 

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This article appears in the 30 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The terror trail