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3 March 2016

Commons Confidential: Installing McBride 2.0

Corbyn's shoes, SNP blues - and more Trident trouble for Labour.

By Kevin Maguire

SNP members are forever tweeting about the disgraceful absence of rival parties at one debate or other, though many wonder if it is to avoid rubbing shoulders with Labourites and Tories that they turn up in the Commons chamber. What a pity that just three of the 56 members of the elect from the self-declared party for social justice found their way to a poverty debate initiated by their renegade colleague Natalie McGarry.

The Glasgow East MP has been suspended from the party whip while police investigate the finances of her Women for Independence group, established as a vehicle for her political ambitions – that is, Scottish freedom.

Lonely McGarry’s SNP colleagues used to cry, “Taxi for McGarry!” The whipless wonder is unlikely to hear that gibe after being detained in Turkey recently for using a mobile phone to record the sound of bombs. Nats wags now call her “Midnight Express McGarry”.

To Speaker’s House in Westminster, for the launch of a website giving access to 200,000 public paintings and sculptures. Our host, Gisela Stuart, waved at the portraits of the big chair’s mostly male occupants, claiming that she was “working on” equality.

Over the centuries, the Commons has had only one female Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. That’s half the number that the House of Lords can boast: Helene Hayman and Frances D’Souza have occupied the role since it was created in 2006. Could the elegant operator for Birmingham Edgbaston be in with a shot when John Bercow hangs up his cloak?

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Older and wiser, Damian McBride has returned to front-line politics, tasked with keeping HMS Emily Thornberry on an even keel. But that is not the only use for Labour’s recommissioned destroyer. Comrade Corbyn, I hear, is anxious to learn from the Brown veteran. No more free hits for the Tories? David Cameron should brace himself for a thrust of cold steel.

The battle over Trident’s £100bn replacement remains as radioactive for Labour as the war over Europe is toxic for the Tories. The resurfacing of Des Browne, the former defence secretary, to question the security of the new subs, prompted an old
hand to argue that Premier Brown was wrong to discard him in 2008. “Gordon,” the snout insisted, “sacked Des as defence secretary because he thought Browne’s loyalty guaranteed that he wouldn’t cause any trouble.” How times change.

To Middlesbrough, where I learn that Comrade Corbyn’s footwear captures more attention than his lack of suit or tie. During an encounter with redundant steelworkers, students at the local college were obsessed by Jezza’s soft shoes. “Do his ‘sandals’ meet health and safety standards?” one student mocked. Gritty Teessiders prefer hobnail boots on a politician.

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

This article appears in the 02 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Germany's migrant crisis