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2 June 2016

Commons confidential: Band of Benns

People are sniggering at Hilary Benn's “St Crispin’s Day speeches”. But who are the chief gigglers?

By Kevin Maguire

The sound of suppressed tittering can be heard at shadow cabinet meetings every time Hilary Benn delivers what has come to be known as his “St Crispin’s Day speeches”. Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman is fond of emphasising the justness of the European cause and trumpeting how marvellous it is that his party is so united on the EU.

Chief sniggerer is a rubber-faced Chris Bryant, who tries to catch the eye of blushing lefty John Cryer, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. What Bryant knows, and seemingly every shadow cabinet member except Brother Benn seems to know, is that Comrade Cryer is an old-style socialist, confirmed Brexiteer. The failure of the Tory-dominated Vote Leave campaign to engage and deploy Labour’s most senior Quitter is evidence for the doctrinal ignorance of a damaged side in
a lost war.

Drippy Boris Johnson isn’t only sweating over the coming referendum result and, by extension, his leadership ambitions. TV make-up artists complain that the former mayor of London arrives for interviews perspiring after cycling to studios on his bike. On one occasion, a hair dryer was deployed to remove excess moisture. On another, an artist had to throw away a brush, soaked with Johnson’s bodily fluids. My informant blames the vest that was spied beneath Johnson’s shirt. I presume he twins this most British of undergarments with Union Jack Y-fronts.

I bring you a rare sighting of Zac Goldsmith after going into hiding having lost with dishonour to Sadiq Khan in London. The sheepish MP was spotted in a Lords bar with the bruiser peer Norman Tebbit. The “Tebbit cricket test” was about the only unused slur in a racially charged campaign. Goldsmith must feel safe in a bar where he will never be asked to
hold a pint of beer.

A diner pointed at George Osborne and shouted “wa**er, wa**er, wa**er,” as he passed the Chancellor’s table in a London restaurant, I’m told. The first secretary of state’s reply – “And I hope you have a good lunch too, sir” – was a passable dessert after the rude hors-d’oeuvre. Osborne’s called much worse by his own side in the Commons
tea room.

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Perhaps “love triangle MP” (copyright: every British newspaper) Angus MacNeil was playing it safe when my snout spotted him in a Charing Cross watering hole favoured by the SNP, drinking with a tall man in a kilt rather than Stewart Hosie or the journo Serena Cowdy. He departed with a plea in his ear from Labour’s Lou Haigh and Neil Coyle. The party’s MPs are touchingly protective if anybody from outside criticises Jeremy Corbyn. That’s their job.

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

This article appears in the 01 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, How men got left behind