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1 September 2016

Commons confidential: Arise, Shoebacca

If Corbyn is an unstoppable force, Watson is an immovable object as Labour’s directly elected deputy

By Kevin Maguire

High on Jeremy Corbyn’s to-do list should he be re-elected this month is a cunning plan to slim down to size Tommy Watson, Labour’s burly Trot-Finder General. Phone banks canvassing support for Comrade Corbyn point to victory over his challenger Owen Smith, I’m told, so the vanguard is preparing to consolidate the leader’s grip on the party machinery.

If Corbyn is an unstoppable force, Watson is an immovable object as Labour’s directly elected deputy. So the idea is to reduce his role by stripping Brother Tommy of the title Labour chairman. That part of Watson’s job was originally invented by Tony Blair in 2001 for Charles Clarke when John Prescott was deputy, and remains in the gift of the leader. And by handing it to a woman, Jezza solves his female problem while undermining Watson. The name in the frame is Angela Rayner, currently double-jobbing at shadow Education and Equalities. Nobody walks over the tough former careworker, a mam at 16 and Unison official. Rayner was nicknamed “Shoebacca” after complaining to a Brighton shop on Commons notepaper when she missed out on a Star Wars-themed, £195 pair of heels.

Now in control of Labour’s ruling NEC after the left-wing Grassroots Alliance won all six constituency seats, Corbynistas mutter menacingly that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a “dead man walking” if Jezza returns. The Momentum chair, Jon Lansman, Corbyn’s campaign director, is said to covet the post but is seen as too sectarian by other members of Jezza’s team. McNicol is in the Smith-backing GMB, so a successor may be nominated by Corbyn-supporting Unite.

James Schneider the Brideshead Bolshevik, another posh product of £37,000-a-year Winchester College, is a public face of Momentum and creates unintentional hilarity by referring to “our party” whenever he’s arguing the Corbynista cause. Labour critics giggle that Schneider adopts the single transferable phrase to avoid confusion. Before joining the Jezza revolution, he voted Green in 2015, was president of Oxford University’s Liberal Democrats and endorsed the Tory who stood in 2010 against south-east London’s Tribunite MP Clive Efford.

The Corbyn-baiting Virgin tax exile Richard Branson has an unsettling habit, I hear, of waiting until the last moment to put on a shirt before lecturing Britons from the studio of his Caribbean money haven. The Fat Controller’s hairy moobs, a traumatised female TV producer confided, are less appealing than an sandwich on his East Coast trains. Instead of removing his knighthood, John McDonnell would curry favour with broadcasters by advocating that Branson cover up.

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

This article appears in the 31 Aug 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Syria's world war