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2 March 2017

Commons Confidential: Corbyn’s headache

The Article 50 vote is still causing problems for the Labour leader. Plus: who else was dancing at Balls' birthday bash?

By Kevin Maguire

A tough gig for Jeremy Corbyn, after Diane Abbott volunteered him to explain to her Hackney North and Stoke Newington activists why Labour’s Remainer MPs (including her) were told to vote for Article 50.

On the evening of the Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central by-elections, Abbott – now migraine-free – announced the personal service after she refused to explain the vote to a constituency party meeting, because it was 9pm, the polls were still open and somebody tweeting her account could influence the results. My snout whispered that Abbott’s local party also rejected a call to commit the Labour-run Hackney Council to campaign against Donald Trump’s state visit, instead urging individual councillors to oppose him touching down. Justifying Labour’s position on Europe to one constituency per week would take Jezza about 12 and a half years. In fairness, his reign is unlikely to last that long.

Gerald Kaufman was a quote-happy gift to journalists. (He insisted that he visited a 1970s by-election seat that Labour was destined to lose so he wouldn’t be a suspect at the scene of the crime.) Razor-sharp in his prime, he appeared confused in recent years. He mistook Gary Gibbon, the Channel 4 News political editor, for an unidentified MP, twice congratulating him on his 2015 re-election and apologising for a tearoom row. Gibbon, who is kindly for a reporter unless riled (as Tony Blair discovered with an ill-judged Iraq War gibe in 2005), would smile benignly.

Traditionalists may suggest that Ken Clarke should cut back on the booze and cigars after the veteran Tory inherited the moniker “Father of the House” from the deceased Kaufman. The bolshie Dennis Skinner is next in the seniority line and would trigger a mini-constitutional crisis by declining the venerable courtesy appellation.

The Speaker, John Bercow, is championing family-friendly politics by rejecting Tory grumbles over Labour’s Karl Turner taking his ten-month-old daughter, Stella-Mae, into the chamber after late-night divisions. The baby is impeccably behaved, unlike Theresa May’s dummy-spitting boors.

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An informant witnessed a train crash on the TUC general council between the RMT’s Mick Cash and Aslef’s Simon Weller over the Southern dispute. The TUC leader, Frances O’Grady, tried to broker a settlement. “Behind the Frances smile, we glimpsed the O’Grady steel – and she could stop a runaway train,” the source gushed. Or run one, if this rail dispute is ever resolved.

To Ed Balls’s 50th-birthday bash, where the snake-hipped Peter Mandelson threw shapes on the dance floor. Will it be Strictly next for the Prince of Darkness?

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

This article appears in the 01 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The far right rises again