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9 March 2017

Commons Confidential: Posh Labour’s retreat

What's Tristram Hunt been up to? And who took a bottle of wine to the whips – and signed the label?

By Kevin Maguire

Stiff upper lips were tricky to maintain in the Foreign Office, I hear, after Boris Johnson’s latest pith helmet moment. The professional blunderer was suspected of thinking booze was the issue when India’s finance minister demanded that the UK send a liquor baron, Vijay Mallya, to New Delhi to face financial charges. Those in the room grasped the enormity of the Foreign Secretary’s stupor as Johnson spluttered that a man didn’t deserve to be punished for producing alcohol. The minister’s failure to read briefs terrifies his ambassadors. Eton breeds a toxic mix of superiority and laziness.

Sticking with alcohol, I am told that Labour’s keen Clive Lewis, tipped as a possible leader, strolled into the whips’ office with a bottle of wine for the enforcer Mark Tami. The vino was a thank you. Tami had granted the MP a night off to speak at a meeting. That Lewis signed the label before handing the bottle over perhaps points
to future ambitions.

The Iraq War inquiry head, John Chilcot, is dogged by the seven years that it took to produce last year’s report. When he squeezed late into a pew between the Bishop of Rochester and the Labour teaser-in-chief, Stephen Pound, for a service at St Margaret’s Church near the Houses of Parliament, his lateness invited some leg-pulling. “Don’t worry, Sir John,” the bishop whispered. “We’d have waited.” My advice to Chilcot: arrive early to every event from now on.

The Countryside Alliance, the armed rural wing of the Tory party, misjudged its target audience in trying to sell raffle tickets to Labour MPs for a £23,000 pair of William Evans shotguns. Things might be bad, but they’re not that bad. Yet.

My snout observed that the Labour bruisers Tom Watson and Nick Brown sauntered into Jonathan Miller’s “Mafia” Rigoletto at the last moment, resembling a couple of gangsters. Watson, dressed in black, and Brown, wearing a leather trench coat, must have buried many Labour bodies. The pair may put a few more six feet under should Don Jezza Corbleone lose his grip. On the evening in question, the shovel was left in the boot of the car outside English National Opera.

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The Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti was earwigged in the Barry Room, a plush feeding station in the House of Lords, bemoaning the nastiness of party politics compared to defending civil liberties at Liberty. That we know this proves her point, I suppose!

Tristram Hunt’s Posh Labour betrayal is complete since abandoning parliament and the Potteries for the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’m informed that he was still on the Stoke-on-Trent Central electoral register but didn’t vote in the by-election. Imagine if Labour had lost by one.

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

This article appears in the 08 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The return of al-Qaeda