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28 September 2017

Commons Confidential: Who’s eavesdropping on Amber Rudd?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

A spectre is haunting the Tories – the spectre of paranoia. The pressure is evidently getting to Amber Rudd. A Conservative MP recounted the Home Secretary’s curious response when he called her on her mobile to discuss a sensitive matter. “I can’t speak on the phone,” answered a panicky Rudd. “You don’t know who is listening.” Given that she is in charge of MI5 and the cops, she could always ask.

“Just had a new hot tub delivered,” read the text from Ed Balls. “Yvette’s at the party conference so I’m having a party of my own. Anton du Beke is here. Delia is doing canapés and Stormzy’s coming (met him at Glasto, TOP guy). Grab your swimsuit and get down here… Gangnam Style. Best, Ed.” I sent my excuses and stayed away.

The gloriously straight-talking Ruth Smeeth, a graduate of Hope not Hate’s struggle against the unsavoury far right and Islamofascists, revealed an unconventional doorstep pitch that she used to survive in Stoke North at the election in June, when Stoke South was one of Labour’s six losses. “I told them the choice was between the gobby bird and the bland bloke. Luckily, they preferred the gobby bird.” Just don’t tell Harriet Harman.

Shunned Labour MPs corralled on to the balcony at the Corbyn cult’s evangelical gathering vowed to boycott next September’s love-in. The PLP chair, John Cryer, was deluged with complaints in Brighton from Westminster comrades banned from the floor despite buying £135 passes. In the new world order, MPs are as unpopular as BBC hacks.

At a launch of Rhodri, the posthumously published autobiography of her late hubby and former Cardiff first minister, the Welsh AM Julie Morgan confirmed the truth of the old tale that Tony Blair never forgave her mother’s mistaking him for the actor Lionel Blair. Once at a Brighton conference, Rhodri and Julie couldn’t find their clothes after a sneaky sea swim. Mercifully the gawping Japanese students didn’t recognise them.

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An intriguing footnote to Labour’s rule changes. The plan was to cut MP nominations for the leader to 10 per cent from 15 per cent, until Tom Watson piped up and proposed that the deputy’s threshold be reduced also. The omission was Jeremy Corbyn’s message that he and Watson rub along nicely these days.

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“Hello, it’s Ed Balls here. Earlier tonight you got a text from me about a party. Don’t worry, it’s not real, I’ve just been part of a Michael McIntyre TV show where I gave him my phone and he sent the text. I chose you as one of the contacts as I thought you’d enjoy the laugh… If you responded the TV company may be in touch.” Pull the other one.