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14 September 2017

Commons Confidential: Why was Blair in such a rush to leave the BBC?

He fled New Broadcasting House at a pace that would have left Justin Gatlin in the blocks.

By Kevin Maguire

Labour’s Brexit shift was pencilled in earlier than publicly acknowledged. In Frances O’Grady’s Trades Union Congress files is a letter written before the summer by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, which, a union snout informs me, committed the party to seeking extended membership of the single market and customs union.

The canny O’Operator demanded a formal undertaking after receiving a verbal assurance over union fears about jobs and trade. The workers, united, will never be defeated.

I watched Tony Blair break the world record for exiting the BBC after his interview on The Andrew Marr Show. The Brexit migration-control convert fled New Broadcasting House at a pace that would have left Justin Gatlin in the blocks.

The former prime minister is perpetually worried, I’m told, that Stop the War protesters who have seen him on live TV will hotfoot it to the studios and scream, “War criminal!”

Holidays are occupational hazards for MPs. Seated at a dining table on a Med cruise with a nurse, copper and council worker, the outspoken Tory Alec Shelbrooke – Brian Blessed’s long-lost louder brother – quickly calculated that discretion was the better part of valour and told them he was an engineer. A wise choice, since all three labour under the pay cap; and not entirely untrue, as that is indeed his profession.

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Discretion was observed in Downing Street as a Home Office driver vacated a car so Amber Rudd could change in the backseat before a cabinet meeting. I trust that the CCTV cameras covering every inch of the area were swivelled elsewhere.

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Michael Ashcroft, the Tory billionaire Blofeld, has shifted his London lair from Westminster to the City, a snout tells me. The international man of mystery’s retirement from the House of Lords would permit Belize’s best-known denizen to resume a public service-denying “non-dom” tax status in Blighty. Disgruntled peers, I hear, chunter about closing a loophole allowing quitters to continue calling themselves “Lord”.

A near miss for the football club Sunderland. Durham miners attended the launch of a charcoal-coloured third kit in a nod to the city’s industrial past during a game against Sheffield United instead of the originally mooted Nottingham Forest. Memories of the 1984-85 coal strike linger. Durham pitmen still refer to Nottingham as “scab county” after its miners worked. Fancy footwork avoided an own goal.

Labour is checking the tides for a mass rally on Brighton beach on the eve of this year’s conference – surely unnecessary, as most activists think that Jeremy Corbyn walks on water?