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15 February 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

Commons confidential: Labour’s sisterly clash could expose the party’s north-south divide

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Theresa May’s as light on her feet as a marble statue so Labour apparatchiks preparing Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister’s Questions are switching tactics to equip him with short-and-sharp openers instead of grand statements. After tributes to a dead soldier and the suffragettes at the last clash, Corbyn’s concise 12-word opener – “With crime rising, does the Prime Minister regret cutting 21,000 police officers?” – left the Downing Street plodder no time to collect her thoughts or hear helpful whispers from cabinet minions. Dithery May’s so slow-witted she couldn’t do sit-down, never mind stand-up. Comatose comedy, maybe.

Galloping Brextremist and former cabinet minister Owen Paterson is mercifully on the mend after breaking his back falling off a horse. The MP for Bloodsports Central remains curiously coy about the circumstances. Westminster’s wickedest whisper is that the ruddy-faced Tory was riding with a hunt and wishes to avoid giving cheer to fox hunt saboteurs. Tally-ho!

Comrade Corbyn’s resourceful executive director Karie Murphy runs a tight waste-not, want-not regime. Spotting a row of uprooted parliamentary bushes that were to be consigned to the compost bin of history, the former nurse persuaded a passing worker to help her carry them up to the office in return for a bottle of whisky. The greening of the balcony outside Corbyn’s window is the socialism of recycling.

Open Britain and Best for Britain are caught in a Life of Brian-style rivalry between the People’s Front of Remain and the Remainers’ People’s Front, despite recent unifying moves. The hourly war to issue the first and most outlandish comment is powered by quotable former Lib Dem spin doctors James McGrory and Paul Butters. If only Remain had proved so sharp before the referendum.

Should Corbyn’s party reforms include a second deputy leader, a position to be filled by a woman, the smart speculation is that Angela Rayner and Emily Thornberry would battle it out. The sisterly clash could inadvertently expose Labour’s dangerous north-south divide.

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Misdirected my way was an invitation to MPs and peers from Wiltshire grump James Gray to a circus proprietors’ bash next month to celebrate 250 years of big tent entertainment. With so many clowns in parliament, these visitors are guaranteed to feel at home.

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The fallout from the terrorist murder of PC Keith Palmer continues with the Met transferring cops who know parliament and newcomers being told they’ll serve a maximum five years. That sound is a clumsy attempt to bolt stable doors. 

This article appears in the 15 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist