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8 February 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:26pm

Commons Confidential: Power-hungry Corbyn “waiting to follow public opinion on Brexit”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Jeremy Corbyn’s team cancelled a scheduled Brexit gathering to maintain the flexibility of what’s known within the shadow cabinet as “creative ambiguity” on Europe. My frontbench snout whispers that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are watching which way the wind blows on the single market and customs union. Keir Starmer and Diane Abbott lead Labour’s shadow cabinet Brexit softies while Jon Trickett and Barry Gardiner head the hardliners. The ideology obsessing Corbyn and McDonnell is power. They’ll follow the voters.

Brextremism is a religion for Tory true believer Steve “Barking” Baker, the fundamentalist minister forced to grovel for lying to parliament after bleak Whitehall forecasts painted his heaven as economic hell. Injudicious rubbishing of inconvenient evidence coincided with a chap recalling an uncomfortable encounter with the Conservative Christian Fellowship disciple. Baker unbuttoned his shirt after challenging the disconcerted man to define what drove the Wycombe MP’s politics. Pulling out a crucifix, the messianic Brextremist declared: “This is what drives me.” Few would be surprised if it was accompanied by a pound sign these days.

Labour’s perpetually curious Stephen Pound discovered appearances can be deceptive. Invited to the magnificent Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London, the Ealing lip had been informed it would be a smart gathering and prominent Sephardic Jews wore black top hats. After exiting Aldgate East Tube, the duly suited and booted MP Pound attempted to engage in religious conversation a man in said headgear. “What are you on about?” replied the perplexed chap. “I’m the guide for the Jack the Ripper tour.” Quite.

An update on the funny-handshake brigade following the Guardian re-revealing a “secret” Freemasons’ lodge for the Westminster Press Gallery first disclosed in this column over several weeks in February 2006 after yours truly was leaked the pinny boys’ minutes. The lodge scribe or secretary, an old Daily Express hand, recently retired from hackery. I believe only one current lobby journalist is a mason. He’s a right-wing Tory toiling in cyberspace and, of course, a Brextremist.

Doesn’t know her own strength, does self-styled “gobby bird” and Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. The Stoke dynamo pushed open a door in the members’ lobby with such enthusiasm it came off the hinges. Two aptly named doorkeepers held the defeated wooden panel upright until a maintenance team screwed it back to the frame.

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Word in the SNP is tartan former chieftain Alex Salmond’s paid £250,000 a year to front shows on Kremlin-backed TV channel RT. Worth the flak? 

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This article appears in the 07 Feb 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new age of rivalry