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22 August 2018

Commons Confidential: IDS’s summer spat

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster.

By Patrick Maguire

Lobby hacks spending recess mining the bottomless pit of Jeremy Corbyn’s backbench speeches and foreign junkets come bearing gifts every day for the Labour leader’s weary spinners. Happily for press officers, Jez shares platforms with gentler folk these days – and the presents are altogether more thoughtful too. Preaching to the faithful in Tory-held Mansfield last week, Corbyn got a mug decorated with NUM strike badges. Not too long ago a Labour leader would have run a mile from Scargillite merch, but a delighted JC joked he already had them at home.

Nothing is sacred for Tory Brextremists. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group marked the passing of Eurosceptic Peter Tapsell the only way they know how: with a scrap. Iain Duncan Smith penned a lengthy eulogy for the former Father of the House in the Brexiteer WhatsApp group (where colleagues moan he is anything but a quiet man). His teary salute to the Maastricht martyr was a red rag to former culture secretary John Whittingdale. Windbag Whitto, who once made Thatcher’s tea, snapped he could never forgive Tapsell for backing Michael Heseltine’s putsch. Some mutter that nominating IDS for leader in 2001 was a greater sin.

Old habits die hard for Labour’s Liam Byrne, who ploughs a lonely furrow as shadow digital minister. The note he left behind for Lib Dem grass David Laws at the Treasury, warning that there was no money left, has haunted him for eight years. Now Labour staffers grumble that similarly unsolicited missives on Baldy Byrne’s long list of parliamentary wheezes are landing in their inboxes. Did somebody say GDPR?

Worrying times for Westminster’s thirsty slackers. Boozers pining for the Sports and Social, the shuttered parliamentary watering hole beloved of Scots Nats and other degenerates, are increasingly tetchy about its post-Pestminster makeover. The fuggy den of iniquity is slated to return as the Woolsack wine bar in just under a fortnight, but pessimistic snouts peering through its windows report slow progress. Whenever the hostelry does open, some fear it’ll be as soulless as the Lords Bar. That strip-lit broom cupboard looks better suited to euthanising pets than serving pints.

There’s no better introduction to life in SW1 than the scene that greets tourists as they waddle into Westminster Hall. In a rare concession to the 21st century, parliament’s underemployed tech gnomes have rigged up big-screen tellies showing the House’s latest social media posts. The brutal verdict beneath one close-up of a gurning Theresa May? Zero likes. A pithier summary of politics in Britain you won’t find. 

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Patrick Maguire is the NS political correspondent. Kevin Maguire is away

This article appears in the 22 Aug 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Will Labour split?