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26 September 2018

Commons Confidential: Bruisers and bodyguards at Labour conference

The pick of the best gossip from the 2018 Labour party conference in Liverpool. 

By Kevin Maguire

Strange times and shifting alliances at conference as my snout on Labour’s NEC watched Tom Watson and Momentum’s Jon Lansman make eye contact then giggle after the committee backed electing a second, female deputy, despite concerns from Corbyn’s office. But Team Corbyn won in the end after the Wirral West party, who’d submitted the motion, withdrew it. Corbyn Central feared Jezza’s favourite Dawn Butler wouldn’t win and that two deputies both potentially championing a Brexit “People’s Vote” would be stronger than one. John McDonnell would’ve promoted his protégée Rebecca Long-Bailey, who might have fallen out with her London flatmate, Angela Rayner. And Emily Thornberry is spared deciding if Labour is ready for a leader and her as a deputy both coming from Islington. Nothing divides a party like internal democracy.

Best-laid plans and all that when the Tribune Group of MPs’ rally at Liverpool’s Casa bar was saved by the last-minute intervention of Walton MP, Dan Carden. The shadow international development minister, whose Corbynista godfather Tony Nelson runs a club at the Casa founded by sacked dockers, vouched for the meeting after the venue was ready to cancel the booking if speakers criticised Jezza. Eddie Izzard on the bill set alarm bells ringing for Corbyn’s proletarian praetorians. Dan the left-wing man behaved comradely by promising his party rivals would behave.

Tribune magazine’s new owner, the American socialist Bhaskar Sunkara, must be relieved after the relaunch of the venerable magazine narrowly avoided a picket by angry staff from the old days. The discarded three hacks – Ian Hernon, Mike Parker and George Osgerby – sent vituperative emails, complaining of broken promises and shoddy treatment, an hour before the celebratory welcome in the World Transformed centre for the first of six issues a year. “We were thinking of a picket but it’s a long way to go to get ignored,” simmered Hernon. Michael Foot might be turning in his grave, if he wasn’t cremated. 

Bruiser John McDonnell detonated into a nuclear disarmer with attitude after Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan bombarded him for ten minutes with questions about whether a PM Jeremy Corbyn would press the button to radioactively incinerate millions of people. “I wonder if you could nuke an individual TV presenter,” muttered McDonnell as he unclipped the mic. Labour win power and commissar McDonnell will guarantee Morgan a fair trial before having him found guilty and banished to the obscurity of London Live.

Bodyguard was fiction but three Labour MPs, including one advised what to do if attacked with acid, have received police protection at conference after Islamist threats. The party leadership fears they’ll be driven out of politics.

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This article appears in the 26 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Brexit crisis