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19 September 2018

Commons confidential: Labour’s unlikely peacemaker, John McDonnell

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Brextremist plastic patriots heard the sound of disapproving silence in Gibraltar, where leaving the EU is viewed as the biggest betrayal of the Rock since its seizure from Spain in 1713. The colony on the Med attracted a full junket of Tory MPs including Bob Stewart, Nigel Evans and Andrew Rosindell for its national day celebrations. Quitters on the trip isolated themselves by cheering a reference to Brexit by Alan “Dinky” Duncan, a Foreign Office minister who thinks leaving the EU is an unparalleled act of national self-harm. Gib voted 96 per cent Remain. If looks could kill there’d be a raft of by-elections.

Cackling Emily Thornberry’s a risqué cabaret turn. Her bawdy jokes about foot fetishes and naked men on doorsteps earn racy reviews. So tickled was Labour’s shadow foreign secretary by her own jokes she could barely finish them at a TUC dinner. The blue red is embarking on a nationwide tour of constituency parties. Have you heard the one about the other Islington MP who wanted to be leader?

Corbynistas still fuming at comedian Tracey Ullman mocking their hero as a bashful terrorist sympathiser will go the full Krakatoa when they learn which politician was thrilled at his own portrayal in her TV comedy sketches. Jacob Rees-Mogg, for it is he, loved the mockery. “I very much enjoyed watching,” grinned that double-breasted human pencil, “and nanny loved it too. She was particularly taken by the idea she is in complete control.” The family retainer’s repulse of unclassy war’s Ian Bone reinforces suspicions she really is the power behind chinless wonder Rees-Soggy.

Unlikely peacemaker John McDonnell soothing the nerves of Labour MPs fretting about deselection is a far cry from his days as a rabble-rouser campaigning to dump Neville Sandelson in Hayes and Harlington before his 1981 defection to the Social Democratic Party. “I was all over the front of the Times and it was the first occasion,” mused the shadow chancellor, “that I was presented as the most dangerous man in Britain and all that.” It proved not to be the last.

The times they are a-changin’ in parliament with the fall of a Berlin Wall dividing Strangers’ café. Gone is a partition separating coffee-sipping MPs from tea-slurping grafters, pulled down during summer renovations. Old habits die hard so parliamentarians continue to sit in the top area and staff at the bottom. Invisible social walls take longer to demolish.

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Could Nigel Farage go home to the Conservatives? Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen predicts a warm welcome. Theresa May might have other ideas.

This article appears in the 19 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next war