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24 October 2018

Commons Confidential: Chris Grayling’s welcoming party

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

An explosive private call by Boris Johnson proposing a local hospital’s privatisation has inflamed fears that the NHS would be up for sale after Brexit and a trade deal with Trump. The increasingly right-whinge enemy of public services growled “can’t we get some sort of American company to take it over?” during a meeting on ailing Hillingdon Hospital with junior health minister James O’Shaughnessy and NHS bosses earlier this month. My snout with the medical bag whispered that Johnson is far more ideologically extreme behind closed doors than he dares sound in public. Had a “privatise the NHS” truth, rather than a £350m lie, been emblazoned down the side of the Brexit bus, the result would have been very different.

Phoenix Nights for John McDonnell. The shadow chancellor’s a secret Peter Kay fan, my informant reports, having witnessed the Hayes and Harlington MP watch the Bolton comic’s TV shows on his phone during long train journeys. A Car Share between McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn would have broadcasters fighting to film the journey. The intriguing question is which of them would drive.

Valleys boy Owen Smith paid £90 at an auction for a signed Hansard copy of Corbyn’s 2015 debut as Labour leader at Prime Minister’s Questions. The Pontypridd MP, defeated by a landslide when he stood against Jezza a year later, scotched speculation it would be cut into six-inch squares to hang from a nail in the lav.

Incompetent Tall Controller Chris “Failing” Grayling’s reputation goes before him. Choice insults shouted by a welcoming party at Liverpool Lime Street station after news spread of the Transport Secretary’s visit left TV interviews unusable. His southern discomfort is the Tories’ northern problem.

Few deliver a eulogy better than Angela Smith, Labour’s leader in the Lords. She completed a tribute in the robing room to deceased peer Josie Farrington with a tale of the whip accepting a taxi lift home from the late Labour chancellor Denis Healey. The passengers conversed merrily with the driver. Stopping to let her out, Healey leaned forward to murmur to the cabbie: “You see this beautiful woman – she whips me every night.” Such suggestive teasing might see a baron on a charge today.

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At the same memorial, old friend Judith Barton, a one-time colleague of Farrington’s at the Local Government Information Bureau, recalled the pair attending a 1990s conference in Thessaloniki. Farrington asked an Irishman she found herself chatting with in the hotel lobby what he was doing in Greece. Behind large sunglasses, the chap replied he was with a band before she wandered off none the wiser. Whatever became of Bono?

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This article appears in the 24 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit crash