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20 February 2019

Commons Confidential: Jeremy Corbyn’s missed meeting

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The leader’s office advice to go easy on the seven Labour splitters and respond more in sorrow than anger, to avoid propelling a second wave of rebels to join Chuka and Co, never reached Chris Williamson. The Corbynite vegan bricklayer from Derby, whose enthusiastic commitment occasionally appears to leave Jeremy Corbyn looking weak-willed, marked the schism by singing Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” in his Portcullis House lair. Loudly and repeatedly. Not everybody in Labour’s Westminster ranks will play nicely if potential defectors expect a comforting cup of tea and an arm around a shoulder to persuade them to stay.

Corbyn was photographed in the Daily Mail lugging a sack of potatoes from his allotment on the eve of the historic split, but the Queen’s determined we don’t see pictures of her holding shot pheasants on royal estates. The word in Westminster is Betty complained personally to the press regulator Ipso after the Mail on Sunday carried photos of her at Sandringham. Williamson, a diehard republican and hunt saboteur with a lifelong injunction banning him from the Peak District’s grouse moors, for once finds himself on the side of a Tory paper. He wants folk to be able to witness royals blasting birds out of the sky when they’re not preaching conservation.

Telling moment at the final shadow cabinet meeting before the Labour fissure. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell supported deputy leader Tom Watson’s plea for Corbyn to meet Luciana Berger to explain why the horribly abused Jewish MP shouldn’t quit. The tête-à-tête never happened.

McDonnell, however, would probably make a good arm wrestler. The Marxist raised a clenched fist to sing “The Red Flag” at a celebration of the late Harry Leslie Smith’s life. The aforementioned mitt remained commendably aloft when some time later the Unite brass band finished not only the customary first verse and chorus but four others as well. Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, indefatigable McDonnell will keep the red fist flying here.

Oldham challenges Labour MP Ian Austin’s assertion that a patriotic British working class was upset when McDonnell labelled Winston Churchill a “villain”. Jim McMahon MP, a former Oldham council leader, recalls that a statue of the Tory wartime premier was proposed to commemorate his 1900 election as its MP. Public consultation found that folk preferred a local working-class hero. So, recently unveiled in Churchill’s place was a bronze of former mill worker and suffragette Annie Kenney. How apt, when Kenney was jailed in 1905 for disrupting a Churchill rally in nearby Manchester over his hostility to women voting.

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Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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This article appears in the 20 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Islamic State