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6 March 2019

Commons Confidential: Is Starmer preparing an exit?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

He topped a poll of who Labour Party members most want to succeed Jeremy Corbyn and whispers grow louder that shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer will quit the shadow cabinet once the UK leaves the EU. Snouts report front-bench talk that the former director of public prosecutions will tour the country delivering speeches on the future of socialism in what sounds like a leadership campaign. Starmer and John McDonnell are the only two men strongly tipped as potential successors to Corbyn in a party contemplating whether to elect its first woman after 119 years. Given uncertainty over Theresa May’s Brexit plan, Starmer could be stuck in his own “Hotel California” and never able to check out.

Honour among thieves and all that. Former Scots Guards lieutenant Iain Duncan Smith was overheard asking Labour’s Carolyn Harris “Do you want me to punch him for you?” after Tory MP John Hayes tried to share credit for scrapping funeral fees when children die. Abolition is down to Harris’s long fight after losing a son before she was an MP, and broke. She declined IDS’s offer but should anything untoward occur to Hayes, I’d suggest cops speak to the formidable MP for Swansea East.

Tory defector Sarah Wollaston’s role as chair of the health select committee is in jeopardy, with Conservative whips eyeing the post for one of their own now the former GP has joined Chuka & chums’ self-styled Indy Group. Seats on Westminster bodies are assigned to parties and Labour, which studiously looked the other way when welfare steward Frank Field resigned the whip, wants places on the foreign affairs select committee returned by defectors Mike Gapes and Ian Austin. Political musical chairs is a new game in parliament.

Remainiac Alastair Campbell is a highly-remunerated adviser for Portland Communications, a corporate outfit set up by his old No. 10 mucker Tim Allan. MPs battling for cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi to be given to sufferers in England are considering a direct approach to Campbell because Portland represents the profit-greedy producer Vertex, which snubbed a £500m NHS offer. They remember when Tony Blair’s press secretary put schools and hospitals first. Does he still?

Members of the Ruritanian privy council swear an oath of loyalty to the hereditary monarchy and regularly meet royalty, so Betty won’t be amused to discover her counsellor Norman Baker, a former Home Office minister, is writing a book on Britain’s most dysfunctional family. Good luck to any Cabinet Office flunkey ordered to ask Stormin’ Norman to exclude details of secretive gatherings he attended.

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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The next crash