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6 November 2019

Commons Confidential: Grant Shapps’s plane-speaking

Your weekly dose of gossip from around the Houses. 

By Kevin Maguire

With Johnson and Corbyn hitting the campaign trail, Nigel Farage’s eyes are on Tony Blair’s old Sedgefield backyard as one of the top three targets of his Brexit Company (it’s not a conventional political party) along with Bolsover and Middlesbrough. Miner’s son Phil Wilson, who succeeded Blair, is reinforced by anti-extremists Hope not Hate to defend a 6,000 majority. Wilson was seen deep in conversation with the group’s anti-fascist founder Nick Lowles before parliament’s funeral this week. Farage will be incensed: he was forced to withdraw a scurrilous accusation that Hope not Hate pursues “violent and undemocratic means” after the network launched a crowdfunded libel action. If Wilson survives 12 December, the anti-racists will enjoy sweet revenge.

Ken Clarke presiding over Lindsay Hoyle’s ascension to Speaker reminded me that a Father of the House hole will be created when the Tory veteran retires. Dennis Skinner, another MP carbon dated back to 1970, is next in line of seniority but the iconoclast would refuse the honorary title should the Beast of Bolsover also see off Farage’s party. So Peter Bottomley it would be, provided the Tory doesn’t mislay a 12,000 cushion in Worthing West. These days you never know.

Grant Shapps prefers to talk planes not trains, I hear, during meetings with Network Rail boss Andrew Haines. The fat controller previously ran the Civil Aviation Authority and my informant snorts that the Transport Secretary, a private pilot who boasted he owned his own wings, generously gives Haines the benefit of his experiences in the sky during encounters. The minister’s head in the clouds obscures cancelled iron horses below.

Standing for the Lib Dems in Canterbury against Labour’s Rosie Duffield, pro-European hack Tim Walker is worried he’ll split the Remain vote and let in another Brextremist Tory. Waspish Walker’s pen dripped acid in his Telegraph scribbler days but he oozes old-school charm and admires decent political rivals such as Duffield. The poisonous abuse he has endured from Momentum’s wilder foot soldiers leaves Walker wondering if Corbynista zealots now hate him as much as they do the cathedral city’s centrist Labour MP. Watch this space.

Boris Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson is suddenly an insignificant other, with wife Sally flying the red flag in Bassetlaw. Might be tricky the next time John McDonnell or Laura Pidcock declare they’ve got no Conservative friends. The likely Labour MP for the Nottingham seat admitting she’s married to a One Nation Tory could trigger bloodletting unseen since the Bolsheviks turned on the Mensheviks.

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

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This article appears in the 06 Nov 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What went wrong