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26 August 2020

Commons Confidential: Failing upwards

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Ailbhe Rea

British politics has been captivated this week by the steady trickle of revelations from Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, the forthcoming book by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire (formerly of this parish). One group in particular has been breaking out the popcorn to enjoy the show: Liberal Democrat MPs, who have been delighted to learn that Jeremy Corbyn was jealous of their electric battle bus during the election campaign (Labour’s ran on diesel). “I wish I’d known this at the time,” remarks an amused senior figure from the Lib Dem campaign. “I’d have sent it to follow him around the country.”

It was also revealed this week that Tom Watson, the former Labour deputy leader, held secret talks with Jo Swinson to consider standing for the Liberal Democrats in December’s general election. It has prompted some to wonder about the fate of those who did make the leap to the Lib Dems last year, only to lose their seats. Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger have both joined communications firm Edelman, while Sam Gyimah has joined the board of Oxford University Innovation. “I can’t see a way back for Chuka,” a former colleague observes, while several privately wonder whether Berger might stand again for her old party under Keir Starmer.

“It would be a big win for him from an internal perspective,” one Lib Dem MP muses.

Some of the defectors from the last election have, however, “got the Lib Dem bug”, according to a fellow MP. Phillip Lee, who sparked a Lib Dem revolt over his record on LGBTQ issues when he defected from the Tories, is expected to stand again for the party, as is Antoinette Sandbach, the former Tory MP for Eddisbury. She’s already in the club: when the female Lib Dem MPs met for Zoom chats during lockdown, Sandbach joined, as did former leader Jo Swinson.

Boris Johnson has shared his summer reading list, complete with Lucretius, Britain’s Europe by Brendan Simms, and Any Human Heart by William Boyd, the fictional diary of Logan Mountstuart, a posh, affable fellow who drifts from woman to woman and historic event to historic event, always at the centre of things and failing upwards. The Labour leader is reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and the shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds is reading The Secret Barrister, and Betrayal in Berlin by Steve Vogel, while the Green MP Caroline Lucas’s beach reads include The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Angela Rayner, however, has eschewed all book chat. The Labour deputy leader is leaving it, an aide jokes, “to her more intellectual colleagues”. 

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Kevin Maguire is away