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Labour minister gets an apology over “no money” note – 13 years late

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

It’s taken more than 13 years but David Laws has finally apologised to Liam Byrne for weaponising that infamous scrawled note jokily saying “I’m afraid there is no money”. The Lib Dem said sorry to his Labour predecessor at an 11 Downing Street bash for surviving Treasury chief secretaries. It was the first encounter between the pair since May 2010, when Laws broke convention by publicly exploiting the private message an outgoing minister traditionally leaves for an incomer when a government changes after an election. Byrne, still Labour’s MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, later wrote of how he “burnt with the shame” over the publication of the joke, which had been intended for Philip Hammond, a courteous and friendly Tory who was expected to be appointed chief secretary. Still, Laws was forced to quit after only 17 days over an expenses scandal, then lost his Yeovil seat in 2015.

“Build a Better Britain”, Keir Starmer’s current slogan, doesn’t embrace building a harmonious party. Trade union and constituency delegates complained of bullying and rudeness by some leadership apparatchiks at Labour’s National Policy Forum in Nottingham. Unite withdrew its delegates from the rubber chicken dinner while Aslef’s Mick Whelan and the FBU’s Matt Wrack preferred to go for a joint curry. One Starmerite smiled there’ll be no empty seats at big-bucks meals for new-found business supporters.

Levelling-down’s Michael Gove is keen to succeed the departing Ben Wallace as defence secretary, I hear. Expressing concern that squaddies are forced to use food banks in the cost-of-living crisis is the extent of Gove’s actual military experience. Nevertheless, when Rishi Sunak is weak and James Cleverly is refusing to march from the Foreign Office, the Sergeant Wilson of the Tory Home Guard can spend the summer dreaming of redeployment.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle isn’t happy. Several MPs accused of sexual offences who agreed to keep away from parliament while inquiries continue were spotted on the premises. Enforcing bans will be on the agenda after the recess.

Here’s a list of names I’ve heard in recent weeks touted in Labour circles for peerages should the party win an election. Whether Starmer axes the Lords or not, he needs to appoint dozens to stifle the Tories’ advantage of 98 (270-172) in the unelected chamber. So elevations are possible for: Iain Anderson, Margaret Beckett, Luciana Berger, Mark Drakeford, Michael Dugher, David Evans, Harriet Harman, Margaret Hodge, George Howarth, Ivan Lewis, Gary Lineker, Deborah Mattinson, Feargal Sharkey and Sharon White.

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[See also: Labour is an ultra-low ambition zone]

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This article appears in the 26 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Special