Banned from posting Palestinian flags on social media as deaths in Gaza mount, Labour frontbenchers mutter resentfully that Keir Starmer is gagging them to deflect criticism over his backing of a predecessor accused of anti-Semitism and pilloried for once addressing Hamas representatives as “friends”. Now that he is rattling No 10’s gates, Starmer is noticeably uncomfortable answering questions about having served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Labour whips ordering MPs to sidestep pro-Palestinian rallies were, said a centrist backbencher, imposing “collective political punishment” to draw a thick red line under the Corbyn era. “Long Corbyn” is a condition shaping Labour judgements in a terrible Middle East conflict.
Mrs Bone could be forgiven a wry smile at her husband’s expense. Tory MP Peter Bone is facing suspension and a recall petition to trigger a Wellingborough by-election after an independent panel’s report accused him of bullying and sexual misconduct. Bone – who denies the allegations – was known for routinely mentioning his wife, Jenny, in parliament until it emerged he’d left her in 2016 for a physiotherapist 20 years his junior. Bone has the funereal air of a Victorian undertaker. “Peter’s buried himself,” remarked a less-than-sympathetic colleague, “and will not be mourned.”
The trade fair that was Labour’s annual conference continues to rile the party’s left. Hearing a wide-eyed member gush that he’d never attended such a corporate event, gnarled veteran John McDonnell replied sardonically: “You haven’t been to the CBI, then.” Starmer is thrilled his Labour Party is all Marks & Spencer and no Marx.
Packing a moral punch, Alf Dubs – who as a child fled the Nazis on the Kindertransport – recounted almost casually the vile abuse he receives for championing refugees. “I’ve had a few messages saying what a pity you survived the Holocaust,” remarked the softly spoken Labour peer, “but women get it worse and black women even worse.”
Statue fetishist Lucy Frazer, the seventh UK culture secretary in five years, is heavy on defending monuments at a moment when the Conservatives’ own future is uncertain. Asked if any similarities exist between Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary ranks and the controversial figures dotted around Britain on plinths, a prominent Tory replied wickedly: “Yes. Both are past their best and a little bit racist.”
The unsung hero of Westminster-on-tour – ie, conference season – was Kelly from parliament’s hair salon. She booked hotel rooms in Manchester and Liverpool to trim, blow-dry and tint the barnets of Tory and Labour frontbenchers. One called them “power cuts”.
[See also: Keir Starmer lands with a bump]
This article appears in the 18 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, War on Three Fronts