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What’s printed on Cameron’s ministerial briefs?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Parliament’s air of a stuffy boys’ public school had Old Etonian David Cameron cooing outside the 1922 Committee that it was like being back at school. In that spirit, Nigel Farage’s Union Jack socks at the start of his I’m a Celebrity… £1.5m jungle jaunt turned Tory minds to Lord Dodgy Dave’s patriotic underpants. The Foreign Secretary as a younger man owned at least one pair of flag-print boxers, grimaced a snout who saw him in them. The thought that he might be wearing nationalist briefs beneath his suit has Tories giggling it’s a change to Dave wearing his politics on his sleeve.

[See also: Was “Comeback” Cameron second choice for Foreign Secretary?]

The Undertones’ frontman and scourge of privatised dirty-water companies Feargal Sharkey introduced parliament’s band – a four-piece called MP4 – for their final gig, held in Speaker’s House. The Northern Irish singer with “A Good Heart” asked rhetorically when the band members – Kevin Brennan, Greg Knight, Pete Wishart and Ian Cawsey – first played together. Before Sharkey – who was raised in the republican Bogside area of Derry during the Troubles – could correctly answer 2007, a heckle of “1690” was heard from Ian Paisley Jr, the Democratic Unionist MP for North Antrim. The son of the loyalist DUP founder was presumably making a reference to the Battle of the Boyne, a symbol of sectarian division, and not the band members’ advancing years.

Standing down at the election and challenging a £600 racial abuse fine, Bob Stewart is understandably low. The now whipless Beckenham MP and former army officer – found guilty of telling the activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei to “go back to Bahrain” during a confrontation outside the Bahraini embassy in London – informed sympathetic Westminster colleagues he was planning a trip abroad to escape the furore. Which Middle Eastern autocratic repressive state beginning with “B” do you think Colonel Bob told well-wishers he’d visit? Answers to the Bahrain quiz by email, please.

Over in Labourland, Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray, and pollster Deborah Mattinson have formed an axis of moderation, I hear. The two women, of similar age, who’ve experienced sexism in their careers, manage to network without drinking six pints, watching football and playing golf.

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“Someone needs to be honest,” screamed Suella Braverman as she tried and failed to drag Rishi Sunak out of the door with her. So MPs are having fun with the sacked home secretary’s 2015 maiden speech. Of whom did Braverman gush: “I feel a real sense of humility speaking after the honourable member… who gave an accomplished speech in the best traditions of this house. I congratulate him”? Jeremy Corbyn. How times change.

[See also: Michael Gove is considering stepping down to avoid a “Portillo moment”]

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This article appears in the 22 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The paranoid style