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Labour’s former rugby player Khalid Mahmood high-tackles a heckler

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

There was no messing about by former rugby union tighthead prop Khalid Mahmood MP when harangued in a Birmingham mosque about Labour’s position on Gaza. The Perry Barr MP, chair of the recently created Labour Muslim Forum, saw attack as the best form of defence. “Shut up and listen, please,” he boomed at a noisy heckler. “Even in the house of God you’re ignorant and that’s the problem… Read Hansard. Do you know what Hansard is?” Either no, or the incessant critic hadn’t liked what he’d read.

Puffing peers opened a comfortable new smoking den at the Lords’ end of parliament after the Commons voted for a lifelong ban on kids buying cancer sticks. More humble smokers that work on the estate grumble they’re allowed to look into but not enter the area just inside the Black Rod’s Garden entrance, with a stern sign restricting access to the ermined and to MPs who are prepared to trudge 100 metres to get there. A half-burned fat cigar was in an ashtray when yours truly took a peep. Up the workers!

No love lost between Andy Burnham and Keir Starmer. Sadiq Khan’s London manifesto mentions Starmer twice, includes a photo of the two together, and proudly declares that the capital’s mayor looks forward to working with a Labour government. However, Starmer is a non-person in the King of the North’s manifesto for Greater Manchester, with zero namechecks. The tasty rivalry is Labour’s north-south great divide.

Labour MPs’ glee at Nigel Farage’s hard-right Reform UK taking Tory votes is tempered by worries that pro-Palestinian candidates will damage their own party. Old hands fear TikToker Akhmed Yakoob, a George Galloway-endorsed lawyer standing as an independent in the West Midlands, will save Andy Street for the Conservatives. Electoral politics is a two-way street.

I’m a Celeb…’s Matt Hancock may be fading from national consciousness. In 2021, hordes sponsored him a couple of quid for the London marathon in order to have a pop on his donation page. This year they didn’t. Matt who?

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The dwindling band of Tory MPs who haven’t given up the fight entirely, whispered one, find that telling constituents a Reform vote would result in a bigger Labour majority is more effective than simply stating it will guarantee a Labour win. The strategy is limiting losses.

Ministers who think the Tories still have a chance are said by the party’s MPs to have red-box delusion. Only voters can cure that.

[See also: Plebgate’s Andrew Mitchell furnishes himself with a downmarket ministerial title]

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This article appears in the 24 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Danger