Commons Confidential: party splits, idle guards and Zac Goldsmith

Plus, the contingency plans for postponing the election.

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Little Ben Gummer’s big moment as minister for the Cabinet Office came and went without anybody realising. Mandarins started “gaming” a postponement of the 8 June election immediately after the Manchester suicide bombing. The contingency planning, I’m informed by a perfectly placed Conservative snout, was sanctioned “from the top” amid fears that Salman Abedi’s attack could be the first of a chain of massacres.

Tony Blair delayed the 2001 contest over foot and mouth. Shelving the 2017 poll would have handed a propaganda victory to Islamists. Downgrading the security level from “critical” back to “severe” lifted the threat, however. Gummer – who some Tories hold responsible for their derailed campaign – now looks less and less likely to secure the post-election promotion he so clearly desires.

Another Tory informant whispers that social care isn’t the only area of dispute between Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s joint chiefs of staff (who enjoyed a harmonious working relationship). Elections impose tensions and a No 10 refugee complained of being pulled in two directions as the pair took it in turns to issue priority instructions. Apparently Hill, who majors in spin, intrudes into policy while Timothy, who specialises in policy, strays into spin. Isn’t divide and rule a Lynton Crosby tactic?

The Cons remain a model of unity compared with Labour. Corbyn’s office don’t talk to deputy leader Tom Watson’s team or trust party staff. Now there’s a rift in the “Left Project” with Corbyn’s vanguard at loggerheads with John McDonnell’s cell. Left politics is for the many factions, not the few.

No sooner had a warning arrived from the Serjeant at Arms, threatening journalists with banishment from Westminster should they film on the premises, than Met chief Cressida Dick arrived to record interviews below the offices of said hacks. Her armed guard would be more than a match for a flunkey in tights. Or perhaps it was one law for them, another for us. Either way, soldiers posted in parliament during Supreme Leader Theresa May’s show of strength enjoyed the deployment. Putting down SA80 rifles during coffee breaks was safer than Afghanistan and Iraq.

Labour’s 1,515 votes in the Richmond Park by-election (won last December by Lib Dem Sarah Olney) was fewer than the party’s 1,600-strong local membership, so Leninist peaked caps off to the leftie-trolling Zac Goldsmith. A Labour board on a garden door is within a servants’ bell ring of the Tory wannabe comeback kid’s ancestral pile in Ham, where Lady Annabel has erected a Tory placard for her son. The suburban struggle for socialism would make a fine Ken Loach film, minus the usual grittiness. l

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article appears in the 01 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Labour reckoning

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