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14 April 2016

Commons Confidential: Don Tony’s blessing

From Jeremy Corbyn's jam sales to the Godfather of the Labour Party.

By Kevin Maguire

Jeremy Corbyn’s office was frantic before his taxing confrontation with David Cameron, I’m told, as nervous aides checked and rechecked to make sure that the Labour leader had no income from jam sales on his allotment.

In the end, Corbyn’s thunder was stolen by Dennis Skinner, who was kicked out of the Commons for calling Cameron “Dodgy Dave”. It was the Beast of Bolsover’s 12th or so ejection (even he has lost count) and the first since 2005, when he alluded to “Boy George” Osborne’s friendship with the dominatrix Natalie Rowe. Referring to a Thatcher-era photograph of Osborne with his arm draped around the lady, Skinner declared: “The only thing growing then were the lines of coke in front of Boy George and the rest of them.”

The Beast was ordered out of the chamber but received a copy of “Karma Chameleon” from the other Boy George. The Voice UK judge was grateful for the publicity.

Here’s proof that the dustiest inhabitants of Westminster remain stuck in a bygone era: peers and MPs have been invited to a Lords v Commons rifle match at Bisley, Surrey Heath, on 22 July by the Tory blue blood Ralph Palmer. In the invitation, the 12th baron of the line advised: “All are welcome – we are provided with expert coaches. The only disability that cannot be catered for is bad eyesight.”

That feels a tad unfair, when David Blunkett never struggled to hit enemies with return fire, whether to the left or the right.

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Gavin Barwell’s reputation as the nicest of the Tory whips is reinforced in his new book, How to Win a Marginal Seat. The MP, who survived by 165 votes in Croydon Central, claims that he resisted mentioning at hostile National Union of Teachers hustings that his Labour opponent “sent her children to private schools”, while his were state-educated. Barwell bit his tongue because he worked with his opponent’s mum on the board of a local charity. Very civilised – but he would have risked deselection if Lynton Crosby, the Lizard of Oz, had found out.

Tony Blair regards himself as the Labour Party’s godfather, doling out friendly free advice to MPs whom he considers to be rising stars. Lisa Nandy features increasingly when names of future leaders from the soft left are touted. The Wigan MP was summoned, I hear, for tea and a chat with the three-time winner. Opponents wear the absence of an invitation as a badge of honour.

The Red Lion pub in Whitehall may escape nationalisation. Treasury mandarins have checked and Islamic law does not cover the Health Department’s sharia-bond-owned nearby HQ at Richmond House as previously thought. A new venue is needed to house thirsty MPs while parliament is renovated. It’s trebles all round at Jeremy Hunt’s.

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

This article appears in the 13 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The making of a monster