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7 April 2016

Commons confidential: Sajid Javid, man of steel

Down-to-earth coffee, anti-semitism in Labour and Javid steels himself.

By Kevin Maguire

Coffee is Labour’s new authenticity test. Tom Watson, a deputy leader who is refreshingly candid about the airs and graces that can be an occupational hazard in Westminster, recalled a recent incident while driving to join Jeremy Corbyn at a gathering in Weymouth, Dorset. Stopping at a café in Portland, Watson ordered a macchiato. “I know it’s on the menu,” remarked the waitress, “but we’ve never had anyone order one before.”

The West Brom MP, the son of a milkman who retrained as a social worker, used the encounter as a cautionary tale to urge colleagues not to lose touch with the electorate. I looked up “macchiato”. It appears to be an espresso topped with foamed milk.

David Cameron’s natural sense of entitlement made him appear entirely at home, I’m told, when a tailcoated butler served him tea at the embassy residence of our man in Washington, the Foreign Office lifer Kim Darroch. As the US socialite Leona Helmsley openly recognised, austerity is for the “little people”, such as the homeless and the low-paid, not for senior diplomats and prime ministers.

Back home, Touchy Dave’s hacks are “setting each other’s hair on fire” after fraught tête-à-têtes, I hear, with the editors of the Tory press, including the Mail and the Sun. Cameron is worried that the newspapers that amplified his election propaganda are dispensing with all decorum and hounding him on Europe.

He was a King’s Scholar at Eton, read classics at Cambridge, was victorious on University Challenge and studied at Harvard before completing a PhD and writing a shelf of books – so it must pain Kwasi Kwarteng, the brainy Tory for Spelthorne, that he is still facing iffy quips about his name.

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My eyes were directed to a past newsletter from the Desborough Sailing Club, located in Shepperton, reporting a visit from the local MP. One can only imagine the indignity for an ambitious intellectual in reading the headline: “Kwasi inspects khazi”.

The allegation that anti-Semitism is endemic in Labour, along with the counter-accusations that Corbyn’s enemies exploit cases to undermine their leader, prompted a senior adviser under Ed Miliband to think back on the pressure that the previous leader faced to embrace his family’s religious and cultural heritage. “I didn’t know I was Jewish,” the aide recalled the younger Milibrother musing, “until I became leader of the Labour Party.”

Sajid Javid’s “three Ps” plan for steel in the UK – “plant, pensions and power supply” – was inspired by the British army’s “seven Ps”. Evidently the rattled minister has failed to heed the timeless adage: “Proper planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”

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

This article appears in the 06 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Tories at war