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8 September 2016

Commons confidential: Enoch Powell’s ghost

The ghost of Enoch Powell will haunt Birmingham in the same month as Theresa May’s first Tory conference as leader.

By Kevin Maguire

Telephone canvassing is a series of wasted calls for Owen Smith’s team. The Labour challenger’s phone bank has dialled most of the leader Jeremy Corbyn’s senior lieutenants, including Jon Lansman and Sam Tarry. Tarry, a Momentum luminary and transport union official (who came up with the weirdest excuse in the so-called “Traingate” furore when he claimed Corbyn had “had quite a long day” before looking for a seat . . . on an 11am Virgin service), is awaiting an answer promised to his question about how many pharmaceutical lobbyists work for Smith. The figure, I am assured, is zero.

Owen Smith has enjoyed better luck in the coin toss to decide who speaks first at hustings. His boyish cry “Tails never fails” won three of the four flips at official shoutathons in Cardiff, Gateshead, Birmingham and Glasgow. Smith would, in all likelihood, retain a higher chance of victory on 24 September if the ballot was replaced by heads or tails.

Labour’s spin doctor Seumas Milne’s 12-month “unpaid leave” expires in October and speculation grows that he wishes to return to scribbling at the Guardian. The gossip on the second floor of Norman Shaw South is that he could be succeeded by Paul Mason, formerly of Channel 4 News and BBC2’s Newsnight, and an ex-music teacher. Mason’s recent theory that MPs rebelled against Corbyn because they feared he would win, rather than lose, a general election would at least strike an optimistic note.

The ghost of Enoch Powell will haunt Birmingham in the same month as Theresa May’s first Tory conference as leader. The Star Wars actor Ian McDiarmid (the Emperor in Return of the Jedi) is to play the monster in a new play, What Shadows, at the Repertory Theatre soon after the Cons pack their bags. Hard-right Brexiteers might have applauded his racist “Rivers of Blood” rant in the city nearly 50 years ago. My snout whispers that some members of the cast plan to attend the Tory bash, presumably seeking inspiration.

Jeremy Corbyn is so confident, by the way, that he took time out from campaigning for a confab about the post-victory party at Esher Place, Unite’s glorious Grade II country-house college just outside London. The Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell joined him in the one-time Ragged School for destitute children, where conversations included names of quitters prepared to rejoin the front bench. That includes you, Keir Starmer.

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There is no love lost between May and Corbyn. Disney fans in Jezza’s office refer to her as Cruella de Vil. That’s mild compared to how Tories overlooked for ministerial jobs describe the PM.

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

This article appears in the 07 Sep 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Three Brexiteers