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25 November 2016

Commons Confidential: Murray comes in from the cold

Plus: the adventures of Philip “Spreadsheet” Hammond’s Welsh terrier, Rex.

By Kevin Maguire

Timing is everything in politics and the Tory grande dame Caroline Spelman is heading downhill fast. MPs accused the former environment secretary of taking the piste when her Alpine ski junket invitation pinged on mobile phones moments before a Commons division on the Tories’ £30-a-week grab of a disability benefit.

The insensitivity provoked the shadow communities secretary, Teresa Pearce, who never swears, to utter “Flip!” as Labour’s bid to save the vulnerable was buried by an avalanche of Tory votes, including that of the Two-Nation snow queen Dame Caroline. Meriden’s answer to Eddie the Eagle informed colleagues that Switzerland’s UK ambassador, Dominik Furgler, would brief them on this winter’s 61st parliamentary ski jaunt.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party continues to attract prominent figures on the far left, with Unite’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, the latest to join. The Marxist and co-founder of Stop the War voted Labour at every election while a member of the Communist Party, but his new party card is likely to trigger a backlash from Corbyn’s critics, who will smear him as a cold-blooded Stalinist.

The Murray I’ve known for nearly 30 years since he was a press officer in the Transport and General Workers’ Union is smart, shrewd, pragmatic and witty: all qualities that help to explain why enemies elsewhere in Labour will go spare. Tin hats on.

The Lib Dems are fighting back in the Richmond Park by-election triggered by the Tory trustafundian Zac Goldsmith’s flounce. Christian Wolmar, the Labour hopeful, was abused by a fist-waving lettuce-muncher objecting to his candidacy. If only Nick Clegg had been as firm with David Cameron.

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Israel’s Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, has no plans to see Corbyn on his imminent visit to Britain, I hear. Heads of partner parties (both are in the Socialist International) ordinarily at least brush by, but the UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism row rumbles on. Tom Watson was informed in Tel Aviv that the country’s politicians await Corbyn’s visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. It’s a messy stand-off.

The hardline Democratic Unionist Jeffrey “No Surrender” Donaldson has exchanged Christmas cards with Brian Warfield, the singer of the Irish rebel group the Wolfe Tones, since this column revealed that the pair met in Central Lobby. I trust that the MP who opposed the Good Friday Agreement sings in Lagan Valley about his new friendship.

Philip “Spreadsheet” Hammond’s Welsh terrier, Rex, faces an obstacle in relocating to Downing Street. “Chancellor’s dog savages Gladstone, the Treasury cat” sounds like a career-ending headline. 

This article appears in the 23 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile