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17 November 2016

Commons confidential: Nerve tonics all round

Farron's woolly interests, Barzun's missing drinks, and the musical side of the military.

By Kevin Maguire

Business bods invited into Theresa May’s Downing Street lair for pep talks are leaving unimpressed, I hear. My snout with a large wage bill to pay grumbled that the Prime Minister’s hirelings are heavy on social engagement and light on profits – a particularly un-Conservative stance. Presentations by May’s government relations director, Colonel Chris Brannigan, a former Royal Scots Dragoon Guards tank driver and art gallery manager, were dismissed as “woolly jumper Toryism” by an entrepreneur who complained he would never recover two lost hours of his life. May’s operation is creaking in No 10. Relying on Jeremy Corbyn to lose is a high-risk strategy.

Labour is also struggling to win the support of small and medium-sized enterprises with £100 tickets for a central London gala dinner selling, I’m informed by a business refusenik, not so much like hot cakes as stale biscuits. The begging blurb promises Corbyn, John McDonnell, Tom Watson and “Labour grandees” with 18 “excellence” awards to be handed out. It threatens to be a long night.

The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, is in the business of promoting wool in the Lake District. His scribbled praise in an early day motion had only been signed after three weeks by the Democratic Unionist Jim Shannon and “cough” Keith Vaz. Farron’s public initiative was courageous, as Sir Humphrey would say, when Lib Dems remain irritated by taunts that they are still woolly-pullover-wearing yoghurt-knitters. Next year, will he promote beards and sandals with socks?

The US ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, was accused of failing to organise a drink at his own party. My parched informant croaked that the embassy had ordered 200 bottles of Blue Sapphire Gin but no tonic for election night. Glum Barzun, a Barack Obama fundraiser and Democrat, will be crying into his drink when he faces political defenestration by a new Republican regime coveting the plum post for one of its own. Teetotal Donald Trump would have bought 200 tonics and no gin.

The defence minister Mike Penning disclosed that the army has more vets than dentists (360 compared to 220) and musicians than physical training instructors (690 to 430). The Russians might have the new Armata T-14 supertank, but Nato may
rely on Britain’s smartly turned out tambourine-playing cavalry.

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There was an era when the Tory grandee Nicholas Soames would have called out a scruffy MP. So what a surprise to see Churchill’s grandson wearing trainers in Westminster. Brexit and Trump have surely changed politics, and now Sir Snooty is in casual footwear.

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

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This article appears in the 16 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump world