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20 April 2017

Commons Confidential: how the Queen feels about the missing Milibrother

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Theresa May’s dash to the polls has helped her avoid a clash with a Michael Gove, who remains in favour of better grammar, not more grammar schools. The former education secretary privately opposes the return of selection, but if he keeps quiet in the campaign, he could be recalled to the cabinet.

Gove has moved into his own “No 10”, purchasing a west London home with that number and a black door to complete the Downing Street look. He is rueful about his past friendship with David Cameron. The pair have exchanged only a few words in a Commons brush-past since the Brexit referendum.

A reflective Gove concludes that he never really fitted in among Cameron’s Notting Hell set. Old school ties stretched long into the Old Etonian premier’s circle, and Gove’s Scottish minor public school created a class barrier. May’s loyalty test in June will determine Gove’s fate.

She’s pretty ruthless, May – as Labour discovered with the snap election. The whisper in Downing Street is that she is considering binning the minor minister Stephen O’Brien. The Brit at the UN is anonymous as undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, and May feels that her government enjoys insufficient credit for a £12bn foreign aid budget. One of the names in the frame to replace him is Andrew Mitchell, who at least did a good job as international development secretary. Mitchell – once the Whitehall boss of Stephen Who? – is keen to escape the long shadow of Plebgate.

Disapproving muttering is heard about the “big idea” of the Today programme’s new editor, Sarah Sands, for BBC Radio 4’s establishment bulletin. Robert Peston may or may not hanker for a return from ITV to a presenter’s mic on the BBC’s flagship show. The current melodious voices insist that there is no vacancy, unless John Humphrys, 73, fancies a lie-in, or is finally winkled out.

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David Miliband, a member  of Labour’s lost leaders’ club, is revelling in speculation that he could save the party from Jeremy Corbyn. But he didn’t win the royal seal of approval as foreign secretary. A prominent snout recalled that the Queen asked if the elder Milibrother possessed the “experience” for the post, after economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin banned a Scottish pipe band from travelling to Russia.

The name of Bill Jordan was curiously missing when a trio of former senior figures in the unions that gave birth to Unite signed a letter backing Gerard Coyne against Len McCluskey. The former president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union is Coyne’s father-in-law. Perhaps Baron Jordan was considered too close to the well-connected Coyne’s home, given McCluskey’s flat has featured in the campaign. 

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

This article appears in the 19 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble