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15 March 2018

Commons Confidential: May’s spin doctor is missing life on the other side of the microphone

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The word in Downing Street is that Theresa May’s director of communications, the BBC signing Robbie Gibb, isn’t enjoying life on the other side of the microphone. Constantly repairing a malfunctioning Maybot and herding the cabinet cats would surely be enough to drive any sane person to think of digging an escape tunnel. Coincidentally, lobby hacks have noticed the No 10 press secretary James Slack, hired from the Daily Mail, turns bright red when questioned about the day’s disaster. Blushing is a vibrant alert to No 10 discomfort.

Make of this what you will but I’m informed by an extremely well-placed snout that Vince Cable received an angry phone call from Chuka Umunna after boasting on TV that he talks to “a lot” of “deeply unhappy” Labour and Tory MPs, and that it was “plausible” the Lib Dems could be involved in the creation of a new centrist party. Umunna is at the heart of a cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the EU, meeting regularly with Cable and disgruntled Tory Anna Soubry. The snout whispered that Umunna accused Cable of “jumping the gun” by discussing a potential realignment of British politics. Watch this space. And the magazine’s letters pages.

The Momentum godfather Jon Lansman retiring hurt from the race to succeed Iain McNicol as Labour’s chief apparatchik is unfortunate. Unite’s release of a fulsome message that Lansman pinged Jennie Formby urging the union’s steely south-east England secretary to run, before the Mofather fancied his own chances, would’ve proved the highlight of job interviews by the party’s National Executive Committee. Jeremy Corbyn wanting Formby as general secretary isn’t the only contest pitching the Labour leader against activists. He’s quietly hoping the formidable Swansea MP and former dinner lady Carolyn Harris is elected deputy leader in Wales. Much of Momentum and Welsh Labour Grassroots support rival Julie Morgan.

Even the most obscure backbencher is guaranteed a familiar welcome in the Gay Hussar from garrulous host John Wrobel. Unable to pin down a face he couldn’t quite place, the Soho manager asked one diner for his greatest achievement. Winning a seat last year in the Midlands? Pulling off a ginormous deal for a slick lobbying outfit? “I’m a pop star,” answered Liam Payne, taking the conversation in one direction the intrepid Wrobel didn’t anticipate.

Do you want to see the goodness and relevance of the Bible and Christianity made known in public life? Then your salvation could be nigh. The group Christians in Politics is seeking an operations messiah. Mind, the £26,000 salary would barely buy five loaves and two fishes at London prices. 

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

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This article appears in the 14 Mar 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game