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10 October 2018

Commons Confidential: Philip Hammond’s pH imbalance

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Intriguing repositioning by the People’s Vote campaign for another Brexit referendum with Chuka Umunna nudged aside as a prominent frontman. My snout born with a circle of 12 yellow stars on his heart whispered the Streatham Europhile’s branding of his own party as racist and his hostility to Jeremy Corbyn is considered an obstacle to persuading sceptical Labour MPs to join the crusade. Former EU commissioner Peter Mandelson must be smarting. The Prince of Darkness launched an attempted coup early this summer to install his protégé Umunna as chair of the group. It failed.

Spreadsheet Phil’s charmless offensive is likened to a smile from Dracula by Conservative MPs unnerved by the Chancellor’s sudden interest in what they think about the nation’s finances. The hitherto neglected suspect it owes as much to leadership ambitions as surviving what may be a grim tax-raising Budget this month. The Treasury bean counter’s mocking of Boris Johnson’s general cluelessness cements his status as a hate figure second only to Anna Soubry in the eyes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Brextremists. Hammond’s so acidic the Mogglodytes call him pH1.

Labour’s duopoly between Corbyn and John McDonnell isn’t plain sailing yet nor is it personally stormy. The seadog shadow chancellor chuckled recently over a photo of his yacht and rowing boat labelled McDonnell’s fleet by comrade leader. Captain Pugwash and Master Mate blow along fine. The word in Westminster is tensions are surfacing between Corbyn’s office and an increasingly assertive McDonnell putting himself about publicly, including in this magazine.

Returning to Rees-Mogg, I bumped into a university contemporary of the Brextremist much surprised that the envoy from the 18th century is a Europe obsessive. According to the Tory constituency association chair, our bespectacled walking pencil showed little interest in Europe as an issue at Oxford. The woke Mogglodyte jumping on a bandwagon is a curious thought.

I swear I heard a suppressed choking sound from Emily Thornberry when the BBC “news” included a fawning item on Meghan Markle’s wedding dress. The shadow foreign secretary’s face remained a picture of innocence in the makeshift studio but could she be another Labour republican? With Corbyn and McDonnell also anti-monarchist it might be quicker to count the royalists. The fingers of one hand should be sufficient.

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Labour Jewish MP and anti-Semitism campaigner Ruth Smeeth had a “get well” letter from Theresa May after an op and nothing from Corbyn. #justsaying.

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

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This article appears in the 10 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How austerity broke Britain