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5 December 2018

Commons Confidential: IDS runs scared of an election

Your festive dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

European Union ambassadors are struggling to decide whether Damian Green, Theresa May’s one-time deputy, is the PM’s emissary or a freelancer as he bangs on London embassy doors for a Norway Brexit. The only Tory in the village who still believes in May’s plan is Tedious Theresa herself, though some wonder if even she’s going through the motions. The Conservative deputy chair, James “not very” Cleverly, admitted to a fellow MP, “It’s not very good but it’s better than not leaving,” before quickly checking over his shoulder. Too late! My passing snout with the radar lugs had overheard his scornful admission.

Paranoia grips Conservative MPs since Jacob Rees-Mogg’s failed coup. One letter writer questioned how anybody could ever know if 48 were submitted should 1922 Committee regal chair Graham Brady, a dead ringer for Prince Andrew, go rogue. Kwasi Kwarteng, a Brexit junior minister, told one of his Westminster colleagues it was “Mugabe-esque” to invest her fate in a single man. Word is that May bag-carrier Seema Kennedy is demanding that she sees the letters and her boss receives 48 hours’ notice should the no-confidence vote hurdle be cleared. The PM’s spy reading the signatures would save the day if it scared off cowardly loudmouths.

Dumping May and her Brexit while avoiding a general election would be a win-win-win for Tory traditionalists embracing constitutional innovation. “I wasn’t a fan of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act,” Brextremist Iain Duncan Smith observed, “but I am now.” No wonder, when Labour’s Faiza Shaheen is eyeing the quiet man’s vulnerable 2,438 Chingford majority.

Christmas came early for Unite chief of staff Andrew Murray, finally granted a Commons pass to advise Jeremy Corbyn. After waiting nearly a year for security clearance, Murray quips that it was his j’accuse in the New Statesman on the “deep state” undermining Jezza wot won it. Spooks wilt in sunlight.

Baron Hardup Vince Cable hasn’t got the money to pay a chief of staff so Lib Dem peer Dee Doocey has agreed to do the job unpaid. How the mighty fall, when a little more than three years ago the party was in government, if not power, and Cable was a secretary of state riding around in a ministerial car. These days a wrecked party unable to cover his bus fares is grateful that its venerable leader enjoys free transport in London.

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Chris Mullin is publishing The Friends of Harry Perkins this spring, some 37 years after A Very British Coup. The line between political facts and fiction has never been so blurred.

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

This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special