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16 January 2019

Commons Confidential: Chuka spies 50 Labour deselections

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Not every Labour MP wants an early general election. Take Chris Leslie. The former minister was overheard by a snout at a dinner confiding he’d publicly support a no-confidence vote in humiliated Theresa May’s disintegrating Tory regime, yet preferred delaying a contest until 2022 to hang on to his Nottingham East seat for longer. Corbyn’s vehement critic fears deselection by a left-wing constituency party in a Labour stronghold where an early election might pour him an early bath. The Midlands city’s members persuaded the Derby Corbynista, Chris Williamson, to be auctioneer at a local fundraiser. Williamson raised £100 for a bottle of Commons whisky to be signed by Corbyn. Bids invited for a bottle of wine from Leslie started with a dismissive shout of 10p before closing at £5. It cost the MP £9.50 to donate it.

Chuka Umunna, like Leslie, vocally hostile to Corbyn and widely rumoured to be toying with resigning the Labour whip or joining a phantom new party, was similarly earwigged by an informant predicting as many as 50 Labour MPs would be deselected. Umunna, who now lives in west London rather than his Streatham constituency in sarf London, tells hacks inquiring why he hasn’t promised to remain in Labour, thereby quashing exit talk, that he could never commit to staying in a racist party. Splits and recriminations aren’t confined to the Conservatives.

Shoot-from-the-lip Tory loose cannon Nadine Dorries’s admission some years ago that her MP blog was 70 per cent fiction, after it contradicted expenses claims, could equally apply to assertions about Westminster colleagues. Anna Soubry spent £12,000 in legal fees to extract an apology from Dorries over a false accusation that the champion of Britain in Europe was drunk at a rally. Soubry, mobbed outside Parliament by far-right boot boys, was left out of pocket. She’s prepared to give free advice to Dorries’ future victims.

Brexit chaos is highly profitable for a moneybags Nigel Farage coining it in. Punters in Dartford are to be charged £50 to meet the MEP on top of £32 tickets to hear a rant. Many people would happily pay double that never to see the old scoundrel again.

Tory MPs in the smoking room talk optimistically of luring John Woodcock, sitting as an independent since leaving Labour, across the floor. I’m told he frets that joining the Conservatives would confirm left-wing digs that Blairites were closet Tories. Tories dangle the carrot of holding Barrow as a Conservative. We’ll see.

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Labour whips are seeking to reunite an MP with his or her silver ring inscribed “forever best friends” found in a voting lobby toilet. Questions will obviously be asked.

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

This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain