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8 January 2020

Commons Confidential: Bust-up in Camp Becky

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

UN blue helmets would struggle to keep the peace between rival factions in Rebecca Long-Bailey’s camp. The air was thick with uncomradely language in a swear-off (“you’re a fucking idiot”, ”no, you’re the fucking idiot”, etc) between John McDonnell (paternalistically viewing “my Becky” as his protégée) and her staffer Alex Halligan during the dispute over who would run the campaign. Intriguingly the candidate’s flatmate, Angela Rayner, argued the shadow chancellor couldn’t be seen pulling her friend’s strings after Labour’s defeat. My snout reports Long Bailey’s mouth opened and shut silently like a goldfish during the clash. Halligan accuses McDonnell of smearing him as a Stalinist in revenge: Long-Bailey’s aide never wore the infamous “Good night Trotskyite” badge – a photograph clearly shows it was held against his chest at the 2017 Durham Miners’ Gala. The opposition is other candidates, the enemy within.

McDonnell, by the way, approached Lisa Nandy in 2014 to sound her out as a candidate the Campaign Group could support should Ed Miliband lose. Milly did, and in 2015 a young Jeremy Corbyn volunteered to fly the red flag. The rest is history.

Sir Keir Starmer is auditioning for a role in Labour’s reprise of Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, alongside toddler protégée Long-Bailey (who miraculously remembered, aged two, watching her dad’s mates losing jobs on Salford docks). His team asked hacks to ignore the knighthood and call the suave lawyer simply Keir, Starmer or Mr Starmer. One sceptical champion of a rival wondered if this son of a nurse and toolmaker, named after Labour’s first leader, whose shoulders were brushed with a sword after climbing to the dizzy public service heights of DPP, remains in touch with his roots by keeping the coal in a Camden bidet.

Small business minister Kelly Tolhurst was bemused at congratulations from a Commons doorkeeper on becoming a grandmother, at the age of 41: she and Angela Rayner are viewed as sisters separated at birth. The Labour deputy frontrunner, 39, was actually the granny. MPs are split over which dopplegänger is most annoyed. My 20p is on Tolhurst. She was ashen-faced recounting the confusion to Tory whips. Rayner laughed like a drain.

Emily Thornberry’s text to Mark Tami commiserating over the loss of his seat surprised the Labour pairing whip: in a North Wales blue tsunami, he survived in red Alyn and Deeside by 213 votes. Tami said a double-check confirmed he’s still an MP. The wannabe leader may discover nights off are suddenly scarcer should she fail to land the top job (it’s the pairing whip who gets to decide).

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This article appears in the 08 Jan 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Trump vs Iran