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12 February 2020

Commons Confidential: Clive Lewis and the stale panettone

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

Wildlife campaigner Carrie Symonds, the first girlfriend of government, is laying claim to a second unofficial title: the most interventionist partner of a prime minister in the modern era. Cherie Blair argued the case for the Iraq War and asked a No 10 official to help son Euan with his homework, yet she sounds a shrinking violet next to assertive Symonds. Downing Street snouts whisper Boris Johnson’s paramour was “forever” on the blower to environment ministers Theresa Villiers and George Eustice. Derbyshire farmers unhappy with the suspension of a badger cull are to probe Symonds’s influence on the PM in court. Westminster is also ablaze with talk of a reshuffle war between her and Johnson’s increasingly deranged little helper Dominic Cummings. My Conservative informant suggested we relabel Johnson the first boyfriend in recognition of her prowess.

Arthur Scargill tribute act Richard Burgon will secure fewer votes than nominations from MPs in Labour’s deputy leader contest. Of the shadow cabinet Corbynista vanguard who helped put Burgon on the ballot paper, I’m told Dan Carden will give Angela Rayner his first preference while Andy McDonald is yet to decide. Burgon will take heart from the same happening to Corbyn in 2015: and the rest is history.

Political gestures rarely turn stale quicker than thwarted Labour MP Clive Lewis’s gift of a panettone to Barnsley comrade Steph Peacock, who stood in for him on the front bench. Peckish Peacock discovered the Italian cake was past its sell-by date. Both must hope this doesn’t prove a metaphor for the Labour Party’s prospects.

The SNP’s Westminster defence and foreign affairs spokesmen, Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith, have been to Washington, DC, to assure US politicians that an independent no-nukes Scotland would remain a faithful ally. But junketing accusations should be the least of their worries; Stew and Alyn are collectively known as Stalin. Even dictator-loving tinpot tyrant Trump might recoil from anyone mentioned in the same breath as Uncle Joe.

“Shouldergate” MP Tracy Brabin has named after her mother, Betty, a trike that she scoots around Westminster on to rest a broken left ankle. It was the shattered bone that forced her to lean on the despatch box for support in that dress. During the Victorian era a bare female ankle was enough to trigger a scandal. With the former Corrie actor’s leg joint encased in plaster a second uproar’s been averted. 

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Grahame Morris and Tahir Ali, who replaced Roger Godsiff in Birmingham Hall Green, are now the only two Labour MPs yet to sign the International Definition of anti-Semitism. For how much longer?

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This article appears in the 12 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Power without purpose