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11 March 2020

Commons Confidential: Dodgy Dave’s huffy moment

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Labour deputy leadership hopeful Rosena Allin-Khan is a true lifesaver. Alerted by a troubled man who had threatened on Twitter to end it all, the Tooting good Samaritan quietly tracked him down and called him to give reassurance. Allin-Khan, a qualified doctor who away from Westminster continues to do shifts in her local hospital’s accident and emergency unit, commendably shunned the publicity. The grateful chap acknowledged her help. Allin-Khan’s selflessness is rare in politics, when many MPs would eagerly attend the opening of a milk carton then brag about it if they knew it would assure them a page in the local paper.

David Cameron’s trick to avoid speaking to folk who recognise him is pretending to speak on his mobile. The diversion didn’t work at a reception where a gay guy was introduced as one of the few people who wanted to thank him, in this case for same-sex marriage. Haunted by Brexit humiliation, huffy Cameron had a face like thunder and couldn’t mask displeasure at the quip. Dodgy Dave likes dishing it out, but hates taking it back.

Westminster whispers about the possible postponement of May’s local and mayoral elections if coronavirus is a full-blown epidemic are dividing Labour. London City Hall occupant and mayoral front-runner Sadiq Khan is desperate for a capital contest as planned to secure a second term; while Liam Byrne, running for mayor in the West Midlands, would welcome longer to winkle out the Tory incumbent Andy Street. All politics is local, as they say.  

The price of solidarity for trade union Aslef is £7,753.44 when Mick Whelan and his train drivers refuse to cross a UCU lecturers’ picket line. Aston University’s conference centre is refusing to refund the union’s deposit or let Aslef reschedule an equality and diversity course to non-strike days next month. Labour movement principles are expensive.

Many apologies but Grand National Day on 4 April may not be the end, after all, of Labour’s seemingly interminable steeple race. Should the result be a photo finish, a well-placed informant muttered, thousands of union members signed up in Scotland and tens of thousands of unreceived ballot papers could facilitate a legal challenge from losing supporters of either Keir Starmer or Rebecca Long-Bailey. Give me strength.

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This article appears in the 11 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, How the world is closing down