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18 March 2020

Commons Confidential: Victory for London pubs

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Coronavirus chaos and mixed messages saw the government passing legislation to extend opening hours on the day the Prime Minister urged tipplers to stay out of pubs. As Boris Johnson was in No 10 advising drinkers to call time on boozers, over the road in parliament a statutory instrument was passed permitting hostelries he wants shunning to stay open later on the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Labour’s Lou Haigh pointed out that 8 May is expected to be near the peak of the infection curve. Another MP growled we might all be speaking German had Johnson not Churchill called the shots back then.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is shivering after his Jack Wolfskin black coat mysteriously vanished during a budget debate from pegs near the chamber used exclusively by MPs and advisers. Smarting from Tory Treasury banker Rishi Sunak borrowing some of Labour’s spending plans, Mac the Knife’s loss may be evidence that Johnson’s Conservatives intend to steal more of Labour’s clothes.

No warm welcome from his own side for Tory troll Andrew Bridgen when he returns from quarantine after sitting near Nadine Dorries in the tea room. With his opera diva wife Nevena publicly criticising coronavirus- infected Dorries, a Tory colleague demanded abrasive Bridgen should permanently self-isolate. Labour is the opposition whereas Tory enemies share the same benches.

Word reaches my ears of an unlikely summit between Gordon Brown and Andrew Murray, Len McCluskey’s right-hand man in Unite and a communist who joined Labour to advise Corbyn. Both were surprised by the intellect and charm of the other during a discussion of Scottish politics. Keir Starmer wasn’t thinking this big.

Marching orders for unionist old soldier Ken Maginnis out of the all-party armed forces group. Tory officer James Gray has instructed the peer not to attend after he was recorded calling the SNP lesbian MP Hannah Bardell “queer”. Maginnis last turned up at the group to hear army commander Ivan Jones. Maginnis didn’t flinch as the general extolled the value of equality and diversity to a modern fighting force.

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Vanishing Tom Watson is a slimming lightweight next to Caroline Harris. She’s lost seven stone and isn’t finished shrinking on a cheese diet. The next MP asking her if it is coronavirus will discover the Swansea former barmaid still packs a punch.

Starmer proposed to Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey they scrap remaining hustings. He argued it was on health grounds. They replied it was because Starmer thinks he’s won and isn’t good on the stump.

This article appears in the 18 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The final reckoning