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13 January 2021

Commons Confidential: Shy bairns get no sweets

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

The Welshman who Joe Biden once hailed as his “greatest speech writer” is to celebrate the 46th US president’s inauguration at home with a cup of tea and slice of his daughter’s banana cake. Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock quipped that they will “taste like champagne and caviar after Joe beat President Repulsive”. Biden conferred the wordsmith title in 2008, having withdrawn from the 1988 presidential race after being accused of plagiarising a Kinnock speech. The silver-tongued peer caught a severe cold in Washington, DC as a guest at Barack Obama’s inauguration 11 years ago, so in these Covid times is content to watch on TV. “What I’d like,” Kinnock told me, “is a picture of the lying narcissistic loser in a suit that matches his orange skin colour.” Wouldn’t we all, comrade.

Given that Matt Hancock is a cabinet minister who is happy to be on TV without a Union flag in the background, his walls and shelves attract the eye. A framed Peter Brookes cartoon lampooning the Health Secretary is a severe case of humblebrag, while a Damien Hirst garish spin painting of the Queen prompted a snout to recall the days when a colonoscopy was required to locate George Osborne’s admiring mini-me. So keen was Hancock on Osborne, and the Hirst picture hanging in his mentor’s Treasury lair, that the day Theresa May defenestrated Osborne as chancellor, Hancock asked the Government Art Collection to transfer it to his office. Shy bairns get no sweets, as we say on Tyneside.

[see also: Fighting Covid-19 is an exercise in delayed gratification – a truth that Boris Johnson has failed to grasp]

Muscular Labourite Sam Tarry’s appointment as a shadow transport minister is the latest stop on a journey from Jeremy Corbyn cheerleader to Keir Starmer’s chorus line. The toned physique of the MP for Ilford South attracts admirers in Westminster. On hearing his name, politicos from Tarry’s time as chair of Young Labour will kiss one of their own, punier biceps in homage to the Charles Atlas of the British left. Labour’s transport team would win hands down if confrontations with his opposite number – Tory weakling Grant  Shapps – were settled by arm wrestling.

Collywobbles are unsettling the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, in which secretary Richard Burgon is pushing the 34 members to sign individually rather than collectively any rockets fired at Keir Starmer or statements lionising Jeremy Corbyn. The switch would prove tricky for left-wing MPs such as Tarry who are taking front-bench posts under the new regime. Choosing between internal opposition and Her Majesty’s official opposition is a loyalty test even Tony Blair would have shied away from imposing – albeit from a completely different political perspective to Yorkshire militant Burgon, the Arthur Scargill of parliament. 

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[see also: What we learned from the first PMQs of the year]

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This article appears in the 13 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, American civil war