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24 February 2021

Commons Confidential: Carrie On Downing Street

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Covid is forcing parliament to change how it operates, but preparations were discreetly made for a traditional show of respect should Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh, shuffle off this mortal coil. The Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle would adjourn a sitting the moment he received a sombre announcement from Buckingham Palace, while committee clerks have been instructed to quietly inform chairs they would be required to cancel internet sessions. Operation Forth Bridge is the national funeral plan for a royal who will be 100 in June. With the anti-monarchist Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, no longer in the House, would any MP object?

Mopping up the bad blood spilled over who runs the Labour Party’s Irish Society might prove too much even for peace-maker Tony Blair. Lloyd Russell-Moyle made a failed “take back control” call to arms, urging comrades in the Socialist Campaign Group to pay £10 each to oust “right-wing incumbents”. In a WhatsApp message, the Brighton MP accused the shadow security minister Conor McGinn, the County Armagh-born son of a Sinn Féin councillor, of leading a clear-out last year of the “Corbyn-supporting left”. My bemused snout suggested that Russell-Moyle log on to the party’s Good Friday Agreement education programme, which emphasises the value of conciliation.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s great gamble]

Questions grow about Robert Jenrick taking 500 Whitehall jobs to his home city of Wolverhampton. Sceptical MPs point out that the Housing Ministry’s likely Midlands office is so close to the station that staff could commute from London. And Wolverhampton is nearer than the capital to the Newark MP’s manor house in Herefordshire. The cabinet minister can’t win. Particularly when creating 500 roles by 2025 is one 64th of the 32,000 Black Country jobs that the region’s chamber of commerce says are threatened by coronavirus.

[See also: The biggest critics of Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap are on his own side]

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If anything is capable of uniting the warring factions currently creating a right Carrie On in Downing Street, it is the presence of a Labour sympathiser. Hence anxious minders rearrange the economic and political volumes lying around before the CBI director-general Tony Danker, a Treasury adviser in the New Labour era and former suit at the Guardian, gives TV interviews. Replace those books with works extolling dogs and zoos and Carrie Symonds might invite Danker to Chequers.

[See also: Why the SNP’s opponents aren’t benefiting from the Salmond-Sturgeon feud]

I recount a nice tale about the McDonagh sisters, Labour MP Siobhain and peer Margaret. The south London duo rescued John Edmonds – a fierce critic during his time as GMB general secretary of their hero Tony Blair. The union man felt unwell while jogging, I was told, and the pair summoned help. Blessed are the sisters of mercy. 

This article appears in the 24 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britain unlocks