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20 October 2021

Commons Confidential: who can save Cop26 for Boris Johnson?

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

It’s a tale of two women as Downing Street plots to present Cop26 as a stupendous success (no matter what happens) with a beaming Boris Johnson centre stage. My snout whispers that No 10 considered deploying Liz Truss to flutter her eyelashes and charm China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (the latter is not attending and the former is expected to snub the summit) until wiser heads advised that the Foreign Secretary’s Instagram diplomacy would be wasted on a couple of gnarled despots. The government is also considering how to prevent Nicola Sturgeon hijacking the Glasgow jamboree to big up herself on the world stage. Plastic eco warrior Johnson isn’t one of the natural sharers in politics. Enough hot air is being generated by the Cop26 spin machine to power a small town.

Labour WhatsApp messages pinged after the right-hand man of Peter Mandelson, who has returned to the heart of Keir Starmer’s new New Labour project, was spotted on TV sitting in front of Newcastle United’s new Saudi Arabian owners. Ben Wegg-Prosser was at Mandelson’s side in government and is managing director of Global Counsel, the pair’s consultancy. Wegg-Prosser was in a prized place very near Newcastle chair Yasir Al-Rumayyan and banker Amanda Staveley, and alongside TV’s Ant & Dec, because, I’m told, he’s a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, who were playing the head-chopping tyranny’s team. Hmmm…

Nobody wrote as many handwritten notes in the House of Commons as David Amess, the late Conservative MP. One Labour member recalls receiving a letter congratulating her on returning to parliament after every general election despite never speaking to the late champion of Southend. An ardent Thatcherite in the 1980s and a staunch Brexiteer, Amess extolled the virtues of Basildon as that town’s representative until boundary changes led him to migrate to safer Southend to blow that town’s trumpet. Another MP observed that had constituency cartography produced an alternative map, Basildon, not Southend, would be Essex’s newest city.

Once weedy Ed Miliband, a born-again Bear Grylls embracing wild swimming, is taking risks he avoided as leader. Labour’s electric car-driving green warrior emerged from Brighton and Hove’s stormy sea after an early-morning plunge to be informed by a concerned local that he’d splashed in a notoriously dangerous stretch of the East Sussex coast. If he was as bold politically as he is now physically, the 2015 result wouldn’t have been his worst dive.

Richard Burgon, the former shadow cabinet minister, counts 34 MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group, which is only six short of the 40 required to stand a leadership candidate under the higher 20 per cent qualification rule. Starmer’s failure to dump one-member, one-vote is increasingly viewed as a victory by those fighting to keep the Corbyn flag flying high.