Commons Confidential: Poet of Richmond Park

Sadiq Khan's victory, Nicholas Soames' diet and Grant Schapps flogging houses.

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Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot have been joined in the pantheon of British political orators by that Cicero of modern Conservatism: Zac Goldsmith. The languid Tory contender for London mayor delivered a speech addressing a fundraiser at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington that my snout described as “unforgettable”.

“Sadiq Khan in Tooting at the last election was left hanging on to his constituency,” declared the poet of Richmond Park, “by a pubic hair.” Khan’s vote rose by 3.7 per cent. His majority is nudging 3,000. But enough of the facts . . . This was the birth of a new prince of prose, a speechifier who shows that you can take the boy out of Eton – but not out of his toilet obsession.

The Purple Shirt imbiber extraordinaire Nigel Farage endured nine hours of the DTs – dead telephones. The lack of a signal left him chewing the rug at a stately pile in Wiltshire. Ukip’s Dear Leader hadn’t been so anxious since a month passed without him appearing on Question Time.

No recent Tory minister flogged council houses quite as cheaply (or as zealously) as Grant Shapps; no one else defended the “bedroom tax” with the fervour of a greedy landlord extracting rent. Discarded after a string of scandals, Slippery Shapps has made yet another move to restore his political fortunes but it has backfired, I’m told. His bombardment of MPs with emails about Homes for Heroes, his foundation that finds council houses for veterans, reminded them of the overkill of his internet get-rich-quick alter ego, Michael Green. Suspicious MPs are on the counterattack. Major Dan Jarvis was heard to remark, “It will take more than this to rehabilitate Shapps.” Quite.

At the aforementioned Goldsmith gala, the crowd thinned out from 500 at the drinks reception to 100 for dinner, the snout whispered. The Treasury Thatcherite Greg Hands informed the gathering that he wouldn’t take calls from a Mayor Khan, which, if constitutionally dubious, may be worth a sackload of votes for Labour. When Hands departed before the meal, Goldsmith announced: “I can now change my answers to the questions.” Discipline, Zac, discipline.

On doctor’s orders, Nicholas “Fatty” Soames, that wobbling tribute to ye olde English country fayre, has lost three stone on a diet of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Tories splutter into their Earl Grey that colonic irrigation would have removed a whole partridge, fully feathered.

Goldsmith dodged questions about the expansion of Heathrow and a Crossrail extension upsetting Chelsea’s well-heeled residents, then left his own fundraiser at 9pm before dessert. Perhaps he was bored.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article appears in the 18 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A storm is coming

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