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Commons Confidential: Jeremy Corbyn goes back to Glastonbury

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Frugal John McDonnell is earning an enviable reputation as one of the cheapest dates on the Labour fundraising circuit. The downside is that host MPs must clean their bathrooms. The pennywise shadow chancellor rejects offers of a hotel in favour of a spare room during overnight stays on constituency visits. Thus on an excursion to Jarrow the hair shirt lefty declined four-star comfort for Stephen Hepburn MP’s back bedroom in a small semi on a council estate across the road from a dual carriageway. Keeping it real, northern style.

There were jolly jumps when galloping MPs were invited to free nosebags and a gratis night in a Newmarket hotel this week with their or somebody else’s partner. Tewkesbury horsey Tory Laurence Robertson’s email (forwarded by a filly who replied neigh) stressed that the tab for “a very interesting and enjoyable visit” to the home of flat racing would be picked up by the British Horseracing Authority. Other politicians are fast out of the stalls for a freebie.

Fevered speculation over Ruth Davidson flying south to prop up the wilting May Queen jolted a snout to recall sitting next to the Tartan Tory in London City Airport. Her breakfast of black pudding and poached eggs prompted widespread envy. May could take the Tory out of Scotland but she couldn’t take Scotland out of this Tory. And probably wouldn’t want to.

Fair do’s when roads minister Jesse Norman piloted a 90-minute “tea room surgery” to discuss cars, buses and cycling over a cuppa. The plea for MPs to fill five vacant slots suggested that perhaps the only Woodcraft Folk pioneer in history to abandon camp fires for Eton and the Conservative Party is once again venturing down a lonely track.

Oh, Je-rem-y Cor-byn’s returning to Glastonbury this month to open a small social housing estate on land donated by the festival impresario Michael Eavis. The homes will be named after Margaret Bondfield. Corbyn’s conference speech name-checked the Brighton draper’s shop assistant who was Britain’s first female cabinet member in 1929, as minister of labour. One of the Dear Leader’s apparatchiks whispered that if the banks or FTSE 100 corporations clamouring to meet Corbyn wish him to drop by, they should name a cupboard after Tony Benn or the recently departed trade union leader Rodney Bickerstaffe.

The last word on that disastrous Tory conference goes to the party’s Doris Karloff. On hearing a gasp, my snout shaking hands with the unemployed at a urinal looked round to see Ann Widdecombe had bumbled into the Gents. Her “this isn’t for me” as she beat a hasty retreat was the understatement of the week.

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 first appeared in the 12 October 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How May crumbled

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Will the Brexit Cabinet talks end in a “three baskets” approach?

The joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. 

It's decision day in the Brexit talks. Again.

The Brexit inner Cabinet will meet to hammer out not its final position, but the shape of its negotiating position. The expected result: an agreement on an end state in which the United Kingdom agrees it will follow EU regulations as it were still a member, for example on aviation; will agree to follow EU objectives but go about them in its own way, for example on recycling, where the British government wants to do more on plastic and less on glass; and finally, in some areas, it will go its way completely, for instance on financial services. Or as it has come to be known in Whitehall, the "three baskets" approach.

For all the lengthy run-up, this bit isn't expected to be difficult: the joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. There are two difficulties: the first is that the EU27 won't play ball, and the second is that MPs will kick off when it emerges that their preferred basket is essentially empty.

The objections of the EU27 are perhaps somewhat overwritten. The demands of keeping the Irish border open, maintaining Europol and EU-wide defence operations means that in a large number of areas, a very close regulatory and political relationship is in everyone's interests. But everyone knows that in order for the Conservative government to actually sign the thing, there is going to have to be some divergence somewhere.

The bigger problem is what happens here at home when it turns out that the third basket - that is to say, full regulatory autonomy - is confined to fishing and the "industries of the future". The European Research Group may have a few more letters left to send yet.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.