Commons Confidential: The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit blues

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Away from Brexit battles, bumptious blond mop-top Michael Fabricant’s self-appointment as a Pugin Room doorman is going down like a pint of cold sick. The Lichfield lizard’s pompous crusade to bar uninvited peers from using parliament’s extravagantly decorated watering hole before 8pm has prompted a remarkable backlash. My snout giggled that the Tory club man made a fool of himself by ordering Shami Chakrabarti to leave and wait at the door after arriving unaccompanied for a 7.30pm drink with Nick Brown. The shadow attorney general’s failure to exit pronto was followed by a sarcastic offer to escort her to the office of Brown, Labour’s chief whip in the Commons. Having refused to budge, Chakrabarti played for time, asking precious Fabricant why he was so officious.

Elsewhere, Labour’s town hall champion Andrew Gwynne was surprised at a national gathering of county councillors in Guildford to learn the identity of a Tory woman challenging his assertion that local government is in financial crisis. She was Jane Scott, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, the leader of impecunious Wiltshire council, which switched off street lights at night and reduced grass cutting to save cash before raising council tax by 5.9 per cent this year. “It’s not all rosy, it’s really hard out there,” Scott admitted in January. Denial was for Gwynne’s benefit only.

Back in the Pugin Room, a by now flustered Fabricant looked relieved when Brown turned up to defuse the stand-off with Chakrabarti. Everybody settled down until Tory peer Michael Dobbs innocently wandered in before the 8pm watershed. Fabricant yapped that he’d prove enforcing the ban wasn’t party political, leaping to his feet to eject the blue interloper. The informant reported Dobbs looked utterly bemused and similarly made no effort to depart. It was getting sillier.

Doom and gloom in a Liberal Democrat digital report found on the parliamentary estate. Zero online donations in the week covered forced the party to suspend Brexit advertising. Something of a blow, that, when remaining in the EU is Vince Cable’s only policy. Not a single voter signed up that week to the Lib Dems’ campaign on Facebook. “We are paused on email capture,” the document also revealed. Curious.

Meanwhile, an uneasy truce in the War of the Pugin Room was reached after Chakrabarti suggested Dobbs, the ermined author of the original House of Cards political thriller, would no longer be alone before 8pm if the busybody MP sat with him. The pair duly shared a table. MPs grumble that Fabricant’s lost the plot. You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.

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 23 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The real Brexit crisis