Commons Confidential: Mark Francois, the Tories’ Uncle Albert

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Tories are laughing at, not with, their party’s pugnacious weekend warrior Mark Francois. The volatile Brextremist and former Territorial Army officer, forever comparing leaving the EU to fighting a war, is known as “Uncle Albert” by Conservative troops – including, I’m told, Michael Gove – after the Only Fools and Horses comedy character who endlessly regurgitated Royal Navy tales. Ridicule of the toy soldier among Tory infantry has spread to the SNP battalion. When the nationalist Little Englander rises in the Commons to explode, tartan footsoldiers mutter “During the war…” in old seadog Uncle Albert’s mockney tones. Pilloried armchair stormtrooper Francois could always fire back by waving his MA in War Studies.

Jeremy Corbyn’s blurred eyesight makes reading statements trickier but doesn’t prevent him recognising former comrades. Bumping into retired Lewisham West MP Jim Dowd at one of parliament’s doors, the Dear Leader enquired cheerily, “Hello, how are you?” Dowd, no superfan, answered, “Well, how about you? Doing anything useful these days?” That really depends on who’s asking.

Bombastic Tory Brextremist Andrew Bridgen recounted how he thought a Radio Ulster producer informing him the switchboard lit up after an interview signalled a mass following in Northern Ireland, only to be informed that most were critical of his hardline no-deal stance.

Even the Grim Reaper didn’t separate former Welsh Labour MP Pauls, Flynn and Murphy, after a lifetime of constant confusion. Before the funeral of Newport West’s Paul Flynn, now Lord Murphy of Torfaen was greeted cordially by a muddled mourner. “Hello Mr Flynn, I thought you’d be here,” said the griever. Pointing, the bemused peer replied, “No, I’m Paul Murphy. He’s over there in the coffin.” Till death don’t us part.

Following a round of inconclusive Brexit votes, the House authorities struggled to remove a helium-filled, giant inflatable unicorn floating high against a staircase ceiling. Officials wondered how the unclaimed novelty creature came to be pressed against the roof. I’m sure it must be a curious coincidence that MPs Tracy Brabin and Angela Rayner were spotted with a helium-filled, giant inflatable unicorn the day before on their way to a birthday bash.

Labour bigwigs increasingly suspect that one of the party HQ’s many departed staff walked out with thousands of emails downloaded on to a computer stick. If so, any Equality and Human Rights Commission anti-Semitism inquiry might know what to ask for. And crucially what might not be handed over.

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 05 April 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit wreckers

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