Commons Confidential: Gavin Williamson’s whispers

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Fireplace salesman Gavin Williamson deserved to be sacked for what he confessed to telling a Daily Torygraph journalist during an 11-minute phone call, whispers a Whitehall mole, never mind leaking secrets. The snout, who read tough-guy cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill’s report, murmured that the then defence secretary admitted revealing a Tory coup plot to topple the PM after European Parliament elections. Williamson might be proved right. Theresa May was hurt by dangerous talk from a former ally turned militarised enemy within.

The upside for cashiered Private Pike is he’s free to play with armed tractors, Coca-Cola truck missile launchers and naval paintball gun squadrons while posing as victim of the gravest miscarriage of justice since the Dreyfus affair.

No whispering at Labour’s parliamentary committee, where I hear Jeremy Corbyn shouted at Stoke MP Ruth Smeeth, who is Jewish. The usually muffled leader snapped back angrily “No, it’s not” after she claimed his foreword to JA Hobson’s book Imperialism was part of a personal pattern of anti-Semitism. The party’s parliamentary brigade is also complaining that allegations of bigotry and bad behaviour are no longer submissible by email, with HQ requiring completion of an online standard form. One complainant who didn’t receive automatic confirmation of an accusation predicted messy disputes over “lost” grievances.

Hundreds of council seat gains and Vince Cable’s reluctance to put a date on his departure are instilling fear in jumpy Lib Dems. “We’re all absolutely terrified,” wailed my informant, “that Vince is going to change his mind and decide to stay.”

Birmingham Hodge Hill bearded egghead Liam Byrne chucked his hat into the Labour ring to challenge Tory Andy Street for the West Midlands mayorship with an unlikely endorsement from John McDonnell. The shadow chancellor’s seal of approval was pivotal for the shadow digital economy whiz, a unionised online co-op, up against the incumbent’s pricier John Lewis. Cons still screeching about Byrne’s 2010 jokey note say the country would be bankrupted by Marxist McDonnell, oblivious to their own party’s debt failure.

Sick children small charity Momentum in south-west London inserted a hyphen to promote itself as Moment-um after confusion with the arriviste left-wing Labour movement hit its fundraising. On the upside, both want greater funding for the NHS.

Take three deep breaths: 250 MPs and peers plus 350 staff enrolled for mindfulness courses in Westminster. One parliamentarian boasts that meditation helped them see there’s “more to life than the next speech”. What next, digital detox lessons?

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 17 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Return of the Irish question

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