Commons Confidential: Return of the Thatcherite pantomime dame

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No politician hogs the limelight as selfishly as narcissist Nigel Farage. The founder, owner and self-appointed head and shoulders of his personal Brexit Party would go to the opening of a milk bottle if it put him on TV. Everybody else must play second fiddle, silent in the background until invited to speak by the great dictator. Which is why his retinue frets that Farage will clash with Ann Widdecombe, a high-profile MEP recruit who also says what she likes and likes what she says. Hearts were in mouths when the Thatcherite pantomime dame came close to upstaging the Thatcherite villain at the party’s pre-poll mass rally. Being just 5ft 1in won’t spare Farage’s diminutive rival from his intolerance of tall poppies.

The party sounds over for the Change UK Euro poll flops. Tory private polling discovered Labour would recapture all eight seats from defector MPs, including Chuka Umunna in Streatham, yet the Cons grab back only two of its three. The exception was Heidi Allen sitting on a 16,000 majority in South Cambridgeshire. She’s floated a shotgun marriage with the Lib Dems but Vince Cable’s resurgent Remainiacs are a step ahead. The party’s secretly agreed, whispered a snout, not to campaign against Luciana Berger. I hope they’ve remembered to tell the Lib Dumb candidate in Liverpool Wavertree.

Blue ex-MP Brooks Newmark is gone but not forgotten since his sex scandal resignation. Tory chair of the foreign affairs committee, Tommy “tugboat” Tugendhat, who with commendable speed ruled himself out of a crowded leadership race, was spied sipping from a Brooks Newmark mug. I’m told a corridor cubby hole near the former military officer’s Westminster office is full of them. Bequeathed cups are more practical than the mess left by David Cameron or Theresa May.

Spare a thought for one-time Tory campaigner Rachel Johnson, who’d probably be an MEP had she stuck with the Lib Dems instead of changing to Change. Jeremy Hunt’s team must be hoping she’s strategically advising brother Boris.

An old school friend of Philip Hammond recalled the Chancellor was a good kisser when a teenage goth. With Brextremist knives out for a Treasury money man threatening to trigger a general election to stop a no deal disaster, Spreadsheet Phil must wish he’d taken up boxing instead of wearing black and listening to depressing music. It’s never too late.

Labour shadow cabinet members must be binning newspaper cuttings and wiping TV tapes now nearly all advocate the fresh referendum many opposed a few months ago. Success has many parents, failure leaves Jeremy Corbyn an orphan. 

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 31 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Theresa May’s toxic legacy

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