Commons Confidential: Tom Watson’s anaconda coup

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Snuffling Michael Gove is privately beating himself up for admitting the cocaine snorting that wrecked the launch of his campaign to be prime minister. His nose for the class-A drug was an open secret in louche Tory circles. I first heard the whisper more than a dozen years ago but none of his fellow users would go on the record. The weedy Environment Secretary blames spiteful Cameroons still smarting over Brexit for the illegal recreation appearing in Owen Bennett’s biography. Yet Gove is truly the author of his own downfall. Before his full confession, both the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were hesitating over whether to accuse the senior Tory of having been a coke taker. Gormless Gove has belatedly concluded that honesty wasn’t his best policy.

Besieged Corbyn’s praetorian guard accuses Tom Watson of heading an “anaconda coup”, claiming that criticism by the deputy leader and other senior figures of the party’s Brexit policy (and of key aides Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne) is intended to squeeze the life out of El Presidente himself. Labour’s poisonous atmosphere is surely closer to a nest of vipers?

Everybody has to eat but jaws still dropped on the anniversary of the Grenfell inferno when Theresa May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, lunched in expensive Mayfair private members’ club Oswald’s with mega-rich banker and Tory donor Ken Costa, who’s slipped Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign £10,000. Nothing’s ever too good for the ruling class.

Former Labour Europhile Denis MacShane circulated a note to like-minded socialists accusing the party’s few Brexit MPs of overlooking EU investment in northern areas cheated by the Tories. The erstwhile Rotherham MP complains that John Mann, Caroline Flint and Kevin Barron disregard €200m-plus in solidarity pending from Brussels in Tory-ravaged Yorkshire. Denis the Menace highlighted the contradiction of Mann mocking Corbyn for ignoring the achievements in Blair’s era while airbrushing out European financial support. Lexiters ignore inconvenient facts.

Noticing Amber Rudd’s left foot in a surgical boot, I teased the Welfare Secretary she’d still pass a work capability test. Rudd replied that she’d write to her MP, before admitting the ankle injury was inflicted by falling off a high heel. The injury could be much worse had Boris Johnson driven her home at the end of a party.

Scolded Labour MP Roger Godsiff was spied skulking at the back of a Westminster meeting about relationship lessons, listening as head teachers explained why they’re necessary in Birmingham schools and elsewhere. He didn’t enjoy compulsory re-education after his comments backing protesters who objected to LGBT-friendly 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 19 June 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Bad news