Commons Confidential: Mac the Knife turns avuncular bank manager

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

From Trotskyist terror to avuncular bank manager is a remarkable transformation in John McDonnell since the days when a tea offensive in the City would be all offence and cold dregs. So feared was the shadow chancellor that the joke in Labour ranks was that Mac the Knife would guarantee opponents a fair trial, have them found guilty, executed, dismembered and the body parts scattered around the country. These days he’s house proud. Arguing the case for a fresh referendum during TV interviews broadcast from his home in Hayes, McDonnell drapes his right arm awkwardly over the the sofa’s side. Dressed in a red jumper the vintage socialist is hiding a wine stain.

Preening Dominic “look at me” Raab paraded through Portcullis House with not one but two red boxes on Boris Johnson’s Surrender Saturday. Unimpressed observers muttered that the Foreign Secretary carried in the second box his daily Pret a Manger chicken caesar and bacon baguette. MPs blocking no deal gave the Raab C Brexit indigestion.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s understudy Dominic Cummings was overheard boasting in Brussels that he was the Downing Street phantom Brexit texter to the Spectator, where his wife works. Classic Dom, conspiratorially telling hacks what every scribbler knew. Johnson’s rabid bulldog was identified by a string of howlers in the 700-word bark and, of course, the presence of his wife on the staff.

For an abstentionist party, Sinn Féin puts in a loyal shift. Foyle MP Elisha McCallion was assigned to walk around Westminster on Surrender Saturday to remind folk that Irish republicans don’t take their parliamentary seats or vote. Irish eyes are smiling since Johnson dumped DUPed unionists.

Soul singer Jean Knight’s “Mr Big Stuff” providing an unexpected musical soundtrack on the corridor outside Jeremy Corbyn’s office was traced to horny-handed son-of-toil Ian Lavery’s mobile. The burly Labour Party chair’s ringtone – “Who do you think you are/Mr Big Stuff/ You’re never gonna get my love” – gives him a metropolitan groove. The Northumberland ex-coal miner who keeps greyhounds presumably hasn’t lived in London long enough to use Knight’s “Shaki de Boo-Tee”.

The memorial plaque outside Sheffield town hall honouring deceased local trade union leader Bill Ronksley is to be dug up and replaced with a tablet spelling his surname correctly. After this column revealed the “Ronskley” error, an official unveiling was also postponed until 22 October. Let’s hope furthermore they remember it’s “Bill” with two ls.

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 October 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The broken state