Commons Confidential: Putting the Marx into marking

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Bruised Boris Johnson waffling in No 10 about education, infrastructure and technology as three pillars in Britain’s future is, muttered my snout, an increasingly frantic attempt by the PM’s little helpers to paint their sugar daddy as a chap of action and thus shield him from coronavirus disasters. With UK-made ventilators reported to be running out of parts and testing chiefs complaining that the first they heard about Matt Hancock’s 100,000 target was on TV, Johnson’s regime continues to disintegrate.

Fresh derision was triggered by suggestions that the government intended the second word in that much-ridiculed “Stay Alert” ­slogan to be an acronym. Labour culture vulture Jo Stevens accused a windmilling premier of secretly thinking “All Lazy Employees Return Tomorrow” whenever he mutters an “Alert” so confusing the only shock is that Johnson hasn’t translated it into Greek. Yet. 

Guffaws on the TUC general council after the Daily Mail portrayed militant moderate Dr Mary Bousted, joint head of the National Education Union (NEU), as a Cuba-lovin’ hard-left Corbynista. Comrades recall the one-time English teacher in London, whose past pupils include Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti, calling socialist union boss Mark Serwotka an “effing supercilious prick” after he reminded Bousted to wait to be called by the chair to speak. Maybe the Tory rag confused her with NEU co-general secretary “Kevin the Red” Courtney, a Welsh firebrand who puts the Marx into marking.

Strangers’ Bar will be minus its most familiar face when MPs finally return en masse: head barman Will Conway retires this month after 27 years pulling parliamentary pints. The quietly spoken GMB union activist witnessed heated arguments, drunks falling over, arrests and fisticuffs. As the watering hole’s enforcer, Conway always insisted most regulars were well behaved. I’m not surprised. Conceited new MPs who crossed him once quickly learned never to do it again.

All eyes turn to Liverpool’s first black MP, Kim Johnson, whenever she appears on PLP video meetings. She followed up what resembled a fluffy pink dressing gown with wearing a baseball cap indoors. The Labour community organiser puts in the shade her male, pale and stale colleagues in collar and tie.

Spinners Shaun Roberts and Sam Barratt quitting the Lib Dumb campaigns ahead of the inquiry report into Jo Swinson’s calamitous general election is a sign of a party starting again. The ex-leader is referred to as “Jo who?” by staffers who don’t want to follow them out of the door.

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 22 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Moving Left Show

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