Commons Confidential: The return of Lembit Öpik

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Cabinet collective responsibility for Covid clamps shut the plummy mouth of the MP for the 18th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, in public. But not, it seems, in private. I’m reliably informed he reassures Conservative Covidiots that he shares their contempt for the slow pace of Boris Johnson’s restriction-easing roadmap, yet must vote for the timetable to remain Leader of the House. Draw a Venn diagram and there is a significant overlap between the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group and the EU-despising European Research Group. Rees-Smug was prominent in the ERG and now quietly encourages the CRG from the cabinet table, suddenly afraid to speak his truth to power to avoid being sacked by the PM.

HMS Penny Mordaunt is the latest minister overheard fearing decommission in the forthcoming reshuffle. The Paymaster General and Pompey MP is worried Johnson might sack her a second time. Mordaunt, a former equalities minister, declaring “trans men are men and trans women are women” in the Commons created waves with the current holder of the post, Liz Truss, who adopts a culture war view and reflects No 10’s opportunism.

The Conservative Party’s recent online event “How to Stop the Lib Dems with Lembit Öpik” is earning the colourful ex-MP and one-time other half of a Cheeky Girl much abuse from former colleagues. One suggested the surest way of beating the Lib Dems was to pick Öpik as a candidate after he lost Montgomeryshire, a seat held by the party for nearly all the preceding 100 years.

[see also: Commons Confidential: The cabinet reactionary]

MPs gardening, embracing DIY or building Lego models during lockdown are overshadowed by Cardiff West’s musician MP Kevin Brennan, who has written and recorded an album. The Clown & the Cigarette Girl, to be released by Revolver in July, is named after a childhood photograph of the Labour MP dressed as a circus entertainer and his sister Nuala as a nightclub purveyor of ciggies from a tray. Name the album from a snap today and Brennan might be singing about The Clown & the Nicotine Patch.

The anger of a voter who rang the constituency office of the Elmet and Rothwell Tory Alec Shelbrooke demanding he voted that week to make misogyny a hate crime was molten when she was told no. The fury increased to Vesuvius level when a staffer explained this was because the bill was in the House of Lords, not Commons.

NS reader Andrew Rivett, a Brighton accountant, arrived to collect 18 bound volumes of the mag looking for a new home as I returned from a six-mile run. Sweating and panting, I was too exhausted to blub while waving farewell to copies dating back to 1979. Exercise is good for emotional as well as physical health. 

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 24 March 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special

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