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4 December 2013

Commons Confidential: Never say Michael Gove’s a pussy

Plus: fidgeters, smearers and a curry house plot.

By Kevin Maguire

The word in the charity world is that Michael Gove’s enemy within, Tim “Shoot from the Lip” Loughton, fancied running the NSPCC after his services were dispensed with as children’s minister in 2012. The embittered Tory MP’s appointment would have denied us epochal political moments, particularly the uplifting exchange when he compared his ex-boss Gove to Young Mr Grace in the 1970s department store comedy Are You Being Served?. Discipline in the Education Department classroom broke down completely with a Gove minion labelling Loughton a “lazy, incompetent narcissist, obsessed only with self-promotion”. If my children’s charity informant is on the money, the intriguing question is: would Loughton be prepared to bequeath Gove et al a tricky by-election in East Worthing and Shoreham?

To a curry house in Hornsey and Wood Green, north London, where Labour’s impressive parliamentary candidate, Catherine West, a former leader of Islington Council, is harassing the Lib Dumb Lynne Featherstone. Featherstone faces a struggle to retain the seat she won in 2005 on a backlash against Iraq. The minister shot herself in the foot by supporting military strikes on Syria even though a poll in her own area showed huge opposition. Her excuse – that she would resign rather than endorse action in a second vote unless it was authorised by the UN – cut little ice in a Guardian reading stronghold.

Back to Gove, who knows how to lose contacts and alienate journalists. A broadcasting hack who called the Educashon Department seeking a minister to go on the airwaves to justify free schools was surprised to be told to call the Secretary of State’s disciple Toby Young. A publicly funded press office promoting a right-whinger yearning for recognition and a Tory seat is as dubious a use of public funds as some of the schools of scandal.

Fidgety Tim Farron is incapable of sitting still. His jerky movements transfixed a spy for this column on a three-hour train journey from London to Oxenholme in the Lake District. El Presidente of the Lib Dumbs was restless throughout, nervously checking both an iPhone and a BlackBerry when he wasn’t scribbling notes. At one point Farron was overheard informing a fellow traveller: “There are MPs in another carriage – it’s even worse.” Who ever did he mean? Nick Clegg uses the Sheffield line and Danny Alexander flies to his constituency in Scotland.

Why are the Labour cheerleaders who loudly denounced the Daily Mail’s smearing of Ralph Miliband not shouting at the Mail on Sunday for alleging that Tony Blair was too close to Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng? Their silence is deafening.

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Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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