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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Ed Miliband loses control of his MPs – but few notice


Amid the tsunami of coverage this week of the controversies over press regulation and the Budget, the national newspapers and broadcasters missed the fact that Ed Miliband temporarily lost control of his MPs.

He and the Labour Shadow Cabinet had agreed to back a piece of retrospective legislation rushed through by the Government after two claimants who were forced to do unpaid work, the science graduate Cait Reilly and unemployed lorry driver Jamieson Wilson, won a court judgment against the Department of Work and Pensions, which could have cost the Government £130m in rebates to a quarter of a million other jobseekers.

But 44 Labour MPs defied Miliband to oppose the legislation, and they were not all "usual suspects". They included the former Chief Whip Nick Brown and John Healey, who took second place in the 2010 Shadow Cabinet elections but is now on the back benches. One of the older rebels, who never stepped out of line during the Tony Blair years, said: "Ed Miliband is the leader and I'm loyal to him, and when he is good, he is good: but this was shocking. It shows very bad judgement."

Miliband can thank his good fortune it all happened when the pack of political journalists had its attention focused elsewhere.

A gay old day with Robert Mugabe

The batch of papers released today by the Margaret Thatcher Archives Trust offer an entertaining insight into the changing meaning of words. Among them is a handwritten letter to Thatcher, dated May 1982, from Winston Churchill's son-in-law, Christopher Soames, saying: "Thank you for including us in your luncheon for Robert Mugabe. We had a fairly gay table, under Denis's auspices.…" A younger man would not have put it like that.

He's the man with no name

Ed Balls is the latest to fall foul of that odd rule that MPs are not allowed to address one another directly or refer to each other by name in the debating Chamber. Jim Sheridan, the Labour MP who wants "parasite" journalists banned from Parliament, was ticked off a few days ago for saying "you" when he should have said "the Prime Minister". Today, it was the shadow Chancellor's turn to be rebuked, for saying "a long line of past Chancellors. Philip Snowden, Norman Lamont, and now George Osborne."

He apologised and corrected himself, saying, "Philip Snowden, Lord Lamont and now Chancellor Osborne", whereupon he was shouted down by Tory MPs, and had to apologise anew. With the third attempt, he got it right.

A distinct odour on the front bench...

There was a mysterious message on Twitter today from the Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, deputy Leader of the Commons: "Relieved to hear that the smell on the front bench isn't caused by corpse of friendly Commons mouse but the result of a scout being unwell." Enough information, I think.

A second run of sorts for Lord Archer

There have been rave reviews for the play This House about the antics of the whips' office in 1974-79, which recently moved from the Cottesloe to the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. Jeffrey Archer was spotted at the Olivier this week. While others in the audience roared with laughter at the sharp one-line gags, Lord Archer sat quiet, unmoved, and did not so much as titter. Yet there must be something about the play that he likes, because he has seen it before – when it was on at the Cottesloe. If the young Archer had been a better businessman, he could have been in the Commons through the period that the play covers. He was elected a Tory MP in 1969, but gave up his seat at the October 1974 general election when it appeared that bankruptcy loomed. Perhaps it was sorrow over what he missed, or maybe it was relief, that stopped him laughing.