It will be humiliation for Labour if it loses one or both of the by-elections

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Labour grandees are scraping around for a new leader if things go amiss for them in the forthcoming Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections, fearing that a continuation of Jeremy Corbyn at the helm could lead the party to disaster at the next general election and beyond.

It has also been suggested that they are trying to keep Corbyn away from these two contests later this month, fearing his appearance on doorsteps could make a difficult situation even worse.

Needless to say, they are refuting these stories, but it is a maxim of politics that you should never believe a story until it has been officially denied.

The party’s prospects in these two Labour-held constituencies is rocky to say the least.

But defeat in one or both of them would be a grave humiliation.

That is why they are engaged in a last-minute scramble to try to save themselves from such a disaster.

But the official line is, they are merely checking their strengths and weaknesses, like any political party would, in preparation for the general election.

The last thing they want to betray is that there is a real worry, not to say panic, in Labour about the outcome of these by-elections.

If the outcome is bad for them, then drastic changes will have to be made.

There is no option.

What a hoo-ha over an alleged attempted kiss in the not-very-romantic setting of the rowdy Strangers’ Bar in the House of Commons.

It is said that Brexit Secretary, the convivial David Davis, was so exhilarated by the outcome of a Brexit vote that he leaned over in a supposed attempt to kiss Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary. Abbott, not at her most ladylike, brusquely told him to Foxtrot Oscar.

This episode, scarcely an issue of political gravity, might well have ended there with laughter all round (possibly not on the face of Abbott), except that in a subsequent exchange of text messages with a friend, Davis said he had not attempted to kiss her and that anyway he was “not blind”.

It was these last two words (for which Davis apologised) that turned a frivolous piece of light-hearted fun into a grave issue of sexism.

Parliament is becoming more sanitised as each day passes. Would someone please call a halt and allow the Commons to become again the bawdy place it once was?

John Bercow, the under-siege Speaker of the House of Commons, has apparently indicated through a series of nods and winks that he would like to stay in post until 2020.

It had been widely assumed Bercow, who now faces the possibility of a vote designed to oust him in the wake of his anti-Trump tirade in the Commons, had planned to step down early next year.

So, in the face of his current problems, is this to be regarded as a smart move on his part or foolhardy? I am in the “foolhardy” camp. Many Tory MPs have had more than their fill of Bercow as Speaker.

They support the motion to oust him, but were probably reluctant to vote for it.

There is now a suggestion that Bercow may have compromised his neutrality even further by telling students he had voted “Remain” in the EU referendum and that he was liberal about immigration.

A garrulous person like Bercow may not like that, but that is how it has to be if you are Speaker.

Very little is straightforward any more at Westminster.

One of the last people to have considered a motion to oust a Speaker was Peter Bruinvels, the former rock-hard right-wing Tory Member for Leicester East.

As soon as the Conservative whips heard about his plans, they came down on him like a ton of bricks, threatening him that if he went ahead and tabled the motion, he would become the victim of numerous sanctions. Wisely, perhaps, Bruinvels climbed down.

This MP, who eventually lost his seat to Labour’s controversial Keith Vaz, famously once told the Commons that he would be willing personally to press the button, or pull the lever, or whatever has to be done, to execute a condemned man.

Sir Edward Heath, who was sitting in the chamber at the time turned fifty shades of scarlet with apoplexy as Bruinvels’ bloodthirsty speech unfolded.