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7 June 2023

Keir Starmer dodges the toff uniform of top hat and tails during his day out at the Epsom Derby

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

The Jockey Club’s gallop to make horse racing more inclusive, and to diversify the Epsom Derby crowd, attracted the son of a toolmaker and nurse from a pebble-dashed semi with a Ford Cortina outside. Keir Starmer, for it was he, saddled up to attend the sport of kings’ grandest day. Dodging the toff uniform of top hat and tails and occupying a box in the Duchess stand, a besuited Labour leader and his family enjoyed a day at the gee-gees. It is wife Victoria who wears the silks in the Starmer house ­– the NHS occupational health worker is a racing fan. With the odds showing Starmer as favourite to be PM at the next election, rubbing shoulders with other people who run the country fits in with his programme of distancing himself from the Jeremy Corbyn era. One MP sniffed that comrade Jezza would have sympathised with the Animal Rising protesters who failed to disrupt the big race.

The former hellraiser Feargal Sharkey, the lead singer of 1970s punk band the Undertones, now transformed into a compelling clean-water campaigner, led a chorus of “Happy Birthday” at a bash in the House of Lords to celebrate Kindertransport national treasure Alf Dubs’ 90th birthday. At an event more “Old Age Kicks” than “Teenage Kicks”, the former Commons speaker John Bercow paid tribute to the nonagenarian peer. Baron Dubs’ line manager, Angela Smith, Baroness Basildon, the Labour leader in the Lords, brought down the house with a tale of Dubs’ hospital gown flapping open as he was wheeled on a trolley down a corridor. “That’ll teach you to buy PPE off Michelle Mone,” the peer groaned to the porter.

Jamie Driscoll, the left-wing mayor of North of Tyne, is the latest victim of a Labour machine producing candidates marching to a single Starmer drumbeat. Driscoll has been blocked from seeking selection to be the party’s enlarged north-east mayoral candidate. The spectacle reminded the Yorkshire ex-MP Denis MacShane of the rigging that once tried to keep him out of the Rotherham seat. Before the constituency’s 1994 by-election, the Transport and General Workers’ Union branch met and all four members attending unanimously backed MacShane, yet a local official filled in the ballot paper for his opponent. MacShane eventually prevailed. Manipulation of Labour’s internal democracy continues under Starmer’s rule.

Back to Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, the picturesque Oxfordshire village giving interloper Boris Johnson the cold shoulder. Drinkers in the local boozer, a 16th-century thatched inn, don’t wish to share a round with the community’s latest resident. One quipped if Johnson joined them at the bar they’d have to change the name of The Red Lion to The Red Lying. Boom! Boom!

[See also: What could go wrong for Keir Starmer?]

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This article appears in the 07 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Reeves Doctrine