Labour’s KitKat plot to topple Theresa May inspired by spy thriller
As one of the most formidable political fixers in parliament of the past 30-odd years, it should be no surprise that Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown is a secret fan of spy thrillers.
After all, the dark arts of government and opposition whips’ offices could be said to have much in common with the world of international espionage, double agents and so on.
But now Mr Brown’s secret is out, after the seemingly innocuous gesture of producing a KitKat from his pocket after the government defeat on Theresa May’s Brexit deal last Tuesday.
It was not because he was peckish.
But, as The Times’ diarist Patrick Kidd reported, it was instead a secret signal to colleagues to table Jeremy Corbyn’s motion of no confidence in the government.
But why a KitKat?
The idea came from The Times journalist Ben Macintyre’s recent real-life spy thriller, The Spy and the Traitor, about KGB agent-turned-defector Oleg Gordievsky.
In the book, Macintyre writes that an MI6 agent eating a KitKat outside a bread shop would be a a sign to Gordievsky that he was about to be extracted.
“I’ve just finished reading Ben’s book,” the Tyneside MP – known in Parliament as “Newcastle Brown” – told me.
“I’ve also read his book on Kim Philby.”
That book, a Spy Among Friends: Philby and the Great Betrayal, tells the story of the high-level British spymaster who turned out to be a Russian mole.
Sadly, as in the best spy thrillers, Mr Brown’s KitKat diktat did not going according to plan.
An MP walked between him and the TV cameras at the very moment he brandished his chocolate bar.
But Labour’s plan was not thwarted by this mishap.
“We had a back-up plan,” the chief whip said, adding: “Text.”
A more reliable form of communication, probably, but not so cloak-and-dagger.
Opera-loving Mr Brown, now 68, is one of parliament’s longest serving and most respected enforcers, having been chief whip for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now Mr Corbyn.
Chief whips love the mystique and image of menace that goes with the job.
Baby-faced bruiser Gavin Williamson revelled in the notoriety of keeping a pet tarantula on his desk when he was Tory chief whip.
Others have a different style.
It was claimed that the gentlemanly Sir George Young, the so-called “Bicycling Baronet” who was David Cameron’s chief whip, used to admonish errant MPs with Classic FM playing in the background.
Mr Brown has always had a kindly smile.
But Mr Blair’s allies always used to claim – with some justification – that he was plotting on Mr Brown’s behalf.
Almost like a double agent in a spy thriller.