Commons Confidential: Campbell gets souped up

PLUS: Eric Joyce vs Jim Sheridan.

Major Eric Joyce the Torybeater is in trouble again, this time for unparliamentary manoeuvres against Scottish Labour’s Jim Sheridan. Joyce was witnessed in the “No” lobby issuing a high-decibel “Let’s go outside for a chat” invitation as he pushed his face, eyes reportedly bulging, into the face of the older man.

Sheridan, 60, declined and as he departed Joyce yelled uncomradely greetings banned on the floor of the chamber. Sheridan reported Joyce, who was previously fined £3,000 and handed a 12-month community order after headbutting and punching Conservative MPs in Strangers’ Bar, to the Serjeant at Arms. Sheridan is seeking to have Joyce banned from the Houses of Parliament on health and safety grounds until he undergoes counselling.

The explosion was triggered by Sheridan, chair of the Unite MPs, telling Joyce he was wrong to hold the union solely responsible for the Grangemouth refinery row. Joyce, who blames Unite for ousting him in Falkirk, evidently thought otherwise.

Gateshead’s Ian Mearns is a handy man in a crisis. The Geordie Labourite remembered his first aid when an elderly man collapsed on the upper committee corridor. Mearns put the unfortunate chap into the recovery position to await the nurse. He stayed cool when a visitor shrieked that the bloke’s hand was deadly cold and there was no pulse. Trained to deal with emergencies, eagle-eyed Mearns spotted that it was a prosthetic limb.

Political hacks on the popular newspapers went nuclear when the Sir Humphrey at the Energy Department, Stephen Lovegrove, invited only former broadsheets with low circulations to question his minister, Ed Davey, on EDF’s money-spinning Hinkley deal. When asked by a colleague of mine at the Mirror, the John Le Mesurier-like Jason Beattie, why no tabloid lobby reporter had been called to the press conference, Lovegrove gave a response that was classic Whitehall farce material.

“I don’t know you,” he said disdainfully, “from a bar of soap.” Lofty Lovegrove sounds ripe for promotion to the diplomatic service.

Therese Coffey, bag carrier to the biz minister, Michael Fallon, has reached the end of the road. Or, more accurately, her beloved, British-built Toyota Avensis has. The broken motor with 210,000 miles on the clock is marooned beyond economical repair in parliament’s underground garage. It’s not only MPs that are clapped out in Westminster.

The corporate PR and professional self-publicist Alastair Campbell is unsettling Ed Miliband’s inner circle by informing any news outlet that will listen that he, Tony Blair’s former weapon of mass disinformation, will play a prominent Labour role in the election. Milibites fear Campbell will make it all about himself in 2015. I think they can bet on that.

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

Ed Miliband and Alastair Campbell. Montage: Dan Murrell

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Should you bother to vote?

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue