Run, David, run. Photo: WPA Pool / Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Alan Johnson’s ball skills

Plus, Alastair Campbell's acting career.

David Cameron’s competitive spirit makes him the butt of many jokes. Spain’s former Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero recalls jogging with the Tory premier at a G20 summit in Seoul. It was supposed to be a friendly run with no publicity, but after a few kilometres Zapatero spied a photographer lurking in the bushes. Suspicions were aroused when Cameron sprinted so as to be snapped in the lead. Speedy Zapatero enjoyed the last laugh, though, finishing ahead of the chubby PM, who was exhausted by the mid-route dart. Ed Miliband should take heart: an election is a marathon, not a sprint.

Alan Johnson, ageing mod, is one of the biggest draws on the campaign circuit. The one-time postie gives a persuasive account of the last Labour government. He’s also entertaining. In Cardiff he recalled delivering letters in a Berkshire village, an aggressive dog yapping at his ankles. The lady of the house leaned out of the window and in a posh voice trilled, “Kick his balls, kick his balls!” Al duly booted the canine’s testicles. “No, no, you silly little man,” she shrieked: “the plastic balls on the lawn.”

Perhaps the only bigger draw is Dennis Skinner. In Lincolnshire to support David “Son of John” Prescott, the Beast predicted that Two Jags, Jr could pull off a Portillo moment. Hope burns eternal . . . The Tory MP Edward Leigh’s majority in Gainsborough is 10,559. Portillo was sitting on an, ahem, 15,563 cushion. It couldn’t happen, could it?

The Scouse bruiser Ricky Tomlinson and the Tory smoothie Daniel Kawczynski are an unlikely pairing. The two will host a meeting in the MP’s constituency to support the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign. Tomlinson – a flying picket jailed on trumped-up charges after the 1972 building workers’ strike, before he found fame in Brookside Close – established a rapport with Kawczynski over a Commons brew. Forget cash from Chinese companies; consorting with trade unionists is treasonable in the eyes of Lynton Crosby.

Alastair Campbell’s early days as a hack were perfect training for playing Cameron in TV debate rehearsals with Red Ed. It isn’t the first time he’s pretended to be somebody else. A former landlord of the Peter Tavy Inn in Devon, where a young Campbell once drank, giggled that the middle-class Comical Ali posed, for street cred, as a horny-handed son of toil. His dad was a vet.

It might not be the Tories’ Black and White Ball, but Emily Thornberry is hosting a £95-a-head fundraiser with Yvette Cooper and the Harriet Harman lookalike Grayson Perry. At that price, for every ticket sold, she could hire a white Ford Transit for two days or buy four large flags of St George to drape from the restaurant’s windows.

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

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 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.