Silliest of seasons?

Owen Walker charts some of the more frivolous offerings out there in the blogosphere

The silly season is well and truly upon us. Here is a collection of some of the more vapid themes across the UK’s political blogs:

Democracy is an odd thing. Dictators throughout history have warned of giving too much power to the masses and it was only a matter of time before the web – the most democratic platform to date – gave strength to that argument.

This week, Tim Ireland started a petition on the 10 Downing Street website calling for Gordon Brown to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream. More than 5,000 people have so far signed up.

Ever wanted to see a band of four MPs rocking out to Teenage Kicks with Feargel Sharkey? No? Well the web is full of wondrous things and you can see that footage courtesy of former whip Ian Cawsey’s Myspace page. Dizzy Thinks discovered this and other gems on the Brigg and Goole MP’s page, including apparently secretly-filmed videos of Blair’s last Parliamentary Labour Party meeting and the last meeting of the former whips.

The West Country often gets stick for not being as sexy as rest of the country, but the region’s residents must be pleased that at last political bloggers are addressing the real issues and giving them some publicity. Kevin Davis, a Conservative parliamentary hopeful in Yeovil, has begun his own campaign aimed at increasing the amount of public toilets. As a rallying call, Davis declares: “Wherever you go in the country it appears that the Lib Dems have something against public toilets. In Kingston they closed them and in Yeovil they are refusing to open them.”

Apparently Ming Campbell has more than 2,000 friends. Who’d have thought?
This figure could swell with the announcement by Lib Dem councillor Jonathan Wallace that he will only join Facebook when there are 100 people in the “Get Jonathan Wallace onto Facebook” group – so far there are 56. When he signs up he will join the largest political group on the social networking site, according to reports this week.

Steve Webb MP is using his recess time wisely and has found the Lib Dems are leading the way on Facebook. He concludes: “It is no surprise that it is Lib Dems who have taken social networking the most seriously. Lib Dem philosophy and our way of doing politics sits well with the Facebook ethos of being accessible, removing barriers to communication and reaching out to young people. As the figures show, it’s clearly not an exclusively Lib Dem thing, but it’s good to see our party leading the way.”

However, a closer inspection of the stats reveals Webb’s skewed form of proportional representation – typically Lib Dem – where he has reached his conclusions based on proportion of MPs signed up (Lib – 40%, Lab – 13%, Cons – 12%) rather than actual totals (Lab – 47, Lib – 25, Cons – 24).

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.