Ealing comedy?

Mark Pack enjoys the ins and out of the battle in Ealing Southall

It's rather appropriate that a by-election in Ealing, home of Ealing comedies, has been the site of a by-election that has frequently seemed on the edge of farce.

For the wider world, of course, perhaps the height of farce was the sight of the Tory candidate Tony Lit beaming with Tony Blair at a Labour event where a cheque for £4,800 was handed over (and a further auction bid of £4,000 was made) just before he became the Tory candidate (Mr Lit that is, not Mr Blair!). This story does at least mean that - thankfully, at last - we have a story to top the Liberal Democrat embarrassment from the 1990s of having a Parliamentary by-election candidate join Labour on polling day itself.

For political insiders, the arguments over Iain Dale's blog and whether he is letting himself be used as a largely uncritical mouthpiece by the Conservative Party have eaten up much blogging time.

An example of this was the attempt by the Conservatives to use Iain's blog to criticise the use of photographs by the Liberal Democrats. The attacks were rather blunted by the fact that on the very same day that Iain hit "publish" on the story on his blog, the Conservatives in Ealing were delivering a leaflet that did the very same thing that his story fulminated against.

As did - amongst others - previous Conservative Parliamentary by-election leaflets in Cheadle and Leicester South and ... wait for it ... a story Iain had penned on his very own blog a few days previously.

But what will it all mean when the voters are counted and tempers have settled? The downside of making predictions just ahead of polling day is that if you're wrong you look a fool, and if you're right - well, who really cares anyway given they've now got the actually results to pore over?

But as I volunteered for the task ... the projection from our weekend work made by Chris Rennard is that the state of parties was around Labour 37%, Lib Dem 31% and Conservative 22%. As he said, "From this position Lib Dems can win but it should be close. I believe that we could be into re-count territory on Thursday night."

Interestingly, he chose to make public these views in a comment on a blog, rather than to a journalists, which reflects the way the internet has been changing how politics works.

Given the eagerness of some politicians to write-up a "return to two party politics" story, for Nigel Bakhai and the Liberal Democrats to come even close to winning a seat off Labour, in the teeth of a determined Cameron New Conservative onslaught to boot, will be some achievement. An achievement all the greater of course if Nigel Bakhai wins.

As the first major electoral test for Gordon Brown, Ealing (and Sedgefield) are likely to be useful indicators as to how firmly rooted the "Brown bounce" in the opinion polls really is. Can intensive local campaigning by the Liberal Democrats still eat heavily into Labour's vote as happened in many places in 2005? And how well with the Conservative campaign message of "David Cameron wants this man to be your MP" go down?

All will be revealed shortly. As to my own personal prediction in the meantime? Well, working for a political party I find it generally safest to stick to keeping it a secret between me and my bookmaker.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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Commons Confidential: Could Corbyn's El Gato kick Larry out of Downing Street?

The No 10 cat fight.

A rolling revolt is gathering speed, as the suspicion grows that Theresa May called her snap poll to escape potential by-elections, should the Crown Prosecution Service find that her MPs were involved in electoral fraud during the 2015 campaign.

A growing number of Tory MPs are informing HQ that they don’t want a battle bus visit. Driving the rebellion is the hard-boiled Andrew Bridgen, who made his cash by selling prewashed spuds to supermarkets. “I’m going to post party workers on every route into my constituency,” growled the veg baron, who is defending an 11,373 majority in Leicestershire, “with orders not to let any bloody bus on to our patch.” Here’s an opportunity for Tory command to raise a few bob: flog tyre-bursting spike strips to candidates.

Fur would fly in the unlikely event that Jeremy Corbyn moves into No 10. The more optimistic among his entourage fret over whether the moggy El Gato could cohabit with Larry the Downing Street cat. Corbyn muses that El Gato is a socialist, sharing food with a stray that turned up in his north London garden. If Labour wins, I understand that El Gato is the top cat or Larry is out with May. Jezza’s first call wouldn’t be to Donald Trump or Angela Merkel but to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

George Osborne’s £650,000 BlackRock sinecure is jeopardised, I hear, by his London Evening Standard editorship. An impeccable source whispers that the world’s largest investment fund, controlling £4trn of loot, anguishes over possible conflicts of interest. BlackRock hired Osborne to nurture high-net-worth clients, who are suddenly wary of divulging secrets to an ambitious hack. Perhaps the super-rich should relax. He is incapable of recognising a story, even missing Standard deadlines with his resignation as a Tory MP.

The word is that Ukip’s seven-time loser Nigel Farage declined the chance to risk an eighth loss to retain his £800-per-hour LBC radio gig. The Brexit elites’ Don Farageone needs the money – a chauffeur-driven Range Rover with tinted windows won’t be cheap.

Corbyn’s war on dandelions is on hold during the campaign, with green-fingered comrades tending his allotment. Cherie Blair was accused 20 years ago of mentally measuring up curtains for No 10. Corbyn quipped that he is tempted to measure flower borders to plant runner beans. Labour’s No 10 would certainly be no bed of roses.

What will retiring MPs do? Middlesbrough South’s Tom Blenkinsop informed colleagues that he might join the army. My hunch is that at 36, with a Peaky Blinders haircut, the general secretaryship of the Community trade union is more likely.

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 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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