Commons Confidential

This Morgan with Gordon.

The word in Westminster is that Sarah Brown convinced her hubby it would be a terrific idea to appear on Life Stories, Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan's ITV choke-fest. Morgan, used to interviewing D-listers such as Jordan and Vinnie Jones, couldn't believe his luck. The Mail on Sunday, which pays Morgan handsomely as a columnist, was spun the story that the PM had wept buckets about his ten-day-old daughter's death in 2002. But No 10 insisted that, while he had welled up, no tears flowed down the prime ministerial cheeks. A strategist muttered that what's good for Morgan ain't necessarily good for Labour.

The shoe repair millionaire Edward "Timmy" Timpson is feeling down at heel. The Tory MP was overheard complaining that David Cameron has barely spoken to him since the May 2008 by-election spectacular in Crewe. Now crestfallen, Timmy knows how the Tory front bench feels.

David Miliband speaks at so many Labour events that it's whispered he'd go to the opening of a milk bottle if there were party votes in it. Newly selected would-be Labour MPs receive a note of congratulations, I hear, from Ed Balls. The determined letter writers include Keith Vaz and Denis MacShane. It may be a coincidence that if Labour loses there'll be leadership and shadow cabinet ballots. Or maybe, just maybe, there's a direct connection.

New Labour's Stalinist Tendency mock the perpetually-pleased-with-himself Tony Wright's call for elected select committee chairs. Old hands recall Wright proposing his own, erm, appointment as head of the Commons reform body.

The impending departure of Gordon Brown's little helper, Nigel Griffiths, has triggered a scramble for his office. I'm told Keir Hardie once occupied his bolt-hole near the hairdressing salon. Wee Nigel was accused of cavorting with a scantily clad brunette on the sofa. A comrade mentally measuring the curtains added that he'd ask for the upholstery to be steam-cleaned.

Lurch-like Stephen Timms says the Treasury is unable to issue a constituency guide to estates benefiting from Cameron's £1m inheritance-tax giveaway. Postcodes, said Lurch, are often omitted from wills. Do the super-rich misplace mansions?

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

This article appears in this week's New Statesman.

 

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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.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.