Commons Confidential

Mandy: Labour’s Simon Cowell.

Thirty thirsty MPs have made the most significant decision of John Bercow's reign: selecting the ten-year-old malt for the House of Commons shop (sipping from a shortlist of three, in order to comply with EU tendering rules). I hear that the drink-off in the state room was preceded by a vigorous debate as to whether the decision should be made using first-past-the-post or the Alternative Vote. Tradition triumphed, in a blow to electoral reform; but the middle bottle won, AV-style, in the blind taste test. Thick-headed tipplers later wondered if it was worth the hangover. Speaker Bercow rarely indulges; his whisky is a Macallan, just like that of his teetotal predecessor, Michael Martin.

Peter Mandelson isn't just re-forming the band, with Tony Blair and John Prescott as Gordon Brown's backing singers. The Labour Party's Simon Cowell is recruiting old roadies, too. Spied at a campaign session, escorted by Douglas Alexander, was Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Mandy's one-time little helper. Benji fled Britain for Russia when Blair quit No 10, but has agreed to return for a final tour. Other blasts from the past are expected. Weepy Alastair Campbell isn't alone in coming out of retirement for one last gig.

A Jack Russell named Mars may be another reason why the hokey-cokey "Cameron cutie" Joanne Cash is in the doghouse with the Westminster North Tories. The in-out-in candidate Cash looks after Michael Gove's pooch when the leader's pet (and shadow schools minister) is on his Surrey Heath patch. Notting Hell's more rabid Cons suspect that she prefers walking Mars to spending time with them. My snout muttered that they may not be barking up the wrong tree.

Yomping over Westminster Bridge, your correspondent was asked by a spotty youth in a fluorescent jacket to cross the road, as a "commercial" was being filmed. Prius-like, I sped on and bumped into the star -- a sheepish Nick Clegg. I can see him sold as political Flora: neither Cameron butter nor Brown margarine.

Mandy fancies himself as king-maker when Brown is dethroned. That may explain an intemperate text to Ed Miliband, advising the jolly green minister against fraternising with Labour lefties.

John Bercow is to introduce a Mr Speaker bottled ale to the gift shop. Old Peculier, perhaps?

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

This article appears in this week's New Statesman.

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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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.