The Boris and Dave show rolls on

Mayor of London reiterates that he will staunchly oppose serious cuts to the capital.

He may be a headache for David Cameron at times, but we can be sure of one thing: grassroots Tories love Boris. After a worthy but dry address by David Willetts, the atmosphere in the conference hall tangibly changed as Boris took to the stage this morning; photographers crowded around the front stage and the over-excited crowd clapped and shouted out comments (of the "hear hear!" variety). Amid the predictable strike-bashing, light xenophobia (directed at the French), and what the man himself termed "lip-smacking Tory Party Conference style law and order fervour" was a robust argument against cuts to London's infrastructure.

Boris joked about "my friends at the Treasury", putting forward the line that a London fuels the entire economy of the UK. Nearly every place he listed - and it wasn't short - in which jobs have been created by the vast London transport industry was met with rapturous applause. Funnily enough, at a conference where the over-riding theme is "the mess we've been left in" by Labour, justifying the need for brutal cuts ahead of the comprehensive spending review, Boris was met with enthusiastic cheers as he made the case for protecting London. One suspects that the grassroots would applaud him even if he were advocating out-and-out socialism.

Amid the jokes, there was a serious point, and perhaps a warning to Conservative high command -- he repeatedly stressed that there were "tough" arguments ahead. As the leaked letter from Liam Fox last week demonstrated, spending cuts are all well and good in principle, but when it comes to their own remit being affected, the most die-hard Tories appear to think twice. The oft-noted tensions between the Mayor and the Prime Minister will be one to watch -- Boris will not accept cuts without a fight.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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