Commons Confidential: Frodo Baggins joins Ukip

Plus: Waiting for the union bus.

Gone a long way, Kingston and Surbiton’s Ed Davey – all the way to the Millennium Hotel, Mayfair. As the Energy and Climate Change Secretary he has acquired lots of wealthy associates, and so the Liberal Democrat’s constituency fundraiser on 6 June was held at a posh hotel in central London instead of a dreary local restaurant. My snout with the back of an envelope calculated 40 tables at £1,500 a pop must’ve raised £60,000 as heads of the power industry paid homage to the cabinet minister. Nick Clegg cracked a gag about Davey working in a pork pie factory and the porky minister scoffing them ever since, before an auction that included tea with Paddy Ashdown and a copy of the ConDem suicide pact signed by Clogg.

TUC bigwigs are wriggling to get off the General Strike hook after private advice from the lefty lawyer John Hendy, QC that “one out, all out” would be an unlawful action against the ConDem government. To protect union funds from sequestration under draconian laws banning political walkouts, the participating workers would each need to take a day off. “The General Holiday” isn’t a blood-curdling threat likely to vex Cameron.

A telling little right-wing moment outside a TV studio, involving Justine Greening and Nigel Farage. The International Development Secretary introduced herself to the Ukip leader instead of Farage greeting Greening – illustrating how, on the right of politics, it’s Ukip calling the shots over the Tories.

So, the Daily Express political hack Patrick O’Flynn will be standing for Ukip, as this column predicted, at next year’s Euro elections. The likeable if frighteningly Europhobic O’Flynn tortured a Fellowship of the Ring metaphor in his coming-out speech at a Ukip bash in Surrey. Tolkien is not an uncommon obsession on the right-wing fringes, but it appeared lost on Little Britain’s O’Frodo that the Fellowship was a coming together of peoples from diverse backgrounds in Middle-earth.

The servants’ quarters in the ancestral pile of Richard Drax MP – or, to give his full name, Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle- Erle-Drax – offer another insight into the world of Cameron’s toffs. Drax and his wife won an employment tribunal against a lesbian housekeeper. But the number of gossiping Tory MPs who were freely naming Drax in Westminster bars before then, while reporting restrictions were still keeping his name secret from voters, exposed the class war in a party split between the strivers and the inheritors.

Trade union anti-austerity buses will start touring Britain from 17 June to mobilise opposition to spending cuts and lower living standards. Unite is running two buses, with one each scheduled by the TUCs in London, Wales and Scotland. You wait ages for a union bus and then five come along all at once.

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

Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

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.

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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