Commons Confidential: Who’s laughing now?

Plus: Bad news for Ivan Lewis.

Photographs of a giggling David Cameron and George Osborne are Ed Miliband’s secret weapon. The shots of the Laurel and Hardy of the Con-Dem coalition laughing their heads off in the House of Commons trigger the strongest anti-Tory reaction when Labour hands round the snaps in focus groups. Government is viewed as a serious business and the photos reinforce the image of Dave the Dandy and Boy George as a couple of out-of-touch Bullingdon toffs. Labour is discussing how to exploit this. Deckchair Dave’s rave in Ibiza post-Woolwich will have heightened the PM’s vulnerability to suggestions that he’s more interested in spare time than in work time.

Tory chatter is growing that Cameron may recycle Andrew Mitchell. The former chief whip, forced to resign after an altercation with a Downing Street police officer, has retained his old office on a cabinet corridor behind the Speaker’s Chair. The failure to eject Mitchell is viewed as evidence that Cameron has a guilty conscience and might give him a job, should he be absolved of Plebgate.

Bad news for Ivan Lewis: Lembit Öpik was mistaken for the shadow international development secretary. I overheard a Labour MP’s former researcher say, “Oh, there’s Ivan Lewis,” in the Strangers’ Bar. Alas, it was a false spotting. Your correspondent looked up to see the Libido Democrat, not the Labourite, barging through the door. There is an uncanny physical resemblance, but if the pair were separated at birth they’ve gone different ways. Öpik the Cheeky Boy is an attention-grabber, while Lewis just gets on with the job.

To Cardiff Bay for a Welsh Assembly seminar on the “democratic deficit”, otherwise known as a whinge about the media. Assembly members feel neglected, especially by British national papers. They’re wrong if they believe extra column inches automatically lead to voters in polling booths. Turnout in the 2011 assembly elections, at 42 per cent, was higher than the 38 per cent for the exhaustively covered Ken v Boris battle for London. The turnout among 60 AMs, by the way, was 1.67 per cent, with only the Tory David Melding, the deputy presiding officer, attending the morning bout.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow Treasury minister, wins an award for being Labour’s best networker. Hers was the first handwritten note of congratulations received by a wannabe Labour MEP. Good manners and clever politics, should Reeves ever wish to run for the party leadership.

Male snappers in need of equality education shouted, “Squeeze up, girls,” when Harriet Harman posed for a photograph with Labour women outside the Commons. The thin smile on Sister Harriet’s face said she’d heard it all before but wasn’t going to bite.

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.

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians

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Why it's far too early to declare Ukip dead

The party could yet thrive if Brexit disappoints those who voted Leave.

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won," wrote the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo. Ukip can testify to this. Since achieving its founding aim - a British vote to leave the EU - the party has descended into a rolling crisis.

Theresa May's vow to pursue Brexit, and to achieve control of immigration, robbed Ukip of its political distinctiveness. But the party's greatest enemy has been itself. Its leader Paul Nuttall did not merely lose the Stoke by-election (despite the city recording the highest Leave vote), he self-destructed in the process. Contrary to his assertions, Nuttall did not achieve a PhD, was never a professional footballer and did not lose "close personal friends" at Hillsborough. Ukip's deputy Peter Whittle pleaded last weekend that voters needed more time to get to know Nuttall. No, the problem was that they got to know him all too well. A mere three months after becoming leader, Nuttall has endured a level of mockery from which far stronger men would struggle to recover (and he may soon be relieved of the task).

Since then, Ukip's millionaire sugar daddy Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party unless he is made chairman and Nigel Farage is awarded a new role (seemingly that of de facto leader). For good measure, Farage (a man who has failed seven times to enter parliament) has demanded that Ukip's only MP Douglas Carswell is expelled for the crime of failing to aid his knighthood bid. Not wanting to be outdone, Banks has vowed to stand against Carswell at the next election if the dissenter is not purged. Any suggestion that the party's bloodlust was sated by the flooring of Steve Woolfe and Diane James's 18-day leadership has been entirely dispelled.

For all this, it is too early to pronounce Ukip's death (as many have). Despite May's ascension and its myriad woes, it has maintained an average poll rating of 12 per cent this year. This is far from its 2014 zenith, when it polled as high as 25 per cent, but also far from irrelevancy. Incapable of winning Labour seats itself, Ukip could yet gift them to the Conservatives by attracting anti-Tory, anti-Corbyn voters (in marginals, the margins matter).

Though Theresa May appears invulnerable, Brexit could provide fertile political territory for Ukip. Those who voted Leave in the hope of a radical reduction in immigration will likely be dismayed if only a moderate fall results. Cabinet ministers who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce immigration have already been forced to concede that newcomers will be required to fill vacancies for years to come. Ukip will be the natural vehicle for those aggrieved by Brexit "betrayal". Some Leave voters are already dismayed by the slowness of the process (questioning why withdrawal wasn't triggered immediately) and will revolt at the "transitional period" and budget contributions now regarded as inevitable.

The declarations of Ukip's death by both conservatives and liberals have all the hallmarks of wishful thinking. Even if the party collapses in its present form, something comparable to it would emerge. Indeed, the complacency of its opponents could provide the very conditions it needs to thrive.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.