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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.