Commons Confidential: Dave’s sausage offensive

Kevin Maguire's weekly column.

Our posh-boy premier let slip that he counts the number of Old Etonians in the Commons Press Gallery. The quota is down one since the Times’s political editor Roland Watson, a contemporary of Dave’s, shuffled off to become foreign editor. Call Me Dave greeted Watson’s successor, Francis Elliott – who co-wrote a very readable biography of the Tory toff – with a telling: “Ah, that’s one less Etonian in Westminster.” The PM must hope the public doesn’t vote for one fewer in No 10.

The latest edition of Kingston and Surbiton Voice, the Lib Dem constituency rag of the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, includes three photographs of a man called Derek Osbourne. Two are next to Davey’s Westminster View column; the third, taken outside a school, is below a snap of Davey with Nick Clegg. Osbourne resigned in mid-June as Lib Dem leader of Kingston Council after his arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. Deadlines are a nightmare, as this journalist knows, but the Kingston Lib Dumbs miscalculated by gambling nobody would notice rather than pulping the paper.

Ed Miliband’s zillionaire supporter Andrew Rosenfeld, a property tycoon worth an estimated £100m, is a sponsor with his union friends of the “People Unite” anti-austerity bus tours. Rosenfeld –who, since he abandoned the Tory cause, gets under Cameron’s skin – intended to travel on one of the buses. I trust Rosenfeld instructed his chauffeur to drop him off around the corner so he could walk to the start.

 A Tory snout  whispers that Con MPs are thin on the ground at Cameron’s backbencher barbecues. Downing Street invitations aren’t the draw they once were as Dave works his way down the rota. “Cameron’s outreach programme will fail,” giggled the congenital rebel, “if he can’t serve us a grilled sausage.”

Lord Mandy adding his tuppenceworth to Labour’s Falkirk selection shenanigans was further evidence the ignoble lord never forgives those who do him a favour, particularly the trade unions that fixed Hartlepool for a then Peter Mandelson.

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

Editor's note: This article was amended at 17:00 on 9 July, 2013. 

Apparently Conservative MPs are thin on the ground at Dave's backbencher barbecues. 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 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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