Commons Confidential: The incredible shrinking Tories

Plus: Chris “the Jackal” Grayling's party piece.

Chris “the Jackal” Grayling drinks less fizzy water at receptions than it may first appear to the casual observer or lurking photographer hoping to picture the shaven-headed Injustice Secretary enjoying the high life. At the Tory jamboree in Manchester, a snout let me in on the cabinet minister’s secret party piece. The Jackal, whispered the eagle-eyed informant, swiftly pours champagne into a tumbler so that it looks as if he’s sipping abstemiously from a glass of eau de tap, when a quick taste would reveal Pol Roger. Grayling poses in a hairshirt, but the Jackal is, in that old northern phrase, all fur coat and no knickers.

It’s often the little things that tell a big story. Relations between Ed Miliband and Unite remain in deep freeze. The union, I gather, sent a letter of complaint to Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, after an apparent discourtesy at Labour’s jamboree. A party apparatchik summoned Miliband and his deputy, Harriet Harman, from the stage when Len McCluskey, Unite’s leader, was called to speak. If the disappearance was intended to prevent Red Ed and Hattie Harperson being linked or snapped with Red Len, I reckon it was a bit late. I’ve heard that the Tories clocked the Labourunion link a while back.

The unreconstructed Beast of Bolsover – the Labour MP and ex-miner Dennis Skinner – was awarded an immaculate “red rating” of 100 in a tatty pack of “Top Trumped by the Unions” cards produced by the Tories. He’ll no doubt wear his score as a badge of honour, as might Ben Bradshaw, who was judged the least left on Miliband’s benches, with a pale-pink rating of 29. The most damning so-called red fact that the desperate Cons could disinter about the Exeter MP was that Armando Iannucci once claimed that @BenPBradshaw’s tweets were “very dull”.

Cameron’s spin doctor Craig Oliver informed me that he isn’t a member of the Tory party. If Cameron can’t persuade his Downing Street mouthpiece to sign up, it’s little wonder that the Tories are Britain’s fastest-shrinking political party, with membership close to half the 253,000 that Dave inherited in 2005. In the unlikely event that the Cons affiliated to the TUC, the right-whingers would be only the ninthlargest trade union.

The matchbox-sizedCommons Speaker, John Bercow, must feel secure in his job, because he’s started to crack jokes about his lack of height. “Three previous speakers were shorter than me,” Bercow told a gathering in his tied apartment. “Or at least they were when beheaded.”

Labour’s Scottish contingent inWestminster has taken to referring to the SNP regime in Edinburgh as the “fish government”: it is run by (say this next bit out loud) Salmond and Sturgeon.

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

Chris “the Jackal” Grayling making his speech at the 2013 Conservative Party conference. Photo: Getty

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 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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