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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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.