Commons Confidential: Cameron's comb-over and Ed Miliband's jacket

News from the political grapevine.

Yvette Cooper delivers a nice line in self-deprecating humour, taking politics seriously but not herself. As a consequence, Labour’s shadow home secretary is much in demand as a speaker and she agreed to do the honours at a fundraiser in London for the perky grassroots website LabourList. Happy to make herself the butt of an anecdote, Cooper recounted how, sitting next to a royal protection officer at a monarchical event, she discovered the copper didn’t have a clue who she was. The invisibility, said Cooper, wasn’t a great verdict on her performance. She’s also happy to tell glorious tales at the expense of her insignificant other, Ed Balls. The protection officer, Cooper continued, enquired who else was present from the Labour Party. She pointed out the shadow chancellor. “Ah,” the relieved officer observed, “I wondered what Nick Griffin was doing here.” The physical resemblance must be uncomfortable for Balls, particularly as a snap exists of him as a young man in Nazi uniform during a dressing-up night at Oxford University.

Subsequent to this column disclosing that Ed Miliband has been instructed to keep his jacket on after a focus group found that female voters prefer him formally attired, I gather he’s also adopted a new handshake. MPs had likened physical exchanges of greetings with the Labour leader to grabbing a wet halibut. No longer. A visitor found the wannabe premier has developed a firmer handshake, squeezing tightly any proffered mitt to assert authority. One courtier handily posited this as evidence that Miliband goes from strength to strength.

Over in the Tory camp, the worry is Dave’s disappearing barnet. Despite an increasingly elaborate Cameron comb-over, the expanding white pate is visible from the press gallery. The PM’s cover-up is both strategic and vain. My snout whispered the bald fact is that the Lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby, would find it trickier to portray a visibly ageing Cameron as the future.

The imminent sale and potential closure of that lefty canteen, the Gay Hussar in Soho, may happen before its manager, John Wrobel, busy cooking up a staff buyout, tracks down Michael Foot’s walking stick. Since this column reported that the gaffer yearned to hang on the wall the prop of its best-known patron, a cane purportedly used by Footie was presented by a diner but was rejected by Wrobel, who doubted its provenance. The stick would be useful should regulars mount the barricades to repel property speculators or – far worse – nouvelle cuisine.

Another Tory snout muttered that Boris Johnson has retained a large family home in the Henley constituency he vacated five years ago. I pass this on without further comment as the London Mayor seeks a Commons perch.

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

Image: Montage by Dan Murrell

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 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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