Montage: Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Maggie’s bitter suite endings

Her rooms at the Ritz for hire again.

The unintended consequence of Ed Miliband’s party upheaval may be to turn Labour into a wholly owned subsidiary of Unison. The 450,000 members of the public services union who have ticked boxes allocating their political levy to the party are deemed to comply with new opt-in rules. Given that Unite, GMB, Usdaw and the rest fear they will struggle to persuade trade unionists to enlist in Mili’s New Model Army, Unison’s Dave Prentis could find himself Il Capo dei Capi. Strains over the direction the party and unions are travelling have prompted a red light from Aslef, with the train drivers postponing their required ten-yearly ballot on their political fund. Miliband and Labour aren’t union vote-winners at the moment.

There was grumbling in the Royal British Legion after Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP for Fogey Central, failed to stand a round. The Moggster popped into the Legion club in my home town of South Shields with a Channel 4 crew. He was on Tyneside to discover why people hate the Tories, visiting the constituency that is the only seat in Britain created in the Great Reform Act of 1832 never to have elected a Conservative MP. If he’d rung I could have saved him a trip: not buying the local people a drink set back his cause another century. The Moggster called the bingo – “Cameron’s House, No 10. Burlington Bertie, No 30” – with the aid of a cue card. Is it a job for the Moggster after politics? “Put it this way,” the club secretary replied dourly, “he wouldn’t make a living out of it.”

The suite at the Ritz where Maggie Thatcher died is for hire. One Tory MP, a devotee of the Rusted Lady, considered booking the pad for a pilgrimage but couldn’t bring himself to go, fearing he would be overcome by emotion. Thatcher stayed as a guest of the Barclay brothers, who own the plush hotel and, incidentally, the Daily Torygraph. But busloads of miners tipping up for “Thatcher death parties” are, I imagine, likely to be banned.

The shadow floods minister, beefy Barry Gardiner, was upset to be splashed over the front and four inside pages of the Mail on Sunday, snapped bare-chested in a swimming pool on a junket to Mexico. His discomfort tickled Westminster’s great unwashed. Disapproving colleagues mutter that high-living Gardiner was one of the first MPs to redesignate interns as volunteers to avoid paying them.

Cameron tweeting in Wales that there will be more money available for English flood victims without offering the sodden Welsh an extra penny understandably didn’t go down well west of Offa’s Dyke. It was noted disapprovingly in Cardiff that between Wales and the Somerset Levels the PM had posed with a Tory campaign mug. Dodgy Dave never lets a crisis go to waste. 

The biggest jeers during Theatre Royal Stratford East’s performances of Oh, What a Lovely War! are generated by a photograph of Michael Gove after a line about lions led by donkeys. Braying audiences evidently think the Education Secretary is an ass.

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

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 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

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Seven things we learnt from the Battle for Number 10

Jeremy Corbyn emerged the better as he and Theresa May faced a live studio audience and Jeremy Paxman. 

1. Jeremy Corbyn is a natural performer

The Labour leader put in a bravura performance in both the audience Q&A and in his tussle with Jeremy Paxman. He is often uncomfortable at Prime Minister’s Questions but outside of the Commons chamber he has the confidence of a veteran of countless panels, televised discussions and hustings.

If, like me, you watched him at more hustings in the Labour leadership contests of 2015 and 2016 than you care to count, this performance wasn’t a surprise. Corbyn has been doing this for a long time and it showed.

2. And he’s improving all the time

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t quite perfect in this format, however. He has a temper and is prone to the odd flash of irritation that looks bad on television in particular. None of the four candidates he has faced for the Labour leadership – not Yvette Cooper, not Andy Burnham, not Liz Kendall and not Owen Smith – have managed to get under his skin, but when an interviewer has done so, the results have never been pretty for the Labour leader.

The big fear going into tonight for Corbyn was that his temper would get the better of him. But he remained serene in the fact of Paxman’s attempts to rile him until quite close to the end. By that point, Paxman’s frequent interruptions meant that the studio audience, at least, was firmly on Corbyn’s side.

3. Theresa May was wise to swerve the debates

On Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, this validated Theresa May’s decision not to face him directly. He was fluent and assured, she was nervous and warbly.  It was a misstep even to agree to this event. Anyone who decides their vote as far as TV performances tonight will opt for Jeremy Corbyn, there’s no doubt of that.

But if she does make it back to Downing Street it will, in part, be because in one of the few good moves of her campaign she chose to avoid debating Corbyn directly.

4.…but she found a way to survive

Theresa May’s social care U-Turn and her misfiring campaign mean that the voters don’t love her as they once did. But she found an alternate route through the audience Q&A, smothering the audience with grimly dull answers that mostly bored the dissent out of listeners.

5. Theresa May’s manifesto has damaged her. The only question is how badly

It’s undeniable now that Theresa May’s election campaign has been a failure, but we still don’t know the extent of the failure. It may be that she manages to win a big majority by running against Jeremy Corbyn. She will be powerful as far as votes in the House of Commons but she will never again be seen as the electoral asset she once was at Westminster.

It could be that she ends up with a small majority in which case she may not last very much longer at Downing Street. And it could be that Jeremy Corbyn ends up defeating her on 8 June.

That the audience openly laughed when she talked of costings in her manifesto felt like the creaking of a rope bridge over a perilous ravine. Her path may well hold until 8 June, but you wouldn’t want to be in her shoes yourself and no-one would bet on the Conservative Party risking a repeat of the trip in 2022, no matter what happens in two weeks’ time.

6. Jeremy Paxman had a patchy night but can still pack a punch

If Jeremy Paxman ever does produce a collected Greatest Hits, this performance is unlikely to make the boxset. He tried and failed to rouse Jeremy Corbyn into anger and succeeded only in making the audience side with the Labour leader. So committed was he to cutting across Theresa May that he interrupted her while making a mistake.

He did, however, do a better job of damaging Theresa May than he did Jeremy Corbyn.  But not much better.

7. Theresa May may have opposed Brexit, but now she needs it to save her

It’s not a good sign for the sitting Prime Minister that the audience laughed at many of her statements. She had only one reliable set of applause lines: her commitment to getting the best Brexit deal.

In a supreme irony, the woman who opposed a Leave vote now needs the election to be a referendum re-run if she is to secure the big majority she dreams of. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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