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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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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.