Nigel Farage speaks at UKIP's Spring Conference in Torquay earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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UKIP tries to remove journalists from fringe meeting on sharia law

"How can you be both a Muslim and an English man?" asks activist at meeting the party tried to keep reporters out of.

UKIP has long prided itself on its commitment to "free speech" and open debate, but it seems the party isn't prepared to practice what it preaches. There was outrage among journalists at the party's Spring Conference today when officials attempted to remove them from a fringe meeting on sharia law. The Telegraph's Christopher Hope tweeted: "Ukip security has tried to remove the @Telegraph from a fringe meeting on Sharia law. I have refused to move. Outragous." Those journalists who had taken their seats were eventually told that they could stay ("if you behave") but others were reportedly turned away at the door. 

It doesn't require much imagination to guess why UKIP wanted to keep journalists out of the fringe meeting. A session on sharia law could well expose views of the kind that Nigel Farage insists are not tolerated, or even not present, in his party. Indeed, the first question was "How can you be both a Muslim and an English man?" 

Farage declared in his speech today: "We’ve had one or two bad people - we’ve got rid of them." But his officials' anxiousness suggests plenty of rotten apples remain. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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