Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How many of Clegg's coalition negotiating team will keep their seats?

Danny Alexander and Lynne Featherstone are both vulnerable to Labour challenges.

So confident is Nick Clegg that the next election will result in another hung parliament that he's already announced the Lib Dems' coalition negotiating team. The right-leaning Danny Alexander and David Laws, the party's manifesto co-ordinator, survive from 2010 (Chris Huhne and Andrew Stunell do not) and are joined by the left-leaning pensions minister Steve Webb, international development minister Lynne Featherstone and peer Lady Brinton. Like others, as I've argued before, Clegg is underestimating the chance of a Labour majority in 2015 (although his emphasis on a future coalition is a logical means of keeping the Lib Dems in the conversation) But even if we assume there will be another "balanced parliament" (as the Lib Dems like to call it), it's worth posing this question: how many of his negotiating team will keep their seats?

Laws (majority: 13,036) and Webb (majority: 7,116), who hold Tory-facing seats, look safe. But Alexander and Featherstone, who face challenges from Labour, are rightly regarded as vulnerable in Westminster. 

Alexander's Scottish constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is being targeted by Labour activists and trade unionists, who believe they can unseat the man who even his own colleagues lament has gone "native" in George Osborne's Treasury ("rather than meeting Danny we just ask for the Treasury 'lines' - it's quicker," one Lib Dem adviser told me recently). The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has a majority of 8,765 but given the huge swing against the Lib Dems north of the border, that is no longer large enough to guarantee survival. With a majority of 6,875, Featherstone, who won Hornsey and Wood Green in 2005 on a wave of anger over the Iraq war and top-up fees, is in even greater danger. 

Clegg's decision to announce his coalition negotiating team (the Tories and Labour will undoubtedly make their own prepartions, but don't expect them to share them with us) isn't just a bet on another hung parliament; it's a bet that Lib Dems' strategy of "57 by-elections" will ensure the likes of Alexander and Featherstone keep their seats. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.