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Commons Confidential: Eric Pickles’s lightbulb moment

Plus how disgraced PR Max Clifford’s furniture found its way into Ukip’s HQ.

Conservatives from David Cameron down demand cuts to translation services to force Juan and Jola Foreigner to learn English. While Eric Pickles has issued an edict ordering England’s councils to bin multilingual leaflets, Iain Duncan Smith snips welfare booklets. So imagine my snout’s surprise on receiving a Tory election leaflet in ten languages, including Polish and Lithuanian, in IDS’s Chingford and Woodford Green backyard. Conservative double standards require no translation.

Sex attacker Max Clifford is in jail – and his furniture is in Ukip’s HQ. The Faragist Purple Shirts shared a billet in the same Mayfair block as the pervert predator until he received an unwelcome invitation to stay at one of Her Majesty’s guest houses. Tables and chairs from the disgraced PR’s lair have found their way into Nigel Farage’s command centre. The irony isn’t lost on Ukippers Neil and Christine Hamilton, who sued Clifford after he endorsed entirely false accusations that they had sexually assaulted one of his kiss-and-tell clients.

After the comrades spent last August on the beach, Labour leave is to be curtailed this summer to repel Cameron’s Blue Shorts and the Purple Shirts. I was reminded of a private moan by Ed Miliband suggesting that he feels his shadow cabinet doesn’t pull its weight: “I don’t mind them taking off August,” Mili observed. “It’s the rest of the year that worries me.”

Pickles must be tossing and turning after cops demanded that Tory Essex switch back on the street lights in bits of Big Eric’s Brentwood manor following a crime wave. The Communities Secretary welcomed the great turn-off for helping him sleep while saving money. My disgruntled informant with the torch snarled that the larger-than-life Tory would be safe waddling to the local Indian takeaway when the lamps shine again.

The Beast of Bolsover is enjoying fun at the expense of Michael Gove’s bottom lip. Dennis Skinner, the Commons heckler-in-chief, observed that the lower rim of the Education Secretary’s mouth glistens with spittle when he becomes overexcited at the despatch box. Labour MPs on the awkward squad bench discuss the wetness in a stage whisper and giggle when the radar-lugged Mickey wipes it dry with the back of his hand.

Farage’s deputy, the MEP Paul Nuttall, has discovered that politics is a tiring business. Excited by the election results, the Ukipper took a sleeping pill to get 40 winks. By his own admission, the first broadcast interview of the day was a groggy blur. Meanwhile Nick Clegg would dearly love to wake from his Lib Dumb nightmare. 

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 28 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The elites vs the people

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.