Nigel Farage by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Nigel Farage’s World Cup jitters

Plus how the Labour Leader’s team try to avoid him being portrayed as “Weird Ed”.

One of the tasks of people working for Ed Miliband is spotting potential photos that could be twisted to portray him as Weird Ed. If the Labour leader was, say, at a Dickens literary festival, it would be the responsibility of an aide to ensure that his head didn’t block out the “-ens” in pictures. So imagine the dilemma observed by my snout when Mili was invited by his equalities spokeswoman, Sharon Hodgson, to shoot a few hoops in a game of wheelchair basketball on a makeshift court in the shadow of Big Ben. Ed Balls was only too happy to play but Mili’s point guard, Anna Yearley, declined on her master’s behalf after Hodgson spotted the pair strolling by. Fearing a future dig from Private Eye, perhaps mocking Mili for sitting down on the job, Operation Cotton Wool takes no risks with the porcelain figurine.

The self-styled patriot Nigel Farage is a fan of rugger and cricket rather than the round ball game, as his private school ilk are prone to dismiss association football. Yet he may be suffering palpitations over the chances of England meeting Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup in Brazil. It is unlikely, but an England-Germany clash is enough to bring Ukip’s anti-migrant John Bull out in a cold sweat. Farage’s German wife, Kirsten, has in the past draped the black, red and gold tricolour of her native country over the fence of the family home when the two nations played. Tory right-wingers snigger that Farage wouldn’t want his household to fail Norman Tebbit’s cricket test.

I hear that the Lib Dem minister Tom Brake, the deputy leader of the Commons, informed the Association of Professional Political Consultants that he is minded to require lawyers to enrol on the fledgling register of lobbyists. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Nick Clegg pops home to inform Miriam González Durántez, the head of the EU wing of the international corporate law firm Dechert and also Mrs Clegg, that she must sign up. Will there be a special section for pillow talk?

The Labour frontbencher Stephen Pound has turned Ealing North into a safe seat and bucked the trend in 2010 by winning more than half the votes cast with one of the few swings to Labour. Yet he wondered aloud if somebody thought he’d overstayed his welcome when he received an invitation to purchase copies of Who Was Who. Sound-as-a-Pound informed the publisher that he intends to stand again. 

The word is that Kevin Barron, the chair of the Low Standards Committee, harbours ambitions to succeed Malcolm Rifkind at the No Intelligence Committee after the election. I suppose that their interests – sleazebags and spooks – have criminality in common.

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 08 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, India's worst nightmare?

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.