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Commons Confidential: potshots at the Lords

“I am recruiting for this year’s Lords v Commons full-bore rifle competition,” the 12th Baron Lucas emailed peers…

Arnie Graf, the man Ed Miliband asked to rebuild Labour, was kept waiting for an hour for a scheduled meeting before party election mastermind Spencer Livermore deigned to see him. Rudeness is a political weapon and a snout, cringing at the discourtesy, contrasted Old Ed with New Ed. Old Ed hired Graf, a mentor to Barack Obama when the future US president was a community organiser in Chicago, to revive the grass roots. New Ed’s latest best friend from America is David Axelrod, as Miliband’s team grabs power at the centre. Graf has been around the block a few times but he is, I’m assured, frustrated by the paranoia and politicking at the top of the Labour Party.

 

“I am recruiting for this year’s Lords v Commons full-bore rifle competition,” the 12th Baron Lucas emailed peers. “If you, or anyone you know who is connected with the Lords, a total novice or an experienced shot, would like to participate, please put them in touch with me.” There’s nothing like an Old Etonian hereditary to remind us that the House of Lords hasn’t changed that much.

 

David Cameron’s increasingly dictatorial style is irking Tory backbenchers. One MP recounted how the whips had vowed to make his life a misery and blame the poor chap personally if the party loses next year’s election. “We believe in one man, one vote democracy in the Conservative Party,” he grumbled, “and David Cameron is the man with that vote.”

 

The arts minister Ed “Hazy” Vaizey listed the pictures in the British embassy in Tehran when it was ransacked by rioters in 2011. Among the portraits of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V was a picture of the deposed shah of Iran. Talk about a red rag to an Iranian mob.

 

Belated word reaches me of a London fundraiser for frontbencher Lisa Nandy’s Wigan constituency. Miliband’s policy guru Jon Cruddas was the guest speaker. Surveying the crowd drawn from the party’s left and right, he joked: “Here we are, in a room full of Progress people and Compass people. What others don’t understand is we are united by one thing: we all hate the Brownites.” Shadow cabinet meetings would be enlivened if the roguish Cruddas were placed between Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

 

Stop press: Ed Miliband might have avoided his Sun scorching if he had been better informed, reading newspapers instead of posing with a promo copy. For a man who claims to eschew public
prints, he has earned quite a reputation for griping to editors about journalists penning disobliging articles. I can’t help but wonder if the complaints are undermined by his not reading the papers he complains about.

Kevin Maguire is 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 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.