Michael Gove by Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Red Mike runs from his past

Meanwhile the Beeb is under fire for alleged pro-Farage bias in election reporting.  

Wailing is audible in No 10 after Vince Cable limped home from China, the Business Secretary having suffered severe collateral damage in his friend Matthew Oakeshott’s suicide bombing. My Downing Street snout whispered that the Conservative machine was banking on Cable replacing David Cameron’s playmate Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Cable is disliked by Cameron and hated by George Osborne, the Tory pair complaining that the Labour-leaning Vince isn’t a coalition team player. Yet both willed him to get the top job. The Cons calculated that Cable – a former member of the Labour Party, adviser to John Smith and contributor to the 1975 Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Gordon Brown – is the Lib Dem best placed to win back Yellow Peril votes from Labour. The No 10 plot to revive the Lib Dems as a Ukip of the left was another victim of Oakeshott’s secret polling.

 

The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, has, I hear, lost his sense of humour over complaints (1,200 and counting) that Auntie’s coverage of the council and European election results was biased in favour of Nigel Farage. The leader of the Purple Shirts did appear to chalk up the Beeb as a Ukip gain and it was a curious local authority “earthquake” when the party’s share of the vote fell 6 points on the previous May to 17 per cent.

Robbo is an old pro and bridles at accusations that he isn’t objective, especially when lefties resurrect his national chairmanship of the Young Conservatives in Thatcher’s heyday. He took umbrage at a Martin Rowson cartoon in the Guardian of him calling the Ukrainian elections for Ukip despite Farage winning no votes. Rowson was disappointed that the BBC man’s email wasn’t a request to buy the original. 

 

Michael Gove is citing a prior engagement to avoid revisiting the scene of his unruly “Red Mike” union militancy. The Tory Education Secretary is unlikely, I was informed, to attend the 25th-anniversary strike reunion of journalists on Aberdeen’s Press and Journal in October. During the dispute, Red Mike was, as this column has disclosed, bundled into the back of a police van after throwing a traffic cone from a viaduct on to Union Street, the Granite City’s main thoroughfare. Oh, the irony that, in his current incarnation, he lectures teachers on how to behave in classrooms.

 

A visitor to the Victoria Street lair of the business minister Michael Fallon was surprised to see a poster of Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. Fallon is a Thatcherite and the film charted Maggie’s struggle with dementia and the powerlessness of physical frailty. My snout wondered if Fallon had actually seen the film.

 

Congratulations to Joe Dromey, son of Jack and Harriet Harman. Elected a Labour councillor in Lewisham, Dromey Jr went straight into the cabinet. Which is more than his MP dad did.

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 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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.

0800 7318496