Salmond and the Sun. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: The Sun sets on Salmond

Plus: Why is Keith Vaz all starry-eyed?

The talk in Scotland’s Yes and No camps is of the Sun setting on Alex Salmond. The word inside News UK is that Rupert Murdoch would love the paper’s Glasgow edition to back independence but in London the Sun’s editor, David Dinsmore, calculates that destroying the UK would be commercially disastrous for his Union Jack-waving tabloid. The snout predicted that Dinsmore, a Tory and product of Strathallan, a pricey Perthshire school, will hold the line in September.

The Scottish Sun backed the SNP’s 2011 Holyrood landslide and the starry-eyed Murdoch once tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in the UK.” Perhaps Murdoch would see Scotland divorcing the rest of Britain as revenge on David Cameron for all the arrests, Leveson and Rebekah Brooks’s trial. Wappingologists will note the loosening of the Sun King’s grip on his second-favourite red top.

Also starry-eyed is Keith Vaz. I hear he is hopeful of securing a part in a Bollywood take on the Bond franchise if it is shot in Westminster. The name’s Vaz, Keith Vaz. The poor man’s Daniel Craig is a busy man. He took time out from holding to account alleged dodgy coppers and pervert politicians to complain to the administration committee that strawberries and cream aren’t served on the terrace.

Ed Miliband is anxious to rebuild bridges with Dennis Skinner after a whipping operation backfired and the Beast of Bolsover was inadvertently voted off Labour’s governing National Executive Committee.

The intended target was the Scouse brickie Steve Rotheram, who had criticised Mili over that Sun photo, but it all went bacon sandwich and Skinner became collateral damage. Mili’s insistence that there was no whipping operation is undermined by the figures. The turnout in the NEC election was unprecedented, with 250 of 257 Labour MPs voting. A few hours later 22 fewer Labour MPs voted against George Osborne’s Budget on the Finance Bill’s third reading.

The source on this is well placed: a prominent MP was called by his local newspaper and asked what he thought about a beauty spot’s growing reputation as a “dogging hot spot”. “Marvellous,” he told the hack. “I’m delighted so many people are enjoying the area.” The reporter spared the MP’s blushes and, sadly, allowed him to change his quote after the unworldly fiftysomething politician was informed the practice involved group sex and voyeurism, rather than people walking their pets.

I’m informed that Nick Clegg believes the ex-Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock, who confessed to “degrading” a vulnerable constituent with mental health issues, deserves to be stripped of a CBE, awarded after he chaired the NSPCC’s southern region.

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 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the red-top era?

Photo: Getty
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The future of the Left is London

Far from debating it and arid pamphlets, local politicians in City Hall and across the country are bringing change today, says Fiona Twycross. 

Broadly, London is viewed as a left-wing city. This is an assumption backed up by polling. That same city, however, has twice voted in Boris Johnson defying tribalism and defining a new order in which politicians will be defined less by the colour of their rosette and more by their pragmatism and how they make you feel about the world.

With the concepts of left and right as inaccessible and irrelevant as ever to most members of the public, the future of political ideas will be understood and judged by voters less by their ideological purity and more by their actions and effectiveness. On a recent canvass session on a housing estate in Outer London, it was a change to the bus route not Trident the people I spoke to wanted to discuss.

The future of the left – and of the Labour Party – isn’t something that will be shaped in the future. The future of the left is being shaped now. It is being shaped wherever those of us who define ourselves as left of centre are using whatever power we have to directly or indirectly effect change. In Labour run town halls, in Select Committees, through carefully worded press releases – however, we can. Limited by the budgets and rules laid out by central government – with the Tories in Westminster, politics is a game in which the dice are loaded against the left but in which we can sometimes win a round.

At the London Assembly, we have played a part in shaping the direction. We have won the occasional round. London Assembly Members have proven that shaping the debate is not only reserved for those who wield power. The banning of water cannon, the promotion of universal free school meals, the Government’s climb-down over devastating cuts to the police budget and not least exposing the Mayor’s vast record of vanity projects. As the largest party in City Hall, Labour has achieved sometimes small but often fundamental victories against Boris Johnson. Victories that have allowed the public to better understand the alternative we could provide as politicians who stand with their communities and protect the services they rely upon.

City Hall offers a challenging yet pragmatic forum to shape policies. With just 25 members in total, and no party having a majority, you really have to be able to work together to get anything done. The electoral make-up of the Assembly, including groups from minority parties as well as the two main parties requires a much higher degree of pragmatism, collaboration and in the end compromise than Parliament. As a result, policy - particularly that coming out of City Hall’s scrutiny committees - often commands cross-party support and a certain degree of legitimacy that political point scoring rarely achieves.

However, while we can change things round the edges; highlight injustices and propose alternatives that may sometimes be adopted, we must never lose sight of the fact that you can do immeasurably more if you are in power. Winning power to enact positive change, should be the guiding aim of any centre left politician.

With the next general election still likely to be more than four years off, the first major electoral challenge since 2015 comes in the shape of this May’s elections in local councils across the country, in devolved countries and in London.

The upcoming Mayoral election means throwing off the abstract and painting an image for Londoners of what a left wing alternative in London would look like. That picture will resonate far beyond London - the future of the left really is being shaped today.

That is exactly what we are doing and what Sadiq Khan is offering. Standing up for hard pressed Londoners who are increasingly forced into poverty or priced out of the capital altogether.

From building affordable homes to tackling London’s air quality. From freezing fares to protecting neighbourhood policing. All of these are policies with mass appeal but at the same time, all are ones which disproportionately benefit the least well off in our society. The left, if anything has to stand for a fairness.

But voters don't want just abstract vision, they want tangible change. Sadiq Khan is putting forward ambitious, progressive policies for London, but to implement them as Mayor, with the Conservatives in power nationally, he will have to not just argue with government but make the arguments for London to get the best deal he can. 

With high levels of child poverty in Conservative run boroughs like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, he knows he can’t afford only to be able to work with Labour boroughs if he wants all young Londoners to have better life chances. What matters isn’t just what works it is working with all those you need to build and deliver change.

From City bankers to environmentalists, a Labour Mayor will need a range of allies. In charting his own course, having his own voice and putting London and Londoners at the heart of his policies. What works for London won't necessarily work everywhere, that will mean a necessary element of independence, that's not disloyal, its the job. 

Whether in London or beyond, the left needs a message relevant to people like those I met on that housing estate in outer London. Authenticity and independence matter. In a world where tribal politics has broken down ensuring you don’t look like you put your party before the people you represent matters. But you can do this and still stay true to your values.

Our opponents like to paint a horror story image of what the country would look like under Labour. A win in London offers the chance to dispel that myth and will show the success to be had with a Labour politician who is willing to govern in the interests of the majority rather than just the few.

A win in London will show the progressive left has a future, here and now. A future that delivers.