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Commons Confidential: BoJo’s Latin lesson

Plus Ed’s “come back, all is forgiven” message to the trade unions for them to help the No campaign in Scotland. 

Ed Miliband is performing a reverse ferret in his Battle for Britain, with 40 Labour MPs in Scotland at stake. He has never forgiven trade unions the favour they did him in persuading members to vote for him for Labour leader, distancing himself from organised labour and marginalising it within the party. So imagine the incredulity when Desperate Ed rang Len McCluskey, Dave Prentis and other union general secretaries to beg for help to defeat Alex Salmond’s separatists. Unite in Scotland remembers Miliband’s office reporting a couple of innocent activists to the cops in the overblown Falkirk parliamentary selection row. Unite is neutral, as is Unison. Word in the two big unions is they might be in the Yes campaign if their Scottish regions called the shots. Ed should have realised he’d need the unions before he stabbed them in the back.

My advice to the Tory candidate for Easington, Chris Hampsheir, is don’t bray on trains. Passengers on a London-to-Glasgow service endured his boasts until he got off at Carlisle. If he’s reading this, I was sitting in front of you. So enjoy your £125-a-head “champagne and unlimited wine” Michael Howard fundraiser, though I doubt it’ll go down well in a deprived corner of County Durham. And next time you’re asked whether canvassing involves drinking cups of tea, don’t answer: “Pints of beer. This is the north. I have to drink them under the table.” Such a tired old stereotype.

Latin-quoting Tory and Old Etonian Buller Boris Johnson has met his match in Labour’s Coventry comp girl Mary Creagh. The party’s shadow transport secretary intended to put her school Latin to good use by urging caveat viator, let the traveller beware, when Boris Island sank under a tsunami of scorn in Howard Davies’s airports report. Alas, a spinner in Labour’s propaganda unit vetoed Creagh’s Latin lark, ruling that plain English was required. It would have been a refreshing change to the double Dutch spouted by many politicians.

Back to Hampsheir, the human foghorn in seat E36. I calculate his estimate of a 3 per cent Tory fall nationally in 2015 would result in a No 10 exit for Dave. Hampsheir doesn’t expect to overturn the Labour MP Grahame Morris’s 14,982 majority. Finishing second is his goal. “The locals want somebody young and energetic,” he declared, “to stir things up before they slumber for the next five years.” Charming.

What would Bob Crow have made of this? To save money on a hotel, the RMT hired a couple of flats for the TUC in Liverpool. The apartment block was called “Posh Pads”.

Finally, hapless Hampsheir’s verdict on the north-east: “They don’t like – properly ‘hate’ – Conservatives.” Especially in Easington. 

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 10 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Britain in meltdown

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The Manchester attack will define this election: Broadcasters have a careful line to tread

It's right that the government should be given a chance to respond, but they must not be allowed to use it to campaign.

Every election campaign has its story, its place in the political history of this country. 2017 will forever be known for Manchester and the horror of the attack on Britain's young; and fighting terrorism will be a theme, overt or underlying, of what we see and hear between now and polling day.

The broadcasters have covered the events comprehensively yet sensitively. But they are aware that we're in an election campaign too; and when other news drives aside the carefully-balanced campaign formats, ministerial appearances give them a dilemma.

The fact is that what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are doing in response to Manchester is newsworthy. It was Theresa May's duty to implement the recommendations of her security advisers on the elevation of the terror alert, and it would have been unthinkable for the news channels not to broadcast her various statements.

But it is also true that, if the bomb hadn't been detonated, Tuesday would have been a day in which the PM would have been under relentless damaging scrutiny for her u-turn on social care. All the opposition parties would have been in full cry across the airwaves. Yet in the tragic circumstances we found ourselves, nobody could argue that Downing Street appearances on the terror attack should prompt equal airtime for everyone from Labour to Plaid Cymru.

There are precedents for ministers needing to step out of their party roles during a campaign, and not be counted against the stopwatch balance of coverage. Irish terrorism was a factor in previous elections and the PM or Northern Ireland secretary were able to speak on behalf of the UK government. It applied to the foot and mouth epidemic that was occupying ministers' time in 2001. Prime ministers have gone to foreign meetings before, too. Mrs Thatcher went to an economic summit in photogenic Venice with her soulmate Ronald Reagan three days before the 1987 election, to the irritation of Neil Kinnock.

There are plenty of critics who will be vigilant about any quest for party advantage in the way that Theresa May and Amber Rudd now make their TV and radio appearances; and it’s inevitable that a party arguing that it offers strength and stability will not object to being judged against these criteria in extreme and distressing times.

So it's necessary for both broadcasters and politicians to be careful, and there are some fine judgements to be made. For instance, it was completely justifiable to interview Amber Rudd about the latest information from Manchester and her annoyance with American intelligence leaks. I was less comfortable with her being asked in the same interview about the Prevent strategy, and with her response that actions would follow "after June", which edges into party territory and would be a legitimate area to seek an opposition response.

When the campaigning resumes, these challenges become even greater. Deciding when the Prime Minister is speaking for the government and nation, or when she is leader of the Conservative Party, will never be black and white. But I would expect to see the broadcast bulletins trying to draw clearer lines about what is a political report and what is the latest from Manchester or from G7. They must also resist any efforts to time ministerial pronouncements with what's convenient for the party strategists' campaign grid.

There might also usefully be more effort to report straight what the parties are saying in the final days, with less spin and tactical analysis from the correspondents. The narrative of this election has been changed by tragedy, and the best response is to let the politicians and the public engage as directly as possible in deciding what direction the nation should now take.

Roger Mosey is the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was formerly editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC.

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