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Commons Confidential: Bringing on the clowns in Uxbridge

Plus, why the sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin “Haddock” Mitchell. 

David Cameron’s incarcerated mouthpiece Andy Coulson continues to endure appalling indignities in prison. I hear he was visited by TV’s Piers Morgan. The guards watching on CCTV as Morgan arrived and departed Belmarsh may have been a larger audience than Morgan enjoyed with his axed CNN talk show. There’s something touching about the two former editors of the News of the World communing away from the Ivy. Morgan broadcasts almost every aspect of his life on Twitter but curiously found no time to record his time in jail with a hacked-off old pal. Perhaps it was too close to home. The Prime Minister has yet to visit the spin doctor, who stayed with him at Chequers. Mystic Dave predicted huge success for Coulson after he skulked out of No 10 in 2011 but presumably is too busy.

 

The sisterhood is cold-shouldering Austin Mitchell after he used the pages of a socialist feminist rag, the Daily Mail, to suggest that women MPs aren’t interested in “big ideas”. Mitchell, whose high point in parliament was to change his name to Austin Haddock to promote fishing, is said to be not very interested in big constituency parties. Labour membership in Great Grimsby has dwindled to fewer than 200 during his tenure. The priority of his successor, the Unison organiser Melanie Onn, is to revive a local base neglected by Mitchell. I wonder if he’d have been so outspoken if his favoured female candidate had been selected.

 

Self-styled Old Testament prophet Bob Marshall-Andrews upset locals in Pembrokeshire by flying the Palestinian flag during the slaughter in Gaza. The lachrymose one-time Labour MP, who cried on TV on election night in 2001 when he thought – wrongly, as it turned out – that he’d lost his north Kent seat, showed solidarity with the suffering masses by nailing their colours to his mast outside his turf-covered “Teletubby” holiday home on the Welsh coast. The council rejected a complaint, replying that Marshall-Andrews was entitled to fly a flag. The struggle takes, as they say, many forms.

 

Alan Johnson, man of letters, is Labour chic. On the literary circuit, the former postie draws good crowds in towns and cities to hear his council-home-to-home-secretary story. My snout observed that fans waving a pen and a copy of the first instalment of Johnson’s autobiography for him to sign are advised to put their Biros away. He likes to inscribe his name with his own fountain pen. That’s surely a touch of Old Labour.

 

A group of lefties of my acquaintance are toying with running a “real clown” against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. In the election circus, for once, BoJo the baby machine might not be the only candidate unable to keep up his trousers. 

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 03 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The summer of blood

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Why is Labour surging in Wales?

A new poll suggests Labour will not be going gently into that good night. 

Well where did that come from? The first two Welsh opinion polls of the general election campaign had given the Conservatives all-time high levels of support, and suggested that they were on course for an historic breakthrough in Wales. For Labour, in its strongest of all heartlands where it has won every general election from 1922 onwards, this year had looked like a desperate rear-guard action to defend as much of what they held as possible.

But today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll has shaken things up a bit. It shows Labour support up nine percentage points in a fortnight, to 44 percent. The Conservatives are down seven points, to 34 per cent. Having been apparently on course for major losses, the new poll suggests that Labour may even be able to make ground in Wales: on a uniform swing these figures would project Labour to regain the Gower seat they narrowly lost two years ago.

There has been a clear trend towards Labour in the Britain-wide polls in recent days, while the upwards spike in Conservative support at the start of the campaign has also eroded. Nonetheless, the turnaround in fortunes in Wales appears particularly dramatic. After we had begun to consider the prospect of a genuinely historic election, this latest reading of the public mood suggests something much more in line with the last century of Welsh electoral politics.

What has happened to change things so dramatically? One possibility is always that this is simply an outlier – the "rogue poll" that basic sampling theory suggests will happen every now and then. As us psephologists are often required to say, "it’s just one poll". It may also be, as has been suggested by former party pollster James Morris, that Labour gains across Britain are more apparent than real: a function of a rise in the propensity of Labour supporters to respond to polls.

But if we assume that the direction of change shown by this poll is correct, even if the exact magnitude may not be, what might lie behind this resurgence in Labour’s fortunes in Wales?

One factor may simply be Rhodri Morgan. Sampling for the poll started on Thursday last week – less than a day after the announcement of the death of the much-loved former First Minister. Much of Welsh media coverage of politics in the days since has, understandably, focused on sympathetic accounts of Mr Morgan’s record and legacy. It would hardly be surprising if that had had some positive impact on the poll ratings of Rhodri Morgan’s party – which, we should note, are up significantly in this new poll not only for the general election but also in voting intentions for the Welsh Assembly. If this has played a role, such a sympathy factor is likely to be short-lived: by polling day, people’s minds will probably have refocussed on the electoral choice ahead of them.

But it could also be that Labour’s campaign in Wales is working. While Labour have been making modest ground across Britain, in Wales there has been a determined effort by the party to run a separate campaign from that of the UK-wide party, under the "Welsh Labour" brand that carried them to victory in last year’s devolved election and this year’s local council contests. Today saw the launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto. Unlike two years ago, when the party’s Welsh manifesto was only a modestly Welshed-up version of the UK-wide document, the 2017 Welsh Labour manifesto is a completely separate document. At the launch, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who, despite not being a candidate in this election is fronting the Welsh Labour campaign – did not even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Carwyn Jones also represented Labour at last week’s ITV-Wales debate – in contrast to 2015, when Labour’s spokesperson was then Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. Jones gave an effective performance, being probably the best performer alongside Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. In fact, Wood was also a participant in the peculiar, May-less and Corbyn-less, ITV debate in Manchester last Thursday, where she again performed capably. But her party have as yet been wholly unable to turn this public platform into support. The new Welsh poll shows Plaid Cymru down to merely nine percent. Nor are there any signs yet that the election campaign is helping the Liberal Democrats - their six percent support in the new Welsh poll puts them, almost unbelievably, at an even lower level than they secured in the disastrous election of two year ago.

This is only one poll. And the more general narrowing of the polls across Britain will likely lead to further intensification, by the Conservatives and their supporters in the press, of the idea of the election as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Ministers. Even in Wales, this contrast does not play well for Labour. But parties do not dominate the politics of a nation for nearly a century, as Labour has done in Wales, just by accident. Under a strong Conservative challenge they certainly are, but Welsh Labour is not about to go gently into that good night.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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