Image: Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

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

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.