Nigel Farage can blame the 'PC Brigade' for withdrawing the Ukip calypso. Photo: Getty
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How the Ukip calypso drowns out more sinister stories

"Oh, look! Ukip's doing something funny again!" stories only really work to overshadow the party's actual failings.

Ukip has been in the headlines for two stories this week. The first is for its partnership with a Polish MEP from a Holocaust-denying party to save its bloc in the European Parliament from collapsing. The second is a poorly-written, casually racist calypso championing Nigel Farage as the next PM. The song has been withdrawn by the man who wrote it, a Ukip-backing Radio 1 DJ, Mike Read, who apologised earlier today.

A comment on the relation between these two stories from ConservativeHome's Mark Wallace caught my eye:

One tweeter's reply pointed out that the former story works in the party's favour, because it can spin it into a "political correctness gone mad" situation:

Indeed, as reported by the Mail's John Stevens, a party spokesperson commented: "It's a pity those so concerned with political correctness have trodden all over this."

It is the perpetual pitfall of reporting on Ukip's actions. "Oh, look! Ukip's doing something funny again!" is a story that is written again and again as the party and its members, or supporters, do or say something silly. But criticising the party for its gaffes will most likely elicit a "PC Brigade" accusation. Fun, colourful pieces work to overshadow any news that reveals the party's dubious politics – as the unapologetic alliance with a far-right MEP suggests – or lack of policy focus.

What the leader of the Green party, Natalie Bennett – who receives significantly less attention than Farage – said in a recent interview with the Independent highlights this problem:

When I wake up and hear Mr Farage on the Today show yet again, I get angry and, at times, I've considered getting on air and saying something monumentally stupid in the hope of getting some coverage. I have seriously considered that, because Farage and Ukip get so much attention for saying really stupid, racist, way-out-there things.

The saying "no publicity is bad publicity" isn't true. But if dismissing an offensive novelty jingle as a bit of fun is all it takes for Ukip to get away with doing a deal with a party whose leader claims Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”, then we're probably giving it the wrong publicity.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

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 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage