Nick Clegg and David Cameron in Number 10. Photo: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Dave and his worst best friend

Nick Clegg caught on mic, Twitter blocking and some squeaky bums.

Squeaky bum time for staffers at the Conservative campaign headquarters. The word is that a cell of David Cameron’s stormtroopers has been speculating which prominent Labour figures could be implicated in allegations of historic child abuse. I hear that an email list has been compiled, should a dirty trick be needed. But electronic messages are dangerous. The compilation of supposed paedophiles was, mutters a snout, inadvertently copied to a Daily Telegraph reporter. Cue panic at CCHQ. This email would make Damian McBride’s notorious memos seem like fraternal greetings.

Caught on microphone on a joint visit to Nottingham in 2011, Nick Clegg’s whisper to David Cameron: “If we keep doing this, we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on in the bloody TV debate.”

Cameron’s response has been to block the possibility of confrontation, yet the worst best friends, Dave and Nick, are ready, I hear, to renew their vows on 8 May to keep Ed Miliband out of No 10 – on new terms. A plugged-in Tory told me that his party is discussing a cut in Lib Dem cabinet seats, with one axed for every dozen MPs lost.

No Labour MP parades his proletarian credentials like John Mann does. The Bassetlaw Bruiser, head of White Van Labour, is an unashamed class warrior. So imagine the surprise when a snout revealed that this horny-handed crusader was privately educated. Mann went to Bradford Grammar, a 467-year-old independent school. His scholarship must lessen the blushes.

While in opposition, Eric Pickles’s spad Sheridan Westlake showered the Department for Communities with Freedom of Information requests, hoping to expose perks and high salaries. Newly released figures show that the coiffed Woody Woodpecker of Whitehall enjoyed a 6.97 per cent raise to £69,000 last year: more than three times the 2.2 per cent of local government workers. Westlake’s parsimony with taxpayers’ cash, it seems, doesn’t extend to his salary.

Still furious with Ed Miliband for involving the police in the Falkirk selection farrago, Unite in Scotland is embarking on a policy journey that might result in the union backing SNP candidates. The crunch will be postponed until after the May general election. Backing rivals triggers expulsion under Labour’s constitution. Miliband’s legacy could yet be the end of the party.

The touchy Tory Lucy Allan is standing for parliament in Telford. The Labour councillor Clive Elliott says she has blocked local Labourites on Twitter. Allan is bankrolled by the shadowy United and Cecil dining club. Who wants debates when you’ve got a fortune to spend? Not Cameron or his candidates. 

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 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.