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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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