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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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