Maybe he's borne with it? Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Osborne's powder

A bunny costume, "The Red Flag" and made-up politics.

The launch of the election campaign was, on the whole, underwhelming. Nick Clegg released answers before he’d been asked a single question at his press conference. The BBC’s Norman Smith was hissed at and called a “pillock” by Labour activists. And Ed Miliband appealed in vain for questions from ITV and Sky, neither broadcaster considering his Salford event sufficiently inviting to despatch correspondents.

George Osborne appeared to be wearing more make-up than Theresa May or Nicky Morgan at the Tory event. The powder saved the Chancellor from a red face as sceptical hacks shredded a Conservative report accusing Labour of £21bn of unfunded spending commitments.

To Stroud in Gloucestershire and a Labour lunch, which closed with the party’s leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Janet Royall, leading a rendition of “The Red Flag”. The prospect of Labour’s David Drew winning back the marginal seat he lost by 1,299 votes to the Tory landowner Neil Carmichael are enhanced by a storm in a pint pot. Calamity Carmichael “did a Clegg”: posing for a photo with a “Save our pubs” sign, then voting in parliament against protecting tenant landlords. The MP was banned from the Prince Albert on Rodborough Hill, where the licensee has clipped to a beer pump a picture of Carmichael with a Pinocchio nose.

Eric Pickles’s special adviser Zoe Thorogood’s CV boasted that she had worked for the breakfast telly show GMTV when she left the PR outfit Luther Pendragon to spin for the Communities Secretary. One of her ex-colleagues let slip that Thorogood also toiled on L!VE TV, an ill-starred station run by the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. The Whitehall aide, I hear, dressed as the “News Bunny”, a giant rabbit miming behind presenters. It could have been worse – L!VE TV showed Topless Darts.

The minutiae of NHS regulations will never be boring for Andy Burnham. A snout recalled Labour’s health spokesman working on Tank World and Container Management before swapping the noble calling of journalism for the grubby business of politics. I’ll remind him of that should Burnham ever become transport secretary.

Either Conservative candidates are stupid or the party is treating them like fools. Campaign packs contain instructions on how to pose for photographs, including a shot of Robert Jenrick, the Newark by-election victor, sitting up straight for those too daft to work it out.

Terrified of Ukip, David Cameron has upped the Tory anti-migrant rhetoric. Thankfully, it didn’t extend to the charming eastern European ladies collecting coats for the Conservative Party on the 29th floor of Millbank Tower. 

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 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.