Miriam González Durántez and her politician husband make crumble at a West Country school. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Firth blunders forth, Balls' food foibles - and Farage to quit smoking?

Plus: Douglas Alexander burning the candle at both ends?

Twickenham’s Karl Marx, Vince Cable, has been trudging the streets of suburban London with a yellow backpack. The bag, in gaudy Lib Dem colours, was a gift from staff at the Department for Business, intended to make Cable visible to motorists while he was cycling to meetings – but he’s not cycling any more. Cable’s battle bike was nicked outside Richmond’s adult education college during a campaign visit with Nick Clegg. He lost his wheels, seat, handlebars and frame. Clegg isn’t helping the police with their inquiries. My snout muttered that Cable’s error was to pretend-lock the boneshaker instead of securing it properly; the thief had only to pull apart the unfastened, er, cable. A workable analogy for this party’s relationship with voters, perhaps?

The rubbish Tory Anna Firth is the gift that keeps giving. Dave’s candidate in Labour-held Erith and Thamesmead published photos of littered streets a few weeks ago, seemingly without realising that they were in an area run by a Tory council. Her latest eyebrow-raiser was on a visit to a gurdwara. Firth was trying too hard with her Bollywood princess look and was docked extra votes for a rehearsed “Indian” greeting. The Sikh host explained politely that it was Hindi, while they speak Punjabi.

Big Tobacco shareholders (if there are any among NS readers), take note. I hear that Nigel Farage is to quit smoking after the election. Win or lose for Ukip in South Thanet, the 40-a-day puffer intends to give up death sticks in the most savage blow to the industry since fags were banned from pubs and restaurants. Brewers and photographers, however, can relax. The pint glass will remain a standard prop.

Not everyone was excited to learn that Miriam González Durántez has been enjoying a secret life as the coalition government’s Nigella Lawson. When informed about her anonymous food blog, Labour’s top chef, Ed Balls, sniffed: “She’s an arriviste.” The culinary divide is clear in the Great Political Bake-Off. Nobody gets to the size of the burly shadow chancellor by eating tiny wraps with shrimp, or chickpea and spinach soup.

The distracted Tory Bob Blackman has been photographed fiddling with his phone during hustings in Harrow East. Constituents claim that he’s calculating mileage claims, having been asked to repay more than £1,000 for more than 700 “inaccurate” claims. I’m told the criticism drives him mad.

Unless one has gone up in the past few days, I imagine the only explanation for the absence of a “Vote Labour” poster at the London home of Douglas Alexander must be the pressure of running the party’s national campaign while fighting to keep his own seat in Scotland.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mail

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 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.