This photo, of Boris Johnson boxing, is a crude visual metaphor. Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Big and blond and red all over

Plus: Ashcroft's marketing quandries and a Dennis Skinner raiding party.

Boris “Blond Ambition” Johnson is finding that Tory colleagues are showing a distinct lack of deference to a second-time-around MP yearning to lead the party. The portly Alec Shelbrooke, a son of two teachers, who could be mistaken for a fleshy fogey, in his waistcoat with fob watch and chain, was first elected for a Yorkshire seat while Johnson was on his gap eight years as London mayor. Sticking both thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, he boomed in his poshest voice: “Now, young man, where do you represent?” The flustered self-chosen one spluttered, “Uxbridge,” before Shelbrooke and a group of wind-up merchants standing out of the Speaker’s eyeline burst into giggles, to Johnson’s evident embarrassment.

Nick Clegg’s perks of high office were withdrawn within hours of his former line manager David Cameron’s victory. First to be reclaimed was the redundant deputy PM’s official BlackBerry. The vanquished Lib Dem was overheard muttering in a Putney café that his wife, Miriam, has advised him to buy an iPhone and get out and about to avoid feeling depressed. So far there are no reports of Clegg the Disowned climbing into the back of the family car and expecting to be driven.

I’m told that Dennis Skinner displayed an impressive turn of speed for an 83-year-old to bag his corner seat for the Queen’s Speech. The queue of MPs at the main entrance into the Commons chamber snaked through Members’ Lobby into Central Lobby before the doors were unlocked at 8am. The canny Beast of Bolsover led a Labour raiding party of Ronnie Campbell and the Ians, Lavery and Mearns, through a back door the moment Big Ben chimed the opening time.

The Tory billionaire Michael Ashcroft’s mistake was to believe his own opinion polls and foresee Cameron’s defeat. The PM’s triumph doubtless necessitated a few revisions to his forthcoming biography of the Tory leader, which the one-time tax exile (who resigned his seat in the Lords before the current tax year) had described as Cameron’s obituary. One wag suggested that Ashcroft start by changing the title from Call Me Dave to Call Me David.

Touch naive, the Cornwall Tory Sheryll Murray. She sent to every MP an invitation to join the Palace of Westminster Lions Club (£25 fee plus £7 a month). My snout sniggered: MPs must sign a declaration stating they’re “of good moral character and reputation”.

Douglas Carswell must wake up every morning wondering why he defected to Ukip. Bouncers were hired for a recent Tendring Council meeting, the chief executive fearing trouble as Ukip splinters in that part of Essex. Meanwhile, the session’s date had been switched to avoid a clash with wrestling in the town hall.

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 04 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The myths of Magna Carta

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.