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Commons Confidential: La vie en rose for Alastair

Corporate PR is proving lucrative for the former spin doctor.

Corporate PR is proving lucrative for Alastair Campbell, who teamed up with his fellow Blair spinner Tim Allan at Portland, the agency happy to put a gloss on dodgy reputations (Barclays, Putin’s Russia, BAA – the Heathrow owner that wants to concrete over south-east England) if the price is right. A snout whispers that Britain’s weapon of mass disinformation in the Iraq war bragged to acquaintances that Labour activists in Burnley had asked if he’d stand as the Lancashire town’s parliamentary candidate. Campbell was, by all accounts, flattered but declined because he has a new love interest. He’s bought a holiday home in the south of France. It’s the fulfilment of a Blairite political dream. Omov: one man, one villa.

In the end, Louise Mensch the Cameron quitter didn’t hang around to discover what she had to do to get promoted, abandoning gritty Corby and “the great dustheap of imbeciles and dandies”, as Charles Dickens described Westminster, for a rock chick life in New York. The Tory ex-MP’s apologia for hacked-off Rupert Murdoch, however, didn’t always meet with the approval of her hubby, Peter, manager of the ear-bashing band Metallica. The music mogul was, I recall, overheard telling the Murdinator, “Tommy Gun” Watson, that Mensch should “listen to you more often” instead of defending the Sun King. Ouch!

Kelvin MacKenzie’s forged a longer career out of being the ex-editor of the Sun than he did running Murdoch’s paper. An informant sheds some light on Mr Former’s sudden departure as a Daily Mail columnist and subsequent lavish praise of Rupe for publishing a photo of Prince Harry clutching his crown jewels. MacFrenzy complained he had no friends at the Mail and, shortly before he and Lord Rothermere parted company, enquired if he’d be welcomed back at Wapping. Lionising the embattled Murdoch won’t do MacFrenzy’s cause any harm.

Carwyn Jones, the rugby-playing First Minister of Wales, is to play a bigger role in British politics. Ed Miliband’s office recognizes that the leader of the only bit of the land under Labour rule is a reminder that the party is down but not entirely out. Some in the Labour leader’s circle would like Jones the Job in the House of Commons. The man himself, however, has other ideas and prefers to govern from Cardiff.

Congress House, the TUC’s Grade II-listed pile in Great Russell Street, London, is to double as Kensington Royal Hospital” after a film producer felt its 1950s look reflects the modern health service. The wood-panelled council chamber posed as a UN room in Armando Iannucci’s biting satire In the Loop. With the trade union movement’s health faltering, redesignation as a hospital is dangerously appropriate.

How sweet: a pitman whispers that Ed Miliband took his mam, Marion, to hear him speak at this summer’s Durham Miners’ Gala. The one-time CND activist is the most left-wing surviving member of Labour’s first family.

Kevin Maguire is 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 10 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Autumn politics special

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.