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Commons Confidential: Why Ed’s at the back of the queue

Downing Street’s campaign to marginalise Ed Miliband on state occasions continued at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. The leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition played second fiddle to the head of the country’s third party. Nick Clegg was invited, as David Cameron’s deputy, to lay a wreath ahead of Mili. Cameron has exploited the Con-Dem coalition to push his Labour rival down the pecking order. At state banquets, Mili is seated behind a pillar near the fire exit, with Cleggy given his seat. Cam pulls the same trick when notables such as Aung San Suu Kyi address both houses of parliament. And it happened at Will’s and Kate’s royal nuptials.

In past eras, both Labour and Tory, opposition leaders took prominence over the deputy PM. The difficulty of raising the slight without appearing precious has Labour biting its tongue. Yet never let it be said that no blow is too low for Dave the Petty.

The Tory squillionaire Michael Ashcroft owns the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals –more than 150 in total. The haul is displayed at the Imperial War Museum. Musty eyebrows twitched in the jobs-for life chamber when Lord Cashcroft of Belize tabled a question about a Distinguished Flying Cross. He was swiftly redirected to the Public Record Office in Kew. Yet Cashcroft’s passion carries a public price tag. Written answers cost £164 on average.

No sooner had Westminster City Council’s housing arm offered a £150 reward to find a flat for an MP than it advised landlords how to get rid of “uneconomical” tenants when the housing benefit cap is fitted. The answer is, in essence, possession orders. The Tory authority anticipates evicted families decamping to cheaper areas such as Greenwich, Merton, Lewisham and Wandsworth. That should free accommodation for pols granted a £335 weekly rent ceiling, higher than the limit on one- and two-bed flats for housing benefit claimants. Very convenient. For MPs.

Confusion in the Treasury since Greg Clark, MP for Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, insisted on retaining his old cities brief when reshuffled to financial secretary in George Osborne’s unmerry band. Bits of regulation were unceremoniously dumped on the economic secretary, Sajid Javid. In Cameron’s rearrangement of the deckchairs, the education minister Lord Hill tried but failed to quit, while Clark the double-jobber accepted a new post on condition that he keep the powers of the old. The PM was a bystander in his own reshuffle.

TV producers are discovering that Labour veterans of 1980s battles with Maggie are reluctant to speak ill of the dead. Preparing an obit to be broadcast when she shuffles off this mortal coil, programme-makers were surprised to find Neil Kinnock and others pulling their punches. Some will applaud their chivalry. Your correspondent, son of a miner, offered an honest and therefore unflattering assessment.

The Euro-allergic cabinet minister Michael Gove’s chuntering about Britain leaving the EU reminds ex-Times colleagues of a disaster when he persuaded the paper to endorse Eurosceptics at the 1997 election. So the Times backed an unholy alliance with everyone from Tony Benn to Bill Cash – and the Thunderer became the Whimperer as Tony Blair swept home with a 179-seat majority.

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 19 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The plot against the BBC