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For Ed, it’s Prim up north

The Londoner has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands.

Londoner Edward Miliband has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands. Trade union tykes on the party’s national executive committee, led by Unison’s speaks-her-mind Wendy Nichols, gave him a reet ear-bashing over the exclusion of White Rose county folk from the controversial Rotherham by-election. Nichols complained of anti-Yorkshire discrimination, citing Doncaster where one of the town’s MPs is a leading light in the capital’s Primrose Hill Labourati: Ed M himself. Mili waffled nervously, my informant recounted, as half a dozen on the NEC had a dig. Sarah Champion from Derbyshire duly won the potentially tricky Rotherham contest for Labour, but not before the hospice manager, a member of the party for all of two years, was ordered to change her script. Telling voters that “Rotherham needs respect” was judged risky when George Galloway’s Respect was standing a candidate of its own.

Who is David Cameron more afraid of – Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan or Paul Dacre and Tony Gallagher? No 10’s calculation, whispered a Tory snout, is that the Prime Minister needs the Daily Mail and Torygraph on his side more than he does a couple of hacked-off actors. Raw power made Leveson a Downing Street no-brainer.

I see onetime chorister Chuka Umunna is hosting a “Festive Media Reception” in place of the usual Christmas drinks and nibbles. Sounds very One Nation Labour. I like to think this column’s leg-pulling, after he invited an elite few to a summer soirée, persuaded the shadow biz sec to issue a general Decembrist welcome to Her Majesty’s Disloyal Lobby. Some things, however, never change. The Ambitious One is staging the glitzy event in the grand Smeaton Room of the Institution of Civil Engineers. And he’s persuaded a City firm to sponsor his wine and canapés. Ed Miliband, perhaps next-generation Rachel Reeves too, should beware.

Coincidentally, junior political scribblers uninvited to Umunna’s summer bash have formed a dining fraternity of their own. The young pens call it the Lower Rung Club after a suggestion of Future Political Editors’ Club was judged both vainglorious and provocative to the lobby boss class. To underline the belowstairs status of members in hierarchical Westminster journalism, hacks face expulsion from the club if Cameron’s Miss Moneypenny, Gabby Bertin, ever deigns to return a telephone message or Dave calls them by name at a press conference.

Tory chief scaredy-cat Michael Fabricant took some stick after waving his Europhobic white hankie in the direction of Ukip. Labour MPs exploited mercilessly an opportunity to wig Mickey for what resembles a mannequin’s head dressed in one of Barbara Windsor’s luxurious hair pieces. Hansard stenographers dutifully turned a deaf ear to a Labour barrage about fringe politics, partitions and partings. Fabricant grinned and bore it, doubtless eager to prove he’s an authentic Tory not a Whig.

Deepening austerity and desperation is forcing supermarkets, an MP with a seat in northern England assured me, to relabel food. On shelves, sell-by dates are replaced with steal-by limits.

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 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Greece: a warning for Britain?

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David Cameron's speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.