It’s the Ed’s Factor!

Two young ladies are playing havoc with David Miliband's weekend viewing.

Wannabe girls in blue have a redoubtable champion in Harriet Harperson. Labour's deputy sheriff is, I hear, arguing that the party adopt women-only shortlists to guarantee half its truncheon-wavers in next November's cop commissioner identity parades are WPCs, or Women Police Candidates. Labour opposed creating the £120,000-a-year ranks in England and Wales, but will now stand for the posts. The whisper is that several MPs, those facing redundancy in the parliamentary boundary butchery in particular, fancy their own chances. Juliet Bravo, Cagney and Lacey, Jane Tennison . . . Hazel Blears?

To the Selly Oak constituency of Steve McCabe, the steely Scot and adopted Brummie. The auction of a bottle of House of Commons malt raised £75 for local party funds. Lord (Peter) Snape, the MC, pointed out the whisky was signed by the Eds - Miliband and Balls - Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna. "You will be able to say in the future," Snape declared, "that this bottle was signed by a Labour prime minister." Perhaps, but which of the four ?

Paper tosser Oliver Letwin's dumping of correspondence in the bins of St James's Park may not be as unusual as it first appeared. A Treasury snout recalled how, when Ken Clarke was chancellor, a senior spin mistress used to collect sensitive documents in a black bin bag and chuck them into the Thames from Westminster Bridge. That was a truly rubbish method - particularly on the occasion when an air-filled sack floated off down the river.

Your correspondent's teasing in this column of Cameron as "Druggie Dave" earns a mention in The Larry Diaries, the imagined tales of the Downing Street cat by Anon - or James Robinson of the Guardian, to give him his real name. "DC was what Mrs C would call 'clubbable', charming the most hostile scribblers - apart from one bloke from the Daily Mirror," writes Larry. "They've got this guy from the north-east called Kevin Maguire working for them and he stood in the corner all evening, sipping from a champagne flute and calling the boss 'Druggie Dave'." Hmm . . . I think it was a wine glass.

Two young ladies from South Shields, in the X Factor hopefuls Rhythmix, are playing havoc with David Miliband's weekend viewing. Labour's latest lost leader is required to watch Simon Cowell's X-ploitation to furnish informed quotes to his local rag. Highbrow Miliband switching to ITV1 must halve the BBC4 audience.

The suggestion of Shipley's turbo-Thatcherite Philip Davies that the disabled could volunteer to earn less than the £6.08 minimum wage wasn't good news for Phil Davies, the GMB national secretary. Blameless Union PD received death threats intended for Tory PD. Union PD's sense of unjustness was heightened by his job - representing workers at Remploy, where he seeks higher, not lower, pay for disabled workers. Anybody confusing Tory PD for Union PD is in for an expensive surprise.

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 24 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The art of lying

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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.