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Commons Confidential: Jack’s Turkish delight moment

The former home secretary and Blackburn fan spotted in the Commons gym in a Galatsaray strip.

A squirming Odd Ed pleaded not guilty on the premises of the Guardian to a weirdo charge the rag ungraciously plastered on its G2 cover the morning he visited the newspaper. But the freaky accusation is preferable to being called a loser in party meetings. Unite’s Len McCluskey was the star turn at an election fundraiser in Gateshead’s civic centre. The first question was from a postal worker. “When,” he asked, “are we going to get shot of Ed Miliband?” Red Len gave Red Ed more support, whispered my snout, than Red Ed showed Red Len when the Labour leader reported two prominent union members to the police over the Falkirk selection row. The cop move, I’m told, is behind Unite’s threat to fund a new workers’ party.

Weird lot, those Kippers. They bang on about how bad immigration is then court the very people they demonise. Labour’s Virendra Sharma, Seema Malhotra and Mark Hendrick had spoken to a Hindu Council gathering in the Commons when a holder of the hitherto unknown office of “honorary MP” was summoned. It was Suzanne Evans, a Tory defector to Ukip on south London’s Merton Council who glories in the Faragist oxymoron of national communities spokesman. The billing smacked of hubris, pride coming before a Ukip fall.

One-time culture vulture Ben Bradshaw thinks Labour is dangerously anti-business. The backbencher, who keeps a candle burning for Tony Blair, urged a meeting of Westminster colleagues to turn down the heat on energy firms. When the treatment of the disabled jobless came up, the tribune of Middle England apparently opined: “They will always vote for us.” Taking people for granted is a mistake. Blair lost four million Labour voters between 1997 and 2005, before Gordon Brown misplaced another 0.9 million in 2010.

The shy and retiring Nadine “I Want to Be a Celebrity” Dorries appears to be a new woman, rejuvenated by the earnings of minor fame. The fresh-faced Tory’s first novel is out. She has history when it comes to telling stories. She claimed her blog was “70 per cent fiction and 30 per cent fact” when under scrutiny over expenses claims. Maria Miller could have no better champion.

Grumbling MPs play “juxtaposition bingo” during Douglas Alexander’s speeches. Labour’s election chief loves a verbal contrast. Points are awarded for “We don’t want anger, we need answers” or “We can’t be a party of protest, we must be a party of power”.

Jack Straw, a Blackburn fan, was spied in the Commons gym in a Galatasaray football shirt with his name on the back. My spy was unable to sneak a picture so it isn’tonly Turks who won’t see him online.

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 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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