Jack Straw image by Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

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

Getty
Show Hide image

Where are the moderate Tories condemning Zac Goldsmith’s campaign?

Conservative MPs are reluctant to criticise the London mayoral candidate’s dogwhistle rhetoric.

Very few Conservative politicians have criticised Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to be elected London mayor. And, amid repeated accusations of racial profiling, Islamophobic undertones, and patronising London’s Indian communities, there has been plenty to criticise.

Ever since describing his rival, Sadiq Khan, as having “radical politics” at the end of last year, Goldsmith’s campaign has come under fire for attempting to sound a dogwhistle to voters for whom racial politics – and divisions – are a priority.

You may feel it’s naïve of me to expect Tory MPs to join in the criticism. Presumably most Tory MPs want their party’s candidate to win the mayoralty. So it is unlikely that they would condemn his methods.

But I’d argue that, in this case, we can’t excuse dodged questions and studied silence as good clean tribalism. Granted, Conservatives only want to see their party make electoral gains. And that is understandable. But trickier to explain away is how willing all of the party’s MPs – many of whom are as moderate and “cotton-wool Tory” (in the words of one Labour adviser) as we once assumed Goldsmith was – are to ignore the campaign’s nastier side.

Why aren’t the Cameroons (or neo-Cameroons) who wish to further “detoxify” the party speaking out? There are plenty of them. There is more enthusiasm on the Tory benches for David Cameron than is generally assumed. Many of the 2015 intake are grateful to him; those in marginal seats in particular see him as the reason they won last year. And in spite of the grumbling nature of the 2010-ers, a number of them are keener than appears on Cameron. After all, plenty wouldn’t be in parliament without his A-list and open primaries (a time when the party was supposed to be opening up to candidates of different backgrounds, something Goldsmith’s rhetoric could threaten).

And we know it’s not just Labour whining about Goldsmith’s campaign. It makes Tories uncomfortable too. For example, the Conservative Group Leader at Watford Council Binita Mehta, former Conservative candidate Shazia Awan, and Tory peer and former minister Sayeeda Warsi have spoken out.

And it’s not just non-MPs who are riled by Goldsmith’s rhetoric. Behind the scenes, Conservative MPs have been muttering for weeks about feeling uncomfortable about the campaign.

“There has been a sense that this is a bad dogwhistle, and it’s a bit of a smear,” one Tory MP tells me. “I don’t think Sadiq Khan’s a bad man at all – I think his problem is, which happens to all politicians, is some of the platforms in the past and the people he shared them with, and maybe he didn’t know – I mean, the number of times David Cameron or Gordon Brown or Tony Blair were shown at some fundraising thing, or just visiting somewhere, shaking hands with somebody who turns out to be a crook; that’s the nature of mass politics.”

There is also a mixed view among London’s Tory MPs about the tone of Goldsmith’s campaign generally. Some, who were frustrated in the beginning by his “laidback, slightly disengaged” style, are simply pleased that he finally decided to play dirty with the more energetic Khan. Others saw his initial lighter touch as an asset, and lament that he is trying to emulate Boris Johnson by being outrageous – but, unlike the current London mayor, doesn’t have the personality to get away with it.

One Tory MP describes it as a “cold, Lynton Crosby calculation of the dogwhistle variety”, and reveals that, a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense among some that it was “too much” and had “gone too far and is counterproductive”.

But this sense has apparently dissipated. Since Labour’s antisemitism crisis unfolded last week, moderate Conservative MPs feel more comfortable keeping their mouths shut about Goldsmith’s campaign. This is because racism in Labour has been exposed, even if Khan is not involved. Ironic really, considering they were (rightly) so quick to condemn Ken Livingstone’s comments and call on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs to speak out against such sentiments. It’s worth noting that Labour’s moderates have been significantly less reluctant than their Tory counterparts to call out such problems in their own party.

There is also the EU referendum to consider. Tory MPs see division and infighting ahead, and don’t want to war more than is necessary. One source close to a Tory MP tells me: “[Goldsmith’s campaign] is uncomfortable for all of us – it’s not even considered a Conservative campaign, it’s considered a Zac Goldsmith campaign. But [we can’t complain because] we have to concentrate on Europe.”

So it makes sense politically, in the short term, for Tory moderates to keep quiet. But I expect they know that they have shirked a moral duty to call out such nasty campaign methods. Their calls for Labour’s response to antisemitism, and David Cameron’s outrage about Jeremy Corbyn’s “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, are simply hollow attack lines if they can’t hold their own party to higher standards.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.