Jack Straw image by Dan Murrell
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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

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000) and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.