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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Free movement isn't free: the truth about EU immigration

The UK does not need to leave the single market to restrict European migration - it already can.

In the Brext negotiations, the government has unashamedly prioritised immigration control over the economy. The UK must leave the single market, ministers say, in order to restrict free movement. For decades, they lament, European immigration has been "uncontrolled", making it impossible to meet the government's target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

It's worth noting that non-EU immigration alone (which ministers can limit) remains more than ten times this level (owing to the economic benefits). But more importantly, liberals and conservatives alike talk of "free movement" as if it is entirely free - it isn't.

Though EU citizens are initially permitted to live in any member state, after three months they must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have "sufficient resources" (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be "a burden on the benefits system". Far from being unconditional, then, the right to free movement is highly qualified.

The irony is that the supposedly immigration-averse UK has never enforced these conditions. Even under Theresa May, the Home Office judged that the cost of recording entry and exit dates was too high. Since most EU migrants are employed (and contribute significantly more in taxes than they do in benefits), there was no economic incentive to do so.

For some Brexiteers, of course, a job is not adequate grounds for an immigrant to remain. But even beyond implementing existing law, there is potential for further reform of free movement - even within the single market.

As Nick Clegg recently noted, shortly after the referendum, "a number of senior EU figures" were exploring a possible trade-off: "a commitment by the UK to pursue the least economically disruptive Brexit by maintaining participation in the single market and customs union, in return for a commitment to the reform of freedom of movement, including an 'emergency brake' on unusually high levels of intra-EU immigration." Liechtenstein, a member of the single market, has recently imposed quotas on EU migrants.

Yet with some exceptions, these facts are rarely heard in British political debate. Many Labour MPs, like their Conservative counterparts, support single market withdrawal to end free movement. The unheard truth that it isn't "free" could yet lead the UK to commit an avoidable act of economic self-harm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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