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8 January 2015

Commons Confidential: Osborne’s powder

A bunny costume, "The Red Flag" and made-up politics.

By Kevin Maguire

The launch of the election campaign was, on the whole, underwhelming. Nick Clegg released answers before he’d been asked a single question at his press conference. The BBC’s Norman Smith was hissed at and called a “pillock” by Labour activists. And Ed Miliband appealed in vain for questions from ITV and Sky, neither broadcaster considering his Salford event sufficiently inviting to despatch correspondents.

George Osborne appeared to be wearing more make-up than Theresa May or Nicky Morgan at the Tory event. The powder saved the Chancellor from a red face as sceptical hacks shredded a Conservative report accusing Labour of £21bn of unfunded spending commitments.

To Stroud in Gloucestershire and a Labour lunch, which closed with the party’s leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Janet Royall, leading a rendition of “The Red Flag”. The prospect of Labour’s David Drew winning back the marginal seat he lost by 1,299 votes to the Tory landowner Neil Carmichael are enhanced by a storm in a pint pot. Calamity Carmichael “did a Clegg”: posing for a photo with a “Save our pubs” sign, then voting in parliament against protecting tenant landlords. The MP was banned from the Prince Albert on Rodborough Hill, where the licensee has clipped to a beer pump a picture of Carmichael with a Pinocchio nose.

Eric Pickles’s special adviser Zoe Thorogood’s CV boasted that she had worked for the breakfast telly show GMTV when she left the PR outfit Luther Pendragon to spin for the Communities Secretary. One of her ex-colleagues let slip that Thorogood also toiled on L!VE TV, an ill-starred station run by the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. The Whitehall aide, I hear, dressed as the “News Bunny”, a giant rabbit miming behind presenters. It could have been worse – L!VE TV showed Topless Darts.

The minutiae of NHS regulations will never be boring for Andy Burnham. A snout recalled Labour’s health spokesman working on Tank World and Container Management before swapping the noble calling of journalism for the grubby business of politics. I’ll remind him of that should Burnham ever become transport secretary.

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Either Conservative candidates are stupid or the party is treating them like fools. Campaign packs contain instructions on how to pose for photographs, including a shot of Robert Jenrick, the Newark by-election victor, sitting up straight for those too daft to work it out.

Terrified of Ukip, David Cameron has upped the Tory anti-migrant rhetoric. Thankfully, it didn’t extend to the charming eastern European ladies collecting coats for the Conservative Party on the 29th floor of Millbank Tower.