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Commons Confidential: When Nigel met Rupert

Farage still harbours hopes of securing the Sun King's blessing.

To adapt the opening sentence of the Communist Manifesto: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Ukipism.” The pinstriped, one-time Tory City broker Nigel Farage is on a media roll. Invitations to dinner with the supergrass Rupert Murdoch aren’t what they were, now that his media empire is busy shopping sources and hacks to the cops. Yet Farage still harbours hopes of securing the fading Sun King’s blessing at elections for the European Parliament in June next year and – who knows? – the May 2015 general election, too. And he may be on the brink of a breakthrough in his campaign to be treated as an equal of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg on TV. Sky News will invite all four for a live debate ahead of the Euro elections. Farage, I gather, has already been approached. The other three must decide whether to confront him head-on or put their party leaders in the European Parliament on the box. They’re aware that if they lock horns next year with Farage, it would strengthen his case to be included in any general election debates. If two’s company and three’s a crowd, four’s a nightmare for the established troika.

Security at the recent cockroaches’ convention in Brighton was eccentric, even by Liberal Democrat standards. As my snout was sauntering into the Metropole Hotel, he was stopped by a steward. Was the chap searching for sharp objects or firearms? “Any leaflets in your bag, sir?” asked the steward. Assured that there were none, the snout was waved on his way. Ideas and dissenting views are what Clegg fears most.

Bit of a bust-up in Westminster between Welsh Labour MPs and the First Minister in Cardiff, Carwyn “the Job” Jones. He’s agitating for judicial powers to be devolved to Wales, arguing that it would outflank Plaid Cymru. MPs, who would have fewer Welsh laws to vote on in parliament, disagree. One sceptic muttered that if the Job wanted to outwit Plaid, he should go the whole hog and demand independence for Wales.

Jim Murphy’s “lazy Labour” warning in last week’s New Statesman prompted one of his colleagues to challenge the shadow trooper’s Stakhanovism. Murphy was one of the few Labour MPs, he said, not to campaign for John O’Farrell in the Eastleigh by-election. Things can only get bitter.

The conspiracy theorist turned- transport minister Norman “Barking” Baker doesn’t like to travel these days. He sent a video message to a meeting of passenger transport sorts from Britain’s metropolitan areas, apologising that he couldn’t get to their gathering. The soirée was in the pavilion tent on the terrace of the Mock-Gothic Fun Palace, which is less than half a mile from Baker’s lair. There was a time when Barking would have sniffed a conspiracy in a no-show.

Kevin Maguire is 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 18 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The German Problem