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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: Even Godfrey Bloom 'sluts' controversy can't blow Ukip off course

Our man in Westminster

The conference season is a long, expensive interlude in politics which stretched this year from 9 September, when the TUC assembly began in Bournemouth, until 2 October, when the Conservatives dispersed from Manchester. Did any of it have any lasting effect? The answer, according to a YouGov poll, is almost none. But the one party whose conference was an admitted failure was Ukip.

After all good publicity was sucked out of the event by the antics of Godfrey Bloom, Nigel Farage disconsolately told delegates that the conference had been "destroyed". Yet its destruction has had no measurable impact on Ukip's support in the country, which remains where it was a month ago, at around 11 per cent, a little ahead of the Lib Dems. It is arguable, of course, that a rip-roaringly successful, Bloom-free conference would have pushed Ukip's support higher, but that is merely speculation.

The other parties are also pretty much where they were before the conference circus began. There is just one significant difference between then and now: Ed Miliband's personal rating has shot up. How much of that is due to his policies, how much to his conference speech, and how much to a reaction to the Daily Mail's misdirected attack on his late father Ralph, the figures do not tell.

But before Labour supporters rejoice in their leader's new-found success, they should realise that his standing could hardly have got any worse than it was a month ago. On the latest figures, 29 per cent think he is doing well, 59 per cent that he is doing badly, a net rating of minus 30. Previously, he was at minus 46. As YouGov's president, Peter Kellner, put it, he has "lifted his position from catastrophic to lousy."

Let's talk about Blair, baby

Martin Sheen, currently starring as the eponymous Dr William Masters in the Channel 4 drama Masters of Sex, has been reflecting in the Radio Times on the role that first made him famous, 10 years ago, when he played Tony Blair.

"I only met him once at a dinner party after I had done The Queen," he said. "His official line is that he has never seen any of the things I've done about him, but he seemed to have a fairly good working knowledge."

Boris suffers from Potter mouth

Boris Johnson, on a trade visit to China, has tried to kid the Chinese that Harry Potter's girlfriend Cho Chang was a "Chinese overseas student" at Hogwarts. Here in the UK, there are a vast number of under-25 Potterologists who could have told him that Cho Chang (played by Katie Leung) is actually British. In the film, she is a Scot.

Tax avoidance: bad when it's not you

Two charities, War on Want and the USA's Change to Win Federation, are launching an important report today accusing the pharmaceutical firm Alliance Boots of avoiding at least £1.1bn in tax. Also involved in producing the report is the union Unite which, by an unfortunate coincidence of timing, has been presented by the tax authorities with a bill for £2.3m in unpaid VAT. Unite denies that it has been avoiding tax, and says that discussions are ongoing.

Expensive work, living like a lord

Last week, I mentioned Lord Hanningfield's practice of claiming £300 a day in attendance allowances at almost every opportunity since serving a jail sentence for fiddling his expenses, though there was no sign he had contributed anything to the House of Lords since his arrest. I learn from the East Anglian Daily Times that he has broken his silence.

He had not yet said anything in the main Lords debating chamber, but did speak during a committee session on Thursday on East Anglia's rail network. He told the newspaper: "I intend to speak quite regularly now. I used to speak every single day."

Of the £40,800 in attendance allowances that he claimed in the first 14 months since his return, he added: "It is not a great amount of money. I have to live."