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Commons Confidential: Balls’s hottest dish in town

Plus: George Osborne owes Tom Watson a pint.

In the fallout from the latest lobbying scandal, MPs are scrambling for defensive positions. James Arbuthnot, the armchair general, informed MPs under his command on the defence select committee of the need to avoid potential conflicts of interest. My snout muttered how Arbuthnot declared he would sell any shareholdings in military contractors and was likely to step down as chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. MPs need register only individual holdings above the £66,396 parliamentary salary or a company stake of more than 15 per cent; a quick check found no sizeable holding recorded by Arbuthnot. The Tory, an officer in Citizen Dave’s Brigade of Old Etonians, raised grumbles in Labour ranks by advising opposition MPs also to sell defence shares. The Labour men – unlike the Tory officer – live on their pay and are shareless.

“Sir” George Osborne the baronet’s son owes the hitman Tommy-Gun Watson the price of a pint after the Chancer of the Exchequer did a runner from Strangers’ Bar. The trust-fund Tory promised to buy Watson a beer if he smiled for the cameras when Ossie tipped up to pull the first draught of a constituency brew. Osborne duly posed as a barman, the Labour man grinned and cameras flashed. Then the Chancer vanished. Watson was overheard muttering: “There’s one like him in every golf club.” Osborne would do well to make amends. Those who cross Tommy-Gun rarely prosper. Ask Rupert Murdoch.

Word emerges from the energy and climate change committee of how the Lib Dem MP Robert Smith twice ignored pleas to replace Tim Yeo temporarily in the hot seat, accepting only at the third time of asking. Yeo is busy protesting his innocence over cash-for-no-answers after appearing to boast that he’d advised a witness how to bamboozle the committee. Smith protested that his own shareholdings would expose him to unfriendly fire. Events prove him right. I note that besides his significant interests in Shell and Rio Tinto, the Aberdeenshire MP accepted a couple of free tickets to the Olympic wrestling courtesy of BP. Nobody was that interested when he was an obscure MP.

Lasagne made by Ed “Beefy” Balls, Labour’s answer to Delia Smith, are the new hot dish on the circuit since Ed Miliband instructed prominent frontbenchers to raise £35,000 each. Yvette Cooper auctioned two of her hubby’s dishes for £8,500 at a Fabulous Feminist Fundraiser. Balls is inundated with orders in the shadow kitchen. Good preparation for digesting Osborne’s half-baked figures.

A touch of Downton Abbey in Westminster, where the Serjeant-at-Arms is permitted to smoke on the terrace overlooking the Thames but uniformed badge messengers who run the place are treated as below-stairs and banned. Unhappy MPs vow to stub out the class discrimination.

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 24 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Mr Scotland

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.