Commons Confidential: Campbell gets souped up

PLUS: Eric Joyce vs Jim Sheridan.

Major Eric Joyce the Torybeater is in trouble again, this time for unparliamentary manoeuvres against Scottish Labour’s Jim Sheridan. Joyce was witnessed in the “No” lobby issuing a high-decibel “Let’s go outside for a chat” invitation as he pushed his face, eyes reportedly bulging, into the face of the older man.

Sheridan, 60, declined and as he departed Joyce yelled uncomradely greetings banned on the floor of the chamber. Sheridan reported Joyce, who was previously fined £3,000 and handed a 12-month community order after headbutting and punching Conservative MPs in Strangers’ Bar, to the Serjeant at Arms. Sheridan is seeking to have Joyce banned from the Houses of Parliament on health and safety grounds until he undergoes counselling.

The explosion was triggered by Sheridan, chair of the Unite MPs, telling Joyce he was wrong to hold the union solely responsible for the Grangemouth refinery row. Joyce, who blames Unite for ousting him in Falkirk, evidently thought otherwise.

Gateshead’s Ian Mearns is a handy man in a crisis. The Geordie Labourite remembered his first aid when an elderly man collapsed on the upper committee corridor. Mearns put the unfortunate chap into the recovery position to await the nurse. He stayed cool when a visitor shrieked that the bloke’s hand was deadly cold and there was no pulse. Trained to deal with emergencies, eagle-eyed Mearns spotted that it was a prosthetic limb.

Political hacks on the popular newspapers went nuclear when the Sir Humphrey at the Energy Department, Stephen Lovegrove, invited only former broadsheets with low circulations to question his minister, Ed Davey, on EDF’s money-spinning Hinkley deal. When asked by a colleague of mine at the Mirror, the John Le Mesurier-like Jason Beattie, why no tabloid lobby reporter had been called to the press conference, Lovegrove gave a response that was classic Whitehall farce material.

“I don’t know you,” he said disdainfully, “from a bar of soap.” Lofty Lovegrove sounds ripe for promotion to the diplomatic service.

Therese Coffey, bag carrier to the biz minister, Michael Fallon, has reached the end of the road. Or, more accurately, her beloved, British-built Toyota Avensis has. The broken motor with 210,000 miles on the clock is marooned beyond economical repair in parliament’s underground garage. It’s not only MPs that are clapped out in Westminster.

The corporate PR and professional self-publicist Alastair Campbell is unsettling Ed Miliband’s inner circle by informing any news outlet that will listen that he, Tony Blair’s former weapon of mass disinformation, will play a prominent Labour role in the election. Milibites fear Campbell will make it all about himself in 2015. I think they can bet on that.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Ed Miliband and Alastair Campbell. Montage: Dan Murrell

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 30 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Should you bother to vote?

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.