Let them eat cake: Jeremy Hunt by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: the Unhealthy Secretary’s slice of the cake

Meanwhile Nigel Evans returns to Westminster. 

Bumping into Jeremy Hunt, I noticed that the Unhealthy Secretary wears an NHS enamel lapel badge. It adds to the boyish minister’s air of a harassed hospital junior manager. He’s clean-cut, too. The Tory MP bragged to his local newspaper in Surrey that he’s no philanderer. Hunt, whose wife is expecting their third child, issued the information during a lunch to celebrate an office move by the rag. According to the paper: “When invited to cut the cake, decorated with an edible print of the Haslemere Herald front page, Mr Hunt said he was pleased not to see a stop-press ‘local MP embroiled in sex scandal’ story and promised there never would be one.” He’s shafting the NHS instead.

How often does Ed Miliband go up to his Doncaster constituency? An informant muttered that it may not be very often, if the Labour leader’s standard question to people from Tykeland is any guide. Miliband is prone to inquire: “How are things in Yorkshire?” It could just be an ice-breaker but the informant felt that Mili has a hazy grasp of what occurs in the white rose counties.

Nick Clegg never strikes me as particularly familiar with Sheffield, the steel city. Yet we know straight from the retired police horse’s mouth that David Cameron has ridden every inch of Witney with the Chipping Norton set. In the PM’s case, familiarity may, depending on events at the Old Bailey, prove a weakness.

The pressure is getting to scribbler-turned-spinner Patrick O’Flynn. Hired by Ukip as Nigel Farage’s chief propagandist and destined to be an MEP, O’Flynn was a genial if reactionary hack for many years on the Daily Express. Lobby correspondents grumbled, after he inadvertently sent a sweary text about a Times journalist to the writer, that O’Flynn refuses to return calls, takes offence easily and hangs up when he doesn’t like the line of questioning. It didn’t take long for him to develop the politicians’ disease known as thin skin.

As Nigel “Not Guilty” Evans returned to Westminster at a party thrown by the Tory David Davis, a snout recounted details of a colourful exchange during Evans’s trial on rape and sexual assault charges which suggest he should expect no favours when John Bercow is in the big chair. The judge, summing up a contretemps in a Commons bar, said Lembit Öpik had been referred to as “a c***”. The prosecuting counsel intervened to remind him Öpik had actually been called “a f***ing dickhead” and that the C-word had been applied to Bercow. Such language is sure to catch the Speaker’s attention, if not his eye when Evans hopes to be called.

Things you never thought you’d hear. MP on his phone: “Give me 20 minutes. I’m at a fundraiser for a food bank and the buffet is fabulous.” 

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 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 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.