Don't expect these two to go down to the pub together anytime soon. (Photo: Getty)
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5 things we learned from the Chancellors' debate

Labour are still haunted by the past, the Conservatives have no plan for housing in the forseeable future, and the first leaders' debates looks likely to be a snoozefest.

1)  No winners, and one big loser.

There will be no big stories out of that display, which both George Osborne and Ed Balls will regard as a job well done. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and his opposite number did the political equivalent of playing out a goalless draw; it may have served both their purposes but it made for terrible entertainment.

Spare a thought for Sky and Channel 4; this is effectively the same format of the first “debate” between David Cameron and Ed Miliband on Thursday. On this showing, only the committed will make their way to the end of the programme.

2) The In campaign sounds troublingly like Better Together.

For more optimistic pro-Europeans this was heartening viewing; George Osborne struck a surprisingly pro-European note in his Q&A, talking about the importance of Britain’s role in Europe, and that the room was fairly pro-Europe bodes well for the In campaign’s ability to marshal elite opinion.

But it all feels troublingly close to the “Leave and we’ll kill you” message that Better Together deployed in the independence referendum – which was only able to secure the support of 55 per cent of the vote. It’s not yet clear if the same approach can work with a union with far less in-built affection than the United Kingdom.

3) At some point, the Tories are going to have to build some bloody houses

The closest anyone came to floundering – and the closest this debate came to being interesting – was when George Osborne faced questions about the housing crisis. He ticked through the Conservatives’ buzzwords competently enough, but without a way to actually build more houses, looked flat.

It suggests that for all David Cameron’s attempts to find a policy with the appeal of Right to Buy, none of their warm words on housing will have much purchase until the building starts.

4) George Osborne has learnt from Bill Clinton

It’s rumoured that George Osborne has accepted that he will not be David Cameron’s replacement, but he looked more and more like a candidate for the highest office at Facebook HQ, standing up, pacing around, talking to people about where they were from. An immobile Ed Balls looked less technically accomplished.

5) Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Speaking of technically could be that the audience, too, was restless after George Osborne’s bore-a-thon, but it was a pricklier crowd for Ed Balls, who faced hostile questions about Labour’s legacy. Caught between defending the record and disavowing the whole thing, Labour still don’t quite have a convincing narrative on their last stay in office.  

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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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.