Cameron the mafioso

The Tory leader's defence of his shadow cabinet and Andy Coulson reveals a brutal double standard at

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has a fine piece in today's Guardian drawing together a range of concerns over David Cameron. He argues that Cameron's decision to force a number of MPs out over the expenses scandal, while protecting his own shadow cabinet, highlighted a brutal double standard at work:

It was the action of a capo who whacks a few civilians but spares his made men, and it caused considerable, though so far private, resentment on the Tory benches.

Wheatcroft also homes in on the shamefully lenient treatment of Andy Coulson by Tory high command, a man he presciently described two years ago as someone "who makes Alastair Campbell seem a cross between CP Scott and Hugo Young".

The largely muted response to the phone-hacking scandal has been an indictment of our media. To paraphrase Nye Bevan's verdict on Anthony Eden during the Suez crisis, if Coulson did know about the hacking then he's too wicked to be Cameron's aide, if he didnt know then he's too stupid to be Cameron's aide.

Wheatcroft goes on: "Clinging to the Tory team is a whiff of clever-clever cynicism, of game-playing frivolity, of calculation rather than honour."

I would add that there is something spiteful and even sinister about the Tories' increasingly personalised attacks on Gordon Brown, a topic explored by my colleague James Macintyre earlier this month.

As far as I know, George Osborne has never apologised for his description of Brown as "autistic". I recently witnessed another ugly Tory slur when Alan Duncan declared at a private meeting that Brown "looks like he needs a wash". It's hard to avoid the conclusion that such remarks pander to those amused by Jeremy Clarkson's description of Brown as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot".

Unfortunately I can't agree with Wheatcroft's verdict that "the public is repelled" by the Tories' cynicism and frivolity. The supposition that the electorate would welcome Brown as a more substantial and sober figure than Tony Blair has been wholly discredited.

As the politicisation of celebrity and the celebritisation of politics continues, the truth is that the razzmatazz of Cameron will always triumph over the stoicism of Brown.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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