"House of Lords reform? Who gives a f***?"

Tory donors and activists give their verdict on the coalition.

In February, the Sunday Telegraph asked Tory donors, "big beasts" and young activists what they thought of the coalition, and of David Cameron's performance as prime minister. Now, as recess begins, they have returned to them - and thrown in the views of their opposite numbers in the Lib Dems too. 

The quotes firmly suggest that Tory donors don't feel the coalition is Tory enough; that it is pursuing all kinds of footling Lib Dem projects while the economy should be the focus. For example, here's Lord Harris of Peckham:

“I don’t think David Cameron is representing core Conservative voters or values — he’s a different generation to mine. I’m against gay marriage — may be it’s my age. And when our economy is faltering, I’d rather we didn’t spend hundreds of millions of pounds on [holding] an EU referendum.”

And here is the exquisitely forthright entrepreneur Hugh Osmond: 

"They need to be radical and pro-growth. And House of Lords reform? Who gives a f***? Get the economy growing at 2, 3, 4% a year then do stuff like that. Nick Clegg is a banana for getting involved with that stuff now.”

Meanwhile, the big preoccupation among the Liberal Democrats was how to disentangle the party from the Tories in voters' minds -- in time not to be wiped out at the next election. Lord Oakeshott wins runner-up prize in the colourful metaphor stakes with this:

"It will be far easier to get our Lib Dem message across at the next election if Lib Dem ministers are not still in Government playing the pantomime horse with their Conservative colleagues right up to polling day.”

You can read the full set of interviews here

David Cameron. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Photo: Getty
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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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