Gordon Brown’s hot date

Why Brown decided to go for a May election.

The election will be on 6 May, but your correspondent has discovered that the Prime Minister briefly considered other spring dates. Gordon Brown instructed Ray Collins, Labour's general secretary, to send contingency proposals for a contest in March or April to Downing Street. But Broon decided to stick with May when Collins replied that the cash-strapped party had no plan B, let alone a plan C or D. So 6 May it is, by default as well as calculation.

Philip Hammond MP, "Boy George" Osborne's ambitious deputy, must be worth a few bob. A cameraman halted an interview outside Sky's landlocked Osterley HQ after the guest -- me, since you ask -- was drowned out by what sounded like a motorboat. The vessel turned out to be Hammond's enormous Jaguar, a gas-guzzling beast that looked big enough to fit "Two Jags" Prescott in the boot. The Tory era of "Vote blue, go green" is over. Nor is the "Age of Austerity" likely to worry a property developer who moonlights as the shadow bean-counter and would scythe public services.

Campaigning in Doc Martens rather than behind the wheel, meanwhile, will be Hilary Benn. The cabinet minister, a member of the nearest thing Westminster has to a dynasty, has bought only that brand of shoes, originally designed for factory workers, for two decades. His father, Tony, was painted in Doc Martens for a portrait that now hangs in the House of Commons. Persuading him to buy them, sniffs Benn Jr, is the sole political influence he has had on his illustrious forebear.

No sign of Tory wobbles as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson enjoyed what a snout described as a "very jolly" lunch at a pizza joint near City Hall. Is Gove hedging his bets by selling Cameroons and buying BoJos?

You meet the most unlikely sorts in the Strangers' Bar. Howard Crosby, nephew of Bing, popped in for a swifty recently. Burly Brian Binley, Northampton's Tory bruiser, took the amateur crooner-cum-businessman to dinner. Crosby Jr sang for his supper, warbling a few of his uncle's hits, including "White Christmas" and "Pennies from Heaven". Binley likes the sound of his own voice but was persuaded to listen rather than join in, a fellow Tory comparing his vocal style to a backfiring motorbike.

Some MPs find it hard to step aside when retiring. Which may explain why James Purnell is telephone-lobbying Labour members to back his favoured Stalybridge and Hyde candidate. Calling, that is, from India.

Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson gets in a tizz most evenings after ringing the Sun (presumably on an unbugged phone) for a sneak preview of the Wapping rag's YouGov daily poll. A Tory mole whispered that the spinner dreads informing Cameron and Osborne of dips and leads that are still stuck in single figures. The Bullingdon Boys have started, I hear, to take it out on the messenger.

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

This article appears in this week's special double issue of the New Statesman.

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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 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.