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

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.