A guide to borrowing a horse from the Metropolitan Police

Cameron confirms that he did ride Brooks' horse. So how can you get a retired police horse of your o

The latest SHOCK DEVELOPMENT in Horse-gate is that David Cameron, long time riding buddy of Rebekah Brooks, did indeed ride her horse. That's not an innuendo (but you're welcome for the mental image). It is a reference to the news earlier this week that the Metropolitan Police loaned Brooks a retired police horse between 2008 and 2010, when she was editor of the Sun.

In an admission of dishonesty that's up there with Watergate, Cameron conceded that he had allowed a "confusing picture" to emerge about his riding of Raisa the horse. He told reporters:

He [Charlie Brooks -- Rebekah's husband and long-time friend of Cameron's] has a number of horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse Raisa which I did ride.

I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us and I think I should probably conclude by saying I don't think I will be getting back into the saddle any time soon.

The Met's line has consistently been that it is no big deal and retired horses are re-homed all the time. But how exactly would one go about it? Maybe I'd like a retired police horse. It's always good to keep your options open.

I called the Met's press office this morning to ask how it all works. The nice man I spoke to read out the information that I'd already seen on their website:

At the end of the police horse's working life the animal is re-homed at one of many identified establishments who have previously contacted the Mounted Branch with a view to offering a home.

The Mounted Branch is looking for suitable homes for retired horses, that is homes where the horse will not be ridden.

Anyone in the southeast of England offering such a home will be considered first.

But who are these people? Apart from national newspaper editors, obvs. "Anyone in the south-east who offers to take them on," he tells me, sounding bored. "They're people who register an interest in re-homing a horse with the Mounted Branch. Officers will assess whether it's a suitable home." So they go and check the house? He laughs. "I don't know if they check the house. They assess whether it's a suitable home."

I'm still not getting a sense of exactly the process works, so I ask again. Who are these people? How do they apply? He repeats the paragraph above, which is helpful.

Although he tells me that in 2011, eight horses retired, in 2010, 10 did, and in 2009, 11, I can't shake my suspicion that there was something not quite regular about this case. Brooks returned her horse, Raisa, after two years. That doesn't sound like retirement. Indeed, the arrangement has been most frequently described as a "loan". Is that the same? "Well, yes," he says, impatient at my idiotic implication that retirement isn't normally temporary. "They can still be returned to the care of the MPS after they've retired."

And another thing -- the only suitable homes are those where the horse will not be ridden? "Yes, they are homes where the horse will not be ridden."

If Brooks was indeed part of the rehoming programme, she might want to have words with Cameron, who has inadvertently grassed her up for breaking the rules. Raisa was not just ridden by her owners, but by the future Prime Minister, no less. The Mounted Branch office might want to work on that suitability assessment process.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.