Cameron's clique accused of having "frozen out" his only black adviser

In another blue-on-blue attack, friends of Shaun Bailey claim he was sidelined by Cameron's Etonian aides.

In last Saturday's Daily Telegraph, David Davis pleaded with David Cameron to stop recruiting "old Etonian advisers". Tomorrow, in another blue-on-blue attack, some of the same advisers are accused of having "frozen out" Cameron's only black working class aide, Shaun Bailey. Bailey, who stood unsuccessfully in Hammersmith for the Tories at the last election, is said by a friend to have been sidelined after criticising No. 10's failure to address the rising cost of living and to build a more diverse party. Bailey was sacked as a special adviser earlier this year and moved to a part-time role at the cabinet office. The friend in question tells the Telegraph:

They just didn’t get what Shaun was saying. He kept challenging them saying, ‘Why are we not saying this?’ … He went into Downing Street and the first thing he said was, ‘The only political conversation you need to have publicly is about the cost of living’. He also gave plenty of warning that if they wanted to talk about being a diverse party, people have to see it. But they didn’t want to hear about it. Shaun was frozen out.

And there's worse, much worse. The friend adds:

Shaun always says that you can see from space that the place is dominated by those from Eton.

It was very difficult for Shaun. He was never included. He got the distinct impression they tried to keep him away from the Prime Minister. It got to a point where Shaun just stopped saying things because it was just getting him in trouble. There was even one week where he decided not to go into the office because he wanted to see if they would even notice. They didn’t. None of them.

Elsewhere, in an anecdote that Ed Miliband's team will already be considering how best to deploy at PMQs, we learn that Bailey was "horrified" when US pollster Frank Luntz visited Downing Street and asked Cameron's advisers "what kept them awake at night". The friend explains:

The pollster asked them what kept them awake at night and they didn’t even have the wit to understand that he meant it was the electorate.

When the pollster pointed that out to them, they literally said, 'Nothing keeps us awake’. How can you be advising people and nothing keeps you awake? Then someone said 'school fees’.

Here's how Labour's Michael Dugher has responded tonight:

"Once again David Cameron has shown that he is in complete denial about the cost of living crisis facing millions of hard-pressed families thanks to his Government's failure.

"When even one of his own advisers dares to point out some home truths, they are immediately shunned in favour of yet more old school chums and yes men.

"The idea that private school fees is the only thing keep David Cameron's clique awake at night tells you everything you need to know about this Government.

"This is a Prime Minister that takes being out of touch to a whole new level".

Some will dismiss all of the above as the usual grumblings of an out-of-favour adviser, but the fusion of race and class is toxic for Cameron. As pollsters regularly attest, now, more than ever, the Conservatives are viewed as "the party of the rich" and it's worth remembering that the Tories received just 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote at the last election. In an acknowledgment that the party still has a race problem, there has long been talk of Cameron delivering a speech on the subject, in which he would repudiate Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech and Norman Tebbit's "cricket test", the memory of which still hinders support for the Tories among ethnic minority voters. But for now, the Prime Minister would do well just to stem the tide of leaks from his party.

Update: Never blame the King, always blame his advisers. Here's how Bailey has responded on Twitter.

P.S. If you haven't already, do pick up this week's NS to read Jason's cover story on Cameron's clique and how "the old ruling class became the new ruling class", including his interview with Eton headmaster Tony Little (read some web-only extracts here).

Shaun Bailey, who stood for the Conservatives in Hammersmith at the last general election, with David Cameron.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.