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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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred