Commons Confidential: Dave’s sausage offensive

Kevin Maguire's weekly column.

Our posh-boy premier let slip that he counts the number of Old Etonians in the Commons Press Gallery. The quota is down one since the Times’s political editor Roland Watson, a contemporary of Dave’s, shuffled off to become foreign editor. Call Me Dave greeted Watson’s successor, Francis Elliott – who co-wrote a very readable biography of the Tory toff – with a telling: “Ah, that’s one less Etonian in Westminster.” The PM must hope the public doesn’t vote for one fewer in No 10.

The latest edition of Kingston and Surbiton Voice, the Lib Dem constituency rag of the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, includes three photographs of a man called Derek Osbourne. Two are next to Davey’s Westminster View column; the third, taken outside a school, is below a snap of Davey with Nick Clegg. Osbourne resigned in mid-June as Lib Dem leader of Kingston Council after his arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. Deadlines are a nightmare, as this journalist knows, but the Kingston Lib Dumbs miscalculated by gambling nobody would notice rather than pulping the paper.

Ed Miliband’s zillionaire supporter Andrew Rosenfeld, a property tycoon worth an estimated £100m, is a sponsor with his union friends of the “People Unite” anti-austerity bus tours. Rosenfeld –who, since he abandoned the Tory cause, gets under Cameron’s skin – intended to travel on one of the buses. I trust Rosenfeld instructed his chauffeur to drop him off around the corner so he could walk to the start.

 A Tory snout  whispers that Con MPs are thin on the ground at Cameron’s backbencher barbecues. Downing Street invitations aren’t the draw they once were as Dave works his way down the rota. “Cameron’s outreach programme will fail,” giggled the congenital rebel, “if he can’t serve us a grilled sausage.”

Lord Mandy adding his tuppenceworth to Labour’s Falkirk selection shenanigans was further evidence the ignoble lord never forgives those who do him a favour, particularly the trade unions that fixed Hartlepool for a then Peter Mandelson.

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

Editor's note: This article was amended at 17:00 on 9 July, 2013. 

Apparently Conservative MPs are thin on the ground at Dave's backbencher barbecues. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

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 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.