Commons Confidential: Grousing about Boy George

Plus: an apology to Paul Flynn MP.

Scribblers and telly hacks in the lobby plan to ape US journalists with a British version of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The unholy trinity of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will attend the inaugural annual shindig on 16 January next year.

Holding a Westminster correspondents’ dinner inevitably invites accusations of self-aggrandisement and cosiness with the political class. British reporters sneer at their US counterparts for standing when a president enters the room; remaining seated as a prime minister walks in is an act of passive defiance. The event may be enlivened by a bunfight, with only 70 places available for hacks plus partners, though there are close on 300 journalists with passes to the Mock-Gothic Fun Palace. Your columnist shall be otherwise engaged.

Oh dear. Two lawyers wrote to Diane Abbott asking their local MP to attend a backbench debate on the destruction of legal aid as we know it by the In-Justice Secretary, Chris “the Jackal” Grayling. The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington told the first that she was unable to attend “due to prior commitments in my constituency”. The second was informed: “My son graduates that day from Trinity College, Cambridge . . . and I will be with him for most of the day.” You wouldn’t need to be Rumpole of the Bailey to spot the contradiction.

Sticking with Abbott, I hear she’s sounding out trade union support for a potential tilt at the London mayoralty. Tottenham’s David Lammy, who thought he’d secured Abbott’s backing, is unimpressed. With Alan Johnson, Sadiq Khan and Tessa Jowell also mentioned in despatches, soon we may reach the point where it would be easier to ask which Londonborn Labour MPs aren’t interested in the City Hall job.

How the other 1 per cent lives: George Osborne’s baronetcy, his Buller past and the fee-charging schools of his children would, by the standards of most Britons, mark him out as “posh”, no matter how many times he might recite the untruthful mantra “we’re all in this together”. But not, it transpires, in the eyes of his father-in-law. A snout recounted a conversation in which Baron Howell of Guildford, a one-time minister under the Thatcher and Cameron regimes, sprang to the defence of Osborne: “He’s not posh – he lives in Notting Hill.” By the noble lord’s reckoning, perhaps, to be posh in today’s Con Party one needs to own a grouse moor and country pile.

Many apologies to the thrifty MP Paul Flynn, who informs me that when he went to Strasbourg on Council of Europe business he would drive, and never went first class by train as I was wrongly told. I’m delighted to set the record straight and regret upsetting Paul last week in a tale about the Labour frontbenchers Sadiq Khan and Wayne David. I salute Flynn for his integrity and his refusal to let a disability, which he says makes it difficult to travel by train or plane, get in the way of his duties.

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

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 15 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Machiavelli

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump