Commons Confidential: The incredible shrinking Tories

Plus: Chris “the Jackal” Grayling's party piece.

Chris “the Jackal” Grayling drinks less fizzy water at receptions than it may first appear to the casual observer or lurking photographer hoping to picture the shaven-headed Injustice Secretary enjoying the high life. At the Tory jamboree in Manchester, a snout let me in on the cabinet minister’s secret party piece. The Jackal, whispered the eagle-eyed informant, swiftly pours champagne into a tumbler so that it looks as if he’s sipping abstemiously from a glass of eau de tap, when a quick taste would reveal Pol Roger. Grayling poses in a hairshirt, but the Jackal is, in that old northern phrase, all fur coat and no knickers.

It’s often the little things that tell a big story. Relations between Ed Miliband and Unite remain in deep freeze. The union, I gather, sent a letter of complaint to Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, after an apparent discourtesy at Labour’s jamboree. A party apparatchik summoned Miliband and his deputy, Harriet Harman, from the stage when Len McCluskey, Unite’s leader, was called to speak. If the disappearance was intended to prevent Red Ed and Hattie Harperson being linked or snapped with Red Len, I reckon it was a bit late. I’ve heard that the Tories clocked the Labourunion link a while back.

The unreconstructed Beast of Bolsover – the Labour MP and ex-miner Dennis Skinner – was awarded an immaculate “red rating” of 100 in a tatty pack of “Top Trumped by the Unions” cards produced by the Tories. He’ll no doubt wear his score as a badge of honour, as might Ben Bradshaw, who was judged the least left on Miliband’s benches, with a pale-pink rating of 29. The most damning so-called red fact that the desperate Cons could disinter about the Exeter MP was that Armando Iannucci once claimed that @BenPBradshaw’s tweets were “very dull”.

Cameron’s spin doctor Craig Oliver informed me that he isn’t a member of the Tory party. If Cameron can’t persuade his Downing Street mouthpiece to sign up, it’s little wonder that the Tories are Britain’s fastest-shrinking political party, with membership close to half the 253,000 that Dave inherited in 2005. In the unlikely event that the Cons affiliated to the TUC, the right-whingers would be only the ninthlargest trade union.

The matchbox-sizedCommons Speaker, John Bercow, must feel secure in his job, because he’s started to crack jokes about his lack of height. “Three previous speakers were shorter than me,” Bercow told a gathering in his tied apartment. “Or at least they were when beheaded.”

Labour’s Scottish contingent inWestminster has taken to referring to the SNP regime in Edinburgh as the “fish government”: it is run by (say this next bit out loud) Salmond and Sturgeon.

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

Chris “the Jackal” Grayling making his speech at the 2013 Conservative Party conference. Photo: Getty

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 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman