Coming to a galaxy near you. . . Montage by Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons confidential: Meryl Streep and the self-publicist peril

Unluckily for MPs yearning for the limelight, Meryl Streep will be filming her role as Emmeline Pankhurst in Westminster during the Easter recess.

Voters can be awkward people, as Nick Clegg discovered during a stunt with Liberal Democrat MPs. The idea was to hold up a banner in Victoria Tower Gardens, the patch of green along the River Thames at the Lords end of parliament, declaring the Con-Dem coalition’s minor party to be marvellous or some such vacuous nonsense. TV crews assembled and commenced filming the Yellow Peril propaganda palaver – so far, so mundane. Until a demonstrator joined in. “Nick Clegg,” yelled the protester, “you know BEEP BEEP is a paedophile.” BEEP BEEP is the name of a once-prominent politician who may be recognisable to some NS readers. I understand that serious allegations have been made to the police about sexual abuse of boys and young men. Broadcasters, perhaps Clegg and certainly BEEP BEEP will be relieved that the event wasn’t transmitted live.

Colonel “Bonking” Bob Stewart is on manoeuvres. The commander of British forces in Bosnia-turned-Tory MP is the only Conservative on the Commons defence committee lobbying Labour MPs hard to succeed James Arbuthnot as chairman. I’m told that others – Julian Brazier, Adam Holloway and James Gray – are concentrating their drinks on fellow Tories. The position is decided by a vote of the entire House. A Tory MP by the name of Bercow successfully went behind enemy lines to be elected Speaker.

MPs are dividing into two camps after an email informed them that the veteran documentary-maker Michael Cockerell is preparing to make Parliament: the Movie. The Invisibles want nothing to do with the Beeb four-parter while the self-publicists clamour to be on the small screen. The authorities came up with a solution to prevent the self-publicists hassling Meryl Streep when she is filmed playing the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst: the Hollywood shoot is scheduled for the Easter recess, when they will be on holiday.

Should Streep be looking for an unusual memento, she could always buy a £16.95 model of the Houses of Parliament or a £19.95 House of Commons chamber. Both are assembled out of wooden blocks and sold in a gift shop. I counted a dozen nondescript MPs in the chamber box. That many shows it must be based on a busy day.

Back in TV land, a producer muttered disapprovingly that Diane Abbott was observed filling a paper bag with the pastries put out for guests.

The Egyptian rapper and star of Arabs Got Talent Mayam Mahmoud flew to Britain to collect the Freedom of Expression arts award from Index on Censorship. The teenager uses hip-hop to fight sexual harassment and stand up for women’s rights in Egypt but nothing prepared her for London. She was pickpocketed, the money being filched from her handbag. And we’re warned to be careful in Cairo. 

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

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 03 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, NEW COLD WAR

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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR