Sayeeda Warsi with her mock frontpage on ITV's The Agenda tonight.
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Tory class war continues as Sayeeda Warsi calls for end to "Eton Mess"

The Tory Foreign Office minister backs Michael Gove and produces mock frontpage with the headline "Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu".

Two days after the FT published its interview with Michael Gove in which the Education Secretary described the number of Old Etonians in David Cameron's inner circle as "ridiculous" and "preposterous",  the Tory class war shows no sign of ending. David Cameron is reported to have given Gove "a right royal bollocking" over his comments and it looks as if he'll also have to have a stern word with Sayeeda Warsi.

On tonight's edition of ITV's The Agenda, the Foreign Office minister will join Gove on the barricades when she produces a mock frontpage (featuring OEs Cameron, Jo Johnson, Oliver Letwin and Ed Llewellyn)  with the headline "Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu". Even by the standards of Warsi, a minister renowned for going off message, it's a remarkably provocative intervention. She will tell the programme: "Michael was making an incredibly serious point that it can’t be right that the 7 per cent of kids who go to independent school end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking, and law, and every other profession, and that what Michael wants to create is a first class, world class state system which means that in future years you will have more pupils from state schools, people like me, around the cabinet table, and in that I fully support Michael Gove."

The more one reads Warsi's headline, the worse it gets for Cameron. How is he supposed to take "Eton Mess" off the menu when he's part of it? Resign? If Warsi was a New Labour minister, I expect resigning is precisely what she'd be ordered to do tomorrow morning.

As Ed Miliband prepares to respond to George Osborne's Budget by declaring that this is a recovery "for the few, not the many", it's hard to think of a worse possible backdrop for the Tories. By denouncing Cameron's "Eton Mess", Warsi has done Labour's spinners work for them. There couldn't be a more perfect attack line for Miliband to store for Wednesday afternoon.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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