Anne McIntosh montage by Dan Murrell
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Commons confidential: Anne McIntosh’s big gamble

The dumped Tory MP for Thirsk is hosting a party in September in London’s Hippodrome Casino.

Scotland is already a separate country in the eyes of Qataris. On a trip to the natural-gas-powered Gulf monarchy to report on the exploitation of migrant workers mainly from developing countries such as India and Nepal, I spied a workforce listed at a construction site in the capital, Doha. Next to 80 workers named as being from the UK were three from Scotland.

Should the 2022 World Cup kick off in the conservative state, I’d advise female footie fans to pack a wedding certificate. In the Building and Wood Workers’ International delegation was Ellie Reeves. The Labour NEC member was stopped by a police officer as she strolled along the Corniche in the group. The copper demanded to know if she was married to any of the men present: three officials from the Ucatt construction union and the Labour MPs Stephen Hepburn and Chris Williamson. The union’s chief politico, Jim Kennedy, stepped forward to play the role of the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh by pretending that Reeves was his wife for the duration of the walk. Reeves, married to the MP John Cryer, is a feminist but recognised that argument is futile in a dictatorship if you want to catch a flight home later in the day. 

Keeps nasty company, David Cameron. It was brought to my attention that the PM rubbed shoulders with a Nazi apologist during a Brussels gathering of his party’s far-right allies. With the chief Con at the meeting of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group was the MEP Roberts Zile of Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom party, an organisation that every year honours Nazi SS veterans. I bet Cameron kept quiet about the association on his recent flying visit to Israel.

A Liberal Democrat leaflet popped through your correspondent’s letter box. It positioned Clegg’s Yellow Peril as the champion of “ordinary working people”. With Cameron’s Conservatives posing as representatives of “hard-working people”, is there a gap in the market for Miliband’s Labour? I’ve long felt “reluctantly working people” are ignored politically.

Is Anne McIntosh under starter’s orders to save her Thirsk seat? The dumped MP, deselected by a North Yorkshire hunting set rallying behind another Old Etonian chap, is hosting a party in September. The “save the date” invitation misdirected my way reveals that the venue is the Hippodrome Casino in London. The choice is peculiar for someone the Public Whip website judges is “against permissiveness” on gambling after a study of her voting record. Intriguing.

I hear there was a kerfuffle at the TUC women’s conference. The Ucatt political officer Kate Purcell was unceremoniously bundled out of the room after holding up a large, home-made message requesting that the chair, Prospect’s Sue Ferns, persuade her lecturer other half not to do a Tristram Hunt by crossing university picket lines. Nothing sisterly in the strong-arm reaction to the doughty Ms Purcell’s protest.


Editor's note: This column mistakenly referred to Jeremy Hunt crossing picket lines, this has been corrected to Tristram Hunt. (7th April 2014).

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 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.