Cameron getting his Zzzzzs. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Tories got no soles

Plus: the PM’s early bedtime.

Jeremy Paxman, the retired rottie, has time on his hands after bidding goodnight to Newsnight, yet it was still a surprise to bump into him at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Paxo’s the type of chap who’d be more at home at a Countryside Alliance fete and his expression was bemused as the procession of brass bands and pit banners went past his hotel. At the city’s old racecourse, fiery speeches from union leaders and Dennis Skinner left the masses wanting to march on London to overthrow the political establishment. Intriguingly, I’d earwigged a discussion between Conservative MPs a few days earlier about whom they want to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London in 2016. Top of the list is a broadcaster who describes himself as a “One Nation” Tory. Paxo laughed when I informed him, a response that a veteran interrogator for a certain late-evening BBC2 current affairs programme would recognise wasn’t a complete denial. I can see the Newsnight report now: Paxo at the front of a tandem, cycling to City Hall as Johnson sits behind.

We knew the chillaxing Cameron’s no Stakhanovite, but I hear from a very reliable Downing Street snout that in the summer the Prime Minister goes to bed when it’s still light. He likes to be tucked up by 9pm on Tuesdays before Prime Minister’s Questions. One unkind Tory wondered aloud why Cameron felt the need to turn in so early. “After all,” he mused, “he’s only facing Ed Miliband.”

There’s no love lost between the two wings of the ConDem coalition. Cons eagerly anticipate the demise of Lib Dems. Holier-than-thou Simon Hughes’s difficulties in Bermondsey, where Labour is putting up its stiffest challenge since he won the seat 31 years ago, are bolstering Tory spirits. Hearing the justice minister could be ousted, Alec Shelbrooke, a blunt Yorkshire Tory, was overheard offering to make a donation to the anti-Hughes cause.

Ahead of the reshuffle, a southern Tory muttered that I should watch clips of ambitious Esther “Posh Scouse” McVey when she was a humble reporter for GMTV. “She didn’t have a bloody accent then,” grumbled her resentful male colleague. Buller Boy Cameron may believe most people oop north keep coal in the bath but I suspect the Old Etonian is aware that Posh Scouse was privately educated at a minor public school. These things matter more inside a snooty Tory hierarchy than out.

Nadine Dorries boasts she didn’t always wear red-soled Louboutins. The celebrity MP told the Ampthill Literary Festival in Bedfordshire that when she was a child, her family was so poor, she often couldn’t go to school because she’d no shoes. I always knew the Tory party had no sole.

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 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.