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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle