Montage: Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Ed, the vet, Yvette and Harriet

Harriet Harperson misunderstands her MP hubby Jack Dromey after the couple acquire a kitten called Otis.

The workers are revolting. Staff at United Utilities complain they were duped into forming an audience for David Cameron to deliver Tory propaganda. The water company, keen to board the fracking bandwagon, told employees to be at its Warrington HQ to receive “very important information”. The press-ganged staff were informed they were required to sit, smile and applaud Cameron blowing his Tory trumpet.


Two summer observations on Ed Miliband after talking in recent months to his office and Labour’s shadow cabinet: the first is that he swears more than he did. “Fucking” is the leader’s curse of choice. The second is his sensitivity to the merest hint of criticism of election maestro Douglas Alexander’s strategy. One Mili loyalist who had received a tongue-lashing told me that Sweary Ed uses the former whenever he detects the latter.


Veterans of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign report gazebo wars between the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party. The rival Trots apparently compete for the best plots to pitch tents on at Gaza protests and brag about who handed out the most placards. It might be funny if Palestinians weren’t being slaughtered.


I overlooked the grand digs that come with the Italian job should Cameron reward Old Etonian retainer Ed Llewellyn by appointing him our man in Rome. The Villa Wolkonsky is perhaps the grandest residence of any British ambassador, originally owned by a Russian princess and a Nazi hangout when Mussolini and Hitler were partners in crime. The Foreign Office bought the pile after the war. It was recently cased by a parliamentary delegation, including Charlie Elphicke, Chloe Smith and Stephen Pound. I’m assured that the bedrooms are vast and the swimming pool large enough to host a regatta. Cameron and Llewellyn would be in it together.


Fur is flying in Devon after ex-strawberry farmer George Eustice, a one-time Ukip candidate-turned-Tory environment minister, opposed building new homes for beavers. His excuse is that much has changed in the 500 years since the beavers left the river, before returning a few years ago. Surely he doesn’t fear that if the government built lodges for beavers Iain Duncan Smith would count occupants to impose the bedroom tax?


Harriet Harman was guilty of everyday sexism at a TUC dinner when she announced football gags could be dropped now that Frances O’Grady is the unions’ general secretary. Harperson’s stereotyping led her to believe, wrongly, that only blokes like footie. Sister O’Grady is a fanatical Arsenal fan. That faux pas aside, Hattie tells a nice joke. Her latest is misunderstanding her MP hubby, Jack Dromey, after the couple acquired Otis, a kitten. When Dromey shouted, “Call the vet, his balls have to go!” Harman claims she heard: “Call Yvette, Balls has to go!” My informant muttered that some in the audience preferred the misheard statement. 

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 06 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Gaza

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How austere will Philip Hammond be?

The Chancellor must choose between softening or abandoning George Osborne's approach in his Autumn Statement. 

After becoming Chancellor, Philip Hammond was swift to confirm that George Osborne's budget surplus target would be abandoned. The move was hailed by some as the beginning of a new era of fiscal policy - but it was more modest than it appeared. Rather than a statement of principle, the abandonment of the 2019-20 target was merely an acceptance of reality. In the absence of additional spending cuts or tax rises, it would inevitably be missed (as Osborne himself recognised following the EU referendum). The decision did not represent, as some suggested, "the end of austerity".

Ahead of his first Autumn Statement on 23 November, the defining choice facing Hammond is whether to make a more radical break. As a new Resolution Foundation report notes, the Chancellor could either delay the surplus target (the conservative option) or embrace an alternative goal. Were he to seek a current budget suplus, rather than an overall one (as Labour pledged at the last general election), Hammond would avoid the need for further austerity and give himself up to £17bn of headroom. This would allow him to borrow for investment and to provide support for the "just managing" families (as Theresa May calls them) who will be squeezed by the continuing benefits freeze.

Alternatively, should Hammond merely delay Osborne's surplus target by a year (to 2020-21), he would be forced to impose an additional £9bn of tax rises or spending cuts. Were he to reject any further fiscal tightening, a surplus would not be achieved until 2023-24 - too late to be politically relevant. 

The most logical option, as the Resolution Foundation concludes, is for Hammond to target a current surplus. But since entering office, both he and May have emphasised their continuing commitment to fiscal conservatism ("He talks about austerity – I call it living within our means," the latter told Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs). For Hammond to abandon the goal of the UK's first budget surplus since 2001-02 would be a defining moment. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.