Tories have been ordered to be full of ho, ho, ho this Christmas. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: A shocking secret Santa

Plus: an unexpected gnome.

The Chancer of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is playing Scrooge by threatening permanent austerity, yet word went out from Tory HQ for MPs and candidates to be full of ho, ho, ho. So Andrew Atkinson, the Conservative challenger to Labour’s Ian Lucas in Wrexham, donned the full outfit to play Santa in the Welsh town.

Festivities were moved to the Pentre Gwyn Community Centre after the usual venue, Kingsley Circle, was shut by council cuts. Atkinson is a hard-line deficit slasher so his sack is no doubt full of redundancies, payday loan forms and bedroom tax penalties. The music teacher playing carols nearly fainted with shock at the Tory’s cheek. Lucas needs to buy his wife, for it was her, smelling salts for Christmas.

Lord Palmer’s family pile, Manderston in Berwickshire, boasts the world’s only silver staircase. The convivial aristo, scion of the biscuit family and hereditary peer, is friendly with Labour MPs over the border in Northumberland.

I detect a touch of the Downton in the relationship. The Old Etonian once invited, I hear, Blyth Valley’s rough-hewn Ronnie Campbell to polish the banister. Campbell, an ex-miner, was equally unable to assist when Palmer inquired if the MP knew anybody willing to clean the Edwardian stately home.

The tea room talk is of the strained friendship between Margaret Hodge and Tessa Jowell. The pair were sisters in arms but the London mayoralty has come between them. Jowell’s tossed her hat in the ring while the chair of the public accounts committee hedges her bets. The influential post in the Commons is occupied by an opposition MP, so should Labour win the election, Hodge would be out of one job and free to run for another. Every cloud has a silver lining. For somebody.

Tory, Lib Dem and Labour whips have one thing in common: contempt for the Tory minister Matt Hancock. I hear he’s so despised that the party enforcers share text messages about him. A Tory I’ll decline to identify showed Labour whips a text ordering Tory MPs to huddle around Hancock in the Commons to signal support.

On the edge of Harold Wilson’s grave sits a small, red-hatted gnome. The political editor of the FT, George Parker, spied the garden sentry on a visit to the Isles of Scilly. The figure is, presumably, a tribute to the Labour premier’s dig at the tax-dodging “gnomes of Zürich”, the Swiss bankers. When Cameron shuffles off this mortal coil, a tin of baked beans would be appropriate to commemorate food banks.

What attracted the BBC’s Paul “Are you going to resign, minister?” Lambert to Ukip? There’s the £100,000-plus salary and that’s more than double the money Labour dangled in front of the gobbiest man in TV. 

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 19 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Issue 2014

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496