Tesco. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: Tough talk at Tesco

Plus: the latest jibe doing the Labour rounds.

You may recall the Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott parting ways with her distressed child to traipse through the division lobby on Michael Cockerell’s documentary Inside the Commons. She earns sympathy over the episode at meetings in marginal Cardiff Central. Curious, then, to learn that, under a deal between the parties, MPs with kids on the parliamentary estate may be nodded through – permitted to vote without appearing in person before the tellers. Labour whips mutter darkly that Willott walked for the cameras. That’s either a heinous slur or fancy footwork on her part.

Unison’s organiser Melanie Onn is fighting hard to hold Great Grimsby for Labour against Ukip’s Victoria Ayling – not the brightest of the Purple Shirts. Brainbox Ayling triggered guffaws by asking: “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” Not that the ossified Grimsby Labour Party has been renewed under Austin Mitchell MP. A visitor was excited to discover a stairlift at the local HQ, the first he’d seen in a party building. Enthusiasm waned when it was suggested that their membership was so advanced it was for the youth officer.

Laura Sandys is counting the days. The retiring Tory pro-European in Nigel Farage’s targeted Thanet South seat was struck by the similarities between parliament and prison during a recent meeting with ex-cons in Margate. MPs and inmates both split into gangs. Whips play the role of warders, enforcing discipline. Sandys refers to her forthcoming “parole” when the Commons is dissolved on 30 March.

Pity the marketing man Jonathan Lord, compared unfavourably to a 1970s Teddy boy band. The Woking Tory MP was volunteered to replace the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at some Surrey hustings. Howard Kaye, Hunt’s train-driver Labour rival, described it as like buying a ticket for Royal Blood and seeing Showaddywaddy instead. Still, the show must go on.

As the Chipping Norton chumocracy rallies around Jeremy Clarkson, oop north the Brigg and Goole Tory blabbermouth Andrew Percy is on his own. He harangued Gillian Boatman, Labour Mayor of Goole Town Council, who works on the tills at Tesco, claiming she hadn’t invited him to a war memorial ceremony. Company rules prevented Boatman from answering back. An FOI request backfired when Percy found his name on the list. The council published a helpful letter from the forgetful MP explaining, politely, why he was unable to attend.

The latest jibe doing the Labour rounds is that Ed “Two Kitchens” Miliband is so unpopular he isn’t including his picture on leaflets in Doncaster North.

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 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, British politics is broken

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

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.