Miriam González Durántez and her politician husband make crumble at a West Country school. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Firth blunders forth, Balls' food foibles - and Farage to quit smoking?

Plus: Douglas Alexander burning the candle at both ends?

Twickenham’s Karl Marx, Vince Cable, has been trudging the streets of suburban London with a yellow backpack. The bag, in gaudy Lib Dem colours, was a gift from staff at the Department for Business, intended to make Cable visible to motorists while he was cycling to meetings – but he’s not cycling any more. Cable’s battle bike was nicked outside Richmond’s adult education college during a campaign visit with Nick Clegg. He lost his wheels, seat, handlebars and frame. Clegg isn’t helping the police with their inquiries. My snout muttered that Cable’s error was to pretend-lock the boneshaker instead of securing it properly; the thief had only to pull apart the unfastened, er, cable. A workable analogy for this party’s relationship with voters, perhaps?

The rubbish Tory Anna Firth is the gift that keeps giving. Dave’s candidate in Labour-held Erith and Thamesmead published photos of littered streets a few weeks ago, seemingly without realising that they were in an area run by a Tory council. Her latest eyebrow-raiser was on a visit to a gurdwara. Firth was trying too hard with her Bollywood princess look and was docked extra votes for a rehearsed “Indian” greeting. The Sikh host explained politely that it was Hindi, while they speak Punjabi.

Big Tobacco shareholders (if there are any among NS readers), take note. I hear that Nigel Farage is to quit smoking after the election. Win or lose for Ukip in South Thanet, the 40-a-day puffer intends to give up death sticks in the most savage blow to the industry since fags were banned from pubs and restaurants. Brewers and photographers, however, can relax. The pint glass will remain a standard prop.

Not everyone was excited to learn that Miriam González Durántez has been enjoying a secret life as the coalition government’s Nigella Lawson. When informed about her anonymous food blog, Labour’s top chef, Ed Balls, sniffed: “She’s an arriviste.” The culinary divide is clear in the Great Political Bake-Off. Nobody gets to the size of the burly shadow chancellor by eating tiny wraps with shrimp, or chickpea and spinach soup.

The distracted Tory Bob Blackman has been photographed fiddling with his phone during hustings in Harrow East. Constituents claim that he’s calculating mileage claims, having been asked to repay more than £1,000 for more than 700 “inaccurate” claims. I’m told the criticism drives him mad.

Unless one has gone up in the past few days, I imagine the only explanation for the absence of a “Vote Labour” poster at the London home of Douglas Alexander must be the pressure of running the party’s national campaign while fighting to keep his own seat in Scotland.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mail

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 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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