Mark Reckless is no longer a member of the Conservative party. Photo: Rob Stothard/Getty Images
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Land of hopeless Tories: hen parties, Harwich and a Reckless spin room slip

Plus: why the Lib Dems are paying a teenager to deliver their leaflets.

That hen party favourite, Ed Miliband, is too busy posing for selfies to visit Labour Party HQ at Brewer’s Green. His corner office is usually empty. Shadow cabinet special advisers peer longingly through the glass. Eight desks for 40 aides have them elbowing each other for space. Every day there is fierce competition to arrive first and bag a seat by leaving a jacket on the back of a chair, holiday sunlounger-style. Noses were put out of joint, my snout says, when taped messages appeared announcing that chairs had been reserved for the staff of the chief campaign strategist, Douglas Alexander. If the Paisley polls are correct, they’ll be the only seats Dougie has on 8 May.

David Cameron wasn’t happy, an informant whispers, following his TV mauling by the BBC’s newshound Andrew Marr. The grumpy fox-hunting Tory refused to share a sofa with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon during the usual end-of-show chat. In the past, Cameron has made a point of going into the green room to exchange pleasantries with his fellow guests. After Sunday morning’s mangling, Cam Sham departed without so much as a tally-ho. He’s a hunter who forgets his manners when cornered.

Bernard Jenkin is a Eurosceptic and a hereditary Tory MP who likes to drive around Harwich in a 4x4 blaring “Land of Hope and Glory” from his speakers. This nuisance on wheels is the son of a onetime Conservative cabinet minister. Jenkin the Younger’s noisy patriotism prompted a local Labour activist, Garry Calver, to compose a song, “Land of Hopeless Tories”, to the tune of Elgar’s original. The last two lines of the rewritten first verse – “God, we love the wealthy,/Make them wealthier yet!” – sum up Tory policy better than any speech by Ed Miliband.

The Lib Dems’ collapse in Hornsey and Wood Green has forced the Yellow Bellies into paying kids to deliver election propaganda for Lynne Featherstone. One former leafleter said she refused to distribute pamphlets after the Lib Dumbs jumped into bed with the Tories in 2010. Instead, the party pays her teenage son £10 for a little more than an hour’s work filling letter boxes. When the party claims that opportunity is at the heart of its manifesto, in north London it means the chance to earn pocket money handling rotten goods.

In the spin room at the Cameronless five-way TV debate, the defector from the Tories to Ukip Mark Reckless referred to the Conservatives as “us”. It was a telling slip of the tongue. It’s been a similarly tricky campaign for Jeremy Hunt. Asked if he was spinning for an absent Cameron, the Health Secretary replied, “Yes,” before quickly correcting himself: “No, I’m telling the truth.” Pull the other one.

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 24 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, What does England want?

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.