"Is he the stripper?" Photo: Getty
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Partying with Paddy Ashdown, Ed's Labour HQ rules, and a literally rubbish Tory

Plus young Tory exploits with the Northern Ireland Secretary's red box.

One suspects that Theresa Villiers will be unhappy to discover what a bunch of Tory youths did with one of her ministerial red boxes. Come to think of it, the Northern Ireland Secretary might be in trouble, too – aren’t ministers supposed to take care of them? A snout whispered that a mob from the youth group Conservative Future found the box at Villiers’s Chipping Barnet Conservative Association offices following a talk by Peter Lilley MP. Unable to open the case, the excitable Boris minors took it to the nearby Ye Olde Monken Holt pub and posed for photographs on social media before thinking better of it and deleting the snaps. My informant saw one picture of a young Tory holding the box aloft. The next generation of Cons is as stupidly arrogant as the old.

 

Nick Clegg’s election chief, Paddy Ashdown, revels in his Action Man image but the former Royal Marine met his match on a train to London after the 2 April TV debate. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Lib Dem peer was forced to surrender to a Yorkshire hen party in fancy dress. On this occasion, a radar-lugged snout was settling down to hear Ashdown discussing campaign strategy on his phone when the carriage filled up with shrieking lasses. Captain Paddy hastily terminated the call with a giggly: “Save me! Save me!”
 

“Get it sorted!” is Ed Miliband’s most used phrase when on visits to Labour Party HQ on Brewer’s Green, barely a shout away from Westminster. Staff are instructed to keep his battle bus stocked with Pret A Manger sandwiches. You can take the socialist out of Hampstead . . . I’m told his favourite is the BLT. There’s a “no photos” edict.
 

Back on the train, Captain Paddy looked on open-mouthed as the Yorkshire hen party drank Cava for breakfast and noisily told lewd stories. “Just imagine what they’ll be like by the time they get to London,” a rueful Ashdown muttered to his companion. “This is going to be the journey from hell.”
 

The Tory wannabe and barrister Anna Firth isn’t the sharpest tool in the election campaign kit. Decamping to Labour-held Erith and Thamesmead after failing to secure her party’s nomination for the November 2014 Rochester by-election, Firth has made litter her big issue. She posted fewer pictures of rubbish, though, after rivals noted that most were taken in the constituency’s Bexley wards – where Tories run the council and are responsible for street cleaning.

One of the hens eventually recognised Ashdown. A glass of Cava was thrust into his hand. Selfies were taken. “Is he the stripper?” one asked. Cue more cheering. Paddy Pantsdown kept his trousers on. He looked terrified.

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 09 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue 2015

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left