Is Boris' trademark blond mop showing a peroxide tinge? Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Tom and Jerry, the Corbyn effect and rumours of a bottle blond Boris

The Prime Minister’s closest circle accuses his wannabe successor of dyeing his hair.

Rivalry between the Bullingdon Club frenemies David Cameron and Boris Johnson has taken a turn for the worse. The Prime Minister’s closest circle accuses his wannabe successor of dyeing his hair.

The charge is a bit rich, given that this column reported evidence years ago that Dave’s suspiciously grey-free barnet was coloured to retain a youthful air. But a No 10 insider tells me that a “chlorine tinge” was detected in bright light and it’s assumed that Mr Blond Ambition has also turned to the bottle. Johnson’s mop is his trademark and he is prone to peering into a mirror to check that it’s untidy before appearing in public, ruffling his crowning glory with a hand if it’s too neat. Cameron has anointed George Osborne as his successor. The dye is cast for a grubby fight.

The Labour leadership race’s dynamic has shifted to the advantage of Jeremy Corbyn, with the endorsement of Unite, which has both financial and political clout.

Victory for the left-winger remains improbable, though not impossible. A strong showing, with one Labour shadow cabinet member predicting that Corbyn will be the runner-up, would compel the new leader to offer a post to the rebellious candidate of the party’s Syriza wing. Corbyn is aware that Diane Abbott was made a middling public health spokeswoman after the last leadership contest before Ed Miliband sacked her for disloyalty. The anti-Trident Corbyn has mused that he would take the defence post. The race’s fallout could be considerable.

Austerity extends to the ranks of the army. The defence minister HMS Penny Mordaunt admitted to Strangford’s Democratic Unionist MP, Jim Shannon, that the size of an infantry battalion has shrunk under the Tories. In 2010, it was 570 soldiers. Today, it’s 530. The mini-battalions camouflage deeper military cuts.

It’s a coincidence, I’m sure, that, in the year of the Labour contest, all members in Yorkshire and Humberside were invited to the annual garden party held by Yvette Cooper’s Normanton local party and that of the Morley constituency of her election victim hubby, Ed Balls. My snout attended the event, at the couple’s Castleford home, which included a bouncy castle, tug of war and live music. Gastronome Balls took the tongs at the barbecue.

The couple are very popular and the image of Balls as a pantomime villain is one of the great misrepresentations of modern politics. Unlike Cameron, he doesn’t stop flipping burgers when the cameras leave.

The award for the best quip at the Labour hustings goes to Tom Watson. He’d prefer not to be Corbyn’s deputy, to avoid the Tory press mocking them as Tom and Jerry.

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 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The austerity war

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.