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Commons Confidential: Left to her own Devizes

That brassy Cameroon, Claire Perry, resembled a Home Counties Bet Lynch behind the bar of Strangers’ as she pulled the first pint of a Devizes local ale offered as that week’s guest beer. An irreverent colleague of the statuesque barmaid muttered just out of her hearing that he feared she’d serve it like G&T, with ice and a slice. Perry was in party mood and recalled her nominations when the Wadworth brewery invited suggestions to name a couple of dray horses. Mercifully, the coalition queen’s proposals, Dave and Nick, were rejected. Within my hearing, if not hers, the Tory MP spluttered into his pint of best that a team of horses wasn’t meant to pull in opposite directions.

The demand by Newcastle United’s lager-swilling squillionaire owner, Mike Ashley, who has agreed a sponsorship deal with the legalised loan shark Wonga, that football fans give 4,214 per cent support has provoked sparring in the Labour dugout. The Northumberland ex-miner Ian Lavery’s vow he’d never watch his team in shirts advertising financial misery was spotted by his fellow ex-pitman Ronnie Campbell as a Rahm Emanuelesque opportunity never to let a crisis go to waste. Campbell, who sits for Blyth Valley, asked Lavery if he could borrow the Wansbeck MP’s two season tickets if they were going spare.

Sticking with Wonga, their apology to the anti-rip-off campaigner Stella Creasy for cyber abuse didn’t hide that “St Ella” isn’t flavour of the month with her Westminster colleagues. My snout on the back benches asserted that the Walthamstow warrior would top a Parliamentary Labour Party unpopularity poll. Your disbelieving correspondent checked with two other MPs, who concurred. The praise she gains for ability is undermined, said her detractors, by ambition and a lack of clubbability. Backstabbing in politics is worse than in newspapers, a feat I thought impossible.

The Bassetlaw bruiser John Mann’s war on other MPs’ expenses, regardless of political hue, constantly ready at the sniff of a fiddle to demand an inquiry, isn’t exactly endearing him to the other 647. One of Mann’s victims whimpered he wished the clock could be turned back to 2002 when Mann, before buying a hairshirt, with his own money, was the 19th-highest claimer. The zeal of the convert is terrifying for others.

Any book which starts with the opening line ‘The idea for this book started with a blunder by David Cameron’ is sure to grab my attention!” wrote the Prime Minister to the lobby hack Colin Brown, author of Real Britannia. Politician disasters come and go but the inner PR man in the Prime Schmoozer never fades.

The Labour victor in the Manchester Central by-election, Lucy Powell, collected names outside polling stations from the age of eight. Her father calculated, correctly, that no voter could be so cold-hearted as to ignore a smiling little girl with a clipboard. Kidz4Labour could be Ed Miliband’s answer to a declining activist base.

Kevin Maguire is 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 03 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The family in peril

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David Cameron's starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the governmen dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up t o£250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it. and reduce the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.