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Commons Confidential: A donkey stalks Westminster

Why has supposed Tory leadership hopeful Adam Afriyie been popping in to visit Liam Fox?

Declarations of loyalty to David Cameron from Adam Afriyie were undermined by an admission he had discussed the “long-term future of the party” with other Tories. The hapless Windsor MP may be more stalking donkey than stalking horse but his wealth, reportedly as large as £100m, buys him clout. He might never wear the crown, but one so rich could finance a coronation. Which office did my snout see Afriyie popping in and out of in the weeks before the great plot was publicly alleged? None other than the Commons den – an office along a corridor called the North Curtain, a short cut from the hairdressers – of Dr Liam Fox. Afriyie may not harbour leadership ambitions but I’m not sure the same could be said of the right-wing former defence secretary.

The “Nazi stag party” MP Aidan Burley continues to confound colleagues on the Commons work and pensions committee with his poor grasp of government programmes. Hurly-Burley interrupted a discussion of Disability Living Allowance with a question about Employment and Support Allowance. My informant said it was rather like raising India during deliberations on South America. The more I hear about Burley, the easier it is to grasp how he failed to understand that an SS uniform would cause offence. I suspect he isn’t overwhelmed with bids when pub quiz teams are formed.

Interesting to note how peers’ attendance in the House of Cronies is going up with their expenses. A parliamentary answer disclosed that the average daily turnout in 2010 was 397 unelected lawmakers, who claimed a mean (in the arithmetical sense) of £270. Fast-forward to 2012 and the typical attendance was up to 488 and the average payout had risen to £287. Meanwhile, Lords staff are heading for their fourth successive annual pay freeze.

Food for thought after Ed Miliband and Mervyn King got into a stew by claiming that Brendan Barber would be going on a Jamie Oliver cookery course after he retired from the TUC. The Labour leader and the governor of the Bank of England, I gather, both got the wrong end of the ladle at the general sec’s farewell party. Barber is no union chef. The recipe for confusion is blamed on a half-boiled rumour.

The Pizzagate photograph of the upper-crust Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson enjoying a Davos dinner on the eve of hard cheese for the British economy has been labelled, as William Cash notes on page 13, the Bullingdon Club on tour. Despite its familiarity, the idea that the three most powerful Tories were members of the same Hooray Henry society at Oxford retains the ability to startle. I’m told Boris boasts privately that his £389,625, including Torygraphmoney, exceeds the salaries of Dave and George combined. They’re not all in this together.

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 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.