It’s time Ted took on the BlackBerry Bruiser

Miliband was miffed to see Balls engrossed in sending texts.

A BlackBerry ban isn't exactly a Clause Four moment but Ed Miliband needs to start somewhere to stamp his authority on Labour. During
a shadow cabinet meeting not every frontbencher listened raptly as Ted addressed his lieutenants. The young leader was miffed to see his former Treasury line manager, Ed "Bruiser" Balls, more engrossed in sending texts and emails.

“I know BlackBerrys are interesting," said a hurt Ted, interrupting both himself and the shadow chancellor, "but so are people." Bruiser doesn't do blushing but looked up and smiled apologetically. Chairman Ted resumed and, giggled my snout, so did Bruiser, who moments later was tapping
his phone again. Sounds to me like an authority issue.

Never bet on a tip from David Cameron. The people's toff told a St Patrick's Day shindig in the House of Lords that Ireland had beaten England at cricket but England would beat Ireland at rugby. They didn't, England suffering a 24-8 thumping in Dublin. Citizen Dave will need to keep his head down next time he stays with his chum over the Irish Sea. The chap owns a castle, naturally.

The cessation of foreign hostilities between Cameron and Miliband to co-operate over Libya doesn't extend to government spinners. Four minutes into Mili's Commons speech, the No 10 mouthpiece Steve Field and the political operative Gabby Bertin led out hacks who'd spent 46 minutes listening to the PM to hear more of the Downing Street case at a lobby briefing. The Pied Piper tactic isn't new. Alastair Campbell did the same to the Tories and old hands say Maggie Thatcher's uncivil servant, Bernard Ingham, prevented journos listening to Labour before that. They're never all in this together when it comes to gaining a slender PR advantage.

The "Duchess of Devizes", the Tory banker Claire Perry, isn't being allowed to forget her tearoom outburst after failing to catch John Bercow's eye - "What have I got to do to be called by the Speaker? Give him a blow job?" Perry's impeccable Gaelic pronunciation of the Scottish Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency (Western Isles) prompted a voice on the Labour benches to shout out: "Great oral skills, Claire." The informant swears the Cameron cutie swallowed hard and continued her speech without hesitation.

The words hoist, own and petard sprang to mind when a gleeful reader rang to point out that I had inadvertently referred to Osborne's ill-disciplined trainee attack puppy Matthew Hancock as Michael. Mike Hancock is, of course, the Libido Democrat from Pompey South whose young blonde Russian femme fatale was accused of spying, while Matt Hancock is a West Suffolk Tory boy with a penchant for slashing public services. I wonder who was most offended.

The pink ribbons to hang swords from pegs in the members' cloakroom is parliament as a heritage theme park. In times of war they're used by MPs to express dissent. Thus, a child's plastic broadsword appeared on one of the hooks after the start of military action in Libya. The dangling toy is a weapon of mass derision.

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 28 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Why Libya? Why now?

Photo: Getty Images
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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 government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing 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.