Painting the town blue

Into the Conservative bubble in Manchester, where the first person your correspondent bumped into was the Prime Minister. I was struggling with heavy bags into the hotel lift; he was trying to lead a posse out. It'd be fair to say that we were both startled, your Tory-baiting correspondent
not exactly top of the Cameron Christmas card list. My "Hello, David" prompted a "Welcome" from the PM, followed a moment later by a less cordial "-ish", before he strode purposefully into the Midland Hotel foyer.

The Buller Boy may be pleased to learn that Tom Baldwin, Ed Miliband's Alastair Campbell, vetoed a full-throated, class-war attack on the cabinet millionaires by the telephone engineer's son Andy Burnham. The shadow educashun secretary was poised to deliver his condemnation at the party's Liverpool shindig when he was handed a note instructing him, in capitals: "DO NOT USE BULLINGDON." So, missing it was, along with the cheers the digs would've earned.

Citizen Dave's casuals were so smart that he was clearly heading for a night on the town. I later discovered that the destination of his jeans and polo shirt was Little Yang Sing, a Chinese restaurant in a basement in Manchester. I know this because the management didn't realise that the booking was for the Prime Minister and the Chancer of the Exchequer, George Osborne, plus assorted Downing Street flunkies. Thus, the PM was seated at a table adjacent to a press pack dining with his aide Gabby Bertin, the Lady Sybil Crawley of Downturn Britain. In a failure of joined-up government, she'd declined Cameron's invitation, because she had already agreed to go for a Chinese. Neither had checked if it was at the same eatery.

The Rosa Luxemburg of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O'Grady, deputy general secretary of the labour movement's industrial wing, told how she became lost in Liverpool while driving to a meeting. Seeking help from a Scouse-nav, O'Grady pulled over and wound down the window. "Excuse me," she said to a pedestrian, "how do I get to the university?" The Liverpudlian shot back: "Study hard."

In the register of members' financial interests, David Miliband reveals Fleet Street's freelance rates. The Mail on Sunday paid him £2,000 twice, once for a piece that took three hours, then a second requiring two hours, plus a juicy cheque of £2,500 for a four-hour commentary. The Times stumped up a couple of £500 payments, both listed as needing two hours' work. It seems Lord Rothermere is more generous than Rupert Murdoch. Memo to NS editor: where's my rate rise? (OK, I know the answer.)

"Boy George" Osborne's hopes of drawing a line under the former dominatrix Natalie Rowe's allegations face a couple of hurdles. I hear that she wants her say in court on phone-hacking. And Labour MPs, including the rottie John Spellar, call Ozzy "Louise", which Rowe asserts was a "safety word". Whatever that means.

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 10 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The next great depression

Show Hide image

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.