Commons Confidential: Is Boris heading for a seat in Kensington?

PLUS: Why Bob Crow turned down <em>Big Brother</em>.

Most Tory MPs I’ve spoken to expect Boris Johnson to break another promise and stand in a safe Tory seat at the May 2015 election, doubling for a year as Mayor of London. Parliament would be his entry ticket to the Conservative leadership raffle, should the blond ambition’s Buller junior David Cameron lose at the polls. A place in cabinet would be Johnson’s consolation prize should – splutter, ruffles hair, crikey! –Dave triumph. Johnson must find, of course, a desirable Tory constituency. Noblesse oblige is likely to see another Old Etonian, Frank “Zac” Goldsmith, seek a second term in Richmond Park. The gossip on the House of Commons terrace before MPs went on their hols was of Johnson popping up in Kensington. It’s in London, posh, rock-solid Tory; the sitting tenant, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, will be nudging 69 next time. And the local worthies value flamboyance: Alan Clark and Michael Portillo were among the past picks. We’ll see.
 
Labour MPs have taken to calling their leader’s youthful team “Ed’s crèche”, as the fallout over ending not mending (or was it the other way round?) union links continues. The trade union group of MPs, the party’s biggest backbench group, if hitherto a sleeping giant, is to re-form in the autumn. The draft statement of aims prizes Labour’s industrial ties, a direction of travel likely to have Miliband reaching for the antihistamines.
 
I discovered that the hapless Tory Aidan Burley –dumped as a parliamentary aide over a Nazi-themed stag do before dismissing Danny Boyle’s widely applauded Olympic opening ceremony as “lefty multicultural crap” – has quietly left the all-party work and pensions committee. I’m not surprised. A stentorian Glenda Jackson took a dislike to Burley, dismissing the underling with Oscar-winning contempt. Young Burley was well and truly Glenda’d.
 
Labour spent £6.54 for each vote won in the South Shields by-election by the victorious local lass Emma Lewell-Buck. The Shields Gazette calculated that Ukip’s second place cost it £7.97 a vote, with the Cons, a poor third, shelling out a mere £1.85 a throw. The biggest losers were the Lib Dems, each cross on a ballot paper for the yellow peril a cofferemptying £17.91 – with an embarrassing seventh place in return. Austerity doesn’t start at home for Nick Clegg.
 
Bob Crow the cockney express, Britain’s most recognisable trade union general secretary, turned down Big Brother. The railway workers’ leader rejected a large wad of notes waved in front of his nose to entice him into the TV madhouse. I for one can’t see Crowbar in a Lycra catsuit.
 
This column is taking its annual summer break and will be back the week before the TUC kicks off the political conference season.
 
Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror 
A seat in Kensington would be Boris's entry to the Conservative leadership raffle. Photograph: Getty Images

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 29 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue

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Aussies and Kiwis can be “us” to Brexiteers - so why are EU citizens “them”?

Nostalgia for the empire means Brexiteers still see Australians and New Zealanders as "Brits abroad". 

There are many terrible things about Brexit, most of which I counted, mournfully, on the night of the referendum while hiding in a stairwell because I was too depressed to talk to anyone at the party I’d just run away from. But one of the biggest didn’t hit me until the next day, when I met a friend and (I’m aware how ridiculous this may sound) suddenly remembered she was Dutch. She has been here 20 years, her entire adult life, and it’s not that I thought she was British exactly; I’d just stopped noticing she was foreign.

Except now, post-referendum, she very definitely was and her right to remain in Britain was suddenly up for grabs. Eleven months on, the government has yet to clarify the matter for any of Britain’s three million European residents. For some reason, ministers seem to think this is OK.

If you attended a British university in the past 20 years, work in the NHS or the City – or have done almost anything, in large parts of the country – you’ll know people like this: Europeans who have made their lives here, launching careers, settling down with partners, all on the assumption that Britain was part of the EU and so they were as secure here as those with British passports. The referendum has changed all that. Our friends and neighbours are now bargaining chips, and while we may not think of them as foreigners, our leaders are determined to treat them as such. People we thought of as “us” have somehow been recast as “them”.

There’s a problem with bringing notions of “us” and “them” into politics (actually, there are many, which seems like a very good reason not to do it, but let’s focus on one): not everyone puts the boundary between them in the same place. Take the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan. The sort of man one can imagine spent boyhood afternoons copying out Magna Carta for fun, Hannan spent decades campaigning for Brexit. Yet he’s not averse to all forms of international co-operation, and in his spare time he’s an enthusiastic advocate of CANZUK, a sort of Commonwealth-on-steroids in which there would be free movement ­between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

When pushed on the reasons this entirely theoretical union is OK, when the real, existing one we’re already in isn’t, he has generally pointed to things such as shared language, culture and war memorials. But the subtext, occasionally made text by less subtle commentators, is that, unlike those Continentals, natives of the other Anglo countries aren’t really foreign. An Australian who’s never set foot in Britain can be “us”; the German doctor who’s been here two decades is still “them”.

There’s a funny thing about Hannan, which I wouldn’t make a big thing of, except it seems to apply to a number of other prominent Leave and CANZUK advocates: for one so fixated on British culture and identity, he grew up a very long way from Britain. He spent his early years in Peru, on his family’s farm near Lima, or occasionally on another one in Bolivia. (You know how it is.) That’s not to say he never set foot in Britain, of course: he was sent here for school.

His bosom pal Douglas Carswell, who is currently unemployed but has in the past found work as both a Conservative and a Ukip MP, had a similarly exotic upbringing. He spent his childhood in Uganda, where his parents were doctors, before boarding at Charterhouse. Then there’s Boris Johnson who, despite being the most ostentatiously British character since John Bull, was born in New York and spent the early years of his life in New England. Until recently, indeed, he held US citizenship; he gave it up last year, ostensibly to show his loyalty to Britain, though this is one of those times where the details of an answer feel less revealing than the fact that he needed to provide one. Oh and Boris went to boarding school, too, of course.

None of these childhoods would look out of place if you read in a biography that it had happened in the 1890s, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they instilled in all of their victims a form of imperial nostalgia. I don’t mean that the Brexiteers were raised to believe they had a moral duty to go around the world nicking other people’s countries (though who knows what the masters really teach them at Eton). Rather, by viewing their homeland from a distance, they grew up thinking of it as a land of hope and glory, rather than the depressing, beige place of white dog poo and industrial strife that 1970s Britain was.

Seen through this lens, much of the more delusional Brexiteer thinking suddenly makes sense. Of course they need us more than we need them; of course they’ll queue up to do trade deals. Even Johnson’s habit of quoting bits of Latin like an Oxford don who’s had a stroke feels like harking back to empire: not to the Roman empire itself (he’s more of a late republican) but to the British one, where such references marked you out as ruling class.

There’s another side effect of this attitude. It enables a belief in a sort of British diaspora: people who are British by virtue of ancestry and ideology no matter how far from these shores they happen to live. In the 19th century, Australians and Canadians were just Brits who happened to be living abroad. What Britain absolutely wasn’t, however, was just another European country. So, in the Leavers’ minds, Aussies and Kiwis still get to be us. The millions of Europeans who have made Britain their home are still, unfortunately, them.

I’m sure these men bear Britain’s European citizens no ill-will; they have, however, fought for a policy that has left them in limbo for 11 months with no end in sight. But that’s the thing about Brexiteers, isn’t it? They may live among us – but they don’t share our values.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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