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

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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