Montage by Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Zahawi’s horse has bolted

Plus: The last word (for a while) on Ed Miliband's appearance.

Closing the stable door after the heating bill bolted, Nadhim Zahawi won’t be left short of a few bob after repaying a wrongly claimed spare groom subsidy. As well as a country estate with a hitherto taxpayer-fuelled riding school attached, Zahawi owns a £5m Putney home and three London flats he rents out. No wonder he’s hosting a parliamentary reception on 17 December so that the British Property Federation can extol the profits to be banked from letting to students.

Labour’s awkward squad punctuate barracking of Tories with pranks. Thus John Cryer found Ian Mearns’s hand in his pocket trying to hold him down when called at Prime Minister’s Questions. Cryer’s pockets have been used before against him. The ex-miner Ronnie Campbell once passed a packet of Fisherman’s Friends lozenges down the line of benches. When they didn’t reappear, Campbell, easygoing until riled, demanded their return. Ian Lavery, another former pitman, suggested he look in Cryer’s pocket where an MP had hidden Campbell’s sweets. Sometimes, the chamber is like a rowdy school assembly.

Ministers recall with a vengeance the smallest indignities when dumped or shuffled off to fresh pastures. Bath bon viveur Don Foster remembers with a curled lip a “Dear Donald” letter from a faceless bureaucrat when Nick Clegg flipped him to deputy chief whip from communities and town halls. The departed department’s uncivil servant warned the affable Lib Dem that he’d signed a confidentiality agreement so he must stay schtum, and that failure to return a laptop to the ministry could result in prosecution. A thank-you note from Eric Pickles might’ve been nice.

An update on last week’s item that Yvette Cooper revealed a royal protection officer mistook her insignificant other, Ed Balls, for Nick Griffin of BNP notoriety. I’m told Ed B recounted a similar tale himself on the rubber chicken circuit. Except in the shadow chancellor’s version he is mistaken for Griffin at a dinner for the Chief Rabbi. That means the confusion must be kosher.

The right-whinge press will kick itself. The anti-union lot never miss an opportunity to portray Red Ed in the pocket of Red Len. So savour the disappointment of Tory editors at missing Miliband visiting Esher Place, the nothing’s-too-good-for-theworkers education centre of McCluskey’s Unite for a Labour NEC away day. The Milimites were mightily chuffed they slipped their man in and out undetected.

And finally . . .what may be my last word for a while on Miliband’s appearance. His office is split over whether the leader should button or unbutton his jacket when walking for TV cameras. I vote for openness.

Kevin Maguire is the 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 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

Getty
Show Hide image

By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman