Ooh, look at your barnet: Dave meets Babs at No 10, 30 October. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: Dave’s secret barnet formula

Cameron is paranoid his spreading bald spot will be photographed from above.

Claire Perry yearned for a red box but the rail minister hit the buffers as an MP. My eye was drawn to a curious exchange between the statuesque controller and Labour’s Kevin Brennan. A few days before her appointment, Perry wrote to her now predecessor, Stephen Hammond, to demand that electrification of the railways must not mean that London trains would no longer stop at Bedwyn and Pewsey stations in her Devizes backyard. Brennan asked cheekily if Perry received a reply from herself. The derailed minister cited “ministerial propriety” before explaining she could no longer campaign publicly to make line upgrades conditional on her two stations’ inclusion.

Selsdon Man is making a comeback. The Selsdon Park Hotel, made politically infamous by hosting Ted Heath’s turbo capitalists, is to host fundraising dinners for the Croydon Central Tory MP, Gavin Barwell, and the Thatcherite multimillionaire, Chris Philp, who hopes to inherit Croydon South from the retiring Richard Ottaway. The pair have established a £400-membership-fee Croydon Business Club. On the menu at the inaugural, invitation-only bash in the hotel, the Selsdon Men will serve up the developer behind the new £1bn Westfield shopping centre in the south London borough.

There’s more than one way to get through Downing Street’s black door. Cameron’s little helper Oliver Dowden, overlooked when Croydon South preferred moneybags Philp, resigned as deputy chief of staff following his selection as the Tory candidate in equally safe Hertsmere. These days, Dowden is in and out of the place working for Conservative campaign headquarters. New wage slip, same old politics.

David Cameron’s ego took a knock when a receptionist turned him away unrecognised from a Toni & Guy salon in Aylesbury, half a dozen miles from Chequers, after Sam Cam sent him to get their son’s hair cut. I hear from his No 10 minders that Cameron is paranoid his spreading bald spot will be photographed from above. The barnet formula obsessing No 10 is the industrial quantities of men’s hair products required to maintain an elaborate cover-up. The PM’s £90 celebrity crimper, Lino Carbosiero, was controversially awarded an MBE. The most recent previous Old Etonian premier, Alec Douglas-Home, was also the last baldie. It’s a school tradition that Combover Cameron’s unable to brush off.

Pre-election resentment in the Labour ranks. One of the party’s deadpan MPs insisted to your correspondent that Miliband’s office is known as the Parachute Regiment. Why? “They all want to be dropped into safe seats.” 

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 06 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Running out of Time

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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