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

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.