Ooh, look at your barnet: Dave meets Babs at No 10, 30 October. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.