Keith Simpson MP's Christmas Reading List

1 Dec 2015 at 15:04

Guest Post by Keith Simpson MP

As we look forward to the Festive Season colleagues will be looking for interesting books to put in the stockings of loved ones and friends whilst ministers will be desperate to read anything rather than civil service briefs. This selection is personal and draws upon recently published books, historical, political and with some war and conflict. For books on cookery, sport and celebrity ghost written memoirs try your local supermarket.

Arthur Balfour held a series of senior ministerial offices as well as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. Probably the most intellectual holder of that office he moved in late Victorian and Edwardian political, cultural and sexual circles. Nancy W Ellenberger has written an elegant account in Balfour’s World Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Finn de Siècle (Boydell Press £26).

Today, Winston Churchill would never survive the parliamentary and public scrutiny of his finances and life style. He inherited from his father and mother an ability to spend, spend, spend, on everything from gambling to a life style well beyond his income. Churchill survived by extending credit, borrowing, financial gifts and his own prodigious output as an author. Others have touched on Churchill and his finances but David Lough has dug deep into the Churchill archives and the surviving archives of banks, financial institutions and publishers to write a fascinating book. Lough writes from experience as a former investment banker and the founder of a successful private wealth – management firm. No More Champagne Churchill and His Money (Head of Zeus £25) is a must read for any politician.

Previously, Michael Jago has written a biography of Clement Attlee and has now turned his pen to Rab Butler The Best Prime Minister Britain Never Had? (Biteback £25). The last serious biography of Rab was written by Anthony Howard in 1987 and had the advantage that the author knew his subject and was able to interview many of his contemporaries. Rab came from the middle class establishment, married money, was a Chamberlain appeaser, then responsible for the 1944 Education Act, helped to revive Conservative One Nation Toryism after 1945, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary but was outmanoeuvred for the leadership and premiership by Macmillan.

Michael Bloch’s biography of Jeremy Thorpe (Little Brown £25) reveals how this talented politician led a double life of risk that amazingly never brought him down until well into his leadership. Bloch has widened this scope looking at an array of British politicians who were gay or he assumes were gay – some rather far fetched – in Closet Queens Some 26th Century Politicians (Little Brown £25).

Julian Amery was the son of the Conservative politician Leo Amery and his brother John was hanged for treason in 1945. Julian had a distinguished war serving in the Balkans and was an MP from 1950 to 1992 and held a number of ministerial offices. Although seen as right wing Amery was in favour of entry into the Common Market. A new, short account of his life is by Richard Bassett Last Imperialist A Portrait of Julian Amery (Stone Trough Books).

The outstanding biography of 2011 was Charles Moore Margaret Thatcher The Authorised Biography Volume One : Not For Turning. This is to be a triple deck biography and we now have the second volume, Margaret Thatcher Everything She Wants (Allen Lane £30) which has fewer surprises and revelations than the first volume.

We assume that political spin is a contemporary phenomenon but Paul Brighton demonstrates in Original Spin Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain (I B Tauris £25) that Peel, Palmerston, Gladstone and Disraeli all tried to manipulate the press.

For the political anoraks who cannot get through the Festive Season without a fix then the following can be recommended – Tim Ross Why the Tories Won The Inside Story of the 2015 Election (Biteback £12.99); Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh The British General Election of 2015 (Palgrave Macmillan £30; Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo UKIP inside the campaign to redraw the map of British Politics (OUP £19) and Dan Hodges One Minute to Ten Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Three Men, One Ambition and the Price of Power (Michael Joseph £17).

SPQR – Senatus Populusque Romanus – ‘the Senate and People of Rome’ was the Romans’ own abbreviation for their state and is the title of Mary Beard’s latest book published by Profile Books at £25. She is a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, Classics editor of the TLS, recently bested Boris Johnson in a debate extolling Ancient Rome over Ancient Greece. Erudite, sceptical and at times funny this is a superb account of Roman history.

Christopher Tyerman is author of God’s War A New History of the Crusades and has now written How to Plan a Crusade Reason and Religious War in the Middle Ages (Allen Lane £25) Tyerman challenges accepted myths that the Middle Ages was a period of ignorance and unbridled violence. The Crusades involved belief, propaganda, diplomacy, intelligence, finance and above all logistics.

Much of our historical interpretation is still Eurocentric, although historians are challenging that, and in The Silk Roads A New History of the World (Bloomsbury £30), Peter Frankopan highlights the importance of the crucial area between the Black Sea and China, not least as a route for trade, military conquest, disease and cultural exchanges.

Christopher Duffy is a distinguished military historian who established his reputation writing about the armies of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa. He then wrote The ’45 Bonnie Prince Charlie and the untold story of the Jacobite Rising. Duffy has now expanded this book using new sources in Fight for a Throne The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Helion and Company £35). This is not just another “fife and drum” account of the ’45 but a reassessment of the Jacobites in a positive way and a discussion of the post – Culloden era. Something for any SNP stocking.

Frederick the Great’s reputation as the founder of modern Prussia and the warrior king meant he was admired by Hitler and became the symbol of German aggression to her neighbours. There are dozens of biographies of Frederick but all now have been surpassed by Tim Blanning’s Frederick the Great King of Prussia (Allen Lane £30). He has mastered original sources and is the first historian to categorically write that, accordingly to our contemporary definition, Frederick was homosexual.

Ferdinand Mount, adviser to Margaret Thatcher, journalist and author has written a book about his family’s – and David Cameron’s – links with India. Through the lives of family members in the nineteenth century he has documented their service and ambitions in the old East India Company and later the Crown. It is a discursive book and covers many aspects of British India. The Tears of the Rajas Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 (Simon & Schuster £25) makes for grim reading and perhaps a counter-point to the books of William Dalrymple.

Éamon de Valera was head of the Irish government on three occasions having survived the Easter Rising in 1916 and led the anti-Treaty forces in the 1920s. A single minded nationalist he was, nevertheless, a thoroughly unpleasant man. In Éamon de Valera A Will to Power (Faber £20) Ronan Fanning shows that de Valera had supreme self confidence and whose vision of an independent Ireland meant it became a romantic, rural, backward idyll.

Originally published in German, Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War A Nation Under Arms 1939-45 (Bodley Head £25) attempts to describe how ordinary Germans reacted to the war and what sustained them until the final days of 1945. The book is based upon first hand testimonies of men and women from all walks of life and political opinions through letters and diaries and the Nazis own equivalent of opinion polls.

Hitler was a boor, and his advisers and propagandists worked hard to present him as a man of culture and taste whose residences could and did appear, in the British magazine Homes and Gardens in 1938. In Hitler at Home (Yale £25) Despina Stratigakos considers Hitler’s three main residencies, the old Reich Chancellery building in Berlin, his apartment in Munich and the Berghof above Berchtesgaden. Architecture, interior design and landscaping were all significant.

After Stalin’s death, his inner circle – those who survived – wrote themselves out of his history, especially the terror. But as Sheila Fitzpatrick shows in On Stalin’s Team The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics (Princeton £25) the core team consisted of between four and ten people who behaved as a social group even more than a political one. Based upon Russian archives, letters, diaries and interviews, Fitzpatrick has written a fascinating account of Stalin and his cronies. Something for the Shadow Cabinet.

Maisky was the Soviet ambassador to London from 1932 to 1943 when he was recalled to Moscow, arrested, tortured but released and eventually rehabilitated. His diaries are to be edited into three volumes and the first, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, is entitled The Maisky Diaries Red Ambassador at the Court of St James’s 1932-1943 (Yale £25). Maisky comes across as a perceptive, humorous affable diplomat with interesting observations on Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, Lloyd George and Labour political and literary figures. Maisky remained as ambassador for eleven years surviving the purges because his observations must have been thought valuable by Stalin, although he frequently told him what he wanted to hear.

Max Hastings, distinguished military historian and journalist with a formidable output, has turned his pen to The Secret War Spies, Codes and Guerrillas (William Collins £30) in which he examines in a critical way espionage and intelligence by the combatant powers. Hastings is not impressed by the overall value to their war efforts.

Robert Service has written biographies of Lenin and Stalin and has now published The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 (Macmillan £25) For those of us who lived through the Cold War, its eventual chaotic but peaceful end came as a surprise. Drawing on a vast array of sources Service examines how this came about.

Last month some of us were fortunate enough to hear the distinguished American journalist and biographer Robert Caro talk about the acquisition and exercise of power. He was in the UK to help publicise his first book which appeared in the USA in 1974 but has only now been published here. The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (The Bodley Head £35) is a mammoth biography of 1,246 pages. Robert Moses was not a politician but New York City’s master planner who ruthlessly exercised power to demolish and rebuild the City and marginalise ethnic minorities and the poor. From this Caro went on to write his yet incomplete multi volume biography of LBJ.

Henry Kissinger has been revered as well as reviled and now Niall Fergusson has written the first of a two volume biography Kissinger 1923-1968 The Idealist (Allen lane £35). As his official biographer Fergusson has written a glowing but not uncritical account and shows how Kissinger’s European roots and his study of the Concert of Europe helped shape his approach to contemporary international relations.

Dwight Eisenhower has usually been categorised as in the second eleven of American Presidents – a competent administrator rather than a statesman. Irwin Gellman has sought to challenge this interpretation and with it Eisenhower’s relationships with his Vice President Richard Nixon in The President and the Apprentice Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961 (Yale £25)

John le Carré, or David Cornwell as his given name, has made a reputation as the master of the spy novel genre, based on the British intelligence and security services, and combining fact with fiction, and a theme of personal betrayal. Cornwell’s father was scheming, duplicitous and a fraudster given to conceal his behaviour and life, and his novelist son has gone out of his way to leave personal false trails of his own life. Now Adam Sisman has written the authorised biography of this complex man, John le Carré The Biography (Bloomsbury £25). We await the autobiography next year.

The fictional characters in his spy novels, along with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, have done more to influence public opinion about our intelligence and security agencies than all the official histories and memoirs combined.

Central to le Carre’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is the existence of a Soviet mole at the centre of SIS. This was based upon the activities of moles such as Philby, Maclean and Burgess. The latter had been seen as having had a supporting role given his louch life style and drunkenness. Now Andrew Lownie in Stalin’s Englishman The Lives of Guy Burgess (Hodder & Stoughton (£25) has through meticulous research shown the extent of Burgess’s penetration of the British establishment and his central importance to Soviet intelligence.

Baroness Park of Monmouth was a daughter of the Empire and a graduate of Oxford University whose wartime service was in cyphers for British intelligence before having a career in SIS and then becoming Principal of Somerville College, Oxford. Quite a remarkable career for a woman at a time when there were few above secretaries and clerks in SIS. Her life and career, although the latter may not contain all the details, has been written up by Paddy Hayes in Queen of Spies Daphne Park Britain’s Cold War Spy Master (Gerald Duckworth & Co £20).

The uses and abuses of intelligence and the dangers of group think form the basis of Why Spy? The Art of Intelligence (C Hurst & Co £25) by Brian Stewart and Samantha Newbey. Brian Stewart served in intelligence in the field and in London for over fifty years while Samantha Newby is an academic specialising in intelligence studies. Although Brian Stewart’s experience is now historical, he looks at issues directly relevant to today. He died shortly after this book was published. His son is Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP, author and minister who has had some experience of aspects of his father’ life.

Now for some stocking fillers. Andrew Gimson, journalist, biographer of Boris Johnson, has written a primer and refresher of facts, figures and anecdotes about our monarchy in Gimson’s Kings and Queens Brief Lives of the Forty Monarchs (Square Peg £11).

Quentin Letts, parliamentary and theatre sketch writer for the Daily Mail, has turned his pen to a novel The Speaker’s Wife (Constable £17) The novel centres upon the Church of England and the House of Commons and whilst satirical has a moral purpose. Spot the fictional characters and their resemblance to contemporary figures.

The House of Commons has been the poorer since the elevation of Sir George Young to the Other Place. An old Etonian, One Nation Tory, the Bicycling Baronet, who has served off and on in front bench positions for over thirty years, culminating as Chief Whip. Like many MPs Sir George wrote a weekly column for his local paper, first in Acton and then in Hampshire. Keeping Young The Everyday Life of an MP is a selection from these columns which are at times both serious and hilarious describing the life of an MP at the constituency level which will be familiar to many. Copies of his book may be obtained from his Lordship, care of the Other Place, for a negotiated price.

Keith Simpson MP



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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 41: The Consequences of Radio Regulation

30 Nov 2015 at 22:23

These are two short excerpts from my LBC show today. The first was part of an interview I did with Bernadette Smyth from the Northern Irish Pro Life group ‘Precious Life’. Now I have a pragmatic view on abortion issues, but I am not unsympathetic to the pro-life lobby. But this woman wound me up. It turned into the sort of interview that got Iain Lee the sack from the BBC.

The second features a caller called Peter from Stoke. He decided to try to give me a history lesson, although I am not quite sure it worked out so well for him. But make up your own mind. It escalated rather quickly.

The point is that I couldn’t have conducted these two ‘conversations’ on BBC radio. I never go into a programme looking for a confrontation or a row. But if they happen, so be it. I am not going to back away from them. I’m pretty sure that both of these clips would have had me in hot water if they had taken place on 5 Live rather than LBC. And that’s why LBC is such a great station to work on. You can take the odd risk without fearing the wrath of Hades descending on you. Of course it’s not a total free for all. You have to respect the constraints of regulation, but if you are constantly looking over your should worrying about what some mid grade BBC manager thinks about every word you utter, you shouldn’t be surprised if your listeners desert you for something more spicy. That’s not to say all BBC talk radio is boring. It isn’t. On 5 Live Nicky Campbell and Stephen Nolan push the envelope as far as they can. There are some excellent presenters on BBC local radio too. But I suspect all of them would prefer the LBC management approach to opinionated radio, rather than the one they have to operate under at the BBC. Or am I wrong? Perhaps I should ask La Fogarty!


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WATCH: Iain Dale on Sky News Sunrise on the Tory Bullying Scandal

29 Nov 2015 at 17:10

The Tory bullying affair continues to dominate the political news headlines, which must come as a relief for many in the Labour Party, given the headlines they are generating at the moment. Here’s a six minute interview I did in my garden this morning with Steve Dixon on Sky News Sunrise.



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WATCH: Lord Feldman Has Questions To Answer - Interview on Channel Four News

28 Nov 2015 at 20:39

This evening I appeared on Channel Four News to talk about the resignation of Grant Shapps and the bullying scandal that has beset the Conservative Party. It was a close run thing as the Sat truck was late arriving and the camerawoman arrived four minutes before I was due to go on air. They set up outside Simmonsdale Towers and were ready with only 20 seconds to spare. I tried to take it in my stride. On top of that just as I started speaking the wind got up and the rain started. Hopefully I made some sense.

On a personal level I am very sorry for Grant Shapps, but he decided someone needed to take responsibility and as party chairman the buck stopped with him. Up to a point. We need to remember that he had a co-chairman at the time, Lord Feldman. He is now the sole chairman of the Conservative Party. All these allegations have been made (and seemingly ignored) on his watch. Indeed, it was on his watch that young Elliot Johnson took his own life. Had that not happened we wouldn’t be where we are. I’m not calling on Lord Feldman to fall on his sword too. Yet. But I don’t recall ever seeing him do an interview. Any interview. Surely he needs to come out and reassure his party about what steps he is taking, not just to ensure that the truth will out, but that something like this can never happen again.

The thought that he was insulated from RoadTrip2015 is risible. I am told that his sister Deborah was the link woman between Mark Clarke and RoadTrip2015. Even if we ignore the outrageous nepotism in CCHQ employing a relative of the co-chairman, are we really expect to believe that she had no clue what was being said about Mark Clarke? Are we really supposed to believe that she didn’t talk to her brother about it? We’re being taken for fools.

Bullying and sexual harrassment take place in all political parties. Indeed they take place in all sectors of society, including the media. Everyone has a responsibility to stand up to bullies and eliminate all aspects of sexual harrassment wherever they occur. The Liberal Democrats were forced to face up to this issue. Now it’s the Conservative Party’s turn. What a pity it took a young man taking his own life to force them to confront it.


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WATCH: Jacqui Smith & I Have a Chinwag About the Autumn Statement

27 Nov 2015 at 23:47

I don’t normally post these, but I do love doing the Sky paper review with Jacqui Smith and Anna Botting. To be honest I don’t do an awful lot of TV nowadays, mainly because I don’t particularly enjoy it. I only do things I like or think I’ll be any good at. And the Sky paper review is always enjoyable. I think at that time of night people want a bit of entertainment so Jacqui and I always try to have a bit of a laugh, although the news agenda often puts paid to that.



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ConHome Diary: This Scandal Could Result in Two Resignations

27 Nov 2015 at 14:11

The Mark Clarke scandal has moved from the Sundays to become a nightly stream of stories across the dailies, each more horrific and shocking than the last. My very real concern, as someone who has got to know Elliott Johnson’s father, Ray, through my radio show, is that too many people seem intent on settling old scores that have little if anything to do with the circumstances that gave rise to Elliott’s tragic suicide in September. Some even seem to be getting off on the mayhem they are causing as they unleash grudges they have borne for years. They should be ashamed of themselves.

I am aware of a small number of individuals, none of them alleged victims of physical or sexual bullying by Clarke, who are briefing against those who had the courage to raise complaints with CCHQ and the police after they said were physically or sexually bullied by him – allegations that Clarke strenuously denies. Maybe these score settlers might like to examine their own consciences and reflect on whether their own conduct has been truly blameless. I doubt it. Whose is? And perhaps they might like to remember, as they set about smearing others, that nothing that they are doing is lessening the Johnsons’ grief. If anything their behaviour is compounding it. When some of their wilder allegations are shown to be false, these people need to realise that they risk the success of any proceedings that might ever be brought against anyone who might held responsible for Elliott’s death. And a 21 year-old boy is sadly still dead.

Few people come out of this ongoing nightmare with much credibility. One person who perhaps does deserve some praise, despite the mauling he himself has endured this week in the press, is Grant Shapps’ former Chief of Staff, Paul Abbott. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his tenure as Shapps’ right-hand man, it was Abbott who passed Elliott Johnson’s complaint to CCHQ in August and encouraged other alleged victims to come forward. If it were not for Paul Abbott, Mark Clarke would still be director of RoadTrip 2020.

This inconvenient fact is overlooked by Ben Harris-Quinney – yes him again – the man who famously bellowed “I am the President” during Andrew Neil’s delicious skewering of him on The Daily Politics just days before the election. I have written about the absurd Harris-Quinney many times before in this column. He has turned the Bow Group from a moderate, influential and grandee-stuffed think tank into a socially conservative, impotent and irrelevant vehicle for Harris-Quinney to seek airtime for himself. He speaks for nobody but himself. The Bow Group’s once proud letterhead now only has two Tory grandees on it – Normans Lamont and Tebbit. How long until they see sense and distance themselves from Harris-Quinney? And his committee is all male – something one might refer to as “a sausage fest”.

I understand that the new MP for Bath, Ben Howlett, has not had the easiest of weeks at Westminster. Howlett fingered Sayeeda Warsi, Grant Shapps and Andrew Feldman on Newsnight last week, saying that he had reported instances of bullying to them which they had failed to investigate. The whips are furious. I also suspect he won’t be on Lord Feldman’s Christmas card list this year.

My only previous knowledge of Howlett was when he was seeking adoption in a number of seats prior to the last election. He was sifted for interview in Eastbourne, once represented by Margaret Thatcher’s close friend, Ian Gow. Gow was killed by an IRA car bomb in 1990. Eastbourne Conservatives decided not to select Howlett as their candidate. One reason was that he had publicly announced that the politician he most admired in Northern Ireland was Gerry Adams – well reported at the time on Guido Fawkes. When he was asked why, he said that he admired the courage of his convictions (and no that was not apparently a pun). Howlett assured Newsnight that on his watch there was no bullying and he presided over calm when he chaired Conservative Future. If there is one thing journalists cannot stand, it is cant. Hopefully, for his sake, no bullying incidents come to light.

The Times reported yesterday that a party activist had reported concerns about Mark Clarke a year before CCHQ has admitted to receiving any such email. And this despite a supposedly rigorous search of the party’s email server. If this (and maybe other) emails didn’t show up in this search it can lead to one of two conclusions. Either the search wasn’t very rigorous, or emails have been deleted. The latter is something The Times are alleging. They write: “Reports emerged yesterday that before the general election a senior figure in CCHQ ordered staff to “cleanse” their inboxes frequently by deleting all emails to prevent leaks.” Of course anyone who knows anything about deleting emails will be aware that deleted emails are actually no such thing. They may be deleted from the Inbox, but they still reside somewhere in a dark corner of a server. This is where both the Police and the CCHQ internal inquiry ought to be directing their attention. Or will internal party technogeeks get there first? Paul Abbott has stated that he was ordered to delete emails, but that begs the question, by whom? His immediate boss, Grant Shapps? Lord Feldman? Someone else?

I don’t know where this scandal will end up, but there is more chance of high profile casualties i.e. resignations than there was a week ago. Every single major newspaper and media outlet is investigating and trying to find witnesses or victims who haven’t yet been identified. I imagine both Lord Feldman and Grant Shapps are having a few sleepless nights. If it emerges that either of them knew about allegations and didn’t lift a finger they would be political toast. It’s clear that those at the top of the party are happy to let Shapps swing in the wind for this, whatever the truth really is. All scandals have at least one casualty and they regard him as collateral damage. It’s the second time in six months they have been happy to ‘stiff’ him. What was it Jeremy Thorpe said about ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life’? Shapps is expendable. Feldman, being a close personal friend of the PM, is not. Isn’t politics a disgusting business sometimes?

I suppose I could now take the piss out of John McDonnell. But why bother. He does it so well himself.



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Reconstruction: Twenty Five Years Ago Today Margaret Thatcher Chaired Her Final Cabinet Meeting Where She Announced Her Resignation

22 Nov 2015 at 13:03

This is a dramatic reconstruction of the Cabinet Meeting which took place on 22 November 1990 – 25 years ago today – at which Margaret Thatcher dramatically announced her resignation. It was intended to be part of a book on her downfall, but in the end I never got around to writing it. This account is fully researched and each event, anecdote and conversation actually happened. I have used reported speech as accurately as I can, based on the memoirs and accounts I have read by those present.

At 6.30am two men arrived at the gates of Downing Street asking to bet let in to see the Prime Minister. The policeman on the gate phoned through to Charles Powell, who was already at his desk. The two turned out to be Tory backbenchers Michael Brown and Edward Leigh. Powell gave them coffee and explained the PM was dressing and asked them to wait. They waited and waited – in vain. They were still there when the Cabinet convened at 9am. They were only put out of their misery when the PM’s Political Secretary John Whittingdale told them what they had already guessed. She was resigning. Tears streamed down Brown’s face as he left Number Ten through a back door, thus avoiding waiting TV cameras in Downing Street.

At 7am Cecil Parkinson was barely awake. The shrilling of the telephone put paid to that. It was one of his junior Ministers and a key member of the No Turning Back Group, Chris Chope. “She’s going,” he said. “You’ve got to do something”. Parkinson had last seen the PM at 6pm the previous evening, before her confidence had been shattered by the meetings with her Cabinet members. So confident was he that she was heading for victory, and that the Cabinet was supporting her, he went out to dinner with his wife and some friends. A few hours earlier, The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh had got wind of what was about to happen and had rung the Parkinson house to check if he knew anything. Parkinson had already gone to bed and his wife Ann, a close personal friend of the PM, said she didn’t want to waken him. Had she done so, there is little doubt that Parkinson would have hot-footed it to Downing Street.

After Chope’s phone call Parkinson immediately phoned Number Ten, only to be told that the PM was under the hair dryer and that he should phone back in thirty minutes. In desperation he then phoned his friend of twenty years standing Norman Tebbit. Tebbit had been with her until late the previous night working on her speech for the Censure debate. He told Parkinson the game was up and that her mind would not be changed. Parkinson decided it was pointless to phone Number Ten again.

By 7.30am Andrew Turnbull had been at his desk for an hour already. He sat there unable to concentrate. He spoke to the Prime Minister several times a day, but he knew their next conversation would probably be a fairly momentous one. The call came. It was the news he had expected, as the Prime Minister asked him to put in place the formal arrangements for her resignation announcement. The next call he made was to the Palace to arrange for the formalities of an audience with the Queen.

Woodrow Wyatt called to make a last ditch attempt to make the PM change her mind but for once, she wouldn’t take his call. In fact, she didn’t take calls from anyone until after the Vote of Censure debate was over, later in the afternoon.

Peter Morrison phoned Douglas Hurd and John Major to advise them of the Prime Minister’s decision. John Wakeham and Kenneth Baker were also tipped off by Morrison.

Shortly after 8am Denis Thatcher phoned his daughter. “There have been all sorts of consultations and your mother…”. Carol interrupted him. “I know, Dad”. Nothing further was said.

At 8.30 every Thursday morning it was usual for the Prime Minister to hold a short briefing in preparation for Prime Minister’s Question Time. As usual, Bernard Ingham , Charles Powell and John Whittingdale congregated in the ****** room. It was a subdued meeting and no one was really concentrating.

The regular Thursday Cabinet meetings were a matter of routine for most of those who attended them. This one was different. Cabinet meetings normally start at 10.30am but this one had been brought forward so as not to clash with a memorial service for Lady Home, which was to be held later in the morning at St Margaret’s Church, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Normally, the Cabinet would gather for coffee fifteen minutes before the meeting and gossip about the latest political machinations, before the Prime Minister would rush into the room, apparently always in a hurry. That was the signal for the rest of them to take their seats around the famous oval table.

But on this morning the atmosphere was strained to say the least. The few remaining Thatcher loyalists eyed up the rest of their Cabinet colleagues and could barely bring themselves to speak. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher recalls: “They stood with their backs against the wall looking in every direction except mine.” According to Cecil Parkinson Kenneth Clarke was the only one who was showing the remotest sign of life, telling “anybody who cared to listen that if the PM did not resign before noon that day, he would do so himself”. (Parkinson book).

Thatcher’s arrival was normally the signal for everyone to file into the room and take their places, but it seemed there was a delay. John MacGregor had been held up in traffic. The awkward silence continued for an unbearable ten minutes. At 9.10 the Cabinet filed in. The PM was in her usual chair, half way along the table in front of the fireplace. They took their places in silence – even the sound of the chairs being pulled back seemed to grate. For the first time in living memory, the woman who had dominated her Cabinet for 11 years seemed powerless. The aura had gone. Still, there was silence. Cecil Parkinson noticed her reddened, swollen eyes. A carton of tissues sat next to her on the table. While the Cabinet were taking their seats she picked a tissue from the box and dabbed her eyes. The dreadful silence continued. Slowly, Margaret Thatcher opened her handbag and pulled out a creased piece of paper. The Cabinet knew what was coming, but the performance had to be played out nonetheless. She read in a slow, halting, and emotional manner:-

“Having consulted widely among my colleagues, I have concluded that the unity of the Party and the prospects of victory in a general election would be better served if I stood down to enable cabinet colleagues to enter the ballot for the leadership. I should like to thank all those in the Cabinet and outside who have given me such dedicated support.”

She faltered several times and broke down sobbing. She wasn’t the only one. David Waddington, Tony Newton, John Gummer, Michael Howard and John Wakeham were all in tears (source Alan Watkins). (Gummer sobbing?). Cecil Parkinson later wondered why Mr Wakeham should be so upset, when it was he, in Parkinson’s opinion, who had largely brought about the events they were witnessing (source Watkins).

Half way through the statement she was so upset that Cecil Parkinson, already on a light fuse, shouted to the Lord Chancellor, who was sitting to her left (check) “For Christ’s sake you read it, James”. Lord Mackay briefly put his arm round her shoulder and said gently, “Let me read it, Prime Minister”. This brief interjection broke the unbearable tension and allowed the Prime Minister a few moments to gather herself. She stiffened both in resolve and body language and said, “No! I can read it myself”.

Norman Lamont recalls her “referring to the events of the last few days and to the advice she had had ‘from so many of you’ that she could not win and should not fight on. The way she put it implied that she did not agree and thought us spineless”. It was after these words that the worst breakdown occurred. (Lamont book)

James MacKay, the Lord Chancellor, then read out a short tribute to the Prime Minister. She listened, eyes glistening and red and broke down again. She regained composure and told the Cabinet they must unite behind a candidate to beat Michael Heseltine. “We must protect what we believe in,” she flashed.

Kenneth Baker then spoke in his capacity as Chairman of the Party. “You have and will always continue to have the love and loyalty of the party. You have a very special place in the heart of the party. You have led us to victory three times and you would have done so again. Those who have served you recognise that they have been in touch with greatness”. He, also, was close to tears.

Douglas Hurd referred to this “whole wretched business” and said he wanted to put on record the superb way in which the Prime Minister had conducted business at the Paris conference, particularly with regard to the pressures of the leadership election on her.

The Prime Minister then called a halt, saying she could deal with routine matters but not sympathy. She was still in a highly emotional state and felt she might lose her composure entirely if such tributes went on for much longer.

She ended proceedings by telling the Cabinet that any new leader would have her total and devoted support. It was assumed this did not include Michael Heseltine. “Well, now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the rest of the business,” she said.

The meeting then broke for ten minutes and coffee was served while courtesy calls were made to the other party leaders and the Speaker. The atmosphere was considerably lighter than at the preceding the meeting. A formal statement was issued by the Downing Street Press Office at 9.25.

The Cabinet then resumed and quickly skimmed through the rest of the normal agenda by 10.15. The final decision taken was to send an armoured brigade to the Gulf. Douglas Hurd’s mind was elsewhere though. He knew that events would move fast. Kenneth Baker passed a note to Hurd asking if he had come to an agreement with John Major about the candidacy. Hurd sent a note back saying they were issuing a joint statement declaring that they had worked closely together in the past but the best way of uniting the party was to let both their names go forward in the next ballot. He then passed the draft statement to Baker who regarded it as a “perfectly masterful composition”. Hurd then tried to catch Tom King’s eye to as if he would act as his proposer on the second ballot. King didn’t get the hint.

By the close of the meeting the Prime Minister was close to tears again, according to Kenneth Baker. She invited Ministers to stay behind for yet more coffee. By now she was fully composed and was keen to know her colleagues’ views on what might happen in the second ballot.

No one was keen to be the first to leave, although Douglas Hurd didn’t hang around long. Cecil Parkinson’s most vivid memory from the conversation after over coffee was when somebody – allegedly Kenneth Clarke – said “we are going to pin regicide on Heseltine”. For a moment the PM looked puzzled and issued a devastating reply: “Oh no, it wasn’t Heseltine, it was the Cabinet.” Parkinson says this was said without the slightest hint of rancour. “It was, to her, a simple statement of fact”, he says. Douglas Hurd, however, had other things on his mind and left immediately. Norman Lamont caught Michael Howard’s eye. They were both anxious to go. While Heseltine was out there campaigning, important time was being lost. After what seemed an age, Margaret Thatcher sensed what others were thinking and told everyone to leave and “stop Heseltine”.

As the Cabinet trooped out of Downing Street, Kenneth Baker, ever with an eye for the TV cameras, made a short statement outside the door of Number Ten, saying: “This is a typically brave and selfless decision by the Prime Minister. Once again Margaret Thatcher has put her country and the Party’s interests before personal considerations. This will allow the Party to elect a new leader to unite the Party and build upon her immense successes. If I could just add a personal note, I am very saddened that our greatest peace-time Prime Minister has left Government. She is an outstanding leader, not only of our country but also of the world. I do not believe we will see her like again”

John Wakeham followed suit. Asked about her mood, he said “Well, her mood is, like always, she does her duty, she’s – of course she’s sad.” It was rather an understatement.

While Denis attended the memorial service for Lady Home, the Prime Minister – for she still held that office – was driven to Buckingham Palace informing the Queen in person of her decision to resign. It was not a long audience. The Prime Minister was well aware she had the speech of her life to make in the House of Commons in just a few hours time. It was to be an occasion she, and the country, would have cause to remember for many years to come.



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ConHome Diary: Bullying Tories, I say 'Daesh', you say ISIS & More Travails for Mr Corbyn

20 Nov 2015 at 14:11

So Mark Clarke has been expelled from the Conservative Party. For life. Within minutes of that being announced by CCHQ I interviewed the father of Elliott Johnson, the young man who took his own life back in September, and who had made complaints (not acted on) by CCHQ. Ray Johnson firmly believes that a cover-up is underway and that the internal inquiry ordered by Andrew Feldman will be a whitewash. I’d like to think he will be proved wrong and that some sort of justice will prevail. Am I confident about the outcome? No I am not. Ray Johnson is right. This inquiry should have been carried out by someone independent of the Conservative Party, rather than an Old Etonian who is a Friend of Dave.

On Wednesday Newsnight did a film on the whole sorry saga and made a good fist of pretending that it was they who had uncovered all this rather than the Mail on Sunday. However, they did have one new thing and that was the MP for Bath, former Conservative Future chairman Ben Howlett, opining about Mark Clarke and the bullying culture which was endemic within parts of Conservative Future. He made the point that no one acted on it because they didn’t want to rock the boat in advance of a general election. But the question remains why nothing has been done since then and that all complaints were ignored, and it seems there were a lot of them. Strangely CCHQ say they can find no record of them. Well I hope this internal inquiry talks to all those who made complaints and ascertains how they made them. One imagines they were by email. If so, it must be easy to find out who they went to. What is less clear is why no one acted upon them.

Ray Johnson is understandably determined to get justice for his son. Any father would. If anybody reading this has information that will help him do so, they should come forward without delay. At the end of my interview with Ray I told him I had met Elliott a couple of times and offered him my condolences. I found my voice cracking. Even writing this I have moist eyes. The whole thing is such a tragedy. And it may well have happened because supposedly good people did nothing. If so, they should never be allowed to forget it.
This is the moment to put a motion to Parliament for it to ratify military action in Syria. Not next month. Not at Christmas. Now. When one of your closest allies asks you for support after a major attack, you at least owe it to them to react and react quickly. Britain is becoming a bit part player in these issues and it’s embarrassing. Either we withdraw into our isolationist shells or we do what we have always done and step up to the plate. Up until now I have had little time for President Hollande but his response to the terror attack last Friday has been exemplary, decisive and timely. It’s time for David Cameron to make clear that Britain will play its part in building an international coalition against Daesh and do what is necessary.

Yet again, another bad week for Jeremy Corbyn, and yet there are some who think we in the media should ignore his self-inflicted wounds. Some of my listeners genuinely think that we should stop being beastly to the poor man and that he’s doing his best, as if someone he should be beyond scrutiny. Some think no one should question his appointment of Ken Livingstone to co-chair the Labour defence review – something that was done without even consulting the Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle. Quite why she hasn’t told Corby to stuff his job, I do not know. The same goes for her deputy Kevan Jones, who was understandably furious with Ken Livingstone for the outrageous way Livingstone cast doubt on his mental health. If Kevan Jones was so outraged by Livingstone’s appointment, due to his lack of experience of defence issues, why didn’t he fall on his sword? Yet again Labour have been shown to be ferrets fighting in a sack. As Alastair Campbell pointed out, it’s all very well not to be elected because of people’s lack of trust in your economic policies, but if they also doubt you on defence, it’ll be a rout. Just as it was in 1983.
Tim Farron, bless him, made a speech laying out Liberal Democrat economic policy yesterday. As if it matters.

What to call, them… IS, ISIS, ISIL? No, we should call them Daesh, just as the French always have done. Some people think I’m being politically correct calling them that, because it doesn’t mention the word ‘Islamic’. No. Even though it’s literal meaning is exactly the same as ISIS, we should call them ‘Daesh’ because apparently they don’t like being called ‘Daesh’. And if it annoys them, that’s good enough for me. So ‘Daesh’ it is.
The left have clung onto the fact that the passport found by the side of one of the dead terrorists proved to be a fake. Ergo that proves he wasn’t necessarily a Syrian who had got to France via a Greek Island. Ergo none of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come via that route are terrorists, as Nigel Farage warned they might be. There’s just one problem. The terrorist’s fingerprints prove he did indeed pass through the Greek Island of Leros on October 4th. No doubt they will come up with a reason why that doesn’t really matter.


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Why I call IS 'Daesh' and Will Continue to Do So...

18 Nov 2015 at 16:04

And it’s nothing to do with political correctness!


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