Diary

ConHome Diary: The LibDems Who Are Voting Out & The Exit of Tim Montgomerie

19 Feb 2016 at 13:26

On Newsnight Evan Davis called Tim Montgomerie “the most well-known Tory who isn’t an MP”. So his resignation as a Tory Party member is news, no matter what some might say. The editor of this site has described it as akin to ending a marriage. What Tim’s critics need to understand is that no one resigns from a political party without serious thought and deliberation. Tim quitting is no flight of fancy. He will have agonised about it for a long time. Successful political parties are big tent coalitions. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party was just that. The likes of John Carlisle and Harvey Proctor could happily coexist in a party with people like Jim Lester or Stephen Dorrell. There is a certain intolerance in today’s Conservative Party which didn’t exist in previous times. If you don’t sign up to the Cameron/Osborne project you are ignored, briefed against or ridiculed. There are plenty of MPs who will attest to that. There will be few tears shed in Downing Street or Crosby HQ about Tim’s departure. Indeed, I suspect champagne corks will have popped. The turbulent priest has got rid of himself. There are few people in Conservative Politics who can look in the mirror and say “well, I may have gone, but look at my legacy”. Tim can justifiably do that. He was the inspiration behind the Centre for Social Justice, and of course without him, this website would not exist. He’s had his failures, but he has learned from them. In some ways Tim is a bit of a dreamer and an individualist, more comfortable ploughing his own furrow rather than operating as part of a team. He recognised that early on. He and I are polar opposites in how we operate. He’s a man of ideas, I’m not. He likes nothing better than to develop innovative policy – I’m better at marketing the policy. But to one extent or another, in the five years leading up to the 2010 election he and I became the ‘go to’ Tory gob on a stick for the broadcast media. I bowed out from that role after 2010 but if anything Tim’s reputation as a Conservative commentator burst into a new era after 2010. Barely a week went past without an appearance on Newsnight. Who will they go to now? I suspect the lazy producer will still book Tim when he is back in the country, partly because it’s difficult to think of anyone else who knows the party like he does. There’s a gap in the market now for a top class Tory pundit. But who is there to fill it?
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Potential prime ministers need leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the LEAVE campaign tells us much about his political calculation. I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe it would be out of genuine political conviction? Of course not. He will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the LEAVE campaign and on June 23rd the LEAVE side wins the referendum, it would lead to the resignation of David Cameron and hi becoming party leader by acclamation. He may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.
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As I have said before, I think this so-called EU renegotiation is a rather pathetic attempt to hoodwink the British people into thinking something has really changed. There is nothing in it that is of any real importance. If there had been, the negotiations would have stalled at the first fence. I’ve come to the conclusion that the EU is unreformable. Look at how the Prime Minister’s child benefit changes have been completely watered down. They are now a very poor reflection of the sentiments uttered by the Prime Minister in the Bloomberg speech or as written in the Conservative manifesto. People see through these things.
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A substantial part of the electorate is undecided on the EU issue. How will they make up their minds? Will Project Fear win the day? Who will influence their decisions? Surely in the end people feel in their gut that Britain should either be an independent country or part of Europe? I suspect that it isn’t the likes of Boris Johnson or David Cameron who will influence the debate, it is people’s family and friends who will be more of an influence. They in turn will be influenced by people they respect. It won’t be the likes of Emma Thompson or Michael Caine who influence the debate, it will be moderate, normal people. As I have said before, the LEAVE campaign’s problem is that it appears to be full of people who would look quite at home at a John Redwood leadership campaign launch (that’s a comment for people of a certain vintage). John Redwood is a very great man and I bow to no one in my admiration of him, but on both sides of the argument the campaigns need to think very hard about who they put up in front of camera. This is where the REMAIN camp have an advantage. They can wheel out people-friendly spokespeople like Ken Clarke and Alan Johnson. I’m afraid that whatever their merits might otherwise be, Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg don’t quite cut it. My column last week was given a headline which was totally misleading. It said that I was making the case for David Davis to lead the ‘Out’ campaign. I actually did nothing of the sort, but I think we can all agree that he much more of a cross-party appeal than many of the people appearing on our TV screens for the Outers at the moment.
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I was asking some of my younger colleagues at LBC the other day how they would vote in the referendum. To my surprise, several of them revealed themselves as Outers. I was tickled that two of them were LibDem supporters. I was going to say ‘there’s always one’, but in this case there were two. Fancy that, two LibDems in the same room.
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Earlier this week I interviewed the man who tried to smuggle an Afghan girl into this country from the Calais Jungle camp. You may remember the story. When we were offered the opportunity we were told he’d be accompanied by the musician Alex James. The news hook was that they were both going to Calais this weekend and Alex would perform an impromptu concert for the migrants. I’m not a fan of Blur, but Alex James is quite an interesting person, so I was looking forward to it. So as the 4.45 break loomed I trailed them both by saying “In a moment we’ll be talking to the man who tried to smuggle an Afghan child into the country and one of the country’s top music stars, Alex James from Blur.” There turned out to be a problem. The musician was indeed Alex James, but I soon realised he wasn’t the Alex James we had assumed was! What to do?! Well, the show had to go on. They both came into the studio, and I just carried on. I actually thought it was very funny, and could well have been part of the plot for Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters. Aha!

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