ConHome Diary: Why Ken Clarke's Publisher Deserves a P45
18 Mar 2016 at 15:48
Apparently my LBC colleague Steve Allen has been broadcasting his wonderment at the fact that I have snapped up Ken Clarke’s memoirs for the eye watering sum of £430,000. Except I haven’t. And I wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to publish Ken Clarke and I am sure he will write a fantastic book. But any publisher who thinks paying £430,000 for a political memoir is off their effing rocker. In this case, its Macmillan. The last publisher to do that was Bloomsbury who paid around £330,000 for David Blunkett’s diaries, and they were so idiotic that the deal didn’t even include newspaper serial rights! There are some bloody stupid people in publishing nowadays. Blunkett’s book sold a mere 5,000 copies. Do the math yourself and you can work out the loss they made. Macmillan will do the same. The top rate for a newspaper serialisation, unless you’re a former prime minister, is around the £150k mark, so Macmillan have got to make £270,000 from books and rights sales. I don’t see that this book has any foreign rights potential at all, so just to break even the book will need to sell around 150,000 copies. Not. Going. To. Happen. The deal was hatched by the same agent that Boris Johnson retains, Natasha Fairweather. She apparently got him £500k for his desperately average book on Churchill. Sadly Biteback was offered neither. These sort of advances belong in the 1990s. Publishing has changed a lot since then, although there are clearly one or two people who continue to play the literary agents’ game. If I was on the board of Macmillan I’d be calling in the commissioning editor and reading them the riot act. And maybe producing a P45. Ken Clarke is a great get, but not at that price. What is the point of commissioning a book when there is a 1% chance it will make a profit? The world’s gone mad. Still, having said that, I can’t wait to read it.
So according to Anna Soubry on ‘Any Questions’ if we leave the EU, trade will drop to zero. In case you think I am misquoting here, here’s the exchange with Kate Hoey…
bq. Anna Soubry: “44% of our exports which is £290 billion goes into the EU.”
Kate Hoey: “That has gone down by 10% in the last 8 years.”
Anna Soubry: “But Kate it will go down to almost absolutely zero if we come out of the EU.”
Well on Budget day I interviewed Anna and asked her if that’s what she really believed. Credit to her and she fessed up that it was a ridiculous thing to say and she had made an error. She sounded quite embarrassed about it. Glad she did the right thing and didn’t try to bluster her way out of it.
Lord Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party on Saturday night was quite an event. I did wonder how many (and which) politicians would have the balls to attend following the Prime Minister’s displeasure with the Ashcroft/Oakeshott biography of him, CALL ME DAVE. I’m sure Downing Street has, by now, compiled their ‘little list’ of those who will be punished in the next reshuffle, but I am not going to help them by naming names here. I asked one minister if he realised they would find out and this usually totally loyal minister replied that he couldn’t give a toss. Is Number Ten losing the fear factor? Rory Bremner was a superb compere for the evening. He’s really perfected his impressions of both Nigel Farage (who was there) and Boris. Interestingly Boris and Theresa May were both on prime tables – Boris more so than Theresa. He even had Miss World sitting next to him. There was no sign of the Prime Minister, though. Obviously he had a subsequent engagement. He missed out on being serenaded by Michael Buble.
And so to the budget. I had thought it would be quite a boring budget, with the Chancellor on the back foot, but how wrong I was. There were lots of eyecatching initiatives and boring it certainly wasn’t. However, the elephant in the room for me was the appalling record of the forecasts that are trotted out on these occasions. Of course economic forecasting isn’t an easy game, but you’d like to think the OBR might get it right more often than they get it wrong. Even their forecasts from the autumn statement at the end of November look way off. This means the economy has been growing more slowly than expected and has left a big black hole in the chancellor’s figures. George Osborne rather glossed over that, although he did have the good grace to admit that the debt to GDP ratio would rise this year – unfortunate for a chancellor who has always trumpeted his fiscal rules.
A lot of commentators saw this budget through the prism of a future leadership contest. I’m not sure this budget changed much at all. I think most Tory MPs were rather impressed by many of the more eyecatching measures, with the possible exception of the sugar levy and also his invocation (after a mere 9 minutes) of Project Fear.
On Newsnight on Wednesday Robert Chote from the OBR made an astonishing admission. He said the OBR had done no economic forecasting for what would happen if Britain left the EU. Seeing as it’s 50-50 at the moment I’d have thought that was a major mistake and an abrogation of its responsibilities. If it is true that the Treasury are doing no planning at all, you do have to wonder at that. If the OBR has done no planning, how can the Chancellor at the same time invoke them in his argument that there would be a protracted period of uncertainty? I think we deserve an answer to that.