ConHome Diary: From a Spanish Poolside, Cecil Parkinson's Purple Head & Theresa May's Enemies

22 Jul 2016 at 14:07

Not that I intend to inspire any jealousy with this column, but I’m writing it beside a swimming pool in the Spanish mountains overlooking a lake. I normally write four of five ‘chunks’ in my columns so I am deciding to reward myself with a swim after each chunk is finished. This must be the most decadent way to write a column ever invented.
I’ve been here since Sunday and am going back today (Friday). From all I can gather the temperature in London hasn’t been far off that which we have experienced here – it’s 37-39 degrees during the day and 30 degrees at 10pm, ideal for a late night swim.
We’re staying with our friends Deborah and Mike Slattery. Deborah was a Conservative Party agent in the late 1980s and 1990s in Norwich, so we have spent many happy hours reminiscing about our nefarious political activities aimed at retaining Norwich North as a Conservative seat at the 1992 general election. It was a very different political era, and in many ways much more fun. It was a lot more innocent. Even our black arts would now be considered a pale shade of grey. Deborah reminds me of a visit Cecil Parkinson paid to Norwich in the 1992 election campaign. He still retained the ability to make Tory ladies go weak at the knees. I well remember him presenting a bunch of purple flowers to the head of the Norwich North Ladies. Without batting an eyelid she exclaimed to Cecil, “just look at the purple head on that.” Which can’t have been the first time a woman said that to him. Or probably the last.
I really have tried to switch off this week. Up until now I’ve had a grand total of two days off work this year, so I was in much need of some R&R. I even thought about not taking my laptop with me but of course that was never going to happen. How would I write this column? And our esteemed editor doesn’t like it if I take a week off. I did go through almost an entire day without tweeting, which was a minor miracle in itself. And of course with modern technology as it is, even in Spain you can get all the main UK TV channels. So, yes I admit it. I watched Theresa May’s first Prime Minister’s Questions. And what a joy it was. David Cameron took to it like a duck to water back in December 2005 (“you were future once”) but whatever the exaggerated version of that phrase is, it certainly applies to Mrs May, as everyone seems to have taken to calling her. Who will ever forget the look on her face when she leaned over the Despatch Box and spluttered to Corbyn “Remiiiiind you of anyone?” Do you remember back in November 1990 when Mrs T had declared “I’m enjoying this!”? And then a Tory backbencher called Michael Carttiss shouted out “You can wipe the floor with these people!” Well many of us had a similar thought after Theresa May had wiped her feet on Jeremy Corbyn. Luckily for him he doesn’t have to face her again until September.
Right. Time for a swim. I will spare you the pics.

Now, where was I? I’ve only ever been to Spain twice before, once to Madrid and once to Barcelona, but both were work trips, advising the Spanish government and port employers on port labour reform. We’re staying near Iznajar (pronounced Iznacker), which is a very rural area. Every single acre is rammed full of olive trees, each one receiving a nice little subsidy from the EU. I cannot believe how cheap it is to eat out. And it’s authentic Spanish too. Unlike most British expats my friends are making every effort to learn the language and the locals seem to really appreciate it. It’s a very different lifestyle to the one they had in Norwich but they seem to absolutely love it. They have completely renovated their property. It’s taken them a year but they now say they could never contemplate returning to England given the lifestyle they are now able to enjoy in Spain. I’ve been here for four days and I have to say I know what they mean. Having said that, I’m not sure I would want to cope with ‘Scorchio’ temperatures every day. I like heat, but every day? I rather like the variety the English climate offers.
Have you noticed that TM is the reverse of MT. Just saying…

So the final list of government ministers has been revealed. Although the Cabinet looks very different it is very much as you were in the lower ranks. An opportunity was lost to promote bright new talent into the government, while a lot of the same old faces inexplicably held onto their jobs or were moved to different departments. Love the old rogue as I do, I and many others were left scratching our heads to observe that John Hayes survived yet another reshuffle. Better to have him pissing out than in? What other reason can there be? And he’s gone back to a job in the Department of Transport where he was universally loathed in his previous stint there. Patrick McLoughlin, I am reliably informed, moved heaven and earth to get him moved out, so I do wonder how he and Chris Grayling will get on.
All Prime Ministers accumulate enemies, but few have embarked on their Premiership with so many. The Cameroons en bloc and a whole host of ex Ministers like Anna Soubry and Dominic Raab who were offered jobs which the powers that be must have known they could not accept. In Anna Soubry’s case she could reasonably have expected a Cabinet role, yet she was offered a job as number two to Liz Truss. She quite reasonably told Mrs M where she could stuff her job, seeing as she was far more qualified for the job than The Trussette herself. With a majority of only 12, the new PM should be careful how many more enemies she makes. She has won herself many admirers (me included), but we all know how dangerous it can be for too many backbenchers to have idle hands.

Sorry, but I can only resist that pool for so long. Laters.