ConHome Diary: The Pantheon of PMs, Any Questions & Trumpageddon
13 Aug 2016 at 14:51
I’ve always thought all months should be like August. Most political journalists take the whole month off and politicians are largely absent from Westminster. And yet somehow the country manages to struggle on. Indeed, it struggles on very nicely thank you. It’s a bit like the time recently when Belgium had nine months without a government. The economy thrived and all was well in the world.
Someone asked me the other day where I thought David Cameron sits in the pantheon on Great British Prime Ministers. It’s not an easy question to answer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one best answered in about fifty years’ time, when we can best judge the effects of Brexit. However, there’s part of me that thinks that even if it goes really well, it’s not exactly down to Cameron. OK, he called the referendum, but he certainly didn’t get the response he wanted. He nearly lost Scotland too. Overall, though, I think he was a better than average prime minister. He clearly fitted the job well, although he sometimes did and said things that weren’t exactly prime ministerial. I think he can look back and cite many achievements on the economy and in domestic policy with a lot of pride. Foreign policy was a lot more mixed, especially in the middle east. He will say he was thwarted by Parliament over Syria, which is true, but the handling of the vote and his methods of persuasion were perhaps not ideal. Libya has turned out to be a mixed blessing. I’d still say our intervention there was correct and that the fact that the Libyans have made a hash of the aftermath isn’t exactly down to us. They asked us to stay out and we did. So, here’s my list of post war prime ministers…
1. Margaret Thatcher
2. Clement Attlee
3. Tony Blair
4. Harold Macmillan
5. Harold Wilson
6. David Cameron
7. John Major
8. Gordon Brown
9. James Callaghan
10. Sir Winston Churchill
11. Edward Heath
12. Sir Alec Douglas Home
13. Sir Anthony Eden
I’ve tried to judge them just as prime ministers, rather than take into consideration their party backgrounds. I think the first three were transformational prime ministers. They changed the political weather in a way the others failed to. Harold Macmillan was very much ‘steady as she goes’, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but he failed to make the changes in industrial policy that were needed. Perhaps he is too high on that list, but there’s no doubt that he did very well to elongate Conservative rule in that period to 13 years. Churchill features on the low side because I’ve only judged him on his 1951-55 administration. But he was still a better leader than Edward Heath, who will always be remembered for two things – the three-day week and taking us into the Common Market. Many regard the latter as his crowning achievement. It was not. The people had no say at the time and felt they were misled. Looking back, Europe has been an open sore for both the Tory Party itself and the country at large, and that is down to Edward Heath. I am sure many of you will disagree!
Next Friday I’m on Any Questions. It’s a programme I’ve been on five or six times and have never not enjoyed it. In some ways it’s quite terrifying as you always fear a question coming to which you have no answer whatsoever. I’ve always reckoned the secret to doing well on it is to crack a joke in the warm up question and get the audience laughing. Do that and the nerves disappear and it sends a message to the audience that they are going to have a good time. Normally in August they have panels that are not very political, but this year it’s obviously a little different. Chuka Umunna, James Brokenshire and Laurie Penny are the other three panellists. So, me and Laurie Penny. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ve been on holiday for a week now, with another ten days to go. I find it incredibly difficult to switch off from work on holiday. I put an ‘Out of Office’ on my emails, but I may as well not bother. A few years ago when I went to Crete for a week I only looked at email in the morning and in the evening. But if I’m not abroad, there’s no difference to my normal routine really, so the laptop is on all day. The only change to my routine, and the main way I try to switch off, is to binge on box sets. This holiday I’ve polished off Series 5 of ‘Homeland’ and Series 5 of ‘Covert Affairs’. Whether I’ll quite manage the latest series of ‘House of Cards’ before I fly up to Edinburgh on Monday is doubtful. I have actually ventured out of the house to take the dogs to the beach, but quite honestly the best way I recharge my batteries is to do nothing but read and watch DVDs. However, tomorrow I am doing a barbeque for a dozen friends. My partner is very much against the idea on the basis that they will all get food poisoning. If Gareth Williamson, the chief whip is reading this, he shouldn’t be too worried. Only one of the guests is an MP. And it isn’t Norman Lamb.
So on Monday I fly to Edinburgh from Norwich International Airport. Really. Norwich Airport is the only one I have ever been to where they charge you £10 to leave the airport. Normal for Norfolk. It’s my second visit to the Festival. I had such a good time there last year that I’ve decided to return. I’m there for three and a half days and have booked into 17, yes 17, shows. They range from ‘Trumpageddon’ to ‘Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Game Shows’. I’m looking forward to seeing Ayesha Hazirika’s new standup show, as well as ‘The Whinging Pom’s Guide to Oz. Matt Forde is doing an In Conversation show with Tim Loughton and I’ll be finding out ‘The Gayest Thing You’ve Ever Seen’. I’ll report back next week.