Diary

ConHome Diary: My Political Comeback, Climbing the iTunes Chart and Why Tim Farron Has Come of Age

9 Dec 2016 at 13:46

Wednesday’ House of Commons debate on Brexit was hugely significant in various ways. Somehow the media and other parties seem to think the government doesn’t want to tell us anything and are shying away from any parliamentary scrutiny. So far as I can see, nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t counted the number of times David Davis has appeared at the Despatch Box since Parliament returned, but I’d wager it is more times than any other minister. OK, he has perfected the art of saying very little, but there is little to say without damaging our negotiating position. Let’s remember that it is only five and a half months since the referendum. Because David Cameron and George Osborne did absolutely no preparation work in the event on Leave vote – a gross dereliction of duty – it will have taken this long to establish a negotiating position and a strategy. Everything started from scratch, including the setting up of the Brexit department. And I ask you this: who in their right mind would reveal their negotiating position three or four months ahead of the start of negotiations? No one, unless their objective was to undermine us. For Sir Kier Starmer to demand in the debate that the government reveal its “detailed plans”, is both outrageous and quasi-treasonal. Quite frankly, whatever the government does decide to reveal, it will never be enough for those whose main objective is to frustrate or even cancel Brexit. There will be a ratchet effect. Reveal ten aspects of our plans and they’ll demand another ten. I have no issue with the government setting out its broad objectives, but that’s it.
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Talking of people who want to cancel Brexit, let’s turn out attention to the LibDems. Just when you thought it was safe, they’re back. Sort of. I got quite a bit of stick last Friday for tweeting that the Richmond by-election result meant that Tim Farron had “come of age” as LibDem leader. But let’s give credit where credit is due. He’s targeting ‘the 48%’ and is shameless about it. He’s even worked out a way of arguing that overturning the referendum result is the most democratic thing that could possibly happen. OK, I exaggerate to make a point, but not by much. Under Nick Clegg the LibDems never gained a seat in a by-election. That hadn’t happened under any LibDem leader since Clement Davies in the 1950s. Overturning a 23,000 majority in Richmond has given the LibDems a huge filip. They’ve increased their parliamentary representation by 12.5%, after all! Will it have any long term consequences? I’m not sure. If they only appeal to the 48% I’m not sure there are too many seats outside London or the South East that they can properly target. In the north they will go down like a cup of cold, yellow sick. And I look at my old seat of North Norfolk where Norman Lamb’s majority dipped at the last election from more than 11,000 to just a tad over 4,000. UKIP got 8,000 voted there in 2015. If enough of those return to the Tory fold Mr Lamb might face a real challenge, given that it’s a highly Eurosceptic seat. I suspect he is wholly opposed to the new LibDems tactic. Perhaps I should make a political comeback! After all, it went so well last time…
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I was amused by the reaction of The Guardian and their ilk to the defeat of the far right candidate, Herr Hofer, in the Austrian presidential rerun. It was a ‘victory for liberalism’, ‘a massive blow to the right’ they shrilled. Er, he got 47% of the vote. They seemed to think a 53-47 victory in the EU referendum was very decisive. A shame they are so inconsistent. After all, they seem to think that a 52-48 majority is incredibly narrow…
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Chris Grayling has copped a lot of flack for refusing to let Sadiq Khan and Transport for London take over the running of suburban commuter train services. It has to be said that in normal circumstances there is an argument for this happening, even if it’s one I wouldn’t ever agree with. Apparently an email has surfaced which Chris Grayling sent to Boris in 2013 arguing that this should never happen as it could hand control of these routes “to the Labour Party”. Naturally, the Labour Party has gone spare about this, but so, it seems have some Tories. The normally very mild-mannered Bob Neil has thrown his toys out of his pram and called for Grayling to quit. Not even Tom Watson, who I interviewed on the subject, went that far. Whatever the merits of the case for transferring these routes to TFL, they’re not known as ‘Totally Failing London’ for nothing. It’s a terribly run organisation that couldn’t run a cycle superhighway on an Embankment. A bureaucratic shambles, it needs to be reformed from top to bottom. Boris totally failed to get to grips with TFL. It’s too early to tell whether Sadiq Khan will do so. So far, the jury’s out.
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Last week I told you about by new weekly ‘Brexit Briefing’ podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes. The first episode was released last Friday and unbelievably reached Number 9 in the iTunes New & Politics chart. It even reached 54 on the national chart of all podcasts. I think this shows just how much thirst there is for informed debate on this subject. This week’s episode features a debate between Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Helena Kennedy – you can rest assured there was not much meeting of minds.

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