Diary

ConHome Diary: Margaret Thatcher's Sexy Voice, Labour's Doldrums & ITV's Puerile Rubbish

16 Dec 2016 at 14:33

For anyone under the age of about 45, the name Jim Prior, who died on Monday, probably doesn’t mean much. However, those of us who know our history of the 1970s and 1980s know how significant he was. A key ally to Ted Heath, he was Agriculture Minister in the Heath government and he stood in the 1975 leadership contest. He never reconciled himself to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership and was the archetypal Tory Wet. He became Employment Secretary in May 1979 but the Prime Minister became irritated with his softly-softly approach to industrial relations. In the 1981 reshuffle she replaced him with Norman Tebbit. This was a key moment for Prior, who instead of resigning to lead internal opposition to Thatcher, he accepted the post of Secretary of State for Siberia Northern Ireland. Due to the fact that he necessarily spent most of his time outside Westminster, Prior lost influence and in June 1983, following her landslide victory, Margaret Thatcher summarily sacked him. And that was the end of his political career. One funny anecdote. How true it is, I have no idea, but it demonstrates how Margaret Thatcher used her femininity. Arriving for Cabinet one morning Prior engaged the Prime Minister in some light chit chat. He said to her: “Margaret, you’re sounding very sexy this morning, have you got a cold?”. Raising an eyebrow, Thatcher put on her deepest voice and smiled: “Jim, I can assure you I don’t need a cold to sound sexy…”. Sadly, history doesn’t record Prior’s reaction. Condolences to Jim Prior’s family, especially his son David, who now serves as a minister at the Department of Health.
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Sometimes, just for a laugh, I have a look at the Morning Star website. After all, it’s important to keep up with publications which form the morning reading of Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition, isn’t it? I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that they described the fall of Aleppo as “a liberation”. Yes, really. That rather tells us all we need to know. And the thing is, the likes of Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher were probably nodding along in agreement. How do I know this? Well, the fact that someone has put a Soviet style red star on the top of Jeremy Corbyn’s office Christmas tree is a bit of a clue…
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In the last eleven days, Labour has a) lost its deposit in the Richmond by-election, b) moved from second to fourth in the Sleaford by-election and c) recorded its lowest opinion poll ratings with two polling companies since the 1983 general election. But, splutter the Corbynistas, we’ve got our highest membership since the 1960s and we’re the largest political party in Europe. That doesn’t really matter a jot in terms of electoral success. I’m told that in Richmond, Labour has close on 2,000 party members. The fact that their candidate, Christian Wolmar, only managed to get 1515 votes tells you all you need to know. No doubt they will put it down to tactical voting, but if you can’t even motivate your own members to put a cross by their party’s candidate there’s something very wrong. Meanwhile, the party leader seems to have completely disappeared. I can’t recall the last time he did a major interview or did, well, anything to be honest. On Tuesday we learned that he has virtually nothing in his diary between now and Christmas. Yet another reason why Labour MPs are starting to tear what’s left of their hair out again.
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Andy Carroll walks om water. Tra la la la la, la la la la
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George Osborne’s speech in the Aleppo debate was quite something. I wonder whether we are about to see a totally different George Osborne, one who can spread his wings a bit, and make his mark in policy areas outside the economy. Many MPs made powerful contributions to that debate, not least Labour MP John Woodcock. He said that Osborne had made the speech which should have been made by from the Opposition front bench. Woodcock is a man who seems to have increasingly little in common with his party. If CCHQ have a top ten list of Labour MPs most likely to defect, he’d be pretty near the top.
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I do think the election of Philip Davies to the Women & Equalities Select Committee is delightful. It will certainly make the committees inquiries a little more newsworthy. Only in Britain could you have a women’s committee with three men on it.
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If you missed the ITV programme on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, be very thankful. Rarely have I seen such a terrible programme. The Duke clearly wanted no part of it and gave monosyllabic answers to virtually everything he was asked by the show’s hapless host Philip Schofield. Schofield was as cringingly craven as it is possible to be. How this 47 minutes of puerile rubbish passed the ITV quality threshold is quite beyond me.

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