ConHome Diary: Bim Afolami, Ignoring David Cameron's Norway Plea & My Weird Few Days
7 Jul 2017 at 21:56
Nick Watt is one of the political broadcasters I always take notice of. He has a keen ear for shifts in government policy and is very good at keeping his ear to the ground. On Wednesday night he made a film about how the government is being urged by “senior Tories” to adopt the “Norway model”, and stay within the Single Market and keep the basics of freedom of movement. The only “senior Tory” interviewed was former Europe Minister and prominent Remainer Francis (now Lord) Maude. What Nick Watt didn’t say is that I gather David Cameron is phoning people putting forward the same case. Now I get that Remainers have their collective tails up at the moment, and some of them think they genuinely have a possibility of putting a stop to Brexit. As Nick Watt said: “I’m hearing that Brexit may not even happen”. If we stay in the Single Market they would be getting their way because we would still be paying billions of pounds a year to Brussels and we’d be accepting freedom of movement will continue. The vote on 23 June 2016 might as well not have happened. Luckily we have a prime minister and a Brexit Secretary who won’t countenance that vote being ignored or overturned. Because if it was, the political consequences for the Conservative Party would be unthinkable.
The world of Westminster politics is possibly the most gossipy in the country. Chinese whispers take on a whole new dimension. A baseless rumour can spread like wildfire without any facts intervening whatsoever. And so it has proved over the last 72 hours or so. The government has been without a Director of Communications for two and half months, since Katie Perrior’s resignation in mid April. Fiona Hill effectively took over the role but since her departure in the immediate aftermath of the election there has been a void. It’s becoming clear that this void needs to be filled quickly.
On Tuesday afternoon my phone started buzzing with text after text from Westminster journalists asking if it was true that I was to be Theresa May’s new Comms Director. Well, er no. If I was, I might have had a phone call or something! But the rumours continued to swirl. Guido included me on his list of runners and riders and the Evening Standard then wrote a diary item suggesting the same. In between Tom Newton-Dunn from The Sun had written an online article suggesting that the two front runners were James Landale and Robbie Gibb. Landale then tweeted on Wednesday morning that he was dropping out of the running.
Well, it was certainly flattering to be mentioned as a possible candidate, but it was based on nothing. Just to be clear, and I haven’t made any comment on this elsewhere, there is no truth at all that I have been approached, and I would not expect to be. This job requires a particular skillset, and I’m not at all sure it’s one I possess. In addition, why on earth would I give up my jobs at Biteback and LBC, which I hugely enjoy?
As I write this, Robbie Gibb has confirmed he has accepted the job. I think it would be a great appointment. He’s a political adult and will command the respect of everyone in the media and political worlds.
There was an interesting article yesterday on Iain Martin’s ‘Reality Life’ website. Victoria Bateman urged to Tories to rediscover the art of making the case for capitalism. She’s right. There is a populist case for capitalism and there is an intellectual case, but neither are being made by Conservative politicians at the moment. The Left are being allowed to get away with the argument that capitalism is intrinsically evil and designed to exploit the working classes. The truth is that capitalism has enabled the world to enjoy prosperity that would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago. It’s improved the health of millions of people the world over. I could go on. But where are the Conservatives making this case? The Cabinet is even split on whether a public sector pay cap should continue, with some of the weaker minded members apparently forgetting that we still have a £55 billion deficit. Where’s the intellectual case for controlling public expenditure? It’s there, but no one’s making it. Many young people have become disillusioned with capitalism on the basis that they ask why should they be enthusiastic about capitalism if they are prevented from accumulating capital? It’s a reasonable question to ask. And if this question isn’t answered soon, don’t be surprised if Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-capitalism messages start to resonate even more than they are doing now.
I haven’t seen too many of the new MPs’ maiden speeches, but one which has caught the eye was made by the new Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, Bim Afolami. We Westminster watchers always like to talent spot from a particular intake of MPs,and I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Mr Afolami.