ConHome Diary: Chris Rennard's Memoirs, Giving a Former Gang Member a Chance & Nigel Farage becomes Me
25 Aug 2017 at 13:50
This week I signed up a two volume memoir by former LibDem campaigning guru, Chris (Lord) Rennard. What this man doesn’t know about the arts (and also dark arts) of constituency campaigning can be written on a postage stamp. He, more than anyone, was behind the LibDem rise to popularity in the 1990s and 2000s. He learned his art on the streets of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s and his reputation achieved almost mythical proportions. Both Labour and the Conservatives were in awe of his mastery. The many LibDem by-election successes were down to his ability to pitch the LibDem campaign in a manner which totally obliterated the other two parties. These by-election wins gave the image of momentum and success, far beyond the reality. It was he who invented the famous LibDem bar-graphs, which whatever the reality of the situation was persuaded the local electorate it was a ‘two horse race’. This volume takes his life story up to 2006, when Ming Campbell took over the party leadership, and will be published in March 2018. A second volume will be published a year later. Back in 2003 when I was thinking of applying to be Tory candidate in north Norfolk he advised me against it on the basis that Norman Lamb would get a majority of 10,000. I thought I knew better. I didn’t. He was right. How different my life might have turned out, had I listened to him.
This week the government published more of its Brexit strategy papers. Some contain more detail than others, but the reaction by Remainers and the Remain supporting media has been all too typical, dismissive and laughable. Take their reaction to Wednesday’s paper on the European Court of Justice. Even though it is quite clear that ECJ jurisdiction will end when we leave, Remainers like Labour MP Chris Leslie alleged there had been a total climbdown which would make Brexiteers foam at the mouth. What was this climbdown? Well, the government were proposing a panel of arbitration to resolve disputes between us and the EU over trade, citizens rights and other areas too. The panel would be made up of one British judge, one European judge and an independently appointed judge. This is exactly the same way the EU-Canada and EU-South Korea trade agreement dispute procedures work. Having a judge on an arbitration panel does not give the ECJ jurisdiction, it gives them a panel member. A perfectly sensible arrangement. Sadly for Chris Leslie, the likes of Bill Cash and Theresa Villiers have both endorsed the suggestion. If the EU doesn’t we really will know what their agenda is in these negotiations.
On Thursday on my LBC show we spent an hour talking about gangs. It’s a subject I can’t say I am an expert on, but we took some fascinating calls from boys and men who had been in gangs but left. One, Peter in Streatham, rendered me speechless at times. He was 17 and first joined a gang at the age of 11. At the age of 13 he was stabbed. He felt he had no alternative but to join a gang “to provide for my family”. At 17 he had turned his life around and when I asked him what his ambition was he said “I want to be a businessman”. He currently works in Nando’s. He was articulate, eloquent, determined and had an edge about him. To be honest, I nearly offered him a job there and then. People like him, who have been on the edge of society, deserve their chance in life. I immediately had several listeners email me to offer him a job, a business opportunity or to mentor him. And good on them. I hope something comes out of this and that is set on a positive part in life.
Next week I’m off for a week and Nigel Farage will be presenting my show. No doubt there will be gasps of horror from anyone left of Bill Cash, but I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how he adapts to presenting a fast-paced, news-based show. Whatever one’s politics I think Nigel has become a very adept broadcaster. He engages his audience, is polite to people who ring up to disagree with him and is quite a charmer. He can also do the ‘radio bits’ very well, which many people find difficult. What I mean by this is knowing how to move from one subject to another seamlessly, knowing how to introduce the news and travel. It sounds simple, but many untrained presenters can be quite awkward at this. He’s also shown he can handle breaking news, which is possibly the most challenging part of the job. Last week I was covering the Barcelona terror attack and then had to switch to covering the death of Sir Bruce Forsyth – and then back again. So if you want to see how Nigel rises to the challenge he’ll be presenting my show from 4-7pm from Tuesday to Friday on LBC.