Diary

ConHome Diary: Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down

15 Dec 2017 at 14:16

It’s difficult to know what the consequences of Wednesday evening’s government defeat in the Commons will be. It certainly undermines Theresa May as she goes into the next stage of negotiations and probably means that an agreement needs to be reached a little earlier than before in order to allow time for all the parliamentary processes to be conducted. The European Commission will be licking their lips. Guy Verhofstadt’s glee on twitter was barf-inducing. However, these things are rarely as significant as they appear in the immediate aftermath.
The whole process proves what I said on the Andrew Marr Show was right. “OMG, you called the PM a weeble,” texted a friend in Number Ten. And it’s true I did. It was meant as a compliment! Those of you of a middle-aged vintage will recall the 1970s children’s toy which was promoted in an advert by a little ditty which went “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Let’s face it, even her most loyal supporter would admit that the Prime Minister has had her odd wobbly moment since April. But no one has yet managed to floor her. She may wobble but she always comes back to surprise her critics. Her resilience is astounding. Last Friday, she was again mistress of all she surveyed, having managed to get the DUP and her cabinet onside. She pulled victory from last Monday’s jaw of defeat. But as ever, this week has been a long time in politics and she headed off to Brussels yesterday knowing that her EU colleagues would again consider her to be in a weaker position than the last time they saw her.
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The eleven Conservative rebels will be very conscious of what they did on Wednesday night and won’t be allowed to forget it. I’d like to think that all eleven of them did what they did for the best of reasons. They say they did it to ‘take back control’ and promote the interests of Parliament against the executive. I’m all in favour of the Executive losing some of its grip on the law-making process and ordinarily I’d support any move to do that. However, the suspicion remains that this was less about the interests of parliament, more about an underhand means of trying to scupper Brexit. Hardline Brexiteers will certainly accuse the ‘eleven’ of that. I guess we’ll never know the truth.
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Another measure the government seem keen on is to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. This is parliamentary madness. I presume in the end this will come to a Commons vote at some point and I just can’t see turkeys voting for Christmas. However, if they do they must do it on the condition that the government reduces the number of ministers, something they have so far refused to commit to. If you get rid of 8.3% of MPs, surely you ought to be obliged to reduce the number of ministers by the same percentage, otherwise the Executive is able to tighten its grip on the parliamentary process. If it happened, there would be eight fewer ministers. The question is: would anyone notice?
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Steve Baker really does have a fine head of hair, doesn’t he? Not that I am at all jealous. Never let it be said.
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As you read this I’ll be in Brussels for the EU summit. We’re doing CNN Talk (on CNN International at noon) from the Commission building and then I’ll be doing my LBC show from there. It’s my first visit to Brussels since the early 1990s, when I thought it would be a good idea to go and see what it was like. I remember attending a meeting of the European Parliament’s transport committee and having all my anti-EU prejudices confirmed. It was total chaos. You had lobbyists sitting in amongst the MPs and chatting to them as the committee proceedings went on. I remember coming back to London and hoping beyond hope that my work wouldn’t take me to Brussels ever again. Well, I’ve lasted 27 years, and hopefully this visit will be my second and last. I’m sure Brussels feels the same.
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Last Saturday I wrote an article in the ‘I’ Newspaper about the declining art of political interviewing. You can read it “HERE”:https://inews.co.uk/opinion/columnists/iain-dale-weve-lost-the-art-of-the-political-interview/ ]. It seems to have caused quite a stir with several journalists getting in touch to ask what I thought of their interviewing style! I deliberately didn’t name many names, apart from praising Andrew Neil, who I regard as the best interviewer in the world of political broadcast journalism. Jeremy Paxman was none too pleased and got in touch to say he had never said he had in his mind while interviewing a politician the phrase “why is this bastard lying to me?” He said he was quoting someone else.
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