Quote of the Day
22 Jun 2013 at 20:28
If you want a friend in politics buy a dog.Jerry Hayes, 22 Jun 2013
Quote of the Day
22 Jun 2013 at 20:28
If you want a friend in politics buy a dog.Jerry Hayes, 22 Jun 2013
22 Jun 2013 at 11:47
Yesterday I spent half an hour talking to renowned historian Lady Antonia Fraser about her superb new book on the 1832 Reform Act. It’s called PERILOUS QUESTION: THE DRAMA OF THE GREAT REFORM BILL 1832. And it really is a dramatic page turner. I don’t know much about this period of history so was keen to see if it would grab my interest. The way she describes the main character in the first two chapters really entices the reader to stick with it. We also talked about her views on the teaching of history and much more besides. I hope you enjoy it.
21 Jun 2013 at 14:25
Whoever chose Lough Erne as the venue for the G8 should get some kind of honour. As a PR exercise it couldn’t be faulted. The countryside backdrops to all the interviews and press conferences were simply stunning. Less stunning, though, was the fact that David Cameron seemed to have a physical aversion to wearing a tie at any point during the event. Orders had clearly gone out from Number Ten that this was a ‘dress down’ G8, although it was rather difficult to tell whether Angela Merkel had got the message, as in all the pictures I saw she seemed to be wearing the same, tired old lime green jacket. I assume she brought a change of underwear.
Paul Goodman wrote a fascinating piece earlier in the week predicting the coming reshuffle will be dominated by promotions for women. I think he may well be right, and most of the names he mentions will really deserve their promotion. What a shame it is, though, that we still write articles about the relative merits of women MPs, as opposed to MPs in general. Perhaps it will ever be thus. But at the reshuffle there will be two female cabinet ministers who will retain their cabinet posts purely because of their gender, rather than the fact that they have been any good. Justine Greening has indulged in a long sulk since her unwanted move from Transport to International Development, while Maria Miller is so out of her depth, it would be kinder just to put her out of her misery. But that won’t happen, I suspect. It would be just too politically embarrassing to have a second successive reshuffle in which two female cabinet ministers were pitched overboard.
I’m really not quite sure why Stephen Twigg made his big speech on schools this week, because I am buggered if I am any wiser as to what Labour’s education policy really is. Is he in favour of free schools or against them? The answer seems to be both. And there was me thinking that sitting on the fence was the preserve of the ‘yellow peril’.
A political acquaintance of mine was wandering home the other night, minding his own business when he encountered a chap with a full Freddie Mercury moustache and a gold, tiger emblazoned jacket. He used the frankly legendary line: “Excuse me, I think you’re quite fit. Can I suck your c**k?” Somehow my friend’s incredibly British response of “I’m actually okay… but thank you…” didn’t seem to quite cut it… Amazing the disguises some MPs will use nowadays…
I’m all in favour of jailing people who break the law and are a danger to society, but this current political fetish for jailing bankers because – well, just because – is getting ridiculous. The Banking Commission, led by the marvellous Andrew Tyrie, has done some sterling work, but it seems to be suggesting that bankers should be jailed for being, er, reckless. Well, if that’s the criteria by which we decide whether to jail people, perhaps a good few politicians might be eligible for a quick sojourn in Wormwood Scrubs. Sometimes politicians should be careful what they wish for.
I see Dr Sarah Wollaston, rapidly becoming one of my favourite MP’s, is accusing David Cameron of reneging on the coalition promise of introducing ‘open primaries’ because they are more likely to result in the selection of ‘outspoken’ candidates. Try as I might, I just cannot think to whom she might be referring.
Something very odd happened on my LBC radio show on Wednesday. I found myself, as the former Tory candidate for North Norfolk, interviewing Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, about the former Conservative MP for North Norfolk, David Prior about the Care Quality Commission scandal. Whoever said things come in threes seems to have had a point. The CQC cover-up is a genuine scandal. The fact that anyone in a regulatory body feels it appropriate to hide incompetence and wrong-doing is worrying enough, but to actually bury a report because it makes their own organisation look bad? Monstrous. To his credit, Norman Lamb was as angry and incredulous as I was and is determined to get to the bottom of it. The CQC is lucky to have someone with David Prior’s managerial and health service experience as its new chairman. He made no effort to defend the organisations past errors and his assessment of its fitness for purpose was castigating. It was good to see such honesty from a public official. It’s all too rare.
My old chum Eric Pickles joined me in the studio on Wednesday evening to take calls from LBC listeners for an hour. He insisted on a hour, saying that Nick Clegg was a wimp only to do 30 minutes. He was in characteristically honest form as he told several listeners that their questions had nothing to do with him as he had devolved various policy areas down to local councils. Other politicians would have tried to fob them off with lovely sounding words which meant nothing. Pickles’s approach was direct and honest, something I think most people appreciate. He also gave a clear hint that within a few weeks he is going to announce a new policy on parking, which local councils certainly won’t like. From what I managed to glean, I/we pop into a shop for a few minutes, and are on a yellow line, we won’t get a ticket, and also local councils will be prevented from using parking tickets as a cash cow. About time too.
We are struggling for a title for the hour with Eric Pickles, and as we are looking at doing this once a month we are soliciting suggestions. “Phone Pickles” doesn’t really work in the same way that “Call Clegg” or “Balls’ Calls” does. How about “Tickle Pickles”? Perhaps you can do better…
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage tells Iain Dale on LBC 97.3 about being locked in a pub 'for his own safety' on the campaign trail in Scotland. After his event was gatecrashed by 'Scottish nationalists'.
16 Jun 2013 at 18:02
I am far from being a pacifist. Indeed, I am a firm believer in intervention when there is a clear case that can be made. But whatever David Cameron says, that case cannot be made in Syria. It is a mystery to most people why Cameron is going out on a limb on Syria. It is not a country which is of great importance to the UK and yet the Prime Minister speaks as if it were. The murderous killings on both sides are truly horrific, and we are right to play a role in providing humanitarian aid, but to go further would be self defeating madness. At the start of the conflict it could have been argued that the rebels needed armed support because they didn’t have any. That is not the case now. Saudi Arabia is supplying all the weapons the rebels need. It is also now clear that even if we did supply them, they might well end up in very undesirable hands indeed. Some might say that is a risk worth taking if it would hasten the end of this bloody conflict. I do not.
Have we learned nothing from Iraq? In any conflict there is an end game. The only endgame here seems to be the end of the Assad regime. But what then? What comes afterwards? That’s the question Bush and Blair failed to answer in Iraq. They imagined democracy could be imposed and Iraq would live happily ever after. It was naive in the extreme. Surely we are not going to make the same mistake here?
It was a dreadful error for Obama to say that a red line would be crossed if chemical weapons were used. It invites the question, why are deaths due to chemical weapons worse than any others? So far more than 90,000 people have died. A few hundred may have been due to chemical weapons.
But Cameron has a much bigger political problem. If rumour is to be believed, despite his public gung-ho statements, William Hague is not the hawk on Syria he makes out. He is doing the Prime Minister’s bidding. In addition Cameron has a cabinet and a parliamentary party which are both deeply divided on the issue. At a guess I’d say both would be 70-30 or 60-40 against arming the Syrian rebels. Cameron must know that, so why on earth is he, at every opportunity, seeming to talk up the prospect? He has already committed himself to holding a parliamentary vote before any such decision is taken. We already know that Labour and the LibDems would vote against any such arming, so how does he think he could ever get a parliamentary majority?
It’s a bit of a mystery.
14 Jun 2013 at 14:58
When I wrote about Tim Yeo last week, I had no idea what the Sunday Times were about to unveil. The least Mr Yeo could do was stand down from his select committee. What I don’t understand is the lack of intervention by the Whips’ Office or Number Ten. Yeo can deny everything all he likes, but video doesn’t lie. There will be many consequences from this scandal, not just for Tim Yeo personally, but for Parliament in general. Can there really be anyone who can argue that Select Committee chairmen shouldn’t relinquish all outside interests, just as ministers have to? These are now paid offices. What I found most outrageous about the affair was the Mail on Sunday revelation that Yeo had written to Ed Davey complaining that Lord Deben (John Gummer to you and me) had outside interested which conflicted with his role as chair of the Committee on Climate Change. Yeo had some brass neck to do that given his long list of consultancies and directorships in the field of renewable energy. But then he always has had a brass neck, hasn’t he? Complaining about long haul flights, while at the same time flying to all four corners of the earth to play golf. Some people are beyond help. Or parody.
It is safe to say that Brian Coleman is a larger than life character. He has for some time been the best known Conservative politician in North London – and the most argumentative. Last week he was expelled from the Conservative Party, having in May been found guilty of assault. Never knowingly uncontroversial, Coleman had served for many years on the GLA and Barnet council, recently as mayor. Last Thursday I saw on my Twitter feed that BBC Radio London had announced he was a guest on their Drivetime show. ‘Not for long’, I thought, as I texted Brian and asked him if he’d like to come on my LBC show instead – the lure being an audience several times the size of BBC London, despite them having a budget and resources at least 8 times the size of ours. Sure enough, the bait worked. The BBC were less than gruntled, but all’s fair in love and radio. I expected Coleman to show at least a little contrition. Did he feel he’s let down the Conservative Party and its activists? No. Did he owe them an apology? No. If the word ‘bouncebackability’ (Ok, OK, I know it’s not really a word) applies to anyone, it certainly applies to Brian Coleman. He intends to stand as an Independent in next year’s Barnet council elections, standing on ‘real’ Conservative values. There’s little doubt he will get masses of publicity and although he probably won’t win, it’s likely he will carve into the Conservative vote enabling someone else to. Mr Coleman’s ability to have an impact should never be ‘misunderestimated’.
Why is the BBC so reluctant to discuss the real reason behind the protests in Turkey? The ostensible reason is the development of a green space, but it goes far deeper than that. The whole background to the protests is that a huge chunk of the Turkish population is extremely concerned by the attempts of the Erdogan government to proceed with the gradual islamification of Turkey. Those who wish Turkey to remain a country with a primarily western outlook are horrified by the raft of measures brought in over the past few years designed to passify islamists, and are now raising their voice in opposition. But this is barely being reported by the BBC. Why?
It was interesting on Tuesday that Michael Gove sent out Liz Truss to sell his GCSE reforms to the media. The Trussette was furious at Nick Clegg’s intervention on childcare and needed to show her face in the TV and radio studios to rebuild her battered reputation, and rebuild it she most certainly did. She had a good story to tell and she told it well. Gove is rumoured to be rather remote from his ministerial team and is a very hands-off Secretary of State who ploughs his own furrow and leaves others to plough theirs. But in this case he spotted a colleague who needed a bit of support and gave it. His GCSE reforms have been welcomed by some very unusual sources – Diane Abbott and The Guardian being two. They seek to reintroduce some much needed rigour, and although the teaching unions have been spluttering (did we expect anything else?) I suspect they are reforms which Labour wouldn’t seek to reverse should they win the next election. Michael Gove may have made a few balls-ups along the way, but he’s proving to be the most radical Education Secretary for a generation. I hope he is left in the post to complete the job.
One MP I think ought to be considered for promotion in the reshuffle is Jessica Lee, elected in 2010 for Erewash. She is currently Dominic Grieve’s PPS. She probably won’t thank me for saying this, but I first got to know Jessica 15 year ago when she worked for me at Politico’s, in the coffee bar. She makes a mean sandwich! Jessica is intelligent, savvy and sassy, and although her profile is not as high as the likes of some of her contemporaries, it ought to be. Of all the 2010 intake who appear on my radio show she is one of the best performers. She’s able to present the Conservative case with humour and without being rattled. She is clearly a loyalist but comes across as a human being rather than a political robot. The Conservatives need to use voices like Jessica is they are to appeal outside the metropolitan elite.
So, the Express’s Patrick O’Flynn had made the jump from commentary to political activism and is intending to stand in the European elections for UKIP. Patrick is a nice guy and is quite a catch for Nigel Farage, but I wonder what guarantees he has been given by the UKIP leader. When pseudo-celebrities join political parties they usually expect immediate preferment and then become rather hacked off when it is not forthcoming. They also incur the wrath of party activists who tend to express their jealousy rather openly. Remember Adam Rickitt? Watch your back, Patrick.
As some readers know, I run Biteback Publishing. In September we are publishing Damian McBride’s book POWER TRIP. Already people are talking of it as the political book of the year. I’d like to think it will be, but we’d better wait until the manuscript is actually delivered before we get carried away! Those who read Damian’s blog will know what a brilliant writer he is. People find it ironic I should be publishing the book considering that I was one of those who Damian and Derek Draper tried to smear all those years ago. Anyway, on Tuesday those breakfasting at London’s Corinthia Hotel would have seen the bizarre sight of Damian and I having breakfast with Michael Ashcroft. The good Lord owns 75% of my company and I thought he and Damian might get on rather well. And so it proved. I just sat back and listened to these two titans of political strategy chew the political cud. If the book proves to be half as fascinating as that particular conversation, it will be a very good read indeed.
I am somewhat mystified by Peter Oborne’s renewed attack on Lord Ashcroft. Apparently the good Lord has an agenda against David Cameron. The evidence cited is the odd mischievous tweet. I am a great admirer of Peter Oborne. I think he is one of our best polemicists. But surely even he must realise that his own support for the Prime Minister appears to depend on which day of the week it is. One day Cameron can do no wrong, the next he is the biggest blunderer in Christendom. Oborne is to Cameron what Polly Toynbee was to Gordon Brown – a fair weather friend.
Listen to Ed Miliband and his answer to most things is to tax or regulate them. I don’t know why I should be surprised. It’s the knee jerk reaction of every real leftie I know. I exclude Blairites from this admittedly gross generalisation, but it is a generalisation which has several grains of truth in it. Take the housing crisis, for example. The solution to a lack of housing is simple. Build more, and provide building companies with the incentives to do so. Where there is too much demand, increase the supply. It’s pretty basic economics. But what is Miliband’s answer? Not to address the root of the problem, but fiddle around the edges by making ridiculous suggestions about rent controls and regulating landlords. This country has a big enough problem in encouraging the private rental sector without putting further barriers to growth in its way.
10 Jun 2013 at 22:59
This is not a biography of Harry Redknapp. In fact having finished reading it, I am still not very sure what it is. What I do know is that it tells us very little about Redknapp that we didn’t know before. And that’s quite a failing in a book of more than 200 pages. It’s rather perplexing that the author can’t seem to make his mind up whether Harry is a wrong ‘un or just a bit of loveable rogue, with a gift for a media friendly soundbite. Often I’d find myself mentally screaming: "Just get off the ‘effing fence’.
For a book that rambles all over the place and never comes to a conclusion, it’s not unenjoyable. It didn’t bore me at all, which is odd because it never quite found its voice. The subtitle tells you you’re going to get inside the mind of Harry Redknapp. But the trouble is that if the book is to be believed there’s not a lot going on in his mind beyond an ability to charm the journalists off the trees. One thing we do learn, however, is that what Harry says one day, he is very good at contradicting the next. But didn’t we know that anyway?
We’re told he has his favourites and that if you’re not one of them you won’t get a game. But didn’t we know that? The England job saga is told at inexhaustible length – again not unentertainingly, but there was little we didn’t know before. Similarly with the court case.
The book leaves you with the feeling that the author wants to become Harry’s bessie mate, but every few pages he blows his chances.
9 Jun 2013 at 21:21
It’s rare that I am ahead of my time, but less than a year ago I wrote a blogpost titled TIM YEO: THE UNACCEPTABLE FACE OF CONSERVATISM. I wrote…
I have always found Tim Yeo’s interest in climate change and green issues a tad hypocritical bearing in mind the amount of time he spends flying round the world playing golf. But it appears it goes deeper than that. Yesterday I dug out his entry in the latest Register of Member’s Interests. I print it below. I haven’t bothered to add up all his outside earning from companies associated with energy renewables but it must be in excess of £90,000. Just what does he do for these companies? How does he justify his £300-£400 hourly rate?
To be fair to Mr Yeo, and I like to be, as you know, he fully declares all his outside earnings and he was elected as chairman of this committee when his colleagues knew full well what his outside interests were. But I am afraid it still stinks. I interviewed Labour MP Barry Gardiner on my programme about this last night. He’s a member of Yeo’s committee and seemed entirely relaxed about it. He said that Yeo had offered to withdraw from questioning when this subject came up in front of the committee. The committee didn’t accept his offer. Mr Yeo has done nothing wrong. Under the rules he is perfectly within his rights to do this. But it seems to be a massive error of judgement on his part to think that he can both take the money and remain as chairman of this committee. And let’s not forget, he gets an extra sum from the taxpayer for chairing the committee too!
A few months later I said something disobliging about him on my LBC show. He rang me to protest. I wasn’t in much of a mood to back down and reminded him that it is not just wrongdoing which the public hate, it’s the perception of wrongdoing. And the fact is that trousering money from firms which have a direct interest in the subject area of which he is a Select Committee chairman, regardless of whether it is declared, is perceived by many to be questionable, even if it is within the rules.
Today, the Mail on Sunday reveals he has written to the Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey complaining that Lord Deben (the artist formerly known as John Selwyn Gummer) has outside interests which could affect his position as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change…
The committee was given to understand that Veolia was not an energy company, and that Lord Deben would not retain links with energy companies . . . But, as is clear from Veolia’s website and annual report and accounts, the company has a significant role in the field of energy. The lack of clarity on this specific point has caused ongoing media criticism . . . the reassurances you have given are not sufficient to effectively address the perception of conflict of interest in the public domain.’
Yes, you might well be open-mouthed. Me too. How can anyone be so brazenly hypocritical? Bearing in mind his own list of interests in energy and green companies (see his register of members’ interests entry HERE) you wonder how he squares that with his chairmanship of the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee, don’t you?
The new Sunday Times allegations speak for themselves. Yeo denies he has done anything wrong, yet the video recordings would seem to indicate something rather different. He denies he coached a Eurotunnel executive before a select committee hearing, yet there he is on the video confirming he did just that. In that event, it is surely now incumbent on the members of the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee to call him to account and hold a vote of confidence. That is the least they can do.
If the select committee doesn’t act, surely the Conservative chief whip must. It is inconceivable to me how he can explain his way out of this one. If he can’t, surely the whip must be withdrawn.
The case for a law allowing voters to ‘recall’ their MPs becomes ever stronger, doesn’t it?
8 Jun 2013 at 12:57
Last night on my LBC show we spent an hour discussing how parents cope with a Downs Syndrome child. There’s a new blood test which apparently is 98.5% accurate in detecting Downs in a foetus. I asked people to phone in and tell us how they reacted when told their child had Downs and how subsequently they coped with the condition. I started off by interviewing Steve Palmer who runs PODS and has a brilliant blog on his life with is son Stanley. We then had a succession of callers who spoke very movingly about their children. Do have a listen. I learned a lot and I’m sure you will too. You may shed the odd tear too.
7 Jun 2013 at 14:10
The biggest talking point at Westminster this week has been a certain MP’s lack of hair. No, I’m not talking about Nadine Dorries, I’m talking about the infamously moustachioed Tory MP for Broadland, Keith Simpson. For the first time in forty years he has shaved off his resplendent facial hair and now looks positively naked, albeit ten years younger. “There must be a reshuffle in the air,” commented one Westminster wag. The truth, however, is disappointingly prosaic. “I was shaving and whipped a quarter of it off by mistake, so the rest had to follow,” he told me. So what did his long-suffering wife Pepi make of it? “It took an hour for her to even notice, despite me giving her a snog,” says Simpson cuttingly. Known for his military analogies, I think it is safe to say that the atmosphere in the Simpson household is as cold as the ice inside a German panzer on the Russian front in December 1941.
This week sees the publication of Harry Mount’s Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson, which, I have to say, bears a strong resemblance to my own collection of Boris witticisms, the Bigger Book of Boris. Still, everybody’s welcome to the Boris party. Sadly Boris’s publishers made a bit of an error with the launch party, and scheduled it for the night of Boris’s twentieth wedding anniversary. Boris, keen to avoid a marital dressing down, decided to forego the delights of the launch party and presumably took Marina to a swanky restaurant. During the speeches the representative from Bloomsbury Publishing pointed out the irony that the author of a book extolling the virtues of Boris Johnson was a cousin of David Cameron. At which point Harry Mount shouted “distant”. However distant it is, though Harry, you can’t escape that easily!
So what’s this I hear about Conservative Grassroots? Apparently there are two of them and they are at daggers drawn. One is run by the chairman of Wycombe Conservatives Bob Woollard, and I almost hesitate to mention that the other one is run by Mr Ben Harris-Quinney. Why am I hesitant? Well last time I had the temerity to pass judgement on his leadership of (what used to be) a prominent Conservative organisation, the Bow Group, he threatened to sue for libel. Tragically for him, I hadn’t actually written anything libellous. Anyway, the chairman of the original Conservative Grassroots is less than gruntled with the operations of what we might call its ‘provisional wing’. Peace talks have been held but to no avail. The two organisations have virtually identical logos, but different personnel, different websites and different Twitter feeds. Come on boys, sort it out.
The media loves to portray the Tories as being divided on Europe. That’s sooooooo 1990s, darling. If anything, the Tories are more united on the subject than they ever have been, albeit in the Eurosceptic direction. It seems it is now Labour’s turn to experience European splits. On Tuesday evening a new pressure group was launched – Labour for a Referendum. There are about thirty Labour MPs who have no issue in describing themselves as Eurosceptic and proud of it. However, they’ need to do better if they are to make an impact. A mere three dozen supporters turned up to the launch bash at Transport House, half of which ended up in the nearby Firecracker Karaoke bar. Dan Hodges got thinks underway by leading a rendition of Things Can Only Get Better. His messages to Ed Miliband are usually less subliminal. Back at the launch, former Europe Minister Keith Vaz was in resplendent form. “When Tony Blair rang me up to offer me Europe Minister I said “But Prime Minister I know nothing about Europe”. He replied “Perfect. I’m in charge of European policy, you have to sell it to the public.” And what a good job he did. Ahem.
Tweet of the week from @BadgerMeinhof: “Some of the people commenting at The Telegraph seem to have mistaken The Gay Marriage Bill for The Compulsory Bumming of Everyone Bill.
I know how the temperature rises on this site whenever I mention gay marriage. So here we go again. The size of the majority in favour of same sex marriage in the House of Lords was a surprise to most people. But the fact is, it could have been even bigger. Having refused to pilot the Bill through the Lords, Sayeeda Warsi couldn’t actually bring herself to vote in favour of her own government’s bill. She abstained. OK, it was a free vote, and perhaps she had found a subsequent engagement, but as the Minister for Faith and Communities you’d have expected her to be present. I find abstaining on these issues a total cop-out. Either you’re in favour or you’re agin. One or the other. There’s no middle way. I can respect people who vote against, but to abstain is to wimp out. And one thing Sayeeda Warsi isn’t, is a wimp. I find it perplexing.
Word on the street is that Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ is planning a major expose of yet another Tory sex scandal. It’s like it’s the 1990s all over again. A love affair in Downing Street. A Tory MP alleged to be in a lesbian threesome, and now this. Excellent. What was that song again? Let’s party like it’s 1999?
Reshuffle fever is beginning to mount. It’s always difficult for columnists like me writing about reshuffles. There’s that temptation to tip your mates to be promoted, followed by the hideous thought that you also have to tip people for the sack. I well remember a few years ago I tipped Theresa May for demotion for a reason I can’t now remember. Anyway, it was the night of the Spectator party, and sure enough, as soon as she walked through the door she made a beeline for me. I squirmed my way through the next few minutes as I explained it was just something I had heard from ‘sources’. ‘We must have lunch,’ she said. ‘We should be on the same side’. And with that, she was off. Well, I’m certainly not tipping her for demotion in any reshuffle this summer, she will be relieved to hear. As for other tips, I’ll titivate you with those over the coming weeks. It’s wonderful way to make lots of new friends. And enemies.