So, with county council elections only five days away, it was good to see Croydon Conservatives spending last Saturday campaigning in neighbouring Surrey and helping their neighbouring Conservatives do as well as they possibly could. What’s that I hear you saying? They weren’t campaigning at all? They were sitting on their fat arses holding a one day conference at a hotel five miles from the Surrey border? Surely not. But it gets better. Not only that, but one of the party’s vice chairmen, Alok Sharma MP, was one of the speakers, alongside local MP Gavin Barwell, MEP Charles Tannock and Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish. The conference was all about Britain’s relationship with Europe and how to defeat the UKIP threat. May I respectfully suggest that this conference, vital, though I am sure it is, might have been better timed if it had taken place a few weeks later? One thing is for sure, it would never have happened when Sir Anthony Garner was running the party organisation. You may remember that period. It was when the Conservative Party used to win elections.
Are there no depths to which some people won’t lower themselves? Yesterday I was alerted to the fact that somebody had put a Thatcher funeral Order of Service on eBay. They had put a reserve of £77 on it. Simply appalling.
Mr Matthew Bellend, the Independent on Sunday’s rather useless diarist, is becoming a tad tiresome. You may recall from last week’s diary that he seemed bemused by the fact that I had paid my respects to Lady Thatcher while her coffin lay in St Mary’s Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster. It’s taken him three works to work out that I have a parliamentary pass. Apparently he now thinks that is a big scandal, and is set to reveal all on Sunday. Had he actually done what any credible journalist would do and picked up the phone and asked me, I’d have happily told him. For like many people in politics I help an MP out from time to time by doing bits of research and contribute ideas for the odd speech. It’s something I have done for many years and it’s set out for all to see in the Register of Interests. I don’t get paid. I don’t cost the taxpayer anything. There’s nothing in it for me. I’d like to describe it as a bit of public service, but clearly, as I didn’t go to Eton, that wouldn’t be right, would it? So go on Mr Bellend, do your worst. I’d find it all rather amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Update: Mr Bellend has finally found my number and phoned me. He now thinks that because I have bought a house in Keith Simpson’s constituency that I have ambitions to stand there. What a joke of journalist this man is. Had he bothered to do any research at all, he would know I have said I will never, ever, stand for Parliament again.
I had Sadiq Khan on my LBC Drivetime show the other day talking about Governor Grayling’s new spartan prison regime. Khan was all in favour of it. Quite right, he said. Tough on crime etc. Now there’s one politician who’s not going to be outdone on the right. I ended the interview by asking him how he thought Labour would do in the local elections. Much sucking of teeth followed. ‘It’s going to be very difficult for us, Iain’. ‘Why so?’ I gently enquired. ‘Well, do you know, I didn’t realise this but if you put all those county councils together, it covers the area of more than 250 MPs?’ I thought for a second and replied ‘ Yes, Sadiq, it’s many of them in the south of England that you’re going to need to beat at the next election, if you’re to win the next election.’ The thought hadn’t really occurred to him. It seems to me that Labour campaigners are going to need to familiarise themselves with the likes of Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire rather than spend their time in the northern strongholds. I’ve never understood why it’s so criminal for the Tories to have so few seats in north, yet Labour get a free pass on their almost total lack of seat south of line between the Wash and Bristol.
I am most amused by the suggestions in any of the newspapers that David Cameron is being dragged to the right, as if legislating for a European referendum as if in some way a right wing thing. A majority of LibDems support the idea of such a referendum and in my book it’s a politically mainstream thing to do. Which is why I am astonished Nick Clegg has already said he won’t support such legislation. He’s fallen into a very big trap indeed. And it’s one only Ed Miliband can spring him from. If the LibDems want to be painted as not supporting a referendum, that’s their affair, but if I were Ed Miliband I wouldn’t want to go into the election campaign while having scuppered such legislation.
As well as the papers suggesting that Cameron is being dragged to the right (Europe, cancelling aid to South Africa, taking away TVs from prisoners etc) the papers all seem to mention John Hayes as the architect of this trend. Naturally I cannot possibly bring myself to believe that Mr Hayes himself has briefed such newspapers, because that would be rather improper for a senior parliamentary adviser to the prime minister, wouldn’t it? But if he has, he wouldn’t be doing anything different to any other member of a political court. There’s nothing like telling people, especially journalists, how important you are. The thing is, you can indeed become important, but only when others have worked it out for themselves rather than constantly being reminded of it. David Cameron is said to be amused by John Hayes. I can understand why. He’s good company and an arch parliamentary gossip. He tells a good yarn. But anyone at the Downing Street court who is suspected of opening their gobs to the papers too often will do well to remind themselves that what the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister can easily take away.
One Conservative MP, who for these purposes had better remain nameless (yes, I know, I know, I am wimping out) – let’s call him Rupert – was spied in Portcullis House on Wednesday. “Ah, Rupert,” said a colleague. “Not out on the county council election election trail?” “No,” said Rupert, I am giving my county council candidates exactly the same level of support that they gave me in the general election – which is none at all.” Strangely, Portcullis House was rather well populated with Tory MPs on Wednesday.
Is Justine Greening still alive? It’s just that she seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth in much the same way as Oliver Letwin did in 2001. She’s becoming the scarlet pimpernel of the Tory Party. They seek her here, they seek her there, they seek her everybloodywhere. She seems to be indulging in a year long flounce, having been moved from Transport to International Development last year. This week she decided, quite rightly, to end aid our £19 million a year to South Africa. For some reasons our fellow G20 member (yes, we give aid to a fellow G20 country – unbelievable) got the arseache and accused Greening of being rude by not giving them advance warning. But instead of coming out fighting and giving her side of the story she retreated to her bunker and left it to someone to issue off the record briefings. Much more of this kind of amateur-night behaviour and Miss Greening may find herself replaced yet again. I wonder if it has yet occurred to her that if the PM had left her at Transport she would have had to resign over the West Coast rail franchise debacle. What a pity we now have an International Development Secretary who clearly hates the job, while her predecessor, who was very good at it and thoroughly enjoyed it, languishes on the backbenches. I wonder if I am alone in thinking that at the next reshuffle the PM might do very well to restore Andrew Mitchell to his old job.