10 Apr 2016 at 13:08
ICYMI, here’s the paper review with me and Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. We covered tax affairs, Brexit, second homes the muslim survey in the Sunday Times.
10 Apr 2016 at 13:08
ICYMI, here’s the paper review with me and Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. We covered tax affairs, Brexit, second homes the muslim survey in the Sunday Times.
A 90 minute special on mental health policy, featuring a ten minute interview with Ed Miliband and many moving phone calls
8 Apr 2016 at 13:34
On Wednesday afternoon I saw a newsalert flash up on my screen. “Government to spend £9.3 million on sending leaflet to 27 million homes”, it read. No, I thought, that can’t be right. After all David Cameron specifically ruled out the government doing such a thing back in February, after his ‘triumphant’ return from Brussels with his so-called ‘deal’. So before reading out this seemingly astonishing bit of news, I thought I had double check to see if the Press Association had got it wrong. But they hadn’t. It’s hard to describe how angry this has made me. If you believe in any sense of fairness I just cannot see how you defend it. The increasingly hapless Liz Truss was sent out to do just that and the best she could come up with was that people want the facts, so the government is damn well going to give them to them. Except if you actually read the text of the leaflet it is full of opinions, threats and suppositions, with the odd fact thrown in for good measure.
The Government argues that it should be able to set out its position, as if anyone would argue with that. But to spend taxpayers’ money to effectively rig the referendum is an utter disgrace. If it was just a leaflet, it might so be so bad. After all, there is a precedent for this from 1975 and the 2014 Scottish Referendum (as if that’s some kind of defence), but what has slipped under the radar is the fact that £3 million of the £9.3 million is going to be spent on other propaganda on the internet. News outlets report that this money will be spent on a website. It’s almost impossible to spend that kind of money on a website, so what I imagine will be happening is that the money will be spent on Facebook and other social media advertising.
This is a binary referendum. You can either vote LEAVE or REMAIN. Each campaign ought to have the same spending limit. But because of this government leaflet, the REMAIN campaign will have spent £16.3 million, while the LEAVE campaign will be able to spend a maximum of £7 million. On which plant is that fair? I don’t think it matters which side of the argument you are on. This stinks. Conveniently the news was released on the day that the Prime Minister was in a lot of trouble over Panama. The ghost of Jo Moore lives on.
I do find it amusing that the Guardian is working itself up into such a lather about the Panama Papers. After all, it isn’t averse to the odd bit of offshore tax planning itself, is it? The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And hypocrisy is about the worst you can accuse the PM of in all of this. Having publicly slated Jimmy Carr for his offshore tax avoiding activities a couple of years ago, David Cameron is now getting it on the chin for his own family’s alleged activities. But so far Jeremy Corbyn’s attacks have fallen slightly flat. He’s made all sorts of insinuations about not paying tax but he has absolutely no evidence on which to base his allegations. He says there needs to be an independent investigation into whether the Prime Minister paid tax on his £300,000 inheritance. Does he really think that any sitting prime minister would be stupid enough to try to fiddle his tax. Ah, say his detractors, we need to know if the PM has benefitted from this offshore money at any time in his life. Are they seriously saying that an eleven year old David Cameron should have asked his father how his school fees were being paid for, and then insisting that offshore money should not be used? That’s the level of this debate. David Cameron has understandably become rather exasperated and demanded that his critics ‘put up or shut up’. Even the normally sensible Labour MP Wes Streeting has got in on the act. Oh well, at least the Labour Party is united on something – being envious of anyone with money.
I got a new pair of glasses this week. This is only noteworthy in so far as they’re rather different to my normal narrow lens, Norman Tebbit style eyewear. I’ve always wanted bigger lensed glasses but I’ve never found a pair that in any way suited my slightly odd shaped face. Anyway, last week I found a pair which much to my surprise everyone seems to like. I’m still in the feeling self-conscious faze though. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.
I’m reading a gripping account of the downfall of former Australian PM Tony Abbott at the moment. It’s called “The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government”. Peta Credlin was Abbott’s chief of staff, and if this book is to be believed, a nut job of Svengli, who had total control over the Prime Minister. Some of the anecdotes about her screaming matches are truly jawdropping. Abbott’s main aim in life seemed to be to please her and prevent her from losing her temper. And when she did lose her temper he’d run after her to console her and always taker her side even when he knew she was blatantly wrong. If he had taken the advice of all the people who implored him to ditch her, maybe he would still be in post.
So Michael Gove is topping the ConHome “Who’s the next Tory leader” poll. Good. I hope he takes encouragement from it and stands when the time comes.
I’ve got a frozen shoulder at the moment. Bloody painful. I went to see an Osteopath on Monday. Christ alone knows what people outside the room thought we were doing, as I kept uttering rather loud ooos, ahs and light screams. Best not to speculate.
So London will miss out on Winston McKenzie standing for the English Democrats for the mayoralty. He submitted nomination papers which had multiple identical signatures on, and he was two minutes late. This is a man who has been a member of the Conservatives, LibDems, Greens, UKIP and Veritas. The English Democrats had a narrow escape. The man is a perpetual embarrassment with no self-knowledge. It can surely now only be a matter of time before he leaves the English Democrats and joins Labour. They would be welcome to him.
6 Apr 2016 at 11:07
Twenty seven years ago today Norman Fowler announced the Repeal of the National Dock Labour Scheme in the House of Commons. I had been working for the National Association of Port Employers and, with Nicholas Finney, had been masterminding the lobbying campaign to get rid of this iniquitous piece of employment legislation. If I die tomorrow, it remains the greatest achievement of my life, for it led to previously moribund ports having the ability to thrive. This one piece of legislation enabled port employers and ancilliary industries to create tens of thousands of jobs which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Here’s the story of how it happened.
In September 1987 I was on holiday in Michigan when I decided to buy a copy of The Times. I had just finished a two year stint as a researcher in the House of Commons and needed to find a new job. Quick. I saw an advert for the position as Public Affairs Manager for the British Ports Association & National Association of Port Employers. In those days, lobbying was in its infancy and to be honest I wasn’t sure what the job would really entail. Anyway, I spent an hour in the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor (which remains one of my favourite towns in the world) touching up my CV and constructing a letter of application. A month later, I had beaten 200 other applicants for the job and started work in a rather dingy office in New Oxford Street. While preparing for interviews, virtually everyone I spoke to said, “ah, you’ll be trying to persuade the government to get rid of the Dock Labour Scheme”. Dock Labour Scheme? What the hell was that? It certainly didn’t sound very exciting. I started researching it and was horrified by what I found. It was a piece of employment legislation which gave registered dock workers privileges other workers could only dream of. They had a guaranteed job for life, it was impossible to sack them, when they retired their jobs automatically passed to their sons and they were paid at rates other workers (and indeed dock workers in non scheme ports) could only dream of. Spanish practices were rife and if a port closed down, dockers were transferred to the nearest port even if it was run by a different company and there was no need for them.
How on earth could this scheme exist after 8 years of a Thatcher government, I asked myself. I wasn’t the only one. But Margaret Thatcher was frightened of the dockers. Nigel Lawson writes in his memoirs…
Margaret displayed cold feet to a quite remarkable degree. She suggested [at a meeting in 1985], first, that it would be more sensible to do nothing and let the Scheme wither on the vine. She then expressed acute anxiety about the effect of a dock strike on the balance of payments and Sterling. I replied that if anyone should be worried about that, it would be me, and I was not… But Margaret was adamant. She concluded that there was no prospect in abolishing the Dock Labour Scheme this side of an election – then still some two years off. A disappointed Nick Ridley [Transport Secretary] accepted her verdict and that was that.
So my task was to launch a campaign to persuade Margaret Thatcher to do the necessary and get rid of this piece of iniquitous employment legislation. It soon became clear that one of the reasons the port employers had recruited me was because I had previously worked for a Tory MP who had been a PPS at the Department of Transport. They thought I knew my way around that department. I didn’t like to tell them I had never set foot in it, let alone met a single civil servant from the DoT!
Together with my boss, Nick Finney, I launched a hearts and minds campaign aimed at politicians and the media. Barely a week seemed to go by without someone writing an Op Ed calling for the Scheme to go, or for a tabloid news report to appear about Spanish practices in the industry. Tory MP Jacques Arnold put down an EDM, which rapidly attracted more than 400 signatures – more than any other that session. He and his colleague Nick Bennett kept up the parliamentary pressure, with debates, questions and meetings. It was then that I got a call from an MP I had never heard of, David Davis. “I think you need to change strategy,” he said bluntly. We met and I was impressed by what he had to say. He proceeded to write a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies titled CLEAR THE DECKS and took a grip of the campaign in Parliament, gently (or not so gently) elbowing aside Arnold and Bennett. David Davis’s advice and actions turned out to be of crucial importance, and it was then that I marked him out as “one to watch”. We also met with Michael Meacher and John Prescott (Labour’s employment and transport spokesmen) who made clear that they couldn’t publicly support us, but they knew the Scheme was an anachronism and although they would go through the motions of having to make sceptical remarks about our stand, they wouldn’t lift a finger to support the unions.
We were clearly knocking at an open door throughout the Conservative Party. But the door at Number Ten remained firmly shut. We quickly realised that a campaign purely based on the iniquities of the Dock Labour Scheme wasn’t going to persuade she who needed to be persuaded. So we decided to commission a report from some economic consultants, WEFA. Their report was given the remit of outlining the economic benefits of repeal. They concluded that up to 48,000 new jobs would be created. Their reasoning was easy to understand, for in the 63 DLS ports (which included London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Clyde, Forth, Tees, Hull and Immingham – but not Dover and Felixstowe) the port authorities were prevented by law from allowing any non port related activity within their boundaries. If the Scheme didn’t exist they could utilise their land however they wished.
Secondly, we needed to show that a national dock strike would not be as calamitous as the Prime Minister feared. Traditionally, the port employers and shipping lines had been regarded as soft touches by the unions. We knew the shipowners wouldn’t change, and we knew that the chairman of P&O has Mrs T’s ear. So we had to demonstrate that the port employers would be completely robust and not buckle under union pressure. So we produced a guide for the employers on how to deal with a strike in the event of repeal.
We decided to hold a one day conference for the employers on the subject and scheduled it for April 6 1989. A few days before the conference one of the civil servants phoned and told us to prepare for an announcement that the Scheme was about to be repealed. “When’s the announcement,” we asked tentatively. “I haven’t told you this, but it will be on 6 April,” he said. Oh. My. God. The day of our “Preparing for a Strike” conference. We knew no one would believe this to be complete coincidence, but that is exactly what it was. We debated whether to call it off, but decided the downsides of that were worse than people thinking we were in collusion with the government.
Mobile phones had only just been invented, and I remember spending half that day with a massive Vodafone handset glued to my ear. The employers themselves hadn’t got a clue what was about to hit them. Finally, at 3.30, Norman Fowler, the Employment Secretary stood up in the Commons and made the announcement. “Thunderbirds are go,” said my informant. We then made the announcement to the employers who received the news in stunned silence. They thought it was a joke, or prelude to some sort of role play exercise. But it wasn’t. It was for real.
Immediately, many dockers walked out in a series of wildcat strikes. The T&G union under Ron Todd was caught totally on the hop. They never really thought this day would come.
A couple of days later, disaster struck. Our entire strategy document had been leaked to The Independent. We never found out who had done it but Nick Finney and I initially thought that the game was up. Quite the reverse turned out to be true. The contents of the document scared the unions half to death. They couldn’t believe the level of pre-planning which had been happening. We had identified which ports were likely to strike and which would remain open for business. We had identified small wharves all over the country which could take shipments if the major ports were shut. We had even laid plans to fly in foreign dock workers if necessary. The leak actually proved to be a masterstroke, as it transformed the port employers’ reputation both in the eyes of the unions and the government.
The unions announced plans for a national ballot of dockers, which we knew would vote in favour of strike action. But we had prepared for that and had carefully laid out plans to take them to court. When we did, the union won. We appealed to the High Court and I remember attending the hearing on a Saturday afternoon. We thought we had little hope of the verdict going in our direction – but it did. I remember looking over to the BBC’s Industrial Correspondent, John Fryer, and we both shook our heads in a state of bemusement. It was a grievous blow to the T&G who were having a very difficult time keeping their more militant members in check. There was violence on the picket lines and violence by striking dockers towards those who returned to work. Employers were threatened with violence and worse. I regularly received threatening phone calls and mail.
While all this was going on the Dock Labour Scheme (Abolition) Bill slowly made its way through Parliament and eventually received Royal Assent on 6 July. By that time, strike action was dying out and very sporadic. Court action, the return to work by many dockers, and the ability of importers and exporters to find other ports to get their goods in and out meant that the unions knew that the game was up.
I remember being at my parents house one Saturday afternoon in July 1989 and being told that dockers at Southampton and Tilbury had just voted to go back to work. Indeed, that gave rise to one of the best headlines I have ever read in the SUNDAY SPORT the next day.
HORSE FART SIGNALS END OF DOCK STRIKE
Apparently, at the Tilbury mass meeting, which was held in an open field, a horse had wandered up to the assembled dockers while they were being addressed by a union official. Just as he encouraged them all to return to work, the horse broke wind in a very loud manner. I was quoted in the SUNDAY SPORT story saying “That just about sums up the whole strike”.
That signalled the end of a three months stint where I was working 6am to midnight every day and appearing on news bulletins and radio stations almost non stop. Our hearts and minds campaign had been a great success, even if one industrial reporter dubbed me “master of the trite press release”. But the feeling of complete letdown at the end of it was terrible. The phone stopped ringing. I hadn’t got a job any longer really. Even though we had scored a tremendous success, I had the same feeling after the general election campaign finished in 2005. There was nothing to make the adrenaline flow any longer.
Over those two years I made contacts in the media and in politics who would feature a lot in my life over the next two decades. I’ve already mentioned David Davis. Kevin Maguire was a young industry reporter on the Daily Telegraph. Paul Routledge was Labour editor on the Observer and could be guaranteed to ask the one question I wouldn’t want to answer. But perhaps my clearest memory of that whole time was being rung up during the strike by another Industrial Correspondent saying his editor needed a front page story and he needed me to give it to him. He was clearly the worse for drink, so I ended up dictating a story to him, which ran word for word in next day’s paper. Those were the days.
I remember saying to someone around that time that if I never achieved anything else in my life, I would look back on the past two years and know that I had done something which would benefit the country hugely over the coming decades. And so it proved. The 63 former Scheme ports could now at last complete with non Scheme ports like Felixstowe and Dover on a level playing field. No longer would they be held to ransom by trade unions who could previously bring them to a standstill with no warning. They could now develop their landbanks and attract new businesses into port areas. In short, the abolition of the DLS has created tens of thousand of new jobs, just as we predicted. It has enabled Britain’s ports to compete with their European neighbours, and it enabled the government then to privatise many of them during the 1990s. But that’s another story.
In mid 1991 I wrote a pamphlet for AIMS OF INDUSTRY which sought to outline the progress the former Scheme ports had made since abolition, and how the government should now press ahead with the privatisation of the Trust Ports. It concluded…
The Government’s abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme was a model of well thought-out policy backed up by firmness and resolution. Described as the “best kept government secret for years” by the Sunday Times the announcement took everyone by surprise. Few of the Thatcher reforms can have had such a dramatic effect in such a short time on management morale, free enterprise and industrial relations. With productivity up, profits rising and customer service improving, former Employment Secretary Norman Fowler has every reason to be proud of his achievement.
For many of the Dock Labour Scheme ports, privatisation now beckons. The ports of Medway, Forth, Clyde, Tees and Tilbury are all set to enter the private sector, as ABP did so successfully in 1983.
It is the natural second stage in the Government’s ports policy. Some have expressed severe doubts about privatisation and been vocal in their opposition. In they end they too will come to realise that they need have no fear of life outside the shackles of their Trust status. Free enterprise works.
And here’s a short article I wrote for the Telegraph on the twentieth anniversary of the repeal, back in 2009.
Twenty years ago this week, Norman Fowler stood up in the House of Commons and announced that the Thatcher government would repeal a piece of anachronistic employment legislation called the Dock Labour Scheme (DLS).
The cheer that went up from the Tory benches at the employment secretary’s words exceeded any in living memory. True, a lengthy campaign in the media and Parliament had tried to keep the need for reform uppermost in ministers’ minds. But the Government was nervous about embarking on an industrial dispute with the dockers so soon after taking on the miners. It’s not a word much associated with her, but up until then, Margaret Thatcher had been “frit”.
The Dock Labour Scheme ensured that a large part of the shipping industry was jointly regulated by employers and trade unions, chiefly the Transport and General Workers’ Union. This had long ceased to have any practical advantages in terms of social protection: instead, it had become a restrictive, depressing practice that condemned the ports affected to a lingering death. The infamous agreement in 1972 between Lord Aldington, on behalf of the Heath government, and Jack Jones, on behalf of the unions, effectively gave registered dock workers a job for life; partly as a result, “Spanish practices” were rife.
In the ports operating under the Dock Labour Scheme, it was a criminal offence to not be registered as an employer, or to employ a non-registered docker. Even if a dock worker committed a serious criminal offence, it was impossible either to discipline or to sack him – and it was always a “him”, since the unions controlled all recruitment. If you weren’t related to a docker, you didn’t stand a chance. It was the personification of “jobs for the boys”.
Following Fowler’s announcement came four months of strikes on docks across the land. But although the employers lost the legal battle – which ended in the House of Lords – in arguing against the legitimacy of a strike, the TGWU was defeated. The scheme was scrapped on July 6, and soon afterwards the last dockers returned to work.
Almost overnight, British ports became strike-free and competitive. Through a single act, the Conservatives triggered the revival of Bristol, Tees, Tilbury and Sheerness, which were suddenly able to compete with non-Scheme ports such as Felixstowe. It was, judges Nigel Lawson, a “textbook example” of good government – not least because the announcement took the trade unions by surprise and the reform was carried out with great political skill.
Important as the measure was, the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme has wider significance: it symbolises the effect that one relatively small act of deregulation can have on the economy. Thousands of new jobs were created, new businesses sprang up, and shipping lines became far more willing to use British ports.
If we are going to get out of this recession, it is crucial that we look at taking that model further. Small and medium-sized enterprises are shackled by red tape – and although it isn’t as restrictive as old-fashioned labour agreements, it has a similar stultifying effect.
The Tories must draw up a list of such regulations to sweep away, even though parts of the Civil Service will try to block such measures, just as there were vested interests within the Department of Employment that fought the repeal of the DLS.
In my job with the National Association of Port Employers, I played a small part in the whole process of repealing the scheme. If I never achieve anything else, I will look back on that period with pride, and know that without our actions and our campaign, ports like Southampton, Hull and Forth would not be the thriving hubs of enterprise they are today.
2 Apr 2016 at 22:45
There’s nothing I like more than making a ‘Downfall’ video. So I made one about Donald Trump. It’s about time someone did. Do share on Facebook and Twitter!
UPDATE: Apparently this video can only be seen if Chrome is your browser – it won’t work on Firefox or Explorer
1 Apr 2016 at 11:48
If I was compiling a Top Ten List of Ultra Thatcherites, and you know how I like my lists, Monmouth MP David Davies would be fairly high on it. So when I interviewed him about the steel crisis in Port Talbot, imagine my surprise when he told me he would be in favour of temporary nationalisation of the plant in order to save it, and he agrees with Jeremy Corbyn that Parliament should be recalled.
One other surprise in this whole sorry saga is that the LEAVE campaigns haven’t seized on it as a good example of where EU rules prevent a UK government from saving such an industry even if it wanted to. We seem to be about the only country in the EU that actually obeys State Aid regulations, and given the timetable for approval of applications it’s unlikely that would be any sort of solution. In addition, it’s not within the UK’s power to act unilaterally and impose higher steel tariffs on Chinese imports. It has to be done at EU level. Having said that, it was the UK which vetoed higher tariffs, which were in the end agreed at 24%. In the USA they are levied at 267%.
Anyway, back to David Davies. Monmouth was the first constituency I ever applied for, and I wasn’t that far off from being selected. Canny David Davies organised his supporters to ensure the weakest candidate got through the final round runoff, and the rest is history. Mind you, it’s just as well I didn’t get it. I’m sure the local papers would soon have found out that the first time I visited Wales in my life was for the first round interview!
So Donald Trump thinks women who have abortions should be “punished”. I’d have thought the trauma of having an abortion was punishment enough. This comment alone ought to rule him out as the Republican nominee, but he seems to be getting more popular by the day. However, I cannot bring myself to believe that he could actually win the general election in November I just can’t.
So the new Newsnight political editor is Nick Watt, currently chief political correspondent of The Guardian. There has been plenty of sighs at Ian Katz (Newsnight editor and formerly deputy editor of The Guardian) appointing yet another Guardianista to the programme, yet they don’t seem to look at this appointment on its merits. Watt is certainly no follower of a Guardian political agenda. I have no idea what his politics are but I’ve seen little evidence of anything but a journalist who calls it as it is. I always felt he should have got the Sky pol ed job, and his entry into broadcasting has been delayed for too long. He’s got that rare talent of reducing a complicated argument into a few sentences which normal mortals like me can understand. He was cruelly overlooked for the Guardian’s political editor’s job and must have felt terribly insulted when it was awarded to two female journalists on a job share. He deserved it on merit but lost out to political correctness and that’s not meant as an insult to the two women who were appointed.
On Tuesday I made a rare appearance on the Today programme – the bit at the end that adds a bit of light relief. I know my place. I was asked to comment on Matthew Parris’s evisceration of Boris Johnson in Saturday’s Times. I thought it was a magnificent piece of polemic, even if many thought it went a tad too far on his personal foibles. But if Boris does indeed stand for the leadership, or even becomes prime minister, this sort of scrutiny will appear day in day out in the newspapers. Andrew Gimson was on with me and we jousted for a few minutes about the merits or otherwise of Boris Johnson. At the end John Humphrys asked me: “So what would you say Boris Johnson’s main weakness is?” I replied: “His main strength, is also his main weakness – himself”. In response there was a moment of silence. “You look flummoxed, John,” I said. “Yes, I am,” he replied. “I can’t really respond as there are only nine seconds left in the programme. Good morning!” I shall bask in that moment of being one of the few people ever to silence John Humphrys.
I count Jeremy Hunt and Nicky Morgan as personal friends, but my God they made idiots of themselves this week. I have no doubt they were put up to it by their masters at Number Ten, but was it really worth getting a few Downing Street Brownie points to prostrate themselves at the altar of Project Fear? Apparently, according to Jeremy Hunt, the NHS could collapse if we leave the EU. Utter bollocks, of course, and perhaps he’d be better directing his eyes towards TTIP rather than Brexit. TTIP poses far more dangers to the future survival of the NHS, but it is a dog that hasn’t yet barked. Then it was Nicky Morgan’s turn to turn on the taps of Project Fear. Apparently it would be really bad for young people, as they might run the risk of not being able to go interrailing. Honestly. It’s as if it was an EU invention, which of course it wasn’t. Politicians who indulge in this mindless fearmongering deserve our contempt. It happens on the other side of course too. The Leave campaign issued a dossier of 50 European criminals who had committed crimes in this country – all because of the EU apparently. They failed to mention the hundreds of foreign criminals who commit serious crimes, who manage to get here from outside the EU. Again, fear mongering for fear mongering’s sake. Personally I’ve had enough of it. We’ve got 90 more days of this. Surely to God someone can actually put forward some positive reasons as to why we should stay in or leave the EU. I’m not holding my breath.
This will be my last column for ConservativeHome. We all have to make ends meet, and I have been offered a much more lucrative column by Momentum. That’s capitalism, eh? It’s been a great few years writing for you, but I suspect it will be much more fun writing each week for the Corbynistas. It’s the future, innit?
25 Mar 2016 at 18:39
UKIP has finally flipped. On Wednesday morning they suspended Suzanne Evans for six months due to her so-called ‘disloyalty’. The aim of this was twofold – to take her off their GLA candidates list and to prevent her standing for the leadership if Nigel Farage quits after the Referendum. Evans wasn’t taking this lying down and went to the High Court, but her bid to quash the suspension failed as the court couldn’t see how any UKIP rule had been broken. Having seen the court papers, it’s quite clear that ever since Nigel Farage made her ‘interim leader’ for all of several hours on the day after the election there has been a constant campaign within UKIP circles to undermine her. Outsiders scratch their heads and wonder why. She is one of the few UKIP figures to have a media profile, and she is very much seen as the sensible face of the party. She’s also one of the few women in the upper echelons of the party. Yes, she has occasionally had the temerity to disagree with Nigel Farage, but suspending her like this is like IDS suspending Ken Clarke in 2003 for daring to disagree with him.
This suspension is intended to mute Evans. If she holds no official position within UKIP it’s difficult for TV and radio shows to justify inviting her on. And of course having ‘got’ Evans, the Faragistas are unlikely to stop there. Watch out Douglas Carswell, they’re coming for you next.
Why is no one suggesting the suspension of Schengen. Surely it is clear as night follows day that reimposing border controls between all European countries would at least make it more difficult for terrorists to move around Europe with the ease that they do at the moment. The suspension need only be temporary, but I just don’t understand why it wasn’t even on the agenda of yesterday’s EU Interior Ministers meeting.
So the junior doctors have announced another two day strike and this time they won’t even provide any A&E cover. What an utter disgrace. And their leaders have the temerity to seriously suggest that patient safety won’t be affected. Pull the other one. I had a very sparky exchange on my LBC show on Wednesday night on this subject.
Even if consultants are brought in to provide cover, can anyone seriously believe that patient safety will be unaffected. The Director of Patient Safety for NHS England doesn’t believe so, yet his concerns are dismissed by the BMA as being politically motivated. It is clear that the Hippocratic Oath has come to mean nothing to those who will strike. I don’t pretend that the government has covered itself with glory on this issue. It hasn’t. But given that the only issue outstanding is pay for Saturday working, this strike just cannot be justified in any shape or form.
Did you know you are 22 times more likely to be killed by a cow than be killed by a shark. Just thought I would pass that on.
I don’t know who it was who said that successful generals are invariably lucky generals. David Cameron is certainly a lucky prime minister. On Monday Jeremy Corbyn had an open goal in front of him and he managed to do a Diana Ross and miss the goal altogether. He didn’t even mention Iain Duncan Smith in his reply to Cameron in the Commons. PMQs should have been an altogether different ball game but that morning The Times published Corbyn’s ‘Little List’, the Nixonian piece of paper which sought to categorise Labour MPs by their loyalty to the leader. Cameron had great fun with it and the look on Labour MPs’ faces was a joy to behold. And five days on the old joke is doing the rounds…
The media consensus is that George Osborne’s prospects of winning the Conservative leadership were holed below the waterline by the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith. I think people are writing his obituary rather too early. He’s had setbacks before and bounced back. It could well happen again. The trouble is that with George there are few shades of grey. He’s either seen as a political titan or the Conservative equivalent of Eddie the Eagle, with little in between. There’s no doubt that he’s been very damaged by the budget aftermath, but to wrote off his chances of succeeding David Cameron is rather silly. Just as regarding Boris Johnson winning it as a dead cert is equally silly. Yes, he’s in the ascendant, but anyone who saw his performance in front of the Treasury select committee this week will have come away wondering if he is up to it.
I remain of the view that Michael Gove might well enter the leadership stakes at some point. He protests that he doesn’t think he’s up to it, but I suspect he might well be persuaded to change his mind. If George Osborne falls by the wayside, like Keith joseph did in 1974, I wonder whether Michael would step up to the mantle like a certain Margaret Hilda Thatcher did, all those years ago. I think he would attract a huge amount of support both with the parliamentary party and among the membership. He’s got a fantastic brain, is politically brave, is a man of conviction and is thoroughly nice. Those four qualities would help him develop into a fine leader.
25 Mar 2016 at 09:30
I was on a panel the other day with Marina Hyde, the Guardian columnist. She said she never goes to media or political parties because she thinks if she speaks to any well known people or becomes friends with them she wouldn’t be able to write what she wants about them in her columns.
One of the reasons LBC took me on was because I take the opposite approach to Marina Hyde. I have an extensive contacts book. Not all the people in it are friends, or even acquaintances, but over the years you get to know people, and inevitably, doing the job I do I have to interview them. I think the most difficult one was when I recently had to interview Donal Blaney about the Conservative bullying scandal. I decided to approach this interview in exactly the same way as I would any other and, as I wrote at the time, I don’t think there was anybody who alleged I hadn’t asked him the difficult questions.
Yesterday I had a more complicated interview. On Wednesday UKIP’s Suzanne Evans was suspended by UKIP. She took them to the High Court to injunct them but lost. I’ve got to know Suzanne a bit over the last year or two and we have become friends. I think she has been one of UKIP’s greatest assets and she has done well to become a national figure in her own right. But over the last year she has been undermined by others within her party and she has fallen out in a big way with Nigel Farage, someone who I also regard as a friend. I am also his publisher – and Suzanne’s come to that matter.
So yesterday I persuaded Suzanne to come into LBC to give me her first broadcast interview since her suspension. It turned out to be a much longer interview than I had anticipated, Normally on a Drivetime show, because of the necessary paciness that’s required, it would be a maximum of ten minutes but this turned out to be 25 minutes. I had prepared a few lines of inquiry but 90% of the interview was adlib. I had to ask difficult questions about Nigel Farage and also some fairly intrusive questions about Suzanne’s own experience and conduct.
I’d like to think that at no time was my line of questioning influenced by my relationship with her or Nigel Farage. I certainly wasn’t aggressive in the questions I asked, but it would have been singularly inappropriate for this type of interview. The Frost approach in these situations is far more likely to yield results than the Paxman approach. There was no pre-agreement about any areas that were off limits and her reaction to the questions about the Breitbart article underlines that she had to deal with some very difficult issues.
On a normal show, I probably do around 12 separate interviews. On average I probably know two of the interviewees. One of them could be classed as a friend. I’d like to think I have never caveated a question or pulled up from asking a difficult one just because I know someone. It’s called being professional, I suppose.
20 Mar 2016 at 09:01
“What an utter copper-bottomed shit”. Those were the words that greeted me when I took a call from a Tory MP a couple of minutes after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was announced on Friday night. My caller fulminated about the self-indulgence of a man who dared to ruin the Chancellor’s less than carefully crafted budget. He even dared to echo the Chancellor’s apparently long held view that the former Welfare Secretary wasn’t quite the full shilling in the intelligence department.
Those of us who inhabit the Westminster village are always prone to ask in these circumstances: ‘what did he mean by that?’ We look for hidden or disguised motives. We assume ulterior motives where there often are none. More often than not, ministerial resignations are not long-planned and are more likely to be the political equivalent of a hissy fit. Alternatively, they are the culmination of a long grinding down by the Prime Minister or the Treasury.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Iain Duncan Smith knew this was his last hurrah in mainstream politics. He was not in it to gain preferment to something greater. Having led the Conservative Party, there wasn’t really anywhere else for him to go. He had no ambition to be Chancellor or Foreign Secretary. This put him in a strong position. Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor both knew that there was only so much they could do to push him down a policy road he didn’t wish to travel.
There was no love lost between him and the Chancellor. They had fought some bitter battles over the years. Unfortunately, George Osborne has always underestimated Iain Duncan Smith and this time there were catastrophic consequences.
On the left, IDS has taken on an iconic status as a hate figure. The myth has grown up that his mission in life was to hurt poor people, by reforming the welfare system so the poor got less. Oh how they misjudged him. Yes, he got religion on welfare reform. He was passionate about it because he had identified how the welfare state had let the poor down over a number of decades. He couldn’t understand why the Tories had ceded this ground to Labour, whose urban councils had presided over decades of decline in council estates all over the country. He saw the client state they had built up. He believed Labour ensured that poverty ruled in certain areas in order to preserve their vote. Glasgow was a prime example. He knew that if he could reform the system, and drag people out of semi-permanent poverty, things could be very different. This underlay his whole approach. Yes, he thought the welfare bill could be reduced. In many ways it had to be if the deficit was to be reduced. But to him reforming the system of welfare was just as important as cutting costs. That’s where he parted company with HM Treasury and the Chancellor. All they cared about – and have ever cared about – is raw numbers. Hang the long term, cut in the short term.
The Treasury has always tried to assert its dominance all over Whitehall. It happened under Nigel Lawson and Gordon Brown. But under this Chancellor, the Treasury’s power is all pervading. Nothing is done without the Treasury’s say-so. David Cameron has effectively ceded control of domestic policy to the Chancellor, and he’s imposing himself in every department. One cabinet minister told me they are not allowed to say or do anything without running it by Osborne’s special advisors. In the end something had to give, and many other cabinet ministers will be silently cheering IDS for exposing what is going on, not just at the DWP but all over government.
People question the timing of this resignation, but is there ever a right time? IDS could have gone at any time over the last two years, but chose to hang on in there in the hope that he might prevail. Nadine Dorries has tweeted her displeasure at IDS’s efforts last week to persuade her to support his welfare cuts. He said it would be a personal betrayal if she didn’t. And why resign on the day when it seemed the Treasury appeared to weaken on the PIP payment proposals? Perhaps it was one battle too far.
Could part of the reason have been Europe? Many Tory MPs suspect that the referendum had more than a little to do with the timing. Up to a point, possibly. There’s little doubt that Duncan Smith has been unhappy at some of the comments the Prime Minister has made about the motivations of the ‘outers’ and his dismissive conduct of the arguments IDS has put forward. Resigning from the government means that IDS will be in a position to take a much more high profile leadership role in the LEAVE campaign and this may well have been a minor factor in his decision.
In the end, however, the language in his resignation letter said it all. It took on a Geoffrey Howe-esque tone and seemed to invite others to search their own consciences too. There is one crucial difference. This wasn’t planned. Priti Patel, IDS’s deputy at the DWP, was at an Asian Business Awards Dinner on Friday night. At around 9.05 her phone buzzed. It was IDS. She rushed out of the hall at London’s Park Plaza hotel to take the call, looking somewhat ashen faced. He hadn’t pre-warned his LEAVE campaign colleague what he was about to do, nor anyone else it seems, probably because he didn’t want anyone to have the chance to persuade him not to do it.
IDS has never been massively popular among his fellow parliamentary colleagues. They regard him as somewhat aloof and above it all. Among the Tory grassroots it is somewhat different. They still feel guilty about his overthrow back in 2003 and he’s incredibly popular at Conservative constituency association events. They are the same people who are highly suspicious of George Osborne, who they’ve never quite warmed to.
One consequence of this resignation is confirmation that the Downing Street fear factor is on the wane. I was at Michael Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party last Saturday where I encountered a Minister who had disobeyed Downing Street’s instruction not to attend. “You’ll be on a little list,” I joshed. “I really couldn’t give a toss,” came the reply. And it was heartfelt.
Yet more evidence that power is gradually ebbing away from Cameron and Osborne. The question is, who is the power ebbing to?
18 Mar 2016 at 15:48
Apparently my LBC colleague Steve Allen has been broadcasting his wonderment at the fact that I have snapped up Ken Clarke’s memoirs for the eye watering sum of £430,000. Except I haven’t. And I wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to publish Ken Clarke and I am sure he will write a fantastic book. But any publisher who thinks paying £430,000 for a political memoir is off their effing rocker. In this case, its Macmillan. The last publisher to do that was Bloomsbury who paid around £330,000 for David Blunkett’s diaries, and they were so idiotic that the deal didn’t even include newspaper serial rights! There are some bloody stupid people in publishing nowadays. Blunkett’s book sold a mere 5,000 copies. Do the math yourself and you can work out the loss they made. Macmillan will do the same. The top rate for a newspaper serialisation, unless you’re a former prime minister, is around the £150k mark, so Macmillan have got to make £270,000 from books and rights sales. I don’t see that this book has any foreign rights potential at all, so just to break even the book will need to sell around 150,000 copies. Not. Going. To. Happen. The deal was hatched by the same agent that Boris Johnson retains, Natasha Fairweather. She apparently got him £500k for his desperately average book on Churchill. Sadly Biteback was offered neither. These sort of advances belong in the 1990s. Publishing has changed a lot since then, although there are clearly one or two people who continue to play the literary agents’ game. If I was on the board of Macmillan I’d be calling in the commissioning editor and reading them the riot act. And maybe producing a P45. Ken Clarke is a great get, but not at that price. What is the point of commissioning a book when there is a 1% chance it will make a profit? The world’s gone mad. Still, having said that, I can’t wait to read it.
So according to Anna Soubry on ‘Any Questions’ if we leave the EU, trade will drop to zero. In case you think I am misquoting here, here’s the exchange with Kate Hoey…
bq. Anna Soubry: “44% of our exports which is £290 billion goes into the EU.”
Kate Hoey: “That has gone down by 10% in the last 8 years.”
Anna Soubry: “But Kate it will go down to almost absolutely zero if we come out of the EU.”
Well on Budget day I interviewed Anna and asked her if that’s what she really believed. Credit to her and she fessed up that it was a ridiculous thing to say and she had made an error. She sounded quite embarrassed about it. Glad she did the right thing and didn’t try to bluster her way out of it.
Lord Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party on Saturday night was quite an event. I did wonder how many (and which) politicians would have the balls to attend following the Prime Minister’s displeasure with the Ashcroft/Oakeshott biography of him, CALL ME DAVE. I’m sure Downing Street has, by now, compiled their ‘little list’ of those who will be punished in the next reshuffle, but I am not going to help them by naming names here. I asked one minister if he realised they would find out and this usually totally loyal minister replied that he couldn’t give a toss. Is Number Ten losing the fear factor? Rory Bremner was a superb compere for the evening. He’s really perfected his impressions of both Nigel Farage (who was there) and Boris. Interestingly Boris and Theresa May were both on prime tables – Boris more so than Theresa. He even had Miss World sitting next to him. There was no sign of the Prime Minister, though. Obviously he had a subsequent engagement. He missed out on being serenaded by Michael Buble.
And so to the budget. I had thought it would be quite a boring budget, with the Chancellor on the back foot, but how wrong I was. There were lots of eyecatching initiatives and boring it certainly wasn’t. However, the elephant in the room for me was the appalling record of the forecasts that are trotted out on these occasions. Of course economic forecasting isn’t an easy game, but you’d like to think the OBR might get it right more often than they get it wrong. Even their forecasts from the autumn statement at the end of November look way off. This means the economy has been growing more slowly than expected and has left a big black hole in the chancellor’s figures. George Osborne rather glossed over that, although he did have the good grace to admit that the debt to GDP ratio would rise this year – unfortunate for a chancellor who has always trumpeted his fiscal rules.
A lot of commentators saw this budget through the prism of a future leadership contest. I’m not sure this budget changed much at all. I think most Tory MPs were rather impressed by many of the more eyecatching measures, with the possible exception of the sugar levy and also his invocation (after a mere 9 minutes) of Project Fear.
On Newsnight on Wednesday Robert Chote from the OBR made an astonishing admission. He said the OBR had done no economic forecasting for what would happen if Britain left the EU. Seeing as it’s 50-50 at the moment I’d have thought that was a major mistake and an abrogation of its responsibilities. If it is true that the Treasury are doing no planning at all, you do have to wonder at that. If the OBR has done no planning, how can the Chancellor at the same time invoke them in his argument that there would be a protracted period of uncertainty? I think we deserve an answer to that.
11 Mar 2016 at 14:29
The London mayoral campaign continues apace, but I feel something has changed over the last few weeks. All the polls have shown Sadiq Khan quite a way ahead of Zac Goldsmith, although the latest one in the Standard shows the gap narrowing. It seems to me this campaign is mirroring last year’s general election campaign, and that by polling day things may be very close indeed. Of course, in the end it will all come down to second or third preferences. Khan remains well ahead on second preferences so the Goldsmith campaign still have a lot of work to do, but you just get the feeling that Zac is now up for the fight in a way he didn’t seem to be a few weeks ago. You may recall that I wrote that he needed to show a bit of fire in his belly and stop looking so depressed in media appearances. Winning elections is all about the candidate having a bit of fire in his belly. In recent times he’s looked much more ‘pumped up’ to coin a phrase and that has given his supporters a much needed boost. There are a lot of undecided voters out there to be had, along with a lot of undecided second preferences. I sense that the Zac campaign have their strategy worked out. It may not involve loud ‘look at me proclamations’ but a lot is going on under the radar. Just like in the general election.
So Dan Jarvis has made a speech. A big speech. The speech potential party leaders make. I like him. He’s a man of integrity and may be just what Labour need. However, there were elements of this speech which were too crowdpleasing. He came out with that old canard about important decisions being taken out of the hands of politicians. What a load of bollocks. This all started with the ‘agency’ programme under the Major government and has continued apace ever since. We are now told by politicians of all parties that we must ‘take the politics out of the NHS’, for instance. Why on earth would we do that? I don’t want to give power to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats who are accountable to no one. Look at what’s happened to the Highways Agency. It’s a complete law unto itself. We elect politicians for a reason – to make decisions and choices on our behalf. If they get it wrong and we don’t like what they do, we can chuck them out and elect a new bunch. Agencies just hoard power and try to make their independence from politicians a virtue. I can’t think of a single agency that has performed better as an independent body than it did under political control. The lamentable Border Agency is a good case in point. So when you hear a politician like Dan Jarvis trying to divest themselves of power understand that it is all for cosmetic PR reasons. In reality it never leads to better government.
Stuart Ramsey from Sky News deserves to win broadcast journalist of the year for his investigation into Daesh and the fact that he has procured the details of 22,000 Daesh fighters. It’s a massive story which should have been on the front page of all newspapers and led all broadcast news bulletins. Unfortunately, viewers and readers were short-changed because of journalistic jealousies. The Times put it on their front page, but you had to turn to page 2 to find out it was a Sky News original story. The Daily Mail put it on page 6. Scandalously it didn’t even merit a mention on the BBC website, even under that most annoying of phrases, ‘the BBC has learned’. Inter media competition and rivalry is all very well, but this story is a potential game-changer in the fight against Daesh terrorism. That means it’s news, whoever the originator is. Some editors should look themselves in the mirror and consider what they’re in this game for. Surely it should be for their readers, listeners or viewers. Rather than their own insecurities or vanities.
Can it be too long before Suzanne Evans looks Nigel Farage in the eye and tells him he stuff his party where the sun don’t shine? She’s been sacked from yet another position by Farage and yet continues to take it on the chin. Quite why she puts up with it is anyone’s guess. In a similar vein, Farage called Douglas Carswell “an irrelevance” this week. How can UKIP’s only MP be an irrelevance? I like and admire Nigel Farage. I’ve published his books. I’d count him as a friend. But his behaviour towards Suzanne Evans, Douglas Carswell and others is quite outrageous. I suspect that after the referendum things will come to a head. Could it be a matter of months before we see both Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell back in the Conservative Party?
David Cameron’s announcement that he intends to stand at the next election is a welcome one. The trend for ex PMs to stand down from parliament immediately is a regrettable one. Parliament needs their experience, and you never know when the call might come again. I hear Tony Blair regrets standing down and thinks he could have made a comeback at some point. If that’s the case, you have to give thanks to God that Gordon Brown stood down when he did.