Diary

ConHome Diary: Doing God's Work with the Devil's Money & Why Life's a Bitch

26 Jan 2018 at 13:41

The Cybernats really are the most vicious trolls on the internet. On Wednesday I highlighted a story which had appeared in most of the day’s newspapers that Nicola Sturgeon had ordered that the Union Jack could only be flown from Scottish Government buildings on Remembrance Sunday, and not at other times. Instead, the Saltire was to take precedence. This was a front page story in the Telegraph, and appeared also in The Times. Sturgeon immediately replied to my tweet saying she had done no such thing. I replied with screenshots of the protocols issued in both 2017 and 2018, and the difference was clear. Her defence seemed to be that she had not issued it personally. Maybe not, but it was issued in the name of the Scottish Government and in the end the buck surely stops with her. Or was she throwing her civil servants under a bus? She would be the first to criticise Tory or Labour politicians who did that. And she’d be quite right to. It turns out that it was Alex Salmond who had ordered it and it had been kept secret for eight years. It is still a disgrace, whoever was behind it.

The irony of the Cybernat attacks on my is that I actually have a lot of sympathy for the idea of Scottish independence. I’m a quarter Scottish myself, and had I been able to vote in the 2014 referendum there’s a fair chance I’d have supported Scotland going its own way. The behaviour of the Cybernats only serves to make me question that view.

UPDATE: See the blogpost below


The brass neck of UKIP’s current leader Henry Bolton has to be admired. To think that you can continue to lead a party when its whole ruling national executive votes to express a lack of confidence, and when you lose at least 16 out of 24 policy spokespeople could only happen in the world of the utterly delusional. I don’t know Mr Bolton, and for all I know he may have some utterly spellbinding personal virtues, but in his three months as UKIP leader we are yet to see any of them. UKIP’s problem is that if he is ousted at their EGM in late February, as he surely must be, who will be ready to try to revive a once great party? Patrick O’Flynn has ruled himself out, as he is not in sympathy with a lot of UKIP’s more socially reactionary policies. The party wouldn’t wear Suzanne Evans, so who else? The smart money may be on Margot Parker MEP – one of the few sensible voices remaining at the top of the party.
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I am seriously beginning to believe Ann Widdecombe could win Celebrity Big Brother. Vote Ann!
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So, have I got this right? Millionaire politician goes to charity dinner, presumably intending to donate money to a good cause. Said politician stays ninety minutes and then leaves when he feels uncomfortable about what is happening. Said politician then called on to resign for attending event and failing to report his ‘uncomfortableness’. Nadhim Zahawi could be forgiven for thinking people have lost a bit of perspective here. However, that’s nothing compared to the ridiculous reaction of Great Ormond Street and the Eveline Children’s Trust, both of whom have said they will return ALL donations received from the Presidents Trust over the years – the amount totals more than £1 million. As Isabel Oakeshott put it: “I don’t think Great Ormond Street should sacrifice children’s health at the altar of political correctness. No need to return the money.” She said she also knew of one charity that would be forced to axe three staff if they were forced to return the £100k that they have received in donations over the years. Zoe Williams suggested that it’s OK to take the devil’s money to do the Lord’s work. I entirely concur. And quite who they return the money to is anybody’s guess, seeing as the Presidents Club has now been shut down.
I’ve never been to a dinner like this and nor would I wish to, but let’s not pretend that the behaviour here was any worse than is seen in bars and clubs on a Friday night up and down the country. Or, dare I say it at women only events (Butlers in the Buff, anyone?) where the male waiters don’t just get pawed and leered at – they often have to protect their ‘crown jewels’ with their lives.
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Boris Johnson must have a death wish. Any fool would have known that to brief in advance of a cabinet meeting that you thought the NHS should get an extra £100 million would blow up in your face. OK, I’m sure Boris didn’t do it himself, but is it really believable that he was totally unaware what his allies were doing it? He endured a very uncomfortable hour at Cabinet when even people who would normally have been his allies let him know their views in no uncertain terms. Many observers now doubt that if there were a leadership election he’d make it to the final two. If the Foreign Secretary wishes to remain in government, he’d do very well to stick to his job and make a success of it, rather than try to trample over other people’s area of responsibility. Coming up with visionary ideas like a cross channel bridge is one thing. Leaking what you’re intending to say in Cabinet is quite another.
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I don’t know how many of you saw Tessa Jowell’s moving interview with Nick Robinson, where she talked about her brain cancer. A braver woman you will never meet. I’ve got to know her quite well over the years and I remember the morning she phoned me some months ago to tell me about the tumour the doctors had found. It was 8am and I saw her name on the phone and couldn’t work out why she would be phoning me at such an unearthly hour. The words poured out at such a rate that I didn’t understand at first what she was trying to tell me. And then I did. It’s difficult to know what to say in those circumstances. ‘Be strong’, doesn’t really cut it. I remember putting down the phone and bursting into tears. Life can be such a bitch.

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UK Politics

Nicola Sturgeon: An Apology

26 Jan 2018 at 10:27

On Wednesday I read a story in The Times about the Scottish Government ordering a change in its flag flying policy, meaning that the only occasion the Union Flag could be flown on Scottish Parliament buildings was on Remembrance Sunday. Previously there were 14 other occasions when it could be flown. Instead, it would now be replaced by the Saltire.

I then tweeted:

“So @NicolaSturgeon has ordered the union flag to be removed from government buildings. Perhaps the UK government should remove the funding which enables her to spend £1500 more per head of population than is spent in England.”

Nicola Sturgeon then tweeted me to say that it was not her decision and nothing had changed since 2010. At the same time Ruth Davidson’s spokesman tweeted screenshots of the change in policy between 2017 and 2018’s guidance notes. It seemed to me that this was fairly convincing.

However, it is now clear that the decision on the flags was taken in 2010 when Alex Salmond was First Minister, but the civil service policy guidance had not been updated in the ensuing seven years.

I still believe that it was wrong for this decision a) to have been taken and b) that it was not made public until now. Obviously as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has to take responsibility for what happens in her government’s name, even if the actual decision was not hers. But I have this morning been in touch with her directly and apologised for tweeting that it was her decision. It is clear now that it was not.

In these circumstances, I am going to delete the original tweet.

One final thing, though. The abuse I have received over the last two days has been something to behold. Luckily I have th skin of a rhino. You might say that since I tweeted something that was wrong I deserved it. All I will say is that it is possible to disagree and call someone out in ways which don’t involve the kind of language and violent abuse that has been freely used by the so-called ‘Cybernats’. I’m sure a lot of it will be repeated in response to this blogpost, but it’s a sad indictment of our public discourse when people who disagree politically can’t have a reasonable exchange. All I would say to them is that if Nicola Sturgeon can have the grace to accept my apology – and she has – then I’d hope that her more vocal supporters can bring themselves to do so as well. I can always live in hope…!

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Who Should Pay for childcare? Robert & Patrick Have a Big Falling Out

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The 'Irish Times' London Editor Owes London's Black Cabbies An Apology

21 Jan 2018 at 18:38

I got an email from a listener on Friday, which I thought I’d share with you.

I’m a long-time listener of your show via the internet here in Ireland. As an Englishman living here I’ve become increasingly concerned at some aspects of the anti-English coverage of Brexit, most notably in the so-called paper of record the Irish Times. Hardly a day has gone by since the Referendum result when the paper hasn’t carried warnings of doom and gloom about Brexit. Portraying it entirely as the result of racist English people/swivel-eyed loons/white van man etc harking back to the Empire is a common theme. This following piece today though really has taken my breath away. It’s by the paper’s London editor Denis Staunton and describes his outrage at being called mate by a London cabbie.

It can’t be that bad, I thought. So I click on the link and read the following…

“We were at the bottom of St James’s when the cab jolted and hissed to a halt, as a black SUV stopped in front, right in the middle of the street. A side door slid open and Prince Harry stepped out, wearing the same blue suit he announced his engagement in and with a close protection officer by his side as he bounded across to the pavement.

“Was that Prince Harry?” the driver said.

I told him it was.

“Did he just get out of an Uber?”

I said it seemed unlikely.

“Prince Harry. In a bleeding Uber,” he said.

To pass the Knowledge, a series of tests to qualify them for a licence, London cabbies must memorise 20,000 landmarks, 25,000 streets and 320 routes. And just three topics of conversation: Uber, cycle lanes and Brexit.

Once they alight on one of these subjects, the wisest course is to stop listening, look out the window and sink deep into your own thoughts. I had almost forgotten about the driver altogether when I noticed that he was calling me “mate”.

I felt the blood rushing up through my chest and into my head as my eyes flashed and stung. Mate. It’s not the insolence or the cheerless familiarity of it, so much as the hint of laddish menace. It’s the sound of getting taken down a peg or two, of home truths being delivered, it’s the bouncer on the door, the hooligan on the terrace, it’s a pint glass smashing in the street at midnight. It’s the Black and Tans burning down Cork. He was calling me ‘mate’. I felt the blood rush up through my chest."

And so it goes on.

I’ve never met Mr Staunton and I have no idea how long he has lived in London for, but however long it has been, he doesn’t seem to have learnt that cabbies call everyone ‘mate’. It’s a sign of friendliness, not some sort weird bigotry. The patronising condescension in this article towards people who do an honest day’s work (but clearly aren’t clever enough to write for the Irish Times, obvs.) is palpable. It’s the sort of language which if I, as an Englishmen, were to write Dublin cabbies, I’d be drummed out of Ireland for. And deservedly so.

As my listener from County Cork wrote in his email…

“This is risible and dangerous nonsense by a national newspaper designed to do nothing else but stir up hostility towards the English amongst its readers.”

England and Ireland have a chequered history. Our relations today are probably better at any time in our history. London welcomes tens of thousands of young Irish people each year and very welcome they are too. And we will continue to welcome them after Brexit, despite the best attempts of people like Denis Staunton who like to play into old, chauvenistic stereotypes about what we English are really like.

Words have consequences. Newspaper columns have consequences. It’s so easy to write a sneering column about other nationalities. Let’s face it, enough British columnists have done it about the Irish over the years. But two wrongs don’t make a right. If I were a London black cab driver I’d be incredibly insulted by the tone of this column, and rightly so. Anti Irish sentiment in this country has largely disappeared – at least, I hope it has. Mr Staunton may have another point of view.

Irish politics fascinates me at the moment. They’ve got a new, young Taoiseach in Leo Varadkar (I’m publishing a biography of him in July by two young Irish journalists, Philip Ryan and Niall O’Connor – details HERE and how they navigate Brexit is going to be interesting to watch. I think Brexit is actually going to prove an opportunity for our two countries to become even closer than we have become over the last two decades. But articles like Mr Staunton’s do not help in that process. Do they?

Alright? Mate.

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CNNTalk: So How Has Trump Done In His First Year?

19 Jan 2018 at 15:43

A rather thoughtful discussion….!

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Conservatives Are Failing to Make the Case for Capitalism

19 Jan 2018 at 15:40

The collapse of a company like Carillion was always going to result in Jeremy Corbyn attacking the whole concept of ‘contracting out’ – or ‘privatisation’ as he would say. He conveniently ignores the inconvenient fact that it wasn’t Carillion’s public sector contracts which caused the company to go bust, but instead they had overreached themselves on their private sector contracts which made up 60% of their business. Corbyn also questioned why contracts had been awarded contracts even after July’s profit warning. This shows how little Corbyn understands of the private sector and how businesses work. A profit warning means just that – that profits are likely to lower than previously indicated. It does not mean that a company is in imminent danger of going bust. You can’t blame Corbyn for not understanding the private sector. He’s never had a job in it. Come to think of it, I don’t think he’s had a public sector job either, unless you count being an MP. His only job before becoming an MP was as a trade union organiser. His Shadow Cabinet fares little better. I don’t think any of them have ever actually run a business themselves. Owen Smith worked for Pfizer (insert own joke here) and Rebecca Long-Bailey was a lawyer, but apart from those two there is little private sector experience to be found.
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I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The case for capitalism is not being made. The case for privatisation is not being made. The case for contracting out is not being made. Corbyn’s populist approach is making headway among young voters who, by definition, have no memory of what state control did to the economy in the 1970s. Having reached the ripe old age of 55 it’s becoming clear to me that all politics is cyclical. And we’re now entering a period of time where people genuinely think that the state is much better at running things than the private sector. People even seem to think the railways were better under state ownership. Politicians on the right have failed to counter this type of propaganda and until they do, the danger of a Corbyn government will grow by the day.
Of course, the trouble is that the private sector is often the worst possible advert for itself. The behaviour of some company directors is appalling and allows the narrative to develop that all directors are just in it for themselves. One rotten apple spoils the barrel. The way some industries were privatised means that lack of competition and soft regulation has allowed some companies – especially in the energy and water sectors – to treat their customers with the same contempt that the public sector has often displayed. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that.
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On Wednesday a colleague told me of a crowdfunding initiative launched by two of the victims of the black cab driver John Worboys, who is about to be let out of prison on parole. They want to launch a legal challenge to stop that happening, or at the very least make sure that the Parole Board followed correct procedures. They wanted to raise £10,000. I tweeted about it and Guido Fawkes blogged. I then decided to do an hour-long phone-in on the issue. At the start of the phone-in people had donated £2,000. An hour later the total was more than £13,000. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of radio, I don’t know what does. The total was boosted by a £5,000 donation from the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. As I write the total is more than £15,000. If you’d like to donate, click HERE [insert link https://www.crowdjustice.com/donation/d2p5VV69vDMl6d6D5xxQnYBGvNDk/?style=new ]. The target is now £50,000. Worboys’ victims deserve justice and they need to feel safe. It’s a scandal that this money even has to be raised. The system has failed these women and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the way the Parole system needs to be reformed and made more transparent.
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Nicola Sturgeon has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, hasn’t she? Perhaps the reason is the plummeting support for Scottish independence. Only 37% of Scots now want Scotland to be a fully independent country, according to a YouGov poll this week. Another part of Project Fear which hasn’t come true – the warning made in the Brexit referendum that Brexit would make the break-up of the United Kingdom more likely.
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If you’ve got Netflix, check out a Norwegian political thriller series called OCCUPIED. It centres around a green Norwegian Prime Minister who stops all oil and gas production. Without giving too much away, it then centres around how the EU persuades Russia to invade and ensure oil and gas production continues. It’s absolutely gripping. No need to thank me!

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The Government Needs to Reverse a Thirty Year Policy and Start Increasing the Number of Hospital Beds

13 Jan 2018 at 20:15

A lot has been written and said about the crisis in hospitals this January. Much of it repeats what was written last January. And yet it shouldn’t have been like this. The Health Secretary and the Prime Minister and various NHS managers continue to insist that planning for the annual ‘winter crisis’ was better than ever. You just wonder how bad things would be if it hadn’t been…

Simon Stevens is nothing if not a clever political operator. By demanding in public that the NHS got an extra £4 billion (knowing full well he wouldn’t get it) he covered his back. If things went tits up, he could blame ministers rather than put the blame where it really ought to lie – at his own door. This was supposed to be a man with a plan. Indeed he did have a plan – a five year plan. He put it to ministers and they accepted every word of it and agreed to fund it down to the last penny. It turned out that Simon Stevens became Oliver Twist and kept asking for ‘more’.

In 1997 Stevens became a special advier to the then Health Secretary Frank Dobson. If ever there was a health secretary in need of advice it was him. He held the same position with Alan Milburn and then in 2001 became health policy adviser to Tony Blair. He was closely associated with the development of the NHS Plan 2000. This plan promised to reverse 30 years of hospital bed cuts, and provide and extra 7,500 hospital beds over the ensuing five years. In actual fact the number of beds fell by 3,000, continuing a seemingly irreversible trend.

It was the Blair government that promoted the theory that people much preferred to be treated in their own homes, and therefore fewer hospital beds were needed. In addition, new technology and faster treatments also meant that whereas in the 1980s someone might need a five day hospital stay, nowadays that might be reduced to one or two, or even none if the treatment could be done in a day. Jacqui Smith (who was a Health Minister at the time) and I spoke about this on this week’s FOR THE MANY PODCAST. She admitted the policy had been a mistake. But it’s a policy which has continued since that time under all shades of government. Small hospitals in rural areas in particular have been hit, with many being closed altogether. The very concept of a convalescent hospital has virtually disappeared.

There has been a perfect storm. Although the number of doctors and nurses has increased, and brand news hospitals have been built (often funded on the never-never) the population has also increased exponentially. This seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to NHS executives. On top of that, instead of the population becoming healthier, we’ve become more obese, prone to be diabetic and more generally more ill, more often. Again, this seems to have taken the NHS by surprise. Demands on mental, as well as physical health have increased hugely in recent years, yet the number of mental health beds has declined sharply. Not only that but non-residential mental healthcare funding hasn’t kept pace with demands in any shape or form. As I say, in short a perfect storm.

So why do politicians still refuse to acknowledge the reality that more beds are needed? One explanation is that the advice from NHS England remains that the policy shouldn’t change. But isn’t it the job of politicians to challenge that advice? Let’s look at the evidence…

Well the trend couldn’t be clearer, could it? Under all governments in the last thirty years the total number of hospital beds has been cut – or slashed depending on your viewpoint. These figures come from the King’s Fund. Click on THIS LINK and you can see the exact numbers by running your mouse over the graph. It’s very telling.

The total number of beds in the NHS has declined by more than half, from around 300,000 in 1987 to around 148,000 now. In 1987 the UK population was 56.8 million. The population now is around 66.2 million. The population has increased by 17%, yet the number of hospital beds has declined by more than 50%. Medical advances have certainly been made, but surely not to that extent.

If we look at the number of General & Acute beds, which is the biggest category, the numbers are startling…

1987-88 180,889
1997-98 138,047
2010-11 108,958
2016-17 102,369

The average decline in beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 2,909. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 1,098.

The figures for mental health beds are even starker.

1987-88 67,122
1997-98 36,601
2010-11 23,448
2016-17 18,730

The biggest cuts in mental health beds came when Care in the Community was launched. However, it’s continued ever since. In the last thirty years bed numbers have been cut by 72%. Astonishing.

The average decline in mental health beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 1,315. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 786.

Given that the population has increased and the birthrate has increased from 1.64 to 1.81 per woman between 2000 and 2015 (Source: World Bank) you might expect the number of maternity beds to have stabilised or even increased. But no…

1987-88 15,932
1997-98 10,781
2010-11 7,874
2016-17 7,792

The average decline in maternity beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 291. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 14. Now let’s be clear, maternity care has changed beyond recognition during this period. More women like to give birth at home, and even those that have their babies in hospital are now often in and out within twenty four hours. Back in 1962 when my mother gave birth to me, she was in a nursing home for two weeks, even though it was an easy birth – albeit I was the longest baby any mother had given birth to in that particular establishment!

The only section in that graph that bucks the trend is the number of day beds. This is to be expected given that medical science has advanced and so many more treatments can now be conducted without the need for an overnight stay.

1987-88 2,000
1997-98 7,125
2010-11 11,254
2016-17 12,463

The average increase in day beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 413. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 218.

A narrative has grown up that it’s the ‘wicked Tories’ who have cut beds and they’re determined to cut the NHS to the bone. These figures demonstrate that hospitla bed cuts are part of a long term strategy that governments of all colours have implemented. And they’ve done this at the behest of the medical establishment.

And when you compare the number of beds per thousand people in Britain and other countries… well, it doesn’t look good.

Admittedly these figures are from 2010, but it’s almost certain that things haven’t changed an awful lot, comparatively, since then. UPDATE: I’m told the UK figure is now 2.6/1000.

And this leads us on to the real issue here – and that’s social care. NHS professionals and administrators have been very keen to cut bed numbers on the premise that once patients have been discharged it’s up to the social care system to take over – especially with geriatric patients. The trouble is that side of the healthcare equation has been largely ignored despite politicians constantly telling us that it’s a policy which needs solving.

I know from personal experience how elderly people take up beds in hospitals even though they shouldn’t be there. They should be in care homes, but the places just don’t exist. Since 2002 an average of 7,000 new care home beds have opened in the UK every year, but by 2026 there will be an additional 14,000 people needing residential care home places per year. (Source: Radio 4 You & Yours). How will these beds be financed? There’s little doubt, that along with housing provision, social care one of the two biggest social challenges facing government.

Chris Hopson, the publicity hungry head of NHS Providers, said this week that 10-15,000 new hospital beds are needed if we are to avoid the kind of crisis we’re seeing at the moment in hospitals up and down the country. That’s between 60 and 90 per acute trust. Bear in mind that some acute trusts have more than one hospital.

Each hospital bed costs the NHS around £150,000 per year. The annual cost of increasing bed numbers by 15,000 would be around £2.25 billion, plus all the infrastructure and staffing costs.

It’s all very well for Simon Stevens to call for an extra £4 billion of funding. Jeremy Corbyn has called for an extra £6 billion. But what would it be spent on? We all remember the huge amounts of extra money that went into the NHS in the early Blair years, but the overwhelming amount of it went on salaries, not into directly improving healthcare.

If we are going to spend a higher per centage of our national income on the NHS then we surely need to decide our priorities. I would suggest that reversing the decline in hospital beds ought to be fairly near the top of that list.

Three years ago I wrote a book called THE NHS: THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SAID. You can buy it from Amazon HERE

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Iain Interviews George Osborne about Brexit (full interview)

And he has no plan for it

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WATCH: CNN Talk - Is Donald Trump a Racist For Calling Some Countries 'Shitholes'?

12 Jan 2018 at 21:55

Watch out for a sparky row between me and Ayesha a few minutes in… And watch how I can’t bring myself to say ‘shitholes’ on live TV!

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Benjamin Cohen about Social Media Addiction

What constitutes an addiction to social media? Iain Dale, Benjamin Cohen and Siobhan Benita discuss.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: A Reshuffle With No Narrative & Why No Jobs for JRM & Kwasi Kwarteng?

12 Jan 2018 at 13:36

“It’s all going terribly well, isn’t it?” was my opener to a friend in Downing Street on the afternoon of the Cabinet reshuffle. I was going to devote this whole column to an in-depth analysis of the reshuffle but I think enough has been said already. Paul Goodman’s analysis on Wednesday said it all. If you go into a reshuffle with an absence of a plan or a narrative, don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face. If you’re trying to relaunch your government with a fresh image, at least have an idea of the headlines you’d like to see in the next day’s papers. If you want it to run smoothly, it might be an idea to choreograph it in advance.
Why on earth did it come as a surprise to Theresa May that Jeremy Hunt wanted to stay at Health, and had several good reasons for doing so? The accusations that it was all about window dressing have stuck, and it’s no surprise as to why. This could have been the reshuffle that showed a real breakthrough for women, yet the number of women who are full cabinet members hasn’t increased. OK, there are two more who “attend”. Big deal. This could have been the reshuffle that really signalled the government’s intent to put housing at the top of its priority list. However, rather than create a new, separate housing ministry, they’ve just altered the letterhead at the DCLG and it becomes the DHCLG, with Sajid Javid having exactly the same responsibilities as before. A lot of Conservatives were rather excited on Monday morning at what was to come. By the end of the day they were left feeling rather flat. Or worse.
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What is it that is preventing Kwasi Kwarteng from being promoted to office? I scratch my head and cannot come up with a single reason. He’s clever, erudite, writes like a dream and is brilliant on the media, and yet he still languishes on the backbenches. A total mystery.
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The new party chairman Brandon Lewis joined me for a phone-in on LBC only 48 hours or so after he had been appointed. It was a brave decision for a politician now thrust into the limelight and of whom much is expected. He had a tricky start with calls from two Conservative activists who were distinctly unhappy at the way things are going. One made clear he wanted Theresa May out before the next election. You learn a lot about how politicians handle themselves in this kind of arena, but Lewis shone. He approached every question with good humour and had I been a listener rather than his interlocutor I think I’d have found it all a good and refreshing listen.
There are two types of party chairmen – those like Norman Tebbit who act as a lightning rod for their prime minister and take the fight to the opposition and to the media, and then there are those who are fairly anonymous and who regard their main task as saying nothing to offend anyone. Brandon Lewis is a more ebullient version of Norman Tebbit. He clearly knows the size of the task ahead of him, but the question is: can he overcome the inertia that is inherent in the upper echelons of the voluntary party and introduce real reform designed to galvanise the recruitment of a new generation of younger, motivated activists?
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I was disappointed that there was no place found for Jacob Rees-Mogg in the reshuffle. Sometimes politicians need to be allowed to prove themselves in office, rather than continue to cultivate a cult through the media. JRM is hugely talented and those talents need to be exploited. Even if he wasn’t to be made a minister, some sort of Vice Chairman role at CCHQ could surely have been found. Alternatively, a junior ministerial role at the Department of Work and Pensions would have been an ideal starting point for him to start the climb up the greasy pole. After all, Margaret Thatcher started her career as a junior pensions minister…


Please don’t think badly of me for continuing to be fascinated by this series of Celebrity Big Brother. It’s mainly because of Ann Widdecombe, it has to be said, as well as Rachel Johnson who is developing into the Mother of the House. Ann has even resorted to flirting with the stunningly good looking former Apprentice contestant Andrew Grady. I certainly can’t blame her for that, but it’s good to see her finally entering into the spirit of the programme rather than remain in a seemingly permanent ‘grump’. She’s very good at ‘grumping’, is our Anne.
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This week I’ve published a book by former Enfield North MP Nick de Bois. It’s called ‘Confessions of a Recovering MP’ and details what it’s like to work in the Westminster hot-house and how an MP copes with losing his seat. It’s a very funny book and has had the highest rate of website pre-orders of any book Biteback has ever published. Treat yourself. It’s a cracking read.
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Well hold the front page. Tim Farron has finally admitted what we all knew – that he didn’t mean a word of it when in the general election campaign he was forced to say that he didn’t consider gay sex a sin. It’s the sort of thing that really gets politicians a bad name. As Eden Cavalry put it on Twitter – “Gay sex is a sin. It says so in this book where snakes talk, people come back from the dead, a guy walks on water, and a virgin has a baby.”
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There was a lot of media fuss about the new army recruitment adverts aimed at gays and muslims this week. I won’t go into that here, but I was horrified to learn that army recruitment has now been contracted out to Capita, or ‘Crapita’ as it now usually known. As usual they are making a total pigs ear of it. I’m all in favour of some government functions being taken over by the private sector where it makes sense, but can anyone name a single area where Capita has got involved that has resulted in a better service and where they have given better value for money? No, thought not. I hope Gavin Williamson will look again at their contract and take them to task for the fact that they continually lose applications from army recruits, take months to process applications and fail to get back to people when they say they will.

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I've Reason to Know What a Good & Thorough Journalist Michael Wolff Is

6 Jan 2018 at 12:17

Now, dear reader, bear with. This blogpost is really about Michael Wolff, but it takes a little time before we get to him…

Back in June 2004, when I was Conservative candidate in North Norfolk I remember telling my good friend Keith Simpson, MP for the neighbouring constituency, that Boris Johnson was coming to North Norfolk to do a fundraiser for me. He chuckled and asked if I had a backup plan and suggested that Boris might not know which station to go to to get to Norwich. Sure enough, at a quarter to nine on the morning of the visit the phone rings at my house in Swanton Abbott. “Boris here, now look here old boy, it is King’s Cross isn’t it?” As he was supposed to be on the 9am train from Liverpool Street this was not a promising start to my day. I remained as calm as I could while inwardly cursing and suggested he got a train from Kings Cross to King’s Lynn. “Ok, no probs,” he said. Five minutes later the phone rings again. “No luck old bean, no train till 9.45, gets in at 11.30”. At 11.30 we were due in Stody for an interview on North Norfolk Radio. Aha. More cursing. Silently, naturellement. Thinking quickly I dialled up the trains website and found a 9am train to Peterborough. “Excellent,” trills Boris.

Three minutes later the phone goes again. “Damn and blast,” says Boris, “we missed it”. Luckily there was another one 5 minutes later. Which left me with the small problem of how to get to Peterborough from Swanton Abbott in 15 minutes. I might be a fast driver but I’m not that fast. In the end Boris got a taxi from Peterborough and I picked him up on a rather nasty industrial estate in Wisbech. We arrived at North Norfolk Radio 15 minutes late. Then on to Langham Glass where Boris made a pig. Next stop Pinewoods Leisure Centre for Boris to speak at a Conservative fundraiser. We auctioned a glass pig signed (or rather etched) by Boris. Some farmers gave him an excellnt briefing on sugar beet and everyone seemed happy. Except for me. I was supposed to have him safely delivered in Great Yarmouth where he was speaking for their PPC, Mark Fox, by 4pm. At 3.20 we still hadn’t left.

Then came the journey from hell. We got stuck behind every lorry and tractor in Norfolk and eventually got there at about 4.30. So having driven about 150 miles and been driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown I made my way home to Swanton Abbott looking forward to a trip to Sainsbury’s. Back to reality after a day on Planet Boris. What a superstar he is!

Now accompanying Boris on that day was Vanity Fair journalist Michael Wolff. He was writing a lengthy profile of Boris for the magazine, having spotted him as a rising star in the Tory Party. Quite what he made of Boris’s characteristic travel chaos I do not know. What I do know, though, is that I spent the best part of four or five hours with him that day, chatting to him about his job, British politics and Boris. I observed how he would question Boris, I would earwig his conversations with my party workers when he wanted to get their views on the great man. I spent quite some time talking to Wolff myself and found that he had that irritating knack of asking you all the questions you’d rather not be asked. That’s the mark of an excellent journalist.

Over the course of the next few weeks I received several calls from Michael Wolff (pic right). He wanted to check details. He wanted to read out paragraphs of his profile to see what I thought of them. Had he really ‘got’ Boris? Had he made any mistakes? Like many forensic journalists, I didn’t find Wolff especially likeable. He wasn’t there to be liked, though. He was there to do a job, and to my mind the entire experience showed me what a great journalist he is. I’ve since followed his work in Vanity Fair, GQ and The Guardian. Never once have I found his work anything but highly readable and very informative.

The attempts by the Trump White House to trash his reputation is understandable, but it won’t wash. I’ve written this piece to illustrate the professionalism Michael Wolff showed on the only occasions I have met him or talked to him.

You can read Wolff’s profile of Boris in Vanity Fair HERE.

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CNNTalk: How Seriously Should We Take the Allegations in Michael Wolff's Book?

5 Jan 2018 at 14:46

A dramatic moment on CNN Talk today when Michael Wolff’s book FIRE & FURY was delivered live on set!

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