The Times (£) trumpets that Croydon South has rejected three of David Cameron’s favoured candidates (they all work for him in Number Ten) during their selection contest. It is apparently a “snub” to the Prime Minister. Bollocks. What is far more likely is that the three of them failed to perform as well as the four who reached the final. But that doesn’t make good newspaper copy, does it? People automatically assume there is some great conspiracy or plot in candidate selections, and that Downing Street or CCHQ are able to “parachute in” their favoured candidate. Those who have been involved in selections as candidates or selectors will tell anyone who cares to listen that it just doesn’t work like that. The selectorate, whether it’s a closed selection or open one, is far too sophisticated. If you perform badly, you won’t get through. It’s as simple as that. Candidate selection is a bit like a dating process, especially in a safe seat. The selectors know they have to live with whoever they choose for a few decades. They vote with their hearts as well as their heads, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
And of course there are now complaints that a man triumphed over three woman in the final. Just a thought: rather than being a bunch of sexist pigs, maybe, just maybe they picked the best person for the job. Chris Philp came second in the Tonbridge & Malling selection which I chaired a couple of weeks ago. I told him afterwards it wouldn’t be long before he succeeded, and I am glad I am right. He is a great choice for Croydon South, and I congratulate him.
So at the age of 75, David Dimbleby sees fit to get himself a tattoo. What on earth is the world coming to? What next? An ankle bracelet for La Widdecombe? Perhaps that would earn her a much deserved peerage…
I do hope David Cameron uses the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting to have a stand up row, on camera, with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, who stands accused of war crimes. Someone at the Commonwealth needs a rocket up their backsides for choosing to hold this summit in a country whose government is unsavoury, to say the least. OK, that could be said of perhaps a third of the Commonwealth’s member states, but even so. Anyone who watches Newsnight or Channel 4 News will know that four years on from the end of the civil war government forces are mistreating Tamils in a way which ought to guarantee a war crimes charge for Rajapaska. The Canadian Prime Minister has boycotted the meeting in protest, and while it would have been difficult for Britain to adopt that stance, some think it might have been wise. I covered the subject for an hour on my radio show on Monday, and I was astonished at the number of calls coming in – ten times the normal amount. The Sri Lankan community in this country is sizeable, and they need to be listened to by Conservative politicians, or they will suffer the electoral consequences.
Britain stepped up to the plate and donated £10 million to help alleviate the plight of the Philippines. And then there’s the £14 million raised from private donations through Disasters Emergency Committee. Guess how much China has contributed? £100,000. Yes, you read that right. If China wishes to be welcomed into the family of nations and prove that it is not the despotic, human rights-disrespecting country we know it to be, it will need to do better than that.
Ian Katz has certainly rung the changes in his short period in charge of Newsnight. This week, he announced the return to the BBC of the excellent Laura Kuennsberg as Chief Correspondent (whatever that is). In addition, David Grossman moves off the political beat to become Technology Editor. However, I was sad to hear that Gavin Esler will be departing. I think he’s a great news presenter, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up next. There will also inevitably be another new appointment soon to cover Allegra Stratton’s maternity leave. I have to say that I rather like many of the changes Ian Katz has made. Newsnight has become watchable again. It’s about time.
Zac Goldsmith came on my LBC show on Tuesday to take part in a phone-in on whether voters should be given the power to ‘recall’ their MP. It was in all three parties’ manifestos at the last election and it was in the Coalition Agreement, yet for some reason nothing has been done about it. No one seems to know why. It’s in Nick Clegg’s power to do something about it, yet he remains reluctant to bring forward legislation. Perhaps he’s so keen to avoid losing Mike Hancock… If there were any justice in politics Goldsmith would be a minister by now, but no doubt he’s regarded as too maverick by the Tory whips who wouldn’t recognise genuine talent if it hit them on the nose. Do you still have to be lobby fodder to make it in politics and climb the greasy pole? During one of the commercial breaks, Zac said to me that if I had got into Parliament I’d have been like him – never to be promoted. I suspect he’s right. It’s a very difficult balance to strike. If you aren’t a minister you have no power, but if you are regarded as a serial rebel you have precious little influence, either. You can have a voice in the media but you might just as well become, er, a radio presenter. I’ll get my coat.
So Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott are teaming up to write a biography of David Cameron, which, they say, will be published “in the second half of 2015”. Wouldn’t it be better to publish it while he is still in power? *
I have always wanted to write a proper political biography. I once toyed with the idea of writing one about David Cameron, way before he became prime minister. He and his team even agreed to co-operate, but by that time Francis Elliott had also decided to plough ahead and write one with James Hanning. So I shelved the idea. Years ago, I also approached Cecil Parkinson with the idea of writing his authorised biography. Sadly, he was having none of it. Frankly, there are very few people nowadays I would want to devote the time to writing a book about. I’m surprised no one has written a proper biography of Norman Tebbit, but I suspect I’m not the person to do that. Perhaps I will turn my attention to Ed Balls. Or perhaps I won’t.
The Conservatives launched a new website this week. It’s quite a feat to make it look even more outdated than the old site, but somehow they have achieved it. It’s, er, very 2003. Still, I suppose we can all be grateful that it doesn’t have frames. I suspect they have spent very little money on it, and what money they did spend was spent removing old articles and speeches. Why is it that when people redesign websites they don’t look overseas at examples of best practice? There’s nothing on the front page that is inclusive, welcoming or makes you want to delve deeper into the site. It feels cold, unwelcoming and exclusive. Where’s the interaction? Where’s the campaigning zeal? Where is the appeal to the heartstrings as well as the purse strings. It’s as if the party has given up the ghost in internet campaigning. Frankly, I am astonished that Grant Shapps would give this amateur site his stamp of approval.
And what’s worse is the clumsy attempt to delete all the site’s archive before 2010. Chris Grayling appeared on Sky telling us that there’s a limit to the amount you can keep on a website. Utter bollocks. The best thing Shapps could do now is hold his hands up and admit that it was an error to do this and to reinstate the articles. What worries me is that there are people in CCHQ who seriously thought this was a good idea. I’m trying to imagine the brainstorming meeting when the decision was made. “Chairman, let’s delete all the speeches and articles which might prove a bit embarrassing. Political journalists are so lazy, they’ll never notice. I mean who wants to know what David Davis said when we used to believe in civil liberties anyway?” Amateur hour.
*Just my little joke, Prime Minister, if you’re reading :)