UK Politics

The Revenge of the Orange Bookers

17 Sep 2013 at 20:21

Each year the Telegraph assembles a group of experts to compile a list of the top 50 ranked members of the Liberal Democrats. Meeting this year in the Westminster Intercontinental – the new hangout of choice for politicos – the panel judged the performance of Lib Dem politicians since September 2012.

The Liberal Democrats have proved remarkable disciplined over the last year. There is now no likelihood of any challenge to Nick Clegg’s leadership before the 2015 election, even though his poll ratings remain at rock bottom. Retaining the Eastleigh seat vacated by Chris Huhne helped to steady nerves in February, and although in terms of vote share the local elections in May were the party’s worst ever, the chunks torn out of the Tory vote by Ukip helped to save dozens of Lib Dem councillors their seats. Now, as the party gears up for the general election, Clegg’s increasing readiness to disagree with his Tory ministerial colleagues is proving popular with Lib Dem activists – though whether this will help him convince them to “occupy the centre ground”, as he puts it, remains to be seen.

Two years ago we described the ranking of 2011’s top 50 as “the rise of the Left”. This year a more apposite title could be “the revenge of the Orange Bookers”, as Clegg stays at number one and sees two key allies rise to numbers two and three. Sidekick Danny Alexander, the other Lib Dem member of the Quad which takes the key coalition decisions (it includes Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne) rises two places to number two, while David Laws, co-editor of the economic liberals’ bible, The Orange Book, the brains behind Cleggism and returnee to ministerial office last year, shoots up to number three, due to his appointment as chair of the key election manifesto group, which – Lib Dems hope – will be writing the negotiating mandate for the next coalition. And straight in at number six is Ryan Coetzee, Clegg’s Director of Strategy and former MP for the South African Democratic Alliance, brought in to apply some polling-evidence rigour to the party’s appeal. No fewer than seven other places are occupied by Clegg staffers.

The main losers are mostly on the Left of the party. Down goes Party President Tim Farron, who annoyed many activists by his failure to back same-sex marriage, and Simon Hughes, conscience of the party, who’s had a quiet year. Also falling is Shirley Williams, gradually edging towards retirement, and rent-a-quotes Matthew Oakeshott – increasingly marginalised – and Evan Harris, who drops out entirely, mostly because of his focus on the Hacked Off campaign at the expense of party rabble-rousing. Down too is Vince Cable, not really on the Left (he was an Orange Booker too), but always willing to criticise his Tory colleagues in public, which scores points with party members, but fails to compensate for his lacklustre ministerial record. Very few now see him as a credible leader-in-waiting.

And yet, being Lib Dems, the awkward squad are still around. Cerebral scientist and Cambridge MP Julian Huppert rises two places thanks to his trenchant defence of civil liberties. Social-liberal thinker Duncan Brack returns to the top 50 as vice chair of the manifesto group – carefully balancing Laws – and Leeds MP Greg Mulholland is a new entry because of his self-appointed role as convenor of the Lib Dem awkward squad in the Commons. Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Lib Dems in the Local Government Association, rises 16 places; there may be fewer Lib Dem councillors left after three years of coalition, but they are still hugely important in this most localist of parties. Paddy Ashdown, who climbs to number five thanks to his role as Election Campaign Chair, is hardly a friend to the Tories, though he has always proved loyal to his leader.

Apart from Cable, and Jeremy Browne, who seems to have disappeared without trace inside the Home Office, the Lib Dem ministerial team have remained fairly stable in our rankings over the last 12 months; rising stars include Norman Lamb, who has a unique ability to generate positive news from the Department of Health. The smart money for the next leadership contenders, though, remains on Ed Davey (establishment) versus Tim Farron (grassroots).

The Lib Dems continue to struggle to show much diversity among their leading figures. Only 10 women feature in the 50 – actually two fewer than last year, with the highest rating being the party’s two female ministers Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone at numbers 15 and 16. However, the party can celebrate the entry of two men from ethnic minority backgrounds. The shortly-to-be ennobled businessman Rumi Verjee (in at number 46) funded the party’s Leadership Programme, which aims to improve its parliamentary representation from under-represented groups. Maajid Nawaz, a newcomer at number 50, is one of the most interesting in the list, as a former self-styled Islamic extremist, imprisoned and tortured in Mubarak’s Egypt, who underwent a wholesale change of heart and is now Executive Director of Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank – and a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

*You can see the full list of the Top 50 Most Influential LibDems HERE and HERE *

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 22: Why I'm Supporting my Friend Nigel Evans

14 Sep 2013 at 12:20

It’s difficult to say much about the Nigel Evans case without prejudicing his trial, but one thing is for certain. Over the last few months he has found out who his real friends are. And that will be even more the case over the months leading up to his trial. I know several people involved in political scandals over the years and the common thread among them is their shock at how easily people they had regarded as lifelong friends cast them by the wayside at the first sign of gunfire. I well remember when my friends the Hamiltons were accused of raping a woman in Ilford and I took to the television studios to defend them. I was told by several people that I should stop doing so. “Why?” I asked. “Because it would not be good for your career”. I gave a pretty dusty response and said somewhat forcefully that a friend is a friend is a friend, and that you wouldn’t be a very good friend if you abandoned a friend at their time of dire need. And that is what I and no doubt many of you will feel about Nigel Evans’s situation. Small messages of support can mean a huge amount to someone in his position. His world will have been rocked to its foundations. He has had to resign from the job he loved and is now facing calls to resign his seat too. He must resist them. The concept of being innocent until proven guilty must be adhered to, and it is for his friends to defend his right to remain Conservative MP for Ribble Valley pending the trial verdict. Nigel protests his innocence. I believe him. And before anyone suggests otherwise in the comments (because I am sure they are will), it has nothing to do with him being gay. It has nothing to do with him being accused of sex crimes. It’s that I don’t believe the Nigel Evans I know would hurt a fly. P.S: If you do comment on this below, please be aware of the laws of contempt of court.


Poor old Rachel Reeves. She’s been badly let down by the Labour Party’s media team. Quite what on earth they thought they were doing by demanding a full public apology from Ian Katz, Newsnight’s Editor, for his tweet which described Reeves as “snoring boring” I just do not know. It made a drama out of a non-crisis. The best way to handle these things is to laugh them off, not ramp up the rhetoric. Sending a normal tweet as opposed to a direct message is a very easy thing to do and many of us have fallen prey to this over the years, me included. It happened to me recently. Luckily I retrieved my tweet within 20 seconds of sending it and no one seemed to have noticed. Sadly for Rachel Reeves, she will now become the Steve Davis of politics, and the word “boring” will forever be associated with her. The truth is she is nowhere near making any Top Ten List of boring politicians. She is very good company indeed, but when she goes on the media she is so on message that you wonder if she has been programmed by Peter Mandelson. When I interviewed her in February she managed to say the same thing 18 times in a five minute interview. If you’re in doubt, you can listen by scrolling down the homepage. Once described as “having the face of an angel and the voice of Pat Butcher”, Reeves has suffered from being promoted too early. She needed to learn her trade on the back benches and in junior shadow positions, but like Chuka Umunna she has been thrust into the limelight far too soon. One or two Conservative junior ministers, who are pushing for immediate promotion to the cabinet, might learn something from this. Be careful what you wish for.


Still no reshuffle, then.


I approach this weekend with some foreboding. I normally look forward to the conference season. It’s a time to meet old friends, indulge in some heavyweight political gossip sessions and rejoice in a gathering of likeminded political tribes. But this year the Liberal Democrats are in Glasgow. Don’t get me wrong, I have got nothing against Glasgow, having only been there once before…but Glasgow? For a party conference? Apparently, delegate numbers are way down on the norm and commercial exhibitors will also be far less prevalent than in the last couple of years. To put it bluntly, it’s a bloody long way to go. Even further than Blackpool was! I’m told that the LibDems will also be returning there next year for their pre-election conference, a decision which completely defies logic. But I am told all of the other venues they normally use were booked up. Further proof that the LibDems don’t really do long term planning.


I am well aware that my political interviewing style is closer to that of the late Sir David Frost rather than Jeremy Paxman, but just occasionally I surprise people by baring my teeth. It happened this week with Sajid Javid, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury who had come on to talk about George Osborne’s speech on the economy. All was going well until he queried my figures on the deficit. OK, I said, how much did it reduce last year, I asked, quite reasonably. “Well the important thing is that it’s falling,” he said. Maybe, but that didn’t answer my question. It turned into a mini Paxman-Michael Howard moment. I don’t think it is unreasonable for a Treasury Minister to have those figures at his fingertips. I regard Sajid as a friend, but friendship has to go out of the window when you’re being paid to do a proper journalistic job, as Sajid no doubt realised. Credit to him, though. Unlike Rachel Reeves, he responded in exactly the right way and texted me making light of the whole thing. It’s never a good idea to fall out over something like this. You can hear the exchange by scrolling down the homepage..

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If You Were Thinking of Not Wearing Underpants...

13 Sep 2013 at 21:02

A lesson to us all.

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 13: "Should You Have Gone to Specsavers, Prime Minister?"

12 Sep 2013 at 17:37

Here’s the interview I did for my LBC Drivetime show today with the Prime Minister – who, before we went on air, urged me to blog more! Anyway, we covered the new scheme he was launching today to encourage new business start-ups, the row with Jose Manuel Barrosso (he expressed his huge annoyance at Barrosso’s comments about the Conservatives and UKIP) and then I asked him the all important question – should he have gone to Specsavers? It’s called keeping it real…

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Rachel Reeves Isn't Boring ... But She Can Be Very on Message!

10 Sep 2013 at 15:50

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 12: When a Minister Won't Answer the Question...

9 Sep 2013 at 21:23

This evening I interviewed Treasury Minister Sajid Javid about the state of the economy. He pulled me up on an economic statistic I gave, so when he tried to pull the wool over my eyes, I responded in kind. Again. And again…

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Sarah Teather - A Rather Sad, Pathetic Hypocrite

7 Sep 2013 at 22:16

So Sarah Teather is standing down from Parliament. I can’t say I’m sure she will be missed, even by many in her own party. She’s given a tear-jerking interview to the Observer’s Toby Helm, which you can read HERE, if you have a strong stomach.

She says she’s going because the LibDems no longer stand for social justice, which is a bit of a cheek when you think about it seeing as she voted for cuts in legal aid and against equal marriage. Rather oddly, Toby Helm doesn’t see fit to mention this in his long article. Perhaps Ms Teather set some preconditions for giving him the ‘exclusive’. Perish the thought. No, in reality she’s standing down because she knows she will lose her seat at the next election.

If I was a female MP I’d want to grab her by the lapels, pin her up against the wall and say “Thanks for nothing, sister.”

The truth is that she was never cut out for government. I was told a tale in June 2010 about her first day as a minister at the Department of Education. One of her fellow ministers walked past her ministerial office door, which was ajar. She was sitting at her desk, head in hands, looking a little tearfully at her red box. “What on earth is the matter, Sarah,” said the Tory Minister (OK, it was Tim Loughton). She looked up and rather plaintively sobbed: “I’m a Liberal Democrat. I don’t know what to do. We were never actually supposed to be in government.”

That just about sums her up. Pathetic.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 21: UKIP - The Bi-Sexuals of British Politics

6 Sep 2013 at 15:46

READER WARNING: There’s more than the usual dose of smut in this week’s column.

This week I have been chairing three panels for the Daily Telegraph with the aim of compiling the Top 100 people on the right, left and the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, all of which will, as usual, be published during the three party conferences. Yes, snigger all you like about the latter. I usually do too. The biggest challenge is to actually find 50 LibDems to choose from.

The panellists are a mixture of MPs, activists and commentators, and believe me, the discussions can become very heated indeed. On the Tory panel there was a particularly spirited discussion about whether Maria Miller should be promoted from 78 in last year’s list. One of the MPs was adamant that she deserved a massive promotion on the basis of her performances at the Despatch Box. “I’ve watched her perform really well with shitty briefs,” she said. After a moment of stunned silence in which we all took time to contemplate the implications of that statement, we all corpsed. “What have I said?” asked the MP in all innocence.

One of the other panellists, an MP’s researcher, proceeded to irritate us all with her precocious certainty about her opinions, interrupting everyone at every possible opportunity. “The Home Office gave me a prison,” she said at one point. “No,” I said. “They built a prison in your MP’s constituency.” But that wasn’t the end of it. It was all about her. It was when she blithely told one of the other panellists he was shit at his job that I am afraid I let my irritation show. “Blimey,” I said to one of the MPs at the end of the meeting. “She’s like what Liz Truss would be like after half an hour on a crack pipe.” She’ll go far.


Someone said to me this week they loved reading my ConservativeHome columns as they couldn’t wait to see how I would deliberately antagonise the site’s UKIP supporting readers or those with a particular issue with homosexuality. As if I would do that. By the way, have you read my column in Attitude Magazine (it’s a magazine for gayers) on bisexuality? No? Well I have helpfully reproduced it on my blog. In a way you could describe many UKIP voters as the bisexuals of UK politics. They don’t quite know whether they are Arthur or Martha. Instinctively they are still Conservatives, but they fancy a walk on the wild side. The question is, once they have satisfied their self-indulgent desires or perversions, will they return to the comforting fleshy folds of the mother party? We may have to wait until 2015 to find out.


For a politics and football obsessed individual like me, transfer deadline day is only ever surpassed by reshuffles. There are quite a few similarities between the two. Think of it this way. Can Manchester United really get rid of Ed Balls or can Ed Miliband really do without Wayne Rooney? Remember all those Labour reshuffles when they couldn’t quite find a paid ministerial job for Carlton Cole? It’s the same at West Ham, who, a day late, found a place for Michael Wills. At every reshuffle David Cameron tries desperately to get rid of Nicholas Bendtner, but never quite succeed. In the same way, Arsenal do the same with John Hayes. Rising Conservative Party star Ricardo Vaz Te demands a transfer, as does West Ham forward Nick Boles. Both end up staying put. And I could go on. But I get the feeling some of you are probably shaking your head in total and utter bemusement. Politics, eh? Bloody hell.


Talking of reshuffles, I gather the Tory reshuffle has yet again been postponed. It was put off originally in July when David Cameron rightly thought that backbenchers were in such a good mood, it seemed a pity to spoil it. But I have learned that the reshuffle was slated for last Monday but was shelved at the last minute on Sunday lunchtime. Why? I have absolutely no idea. If it’s going to happen you’d have thought it would need to happen while Parliament is still sitting and well before the party conferences. Perhaps it might happen today or next Monday.


Talking of gay marriage, which I wasn’t, but I know you want me to, Aussie PM Kevin Rudd had a Jed Bartlett moment on the issue during an election campaign Q&A. What’s a Jed Bartlett moment, I hear you cry? Well, scroll down the homepage of this blog and you’ll see.

If you’ve never seen The West Wing, that short clip demonstrates why it is the greatest political TV series ever made. Anyway, I digress. Have a look at Kevin Rudd’s equivalent. It may be less dramatic, but it is no less effective. That’s also on the front page.

Much as I agree with him, and disagree with his Liberal opponent Tony Abbott on this issue, I could never support Rudd, who is one of the biggest charlatans in world politics. Abbott hardly inspires confidence, but knowing how brutal Australian politics is, he’ll probably win the election and then be overthrown. Bronwyn Bishop for PM!


Last weekend I watched an action film called OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. The plot is very simple. North Korean terrorists attack the White House. It’s very much in the mode of INDEPENDENCE DAY and if you like your presidential politics and action movies you’ll love this. Apparently there’s a competitor film called WHITE HOUSE DOWN with a similar plot, so I’ll have to make sure I put that on order. The Americans do these apocalyptic type movies so well, and the special effects are out of this world.

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Quote of the day: David Aaronovitch

5 Sep 2013 at 10:45

And in this moment of crisis it became clear — as it does — what Mr Miliband is. A personable man (and he is a very pleasant companion), politically he is not a presence at all, he is an absence. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.

David Aaronovitch, On Ed Miliband, 5 Sep 2013

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