Diary

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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