Media

Why Does the BBC Need Two Commentary Teams At The Same Match?

10 Nov 2011 at 18:52

Whenever I deign to say anything remotely critical about the BBC I am accused of all sorts of things. People say, ah, well if you hate it so much, why do you appear so much on it? As if there was some unspoken compact that in order to be invited onto a BBC show you have to be duly reverential. Well, that may explain why I have never been on This Week or Question Time I suppose (!), but it will never stop me calling it as I see it.

I applaud the BBC for recognising that it has to make cuts, just like any other publicly funded body. Some of the cuts are very painful indeed – those to BBC local radio, for example. Some are misdirected – those to BBC local radio, for example! Others are fully justified. But there is scope for the BBC to go further. It’s too late to revisit the move of BBC Sport and Radio 5 Live to Manchester. It’s happened. But that shouldn’t stop us questioning why Radio 5 Live presenters are ferried backwards and forwards from London to Manchester most days. Of course, it is up to any broadcaster where they base themselves, but surely it is up to them to pay for their travel to their workplace. But I am told that Rachel Burden is the only 5 Live mainstream presenter to make the move to Manchester permanent. A 5 Live insider tells me that one daytime presenter flies up four days out of five. Richard Bacon regales us with his trials and tribulations on the Virgin West Coast line most days. Peter Allen travels up from his home near Cambridge. All this is a great waste of licence fee payers money. [UPDATE: A senior member of the 5 Live management team assures me that presenteers do in fact pay for their own travel].

I discovered another example today. Driving home from doing a book signing I searched my DAB radio in my car [show off – Ed] and found the Reading v West Ham game on BBC Radio London. I then discovered it was also on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. But each station had its own two man commentary team, no doubt with a team of sound engineers too. In addition 5 Live had their own match reporter. I didn’t discover if BBC Radio Berkshire had a third team of commentators but it wouldn’t surprise me. Why in God’s name couldn’t both stations take the same commentary feed? I tweeted about this earlier and while most people agreed with me, some reckoned that the BBC London commentary would be biassed in West Ham’s favour so you had to have an impartial commentary on Sports Extra. Bollocks. Even if the BBC London commentary were biassed (which it isn’t) surely in this day and age we should be able to get single commentary, giving an impartial commentary on all aspects of the game, which can be heard on any of the BBC’s radio outlets. I don’t know how much a BBC football pundit gets paid, or indeed how much a commentator is paid, but I suspect that by having one commentary team at today’s game instead of two there would have been a saving of several thousand pounds. Multiply that over a season and that would pay the salaries of several dozen of the journalists currently being sacked all over BBC local radio.

The lesson here is that however many savings an organisation makes, more can always be found.

UPDATE: Martin Lipton of The Mirror informs me that the BBC sent 12 people to cover the Euro 2012 draw in Kiev last week.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to John Bird & Judith O'Reilly

John Bird discusses his book THE NECESSITY OF POVERTY and 'Wife in the North' Judith O'Reilly talks about A YEAR OF DOING GOOD.

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UK Politics

Theresa's Something of the Night Moment?

9 Nov 2011 at 19:02

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. This is the Home Office, after all. The most dysfunctional government department of all, and that’s saying something. And it seems very little has changed since the days of Charles Clarke, John Reid, Jacqui Smith and Alan Johnson. The best thing one can say is that Theresa May was able to keep a lid on it for the best part of eighteen months. She even gained a reputation as a safe pair of hands and was talked of as a potential leader in waiting. But CatGate and the current scandal surrounding the UK Borders Agency have put paid to that. I imagine Ken Clarke has a wry smile on his face at the moment.

Theresa May is very clear about what happened, and her story had better remain consistent. But Brodie Clark seems equally clear. The one thing we can be sure of is this. They cannot both be right, Theresa May’s saving grace is that the chief executive of the Borders Agency backs up her story. But this does have whiffs of the Michael Howard/Derek Lewis debacle of the mid 1990s. And we all know how that ended – with Ann Widdecombe making her ‘Something of the Night’ speech and ruining Michael Howard’s leadership bid. So could there be a similar ending to this sorry tale? And if so who will be Theresa May’s Ann Widdecombe?

Well, if journalistic rumour is to be believed, it could possibly be Immigration Minister Damian Green. I’ve been told by two journalistic sources that people close to Theresa May were briefing against him over the weekend. Bad move. I imagine the briefing will have gone along the lines of “well, this is all down too Damian, you know – not on top of his brief – lets his civil servants get away with murder – Theresa then has to clear up the mess – not the first time, you know.”

The trouble is, every political journalist worth his salt knows that Theresa May has an iron grip on her ministers and nothing goes out of the Home Office without her say so. Both Lynne Featherstone and former Security Minister Pauline Neville-Jones have semi publicly complained about Theresa May’s interraction with her ministers in the past.

If these ‘off the record’ briefings have indeed happened, then if these ‘People Who Live In the Dark’ would be well advised to desist. They do their boss no favours. Indeed, they make her position more precarious than it actually need be.

In general, I think Theresa May has done a decent job. But she has a formidable opponent in Yvette Cooper, who will be keen to claim a political scalp. She should not underestimate her. Cooper has a lot of friends in the Westminster media. May doesn’t. Indeed, her weakness as a politician is that she hasn’t got a political ‘suport group’ to come to her aid in times of political crisis.

My instinct is that Theresa May will come through this because she has right on her side. She took decisive action when she discovered what was going on and that is a good thing in a politician. Some of the more hilarious attacks on the Labour benches on her stewardship of the Home Office fail to do damage because everyone knows what happened at the Home Office under the Blair and Brown governments.

But all this ilustrates the need for root and branch reform, not only in the UK Borders Agency, but the Home Office too. Both organisations have appeared dysfunctional for some time now. The shame is that this root and branch reform appears not to have got started eighteen months into this government.

Politicians always need to turn threats into opportunities. If she plays this right, Theresa May has the chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity – and that is to emerge as a stronger figure and a major player in the Cameron coalition. But she’d better be right, and be able to prove that Brodie Clark is wrong. If she can do that, she will transform the way she is viewed by many Tory backbenchers.

  • UPDATE: Theresa May’s special advisor has been on the phone to deny absolutely that any briefings against Damian Green have taken place.

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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Tia Sharp's Grandmother (Part 2)

Part two of an interview with Christine Bicknell and Tia's stepdad David Niles

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Radio

Would a 'Good News' Radio Programme Ever Work?

4 Nov 2011 at 19:03

Tonight I carried out an experiment on my LBC show. I think like many people, I am often frustrated that the news agenda is remorselessly negative. Bad news is news, good news is advertising seems to be the mantra on most newsdesks. Just read the Daily Mail if you don’t believe me. I have never believed that to be true. I think people like a bit of balance in their news and there are times when you need a little light among the shade. After this week’s gloomy Eurozone news I thought I’d take the plunge and conduct a Good News Hour.

To be honest I was a bit nervous about doing it. My gut instinct was that it would work, but the nightmare would be not to get a single phone call. I may like the sound of my own voice, but for an hour?!

Anyway, as luck would have it there was a great story about a flashmob on a train to Watford breaking out into song, singing a Bill Withers song and at the same time, a man called Adam King proposed to his girlfriend. So that got us off to a good start. I had already got LBC newsreader Holly Ford to record a “Good News” news bulletin, which worked well, apart from when we first tried to lay it out we just got the music and no words. Nick Abbot, who follows me, reckoned it was comic genius to have a news bulletin with no words, until he realised it was actually a mistake.

As it turned out we had absolutely loads of calls, texts and emails from people who wanted to relate something good which had happened to them. I had a quick chat with my team after the show and we reckon in future it should be a brisk 30 minutes where we do a Good News Bulletin, relates on or two good news stories from the week and take a few calls. We’ll see. If you heard it, what did you think?

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Joyce in Erith... And Cries

In a discussion about infant deaths, Joyce in Erith's story makes Iain weep.

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Books

Counterfactual: What if David Davis Had Been Elected Leader of the Conservative Party in 2005?

24 Oct 2011 at 20:04

This is an extract from the book PRIME MINISTER BORIS AND OTHER THINGS THAT NEVER HAPPENED, edited by Duncan Brack and Iain Dale, published by Biteback a fortnight ago. It is a collection of 23 counterfactual essays. To buy the book, click HERE.

‘I wish I’d known he could do that before’, whispered one aide to another. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if he could do it for his conference speech?’1

They were listening to Conservative leadership contender David Davis MP make a speech to 250 Scottish Conservatives in Edinburgh in early September 2005. The day hadn’t got off to a good start, with Davis junking the text prepared by his speechwriting team. ‘Guess I’ll have to fly solo’, he complained. The two aides shuddered, having the previous day experienced a different sort of ‘flying solo’ when, following a visit to the Wirrall, the three of them had taken a helicopter ride back to London. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before ‘action man’ Davis was flying the damn thing. ‘I’m sure there must be a law against this’, pleaded one of the aides, but in vain.

Back to Edinburgh. The two aides looked on in wonderment as Davis wowed his audience, delivering a polished, passionate, insightful and inspirational speech – and all without notes.

The second aide responded: ‘Do you think he could still do it? Isn’t it a bit late? Is there time enough to plan it properly?’ A few of the elderly ladies looked round and tutted disapprovingly. The two aides moved out of the room and started an animated discussion. Would Davis go for it? He loves a bit of a risk, doesn’t he? But he’s never been confident about his speaking. He surely wouldn’t risk his whole leadership campaign on that one speech, would he? Maybe not, but the others may do – Cameron, for example, what’s he got to lose? He’s got to plan something dramatic at the conference. And Fox. It would be typical of him to upstage everyone, wouldn’t it?

The two nodded knowingly, plans already hatching in their minds.

And so it came to pass. All five leadership contenders set out their wares at the party conference. But by the end of the week there was only one speech the conference representatives were talking about – and that was Davis’s. How had he pulled it off, was the most common reaction? Where on earth had it come from?

In truth, it had all been very simple. Davis had studied the video of Ann Widdecombe’s 1998 conference speech, when she had been the first to break the tradition of speaking from an autocue or from a typescript; it had been an almost evangelical performance. He had also studied Bill Clinton’s lectern-less speeches.

Having initially dismissed the idea of delivering such a speech as ‘barking mad’, he increasingly warmed to it – and, to cut a long story short, pulled it off. In spades. ‘The most memorable conference speech from a Tory since the Lady wasn’t for turning’, said ITN’s Tom Bradby on the lunchtime news. It was a remark which provoked the Cameron team’s Greg Barker to launch a bitter tirade at Bradby outside his Imperial Hotel bedroom door several hours later.2 The BBC’s Nick Robinson was equally effusive: ‘It was the speech which secured Davis not only the leadership, but the affection of his party.’ Leading Tory policy wonk Nick Boles, someone everyone had assumed would support Cameron, told Sky News: ‘That was what I had been waiting for. It was the speech of a party leader on his way to Number Ten. Davis knows what modernising entails and he’s got my full support.’3

The next day, with only a handful of MPs publicly backing him, David Cameron withdrew from the campaign, having delivered a lacklustre conference performance. ‘We got it so wrong’, said Cameron’s emotional campaign manager, George Osborne, but the writing had been on the wall for some time. A week before the conference, Cameron supporter Ed Vaizey had signalled in an unguarded aside to one of the Davis campaign team that the end was nigh, and that he would soon be transferring his allegiances. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

‘Ah, the boy Vaizey’, sniggered Derek Conway, ‘he can see which way the wind is blowing’. Conway was the Davis campaign’s numbers man – the keeper of the records. ‘If he comes over, he’ll bring a few with him.’

Much to the campaign’s surprise, when Cameron pulled out, it was without signalling anything formal to Davis himself, and he made no demands before publicly declaring his support for Davis. ‘What on earth is he playing at?’ mused Davis’s campaign manager, Andrew Mitchell. ‘He could have at least asked for Shadow Home Sec.’

A week later MPs trooped down the Committee Room corridor to vote. With Cameron and Rifkind gone, only Fox and Ken Clarke remained on the ballot paper to challenge Davis. At 6.30pm that night MPs crammed into Committee Room 14 to hear the chairman of the 1922 committee, Sir Michael Spicer, read out the result. He rose slowly to his feet, revelling in the moment. ‘The results of the Conservative Parliamentary Party leadership ballot first round …’ ‘Get on with it’, shouted a male voice from the back of the room. Sir Michael started again, as if he was punishing the heckler. ‘The results of the Conservative Parliamentary Party leadership ballot first round are as follows: Liam Fox 32, Kenneth Clarke 66, David Davis 100. I therefore declare that Kenneth Clarke and David Davis will contest the party members’ ballot.’

Few had expected Davis to win a clear, albeit narrow, majority of MPs. Speculation mounted over whether Ken Clarke would pull out, thereby saving the party the cost of an all-members’ ballot. Party activist John Strafford, a doughty campaigner for internal Conservative Party democracy, immediately took to the airwaves to put the case for the vote taking place. Clarke’s team were split. His canny campaign manager Richard Chalk relished the battle ahead, but he knew that the numbers didn’t stack up and that, barring a miracle, Davis would win by a landslide. He recognised that although party members rather liked Clarke’s bluff style, they would never trust his views on Europe. At midday on the Wednesday, he walked into Clarke’s office and advised his candidate to pull out. ‘I’ve drafted a concession statement, Ken’, he said. ‘You may want to consider it.’

On Tuesday I encouraged the Parliamentary Party to send a clear signal to the membership in the country – to tell them who commanded the greatest level of support in Parliament to lead us into the next general election. I hoped that would be me. Earlier this morning I telephoned David Davis to congratulate him on his vote. In a very short time David has come a long way. I, too, have travelled a journey. But it is one which stops here. I made another call this morning, to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Michael Spicer, to tell him I would not be allowing my name to go forward to a ballot of the party members in the country and that I am pledging my support to David Davis as Britain’s next Conservative Prime Minister. I do not pretend this has been an easy decision. There will be many in the party who believe I should allow the membership to have its say. But to carry on when I am clear in my own mind that there is no prospect of winning would be a self-indulgence. Three years ago, David stood aside in favour of Michael Howard in order to allow the party a chance of uniting before the election. That was the right decision. My decision today, while painful for some, and which I know will be criticised by others, is essential if we are to take the fight to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as soon as possible. By standing aside now I want to give David Davis the best possible chance of hitting New Labour where it hurts through the autumn – and I intend to do all I can to help him. When Michael Howard set the timetable for this leadership election he took a risk. But it was a risk worth taking. For the first time in some years people are actually listening to what we are saying; they are receptive to our ideas; they are willing us to win. Our challenge now is to unite behind our new leader, support him in both good times and bad and carry the fight to Labour.4

But five minutes later events took a different course. Chalk took a call from the BBC’s Nick Robinson, who informed him that CCHQ were briefing that a Davis coronation was likely to happen by the end of the week. Indeed, this was coming from the party chairman Francis Maude himself, Chalk soon ascertained. ‘Get me that fucking Francis Maude on the phone’, barked Chalk to a campaign aide. It wasn’t a pretty conversation. Chalk accused Maude of scuppering any chance of a concession and wondered what on earth he was playing at.5 He suddenly became aware of a hulking presence by his side. ‘Give me the phone’, demanded Clarke. He put it to his ear. ‘Francis, you can take your off-the-record briefings and shove them where the sun don’t shine. My campaign continues.’ And with that he slammed the phone down. ‘Onwards!’ he declared.

Over the next six weeks the two candidates traipsed up and down the country debating at regional hustings and taking part in TV debates. Neither made a great gaffe and neither wiped the floor with the other. In the result of the final ballot, announced on 6 December, David Davis won with the expected two-thirds share of the vote.

His victory speech was magnanimous. He set out three priorities for his leadership: to unify and modernise the party, to have a root-and-branch review of all party policies and institutions, and to look like an alternative government.

Later that day he started building his shadow cabinet. Although Davis was seen to come from the right of the party, he was also a political realist; he knew that he had to build some bridges with the centre-left. His first call was to his defeated rival. ‘Ken, I need you on board’, he said. ‘Will you serve?’ He knew full well what the answer would be, but it suited him to go through the motions.

His next call was to William Hague. This time Davis hoped that the answer would be more positive, as he been at great pains to court Hague throughout the leadership election. Hague had been out of frontline politics for four years, and many questioned his hunger for office. Furthermore, Davis and Hague had never been close, despite both representing Yorkshire seats; Hague had found it difficult to forgive Davis for refusing to serve on his front bench during his own leadership. Whatever his reservations about returning, however, Hague knew his duty.
So, Hague was on board – but not, as all the pundits had speculated, as shadow chancellor or foreign secretary. No, he was to be party chairman, with a remit to shake up the party structures, revitalise the troops, radically change the candidate selection processes and go round the country stirring up enthusiasm. Importantly, it would also leave him time to write his books. Job done, thought Davis. Who could possibly think that would be a bad appointment? Apart, possibly, from Hague’s wife Ffion …

But then the difficulties started. George Osborne has only been in the shadow chancellor’s job for six months. Osborne and Davis had always got on well, but Davis wanted his own man in the post; he was a keen reader of political history and knew that he and his shadow chancellor needed to work hand in glove. It was Damian Green who got the call. His first reaction was to quote Margaret Beckett when asked by Tony Blair to be Foreign Secretary. ‘Fuck me!’ he exclaimed. Although on the dripping wet socially liberal wing of the party, Green was as dry as dust economically and had played a pivotal role in advising Davis during the leadership election. Osborne was made shadow chief secretary.
What to do with David Cameron? Cameron and Davis had known each other for a long time. For a brief period they had met each Tuesday and Thursday to work out John Major’s best lines for Prime Ministers’ Questions, but they had never been close. Davis regarded Cameron with suspicion. He had never warmed to Etonians – but he also recognised Cameron’s political skills and his ability to communicate on TV. Davis had received many plaudits for his performance as shadow home secretary and he had shifted party policy towards a much more libertarian stance, in the face of bitter opposition from Michael Howard. He wanted to appoint Cameron to succeed him but needed his reassurance that he would not seek to revert to the old authoritarian ways. It was an assurance Cameron was happy to give. ‘Don’t worry, David’, Cameron joked. ‘I’ll make sure I have Shami Chakrabarti on speed dial 1!’

In other appointments, Andrew Mitchell became shadow foreign secretary, succeeding Liam Fox, who decided that any other job would be a demotion and flounced off to the back benches. Francis Maude, an ally of Davis in the 1990s, was sacked, and no place was found for Oliver Letwin. Derek Conway became Chief Whip.

Long-time Davis ally Nick Herbert was put in charge of a full-scale policy review, with a remit to report by the summer of 2007. ‘Look at everything, Nick’, ordered Davis. ‘Nothing is sacrosanct. Nothing.’ It was a remark Davis was to live to regret. Herbert set about his task with vigour. He was a member of the shadow cabinet but with no specific portfolio. But it wasn’t long before he grew frustrated by the inability of his colleagues to think radically and innovatively. Many of them, he felt, were still stuck in the politics of the 1990s. His solution was to ignore them completely while he patiently constructed a policy platform under the old Davis campaign slogan of ‘Modern Conservatism’.
~

The next few years proved tough. It took Davis some time to adjust to the rigours of leadership. He resented the fact that he couldn’t just ring up a journalist for a gossip, as had been his wont. He hated the glad-handing of senior party bigwigs and hated even more the inevitable schmoozing of party donors. Even worse was the interest the press took in his family. He and the Murdoch empire were already at daggers drawn over his stance on civil liberties, so it came as little surprise when his press spokesman, Guto Harri, took a call from the editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, alerting him to the fact that the next day his paper would be carrying an interview with the wife of a man who had run a company Davis had shut down while working for Tate & Lyle. The man had committed suicide a few months later.

‘That’s it,’ spluttered Davis, when he was told the news. ‘These people are out of control. I never want to hear Coulson’s name again.’ It proved to be a vain wish.

Herbert’s policy review continued apace, but in mid 2006 a serious leak occurred, when the Daily Telegraph published a story that Herbert was actively considering a radical proposal to cut the armed forces. He considered the MoD budget to be unsustainable and argued that Britain needed to take a less active role in policing the world. ‘DAVIS TO CUT ARMY BY A FIFTH’, raged the Telegraph front page. Liam Fox, the former shadow foreign secretary, took to the airwaves to denounce the proposal. In an interview with Sky News he said: ‘No one who calls themselves a Conservative could possibly consider cutting Britain’s armed forces by a fifth.’ He continued: ‘Whoever wrote this paper should be ashamed of themselves. I hope our leader will take action against them.’ Meanwhile, shadow defence secretary Patrick Mercer issued a statement which amounted to saying ‘over my dead body’. It was a sign of things to come.

William Hague, however, had the party in the palm of his hands. For him, being chairman was the perfect job: no policy work, appearing on the Today programme every other day, attending a few strategy meetings at Conservative Central Office (as it had been renamed), and glad-handing party bigwigs. It left all the time in the world to continue writing his history books.

One of Hague’s first acts was to reform the candidate selection process. When he had been chairman, Davis had started the process of attracting more female candidates, which had been carried on by Theresa May and Liam Fox. But it had been to little effect. When May argued in shadow cabinet for positive discrimination and the formation of a priority list of female candidates, David Cameron put the counter case. ‘We need positive discrimination like a hole in the head’, he said. ‘Surely we should be going out there and looking for better female candidates and encouraging them to come forward?’ Davis concurred. ‘Stop putting so many useless men on the list, and increase the proportion of women’, he suggested.

Gradually the Conservatives started to rise in the polls. An increasingly unpopular Tony Blair was in constant unarmed combat with his Chancellor Gordon Brown. It looked like a government which was falling apart at the seams. Blair’s dominance in the House of Commons was fading as every day passed. Davis proved an unexpected hit at Prime Minister’s Questions, regularly besting Blair at the despatch box. ‘You were the future once’, was one of his best lines, fed to him by David Cameron at their regular Wednesday morning planning session.
In late 2006 Davis and his constitutional affairs spokeswoman, Theresa May, published plans for the creation of an English Parliament. For several years Davis had been concerned at the constitutional imbalance left by Labour’s devolution plans. He scented a growing unrest among the English, who saw their hard-earned tax monies disappearing north of Hadrian’s Wall and west of Offa’s Dyke. And still the Welsh and Scots whinged.

Several years earlier Davis had supported a campaign, run by the maverick Tory MP Teresa Gorman, proposing the establishment of a full-scale English Parliament which would have full control of domestic policy. Davis had formed a secret policy group to consider the future of the Barnett Formula – it didn’t have one – and the powers and make-up of a proper English Parliament. His plans were denounced by The Guardian as ‘endangering the Union’ and by The Independent as ‘stark staring constitutional vandalism on an industrial scale’. The public, however, saw it differently – even in Scotland.

Davis was famed for his reputation for wargaming every possible scenario. He knew that his biggest test would come when Blair eventually handed over to his rival. Unlike many of his advisers, Davis knew that he shouldn’t underestimate Gordon Brown. He regarded him as a formidable machine operator; what he lacked in empathetic skills, he more than made up for in sheer ruthlessness – which was why Davis always expected Brown to call a general election as soon as he could politically get away with it. He told his closest aides that the most likely date was the autumn of 2007. He told Nick Herbert to ensure that a draft manifesto was ready to go, and to ensure that no one saw the text until he had personally signed it off. He knew it would be incendiary.

What Davis hadn’t counted on was the astonishingly impressive performance of Brown during his first two months as Prime Minister. He displayed a calm sure-footedness and an ability to react to a crisis which few would have credited him with. Slowly but surely the Conservative lead in the polls evaporated. By the beginning of September it was clear that if Brown went to the country he might possibly pull off an historic fourth Labour win. The Labour Party conference at the end of September took on the air of a pre-election rally. Rumours were rife that Brown would call the election on the day of the Conservative leader’s conference speech the week after. It was then that Davis launched what became known inside CCO as Operation Sidewinder.

And it was in those few days that Brown’s hubris proved to be his undoing. A visit to Iraq was meant to show a Prime Minister on the world stage, in contrast to pictures of the Conservative leader quaffing champagne at his conference. Instead, Davis’s press spokesman successfully persuaded the media that it was a political stunt, using Our Boys to aid his re-election efforts. But the real missile was to come on the Tuesday of the Tory conference. On the Monday the shadow chancellor, spurred on by shadow chief secretary, George Osborne, announced the abolition of inheritance tax for anyone with assets of less than £2 million. The papers loved it. But it was a day later that the Brown stuff hit the fan in Number Ten. Up got shadow foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell to announce that a future Conservative government would hold a national referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. ‘We’ll give the British people the chance to decide the nation’s destiny’, he declared. ‘We can’t put this off any longer, and the Conservative Party will abide by whatever decision the nation makes.’ The roar which emanated from the conference hall was louder than anyone remembered – even from the days of the Leaderene herself.

‘Master stroke’ was the headline on the Daily Mail website. ‘Davis takes huge gamble’, said The Guardian. ‘Everybody Out’ trilled the Daily Telegraph. The fact that it was already a Liberal Democrat policy announced by Ming Campbell only two and a half weeks earlier had passed most people by.

Within hours, UKIP leader Nigel Farage announced the disbanding of his party. ‘We’ve achieved our aim’, he declared. ‘I urge all our members and supporters to hold their noses and vote Conservative, and then vote No in the referendum.’

When the Tory leader heard the news he punched the air. ‘Gotcha’, he exclaimed to no one in particular. Did he mean Farage or Brown? No one really knew, and frankly, no one cared.

By the time David Davis stood up to make his leader’s speech two opinion polls had been published, one showing a three-point swing to the Conservatives and another with a marginal Tory lead.

It became known as the Election That Never Was when Gordon Brown announced the following Saturday that he’d never planned to call an election anyway. The million leaflets being pulped in a south London incinerator told a different story, as Simon Walters reported in the next day’s Mail on Sunday. ‘FRIT & FRAZZLED’ declared the front-page headline above a Photoshopped picture of the beleaguered Prime Minister being fed into the incinerator alongside his election leaflets.
~
It was not all plain sailing. One-time leadership contender David Cameron resigned from the shadow cabinet in June 2008 following the loss of a Commons vote over a government bill designed to permit the holding of terror suspects for 42 days without charge. He also resigned his seat, causing an unwelcome by-election in Witney. Davis was furious: Cameron had given him very little notice of his intention. He was so shocked by the young pretender’s action that initially he found himself unable to speak. That soon passed, and a stream of vitriol was aimed at Cameron, in conversations with his advisers. ‘If he wins his fucking by-election, I’m not having him back’, ranted Davis. ‘If he does it once, he could do it again.’ He came under pressure to replace Cameron with his former rival Liam Fox, but that was never going to happen. Fox would have turned the party’s home affairs policies back in an authoritarian direction. And in any case, Fox and Davis had never really got on since they had both served as junior Foreign Office ministers in the mid 1990s. Instead, Davis turned to his long-time ally Dominic Grieve. ‘I should have appointed him to start with’, he remarked to colleagues.

The next two years were punctuated by leadership election rumours – and for once, they had nothing to do with the Conservative Party. Even so, there were those in the Tory hierarchy who couldn’t get used to the Davis leadership. ‘I thought that Major chappie as a bit of a pleb but he had nothing on this Davis oik’, one Tory peer was overheard saying at a party conference soiree. Davis laughed when he saw it in the Black Dog column of the Mail on Sunday. It was something he’d heard many times before during his rise through the Tory ranks, and it troubled him not a jot. Any chips on his shoulders had been despatched many moons ago.

Davis had one or two more surprises up his sleeve. One of his first acts as party leader had been to announce the end of the traditional party conference; the 2007 conference proved to be the last of its kind. In future two three-day events would be held – one a policy forum, where party members would have proper policy debates, and the other an unashamed American-style rally. The overwhelming feeling was one of relief that no longer would the party have to trek to Blackpool and experience rubber-sheeted beds.

Secondly, the candidate selection system was changed so that 50 per cent of candidates on the approved list were women.6 Associations were still free to choose who they wanted, but the format of selection meetings was also radically changed. Gone were the set-piece speeches, in were filmed TV and radio-style interviews. And the final three candidates were forced to debate with each other, on the platform at the same time.

One thing the Tory leader had despised, both during his time as party chairman in 2001–02 and afterwards, was having to grease up to party donors. He knew he had little alternative, but the thought of listening to another lecture by Stuart Wheeler made him physically queasy. So he set up a secret group to consider the future funding of political parties, led by former party chairman Lord Parkinson. For once it didn’t leak.
It had long been in Davis’s mind that he should announce a formal commitment to reform party financing right at the start of the election campaign. He knew there would be flak from the trade unions and the Labour Party, but the electoral gains would be huge, especially after the cash-for-honours scandal and the sacking of Labour Party General Secretary Peter Watt over the loans affair. Indeed, Watt agreed to appear alongside Davis at the press conference in April 2010, at the beginning of the election campaign, at which he announced that, under a Tory government, from 2013 no individual company or donor would be allowed to donate more than £50,000 in any twelve-month period. There would be a five-year transitional period in which all parties with any national or European representation would gain an element of state funding, but that would disappear after 2018. There was a minor storm about the BNP being eligible for state funding, but that soon blew over. ‘If we can’t raise the money to survive, we don’t deserve to survive’, was the message Davis wanted to transmit. ‘We’ve got to prove to people that we’re worth supporting.’ He said that a future Conservative administration would make donations of any sort to political parties tax-deductible. In effect, he was suggesting the transformation of political parties into charities.

And so the election campaign continued. It was dominated by the three TV debates between the party leaders. Although they all received high ratings, none of the three scored a knockout blow. Nick Clegg did surprisingly well in the first debate, but Davis was thought to have equalled him by concentrating on the TV audience rather than the audience in the hall. Both stared, gimlet-eyed, into the camera.

The only near-knockout blow to any of the leaders came in the last week, when Gordon Brown was caught on a microphone in Rochdale criticising a woman voter for her views on immigration. Rather like the ‘Prescott punch’ in 2001 it had the opposite effect to that which political commentators had imagined. Brown became a different politician during the last week of the campaign and gave the speeches of his life. Davis, meanwhile, concentrated on not dropping a bullock. Internal party polling looked good, but the result was on a knife edge. Campaign Director Lynton Crosby said it was the first election in many years that he couldn’t call.

Davis spent polling day in his constituency. At 9am he and his wife Doreen were filmed casting their votes. He spent the rest of the morning in one of his outbuildings, climbing up the wall on his mountaineering equipment.

Reports started to come in of a much higher than expected turnout. What did it mean? Were people turning out to vote to eject Gordon Brown, or was it Labour voters who were turning out in unexpectedly large numbers to save him? Within hours the country would find out.

~

Author’s note

I was David Davis’s chief of staff from May to December 2005, so I have written this story from that perspective. Some of the events described above really did happen. Some I have adapted and others I have completely made up. If Davis had won, there were several initiatives which would have been implemented which I describe above (albeit perhaps in an exaggerated form) but much of what I write is clearly meant to be fictional.

Or is it?

Notes
1 This conversation took place between Iain Dale and Davis press officer David Hart.
2 In reality the confrontation was between Iain Dale and Tom Bradby.
3 Nick Boles played a leading part in spinning the Davis speech for Cameron.
4 This is a rewritten version of a concession speech Iain Dale had prepared for David Davis that day.
5 This conversation actually took place between Iain Dale and Francis Maude.
6 This had in fact been a Davis promise in the leadership campaign.

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Saturday Diary: A Little 'Present' From Dude

17 Oct 2011 at 20:07

*“Wow, congratulations!” That was the two word text I sent to Norwich North MP Chloe Smith when I heard of her promotion to the dizzying heights of Economic Secretary to the Treasury last Friday. It’s quite a meteoric rise for a 29 year old in only her third year in Parliament. And to be honest I am not sure that in the long term it will do her any favours. Already newspaper articles are appearing littered with anonymous quotes from jealous colleagues who feel that it should be them rather than a female 29 year old who got ministerial preferment. I understand their sense of ‘miffedness’. After all, it was they who did the heavy lifting in opposition only to be shunted into the sidings because of the need to provide 20 ministerial places for the Liberal Democrats. Many of them believe that Justine Greening’s elevation to Transport Secretary and Chloe Smith’s appointment owe more to the Prime Minister’s need to rebuild his popularity among female voters than their inherent political ability. Whatever the truth, Chloe Smith will know that she has something to prove over the next couple of years – to her colleagues, the electorate, and maybe even to herself. She wouldn’t be human if she didn’t approach the job with some degree of trepidation. Most of us are far less confident on the inside than our public persona suggests, and politicians are no different.

*On Monday the Conservative will again tear itself apart over Europe. It’s like it’s 1999 all over again. MPs have the chance to vote on whether there ought to be an In/Out referendum. Eighty MPs have already signed up to a Commons motion supporting the measure, but the Tories and Labour have idiotically imposed a three line whip on what is a backbench motion. Had Cameron allowed his MPs a free vote there wouldn’t be any fuss at all. Instead it is now being seen as a battle between the party leadership and the backbenches. People on the extremes of the argument think Europe is the most important political issue of our age. I agree, it is important, but YouGov polls never place it in the top ten issues people talk about down the Dog & Duck of an evening. Indeed, on my LBC phone in show it is something I discuss regularly. But unlike education, crime or health, it is not a subject which gets the phone lines jammed. Unwittingly, the MP who has drafted the motion for debate has given his colleagues a reason for rejecting it, because he thinks there should be three options in any referendum – stay in, get out, or stay in and repatriate powers. What on earth happens if the vote splits evenly? So if I were an MP who was rather afraid of the reaction of his Eurosceptic local party I could easily turn round and explain that I was going to vote against the motion on Monday because it is drafted badly. And it is.

*I have coined a new law – Dale’s Law. Dale’s Law is simply that whenever there is a big, breaking news story I take a night off from my LBC radio show. Last Friday, the night Liam Fox resigned, I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair and on Thursday night I missed out on covering the death of Gaddafi because I was hosting A Night With Ann Widdecombe in Harpenden. OK, my choice, you might say, and you’d have a point, but the Gods of News really seem to be against me!

*I have spent the last 24 hours shaking my head about the amount of hand ringing on the BBC about the death of Gaddafi. Dear oh dear. Who are we to pass judgement on how the Libyans dealt with him? Frankly, he deserved what had been coming to him for 42 years, and if I were Libyan. I’d have been out on the streets celebrating too. Enough of this cant about not revelling in the death of another human being. Gaddafi lost all rights to human compassion when he sold weapons to the IRA, embraced the murderer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and ordered the murder of thousands of his own people. Not to mention Lockerbie. No, I can’t feel any smidgeon of sorrow that he was shot instead of tried in a court. If that makes me look hard, compassionless, cold blooded then I am sorry. Because I’m not. I feel huge compassion for his many victims and their families, who still live with the consequences of his thirst for blood. Gaddafi got what was coming to him, and I am proud that we have a government which was willing to support those who sought to overthrow him. It shows that liberal interventionism can work in the right circumstances, but that’s to say we can repeat it everywhere. But just because we can’t intervene everywhere doesn’t mean we shouldn’t intervene anywhere.

*Puppy Update: Dude the Jack Russell has now perfected the art of climbing onto tables. Even if all the chairs are tucked under the table, he manages to clamber up, and then stands proudly on the table until someone removes him with an admonishment. The dogs sleep in the kitchen. One morning this week I walked into the kitchen to find both Dude and Bubba asleep in their baskets. But I also found a little “present” on the kitchen table. Apart from nearly being sick, I did find it quite funny. My partner did not. I don’t think Dude will be doing it again…

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The Question Eurosceptics Will One Day Have to Answer: Are They in the Right Party?

17 Oct 2011 at 20:05

Earlier today I tweeted…

“Can anyone identify a single EU power this government has repatriated so far? Taps fingers waiting…”

Needless to say, a good few hours later I am still waiting. And that is partly why Conservative MPs are so annoyed by the government’s stance on the EU Referendum vote. If David Cameron had set out to ratchet up the heat in advance of this debate he couldn’t have done a better job. It is an object lesson in how not to handle his party.

His first mistake was to move the date of the debate. The reason given was to allow him and William Hague to attend. Er, why? It is a backbench, non binding motion. What on earth was there to gain by the PM and Foreign Secretary attending? Answer, nothing. And frankly, I doubt whether that was the real reason anyway. I think it had far more to do with shrinking the amount of time constituents would have available to lobby their MPs on the issue.

The second mistake was to let it be known in advance that the government intended to impose a three line whip. Madness. How to score an own goal in one easy lesson. They should have given an air of total relaxation about the vote.

These two basic errors have ensured that however many MPs vote in favour of David Nuttall’s motion, it will be seen as a massive defeat for the Prime Minister. And he will have deserved it. Did he learn nothing from John Major’s experience? Major tried to pretend he was a Eurosceptic and was found out. Cameron seems to be playing the same tune. It’s all very well blaming it all on the LibDems and saying that he can’t do anything Eurosceptic because the LibDems veto it. Well, Prime Minister, show some balls. Show some leadership, because if you don’t now, in a very short time you will be forced to.

Frankly, the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be an irrelevant sideshow. As I wrote in my Eastern Daily Press column yesterday…

People on the extremes of the argument think Europe is the most important political issue of our age. I agree, it is important, but YouGov polls never place it in the top ten issues people talk about down the Dog & Duck of an evening. Indeed, on my LBC phone in show it is something I discuss regularly. But unlike education, crime or health, it is not a subject which gets the phone lines jammed.

That may well change. Why? Because I cannot conceive that there won’t be treaty changes to emerge from the Eurozone crisis. And then Cameron will be faced with a choice. Does he the grant the referendum he promised at the last election, or does he duck it and say ‘Ah, this only affects the Eurozone, it has nothing to do with us’. I can’t see that he could really do that and get away with it after telling us constantly how a Eurozone crash would be catastrophic for the British economy. But it’s no doubt what the Euro-quislings who infest the Foreign Office will advise him to do.

Ducking a backbench motion is one thing. Betraying a promise on a referendum in those circumstances would be quite another. And surely the LibDems would then persuade him to have In Out referendum at the same time – isn’t that what they promised in their 2010 manifesto?
Going back to tomorrow’s debate. Unwittingly, the MP who has drafted the motion for debate has given his colleagues a reason for rejecting it, because he thinks there should be three options in any referendum – stay in, get out, or stay in and repatriate powers. What on earth happens if the vote splits evenly? So if I were an MP who was rather afraid of the reaction of his Eurosceptic local party I could easily turn round and explain that I was going to vote against the motion on Monday because it is drafted badly. And it is.

But I’d like to think I’d have the courage of my convictions and vote the right way.

But whatever happens, I’d hope that the Conservative Party has the sense not to return to the bad old days of the 1990s. Louise Mensch calling Eurosceptics “Labour’s little helpers” on Twitter is exactly the sort of thing that isn’t helpful.

Some tough things will be said over the next 48 hours. Tory MPs should think very carefully before they open their mouths slagging off their colleagues. Electorates rarely reward split parties. You’d have thought the Tories might have worked that out by now.

Whatever the result tomorrow, Eurosceptic Tories should be pleased that they have achieved one thing over the last few days. They have put more pressure on David Cameron to do the right thing when a new Treaty change is proposed. That was frankly the best they could ever have voted for.

And if he doesn’t deliver at that point? Well, many will have to ask themselves some very searching questions. And one will be, am I in the right party?

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EXCLUSIVE: Fox Didn't Discuss Buckley Knighthood With Harvey Boulter

9 Oct 2011 at 20:08

Liam Fox has made clear that he thinks there are some deeply suspect motives on the part of those who are trying to bring him down. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that at the time, but I am now beginning to build up a pretty good picture. And it ain’t pretty. It all seems to revolve around this Harvey Boulter character (chief executive of Porton Capital), who has been the one feeding details of his Dubai meeting to an all too willing Guardian newspaper.

Mr Boulter is in a legal dispute with 3M and George Buckley in the United States. It is entirely possible that both Adam Werrity and Liam Fox may be called to give evidence in the court hearings. So it is clear that from Mr Boulter’s point of view, if he can discredit Werrity and Fox as witnesses it will be ‘job done’. In essence, that’s what all this seems to be about. And Boulter thinks he has done a pretty good job so far.

One of Boulter’s allegations is that he discussed with Liam Fox in Dubai the position of George Buckley’s knighthood. Indeed, he has said that Fox promised to bring it up in Cabinet and recommend that the knighthood would be rescinded. As you can imagine, The Guardian was all over this like a rash. But unfortunately they omitted a vital part of the story and one can only speculate on their motives for doing so. Had they told their readers the full story, they might have been less outraged.

I have seen an email dated 14 July from the Porton Group, Boulter’s company, in which they deny any such discussion with Liam Fox ever took place concerning the rescinding of George Buckley’s knighthood. Here’s the relevant passage…

“At the end of the meeting, in the presence of others, Mr Boulter provided Dr Fox with a brief update on the litigation with 3M, concerning Acolyte, a rapid MRSA detection technology invented at Dstl (the research agency of the MoD). The MoD recently stated publically that “Dr Fox met with Mr Boulter to discuss an entirely different matter. At no point did he enter into any discussion about this legal case, nor was there any mention of anyone’s knighthood.” While Mr. Boulter did update Dr. Fox on the litigation with 3M in, he did not enter into a discussion with Dr. Fox over the issue of Mr Buckley’s knighthood.”

So, are we expected to believe that The Guardian didn’t know about this email? Are we really expected to believe that? THIS is what their journalist, Rupert Neate, wrote on 4 October…

“Hours after the meeting, which was not attended by officials and at which no notes were taken, Harvey Boulter, chief executive of Porton Capital, emailed 3M looking for a payment of $30m (£18m) to settle a dispute over the sale of a potentially lifesaving treatment to the US company and mentioning the award of a knighthood to 3M’s British-born chief executive, Sir George Buckley. The email said: “As a result of my meeting [with Liam Fox] you ought to understand that David Cameron’s cabinet might very shortly be discussing the rather embarrassing situation of George’s knighthood … At a headline of $30m+ you will allow the MoD to internally save face.”

How does that fit with the Porton Group statement in an email dated 14 July which says…

“While Mr. Boulter did update Dr. Fox on the litigation with 3M in, he did not enter into a discussion with Dr. Fox over the issue of Mr Buckley’s knighthood.”

I find it inconceivable that Rupert Neate and The Guardian weren’t aware of this when the story was written.

So, Mr Neate, over to you. Did you know about the Porton statement or not? If you did, why didn’t you include it? And if you didn’t, would you now like to correct one of your allegations? And if this one is so shaky, it does rather make one wonder about the others, doesn’t it?

As I said at the outset, there seems to be more to this than meets the eye. Follow the money. Whose interest does it serve if Liam Fox and Adam Werrity are discredited? Harvey Boulter and his company. Perhaps The Guardian’s investigative resources might be deployed looking into him, as well as the Defence Secretary. So far they seem to have swallowed Boulter’s version of events hook, line and sinker.

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The BBC Cuts: Hit The Weakest Where It Hurts

8 Oct 2011 at 20:12

Anyone would think someone had died. No, it was just the screams emanating from the BBC once reality had set in and the BBC management announced how it was implementing its 20 per cent cuts. In typical BBC fashion they have gone for the soft targets and put off the difficult decisions. Instead of actually sitting down and thinking “what is the BBC for and what should it do”, it has come up with cuts which at first sight look crass and cackhanded – and hit many of the wrong people and departments. I mean, how ludicrous is it to banish business bulletins from the BBC News Channel? And to decomission Five Live’s only investigative programme. And to chip away at various bits of newsgathering. I could go on.

Now, here’s a question for you. Which BBC Radio programme employs 54 news journalists? Today? No, they have 16 reporters. PM? no, guess again. WATO, I hear you say? No. Wrong. Unbelievably the answer is, wait for it, Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme. While you recover your composure let me tell you that Radio 1’s news output is composed of half hourly 30 second bulletins and two ten minute news programmes at lunchtime and teatime. Yes, ladies and gentlement, that’s where your licence fee goes. It’s the unique way the BBC is funded, you see. Now let me give you the good news. The number of news journalists on Radio 1’s Newsbeat will be cut to 34. Not this year, you understand. Or indeed next. No, there will be a phased reduction from 2013. To 34. Now, I work in a commercial radio station’s newsroom every day of the week. To produce thirty second news bulletins and two ten minute news bulletins takes a fraction of 34 journalists. I know. At LBC we do it every day, and the bulletins are a damned site better than the ones produced by Newsbeat. What on earth do these 54 journalists do all day? Because no one can tell me they are all fully employed.

I see it on 5 Live all the time. Each programme will have a production team of 8-12 people. Some more. You never get a sense of urgency at the BBC. No one ever runs in the newsrooms. They amble. It’s the same on the News Channel. It doesn’t fell like a newsroom. It feels like a morgue. Even when I have been there when a big story is breaking, there isn’t the same palpable sense of urgency, of excitement that you get at Sky, or at LBC.

This isn’t an attack on the BBC. It’s an attack on the way the BBC is managed. And in true BBC fashion, the cuts that have been suggested are misdirected and don’t hit the right targets. Why has Radio 4 escaped any budget cut, yet the axe has fallen on 5 Live? Why does BBC1 escape largely unscathed, yet BBC2 is hit? Why not merge BBC3 and BBC4?

And as for BBC local radio. Well, don’t get me started. In some way it its own worst enemy. It has lost its sense of direction, with a succession of senior BBC managers not really knowing what to do with it. BBC local radio’s job is to do what it says on the tin. Be local. Not regional. Local. And yet in future afternoon and evening schedules will be combined in regional groupings. In a sense it is only mirrroring what is happening in the commercial sector, but it is not the BBC’s job to do that. Saldy BBC1 went down the road of aping ITV1 many years ago. Now the same is happening to local radio. That’s not to denigrate commercial local radio at all. In commercial radio it is all about branding. National brands took over locally a long time ago, with breakast and drivetime shows the only ones with local content. Radio Broadland became Heart in Norfolk, and so it was all around the country. Indeed, it has boosted local commercial radio audiences. But BBC stations are not there to directly compete – they’re there to offer a public service. If I am in Norfolk and listening to BBC Radio Norfolk, I want proper local output, not some networked morming show presented from Colchester throughout East Anglia. If I am in Kent I’m not especially interested in an afternoon show hosted from BBC Radio Surrey or Sussex. Local radio ought to be a jewel in the BBC’s crown, yet it is being taken for a ride. There’s a serious danger that in 10-20 years it won’t exist. And that would be a tragedy. Radio listenership is on the up. It is the one form of media which the internet hasn’t ravaged. People like local radio. They often view it as a friend, a companion. And it is. Shelagh Fogarty, in her weekly diary, wrote that “it’s all about family, companionship, wellbeing – easily as Reithian as education, entertainment, and information.”

A lot has been said about the 25% cuts about to be imposed on BBC London. I should declare an interest here as a presenter on LBC, which competes for audience with BBC London. It seems ridiculous to me that the BBC thinks it cannot sustain a 24 hour radio station in the nation’s capital, but it appears that its afternoon and evening programming will be shared with a greater London region. Its nightly sports programme, with local football coverage will go. In addition, it will axe Sony award winning Danny Baker’s afternoon show. Astonishing. How to kill a radio station in one easy lesson. Don’t get me wrong. BBC London has a lot of fat which could be trimmed. It has a budget several times that of LBC yet has only half the audience. Something wrong there somewhere, wouldn’t you say?

Any organisation facing cuts of 20% is going to have to make decisions which are painful and with which many will disagree. It seems to me that the BBC management have taken the easy way out and cut the areas of least resistance. That’s not to say these cuts won’t be painful in the areas concerned, but they have concentrated the cuts in areas which are not in a position to fight back. How courageous.

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Weekend Diary: I'm Going to be a Stand Up Comedian Iain Dale reveals he's a

8 Oct 2011 at 20:11

  • Well, that’s the party conference season over and done with for another year. I’m beginning to question the point of them to be honest. I went to all three this year for work related reasons and looking back, and given the choice, I wouldn’t have bothered with any of them. The LibDems can at least maintain that they discuss policy at their conference, but now they are in government even their conference was far more stage managed than usual. The Labour and Conservative conferences are both American style rallies or conventions, where party members are preached at rather than consulted. Never, in my 25 years of attending Tory conferences (how sad does that make me sound?) have I seen empty spaces in the auditorium for the leader’s speech. The sad truth is that these events are now more like commercial exhibitions than conferences, and party members are fed up with being exploited. The fact that the conferences have moved from seaside resorts to faceless and expensive conference centres in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool means that for most people it is now costing upwards of £500 to attend a conference. Any normal person would spend that on a weekend in Rome. Unless the parties do something radical and quickly and reform party conferences so that party members get something out of them, the events have a maximum shelf life of three years.
  • Next week I’m off to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I haven’t been there for about eight years. The aim is to identify foreign published books that I think could work in this country. Next year my company, Biteback, aims to publish 120-140 books, which is double what we did this year. People say that the book is dead. They could hardly be more wrong. Hardback sales may be on the decline, but paperbacks are doing OK and we are now experiencing the inevitable rise of the e-Book. Personally I don’t ever want to read a book on a Kindle or an iPad, but I accept that I am fighting against the forces of progress and we are now digitising our entire backlist catalogue. Frankfurt is a pretty ghastly city, but I am looking forward to my visit as it is a rare chance for me to speak a bit of German. I used to speak the language fluently, but it’s a bit rusty nowadays. Tatsaechlich!
  • Many of you have emailed asking how our two new puppies are settling in. Dude and Bubba are now just over three months old and are getting on like a house on fire. They are both very different characters. Dude, the Jack Russell, is super-intelligent, while Bubba is, well, a bit of a thicko. I’m not even sure he knows his name yet. But he is a delightful and very loving little dog. I’ve never had a mini Schnauzer before, but he’s a great addition to the family. Their toilet habits still leave a lot to be desired, but that’s the only bad thing I can say about them. They seem to have on/off switches. They’re either acting like Duracell bunnies and creating havoc or they’re asleep. There doesn’t seem to be a middle way.
  • Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the first NATO action against Afghanistan. It’s been a tough ten years for all involved. This conflict has lasted for four years longer than the Second World War and it’s one for which politicians still find it difficult to articulate the mission. The nightmare is that we start to withdraw our troops and within a short time the Taliban return. If that happens, the families of those who have lost their lives can reasonably ask: what was it all for?
  • I must be mad. I recently attended a charity fundraiser for the James Whale Kidney Cancer Fund. I knew that extorting money out of everyone there would be a major part of the evening, even though we had all spent a fortune on the tickets. And so it proved. They had a silent auction and one of the lots was a Stand Up Comedy course. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a comedian so I put in a bid, albeit one which was less than half the anticipated price. To my horror I won. Readers may remember than two years ago I did perform a stand up turn at a comedy gig at a party conference and rather enjoyed it. I even got some laughs. Which was nice. I now have to go on this course and then perform at a proper comedy club in central London. It could all go very, very wrong.
  • Quantitative Easing. There. You’ve switched off already, haven’t you? But you shouldn’t, because it’s vital that people understand what it means. Essentially it’s the printing of money. The government has just injected £75 billion of QE into the economy in a desperate attempt to kickstart growth. It didn’t work before when Gordon Brown did it, and it won’t work now. All it will do is fuel inflation in the long term, and there is no more insidious economic disease than inflation. It appears today’s politicians have failed to learn the lessons of the 1970s. This is hardly a surprise as many of them weren’t born then and don’t bother reading history books.
  • This column appeared in Saturday’s Eastern Daily Press

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Why Foxy Foxy Is In Trouble

8 Oct 2011 at 20:09

The fact that supporters of Liam Fox, like Tim Montgomerie, are openly talking about his likely successors, demonstrates just how deep in the doo-doo the Defence Secretary is in. In some ways this is one of those political squalls all politicians go through at some point in their careers, but this one feels, well, as if it has legs. And if the Westminster lobby senses that Fox has been wounded, they will go in for the kill.

The trouble is that Liam Fox has quite a few enemies. And not all of them are in Number 10. The others are predominantly in the senior echelons of the military. They can’t stand him, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they have been briefing the Sunday papers like there’s no tomorrow.

So what’s the case for the defence? Well it’s certainly not the one just advanced by Tim Montgomerie on the TV just now. He reckons that Fox will be safe as, apart from IDS, he’s Cameron’s only Cabinet conduit to the right*. That simply won’t wash. If you’re going to defend Liam, you have to do it on the facts of the case. These are the questions which Fox needs to answer, according to Patrick Hennessy…

  • Why did Mr Werritty, 34, visit the Ministry of Defence 14 times in just over a year, despite not being a government employee, and join Dr Fox on an official ministerial trip to Sri Lanka this summer.
  • Has Mr Werritty ever had access to any classified MoD information?* How was Mr Werritty able to broker a meeting at a Dubai hotel in June between the minister and businessmen to discuss technology that allows service personnel to make encrypted phone calls home and according to them, a commercial dispute with American firm 3M?
  • Why, until he was told to stop doing so, Mr Werritty also handed out business cards bearing parliament’s portcullis logo which described him as “advisor [sic] to Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox.”
  • Is there any truth in claims that Dr Fox had agreed to raise the Dubai-based company’s dispute with 3M in Cabinet?

These are a lot of questions. There can be little doubt that Fox and Werrity are close friends. The question here is about judgement. Werrity’s judgement is clearly in question – you just need to look at the business cards to know that. But is Liam Fox’s? Anyone who knows Liam knows he’s basically a nice guy who is keen to impress and keen to please. He is a friendly guy. He doesn’t like saying no. So is it possible his best friend asked him to do something and he said yes? Entirely. Would he have necessarily thought through the consequences? I doubt it.

I was just discussing this with an MP of my acquaintance. I said that if DD had been Defence Secretary it is entirely possible I might have visited him in the MoD 14 times in 16 months. I certainly wouldn’t have had a business card saying I was his advisor, but if politicians aren’t even allowed to see their best friends in their departments, we are entering a very dangerous world. The difference between me and Mr Werrity is that none of my business interests are in the area of lobbying or defence. And that’s where Liam’s danger radar should have been twitching. Or maybe one of his special advisors should have alerted him to the danger.

The Guardian’s emails from Harry Boulter about the meeting with Fox and Werrity look bad. They will look even worse if it turns out there was any financial relationship between Werrity and Boulter. Unbelievably, the Guardian doesn’t seem to have asked him the question!

The other reason we know that Liam is in trouble is because Number 10 made public that the PM had asked the Cabinet Secretary for a report by Monday morning. That didn’t need to be made public, but it was. Draw your own conclusions. Why the haste? Because there are Defence Questions on Monday. Jim Murphy will also ask an Urgent Question, which I suspect The Speaker will grant. It’s also possible there could be an UQ to the PM as this concerns a possible breach of the Ministerial Code. It’s possible but not probable that Bercow would grant that. Basically, Number 10 is trying to insulate itself.

It’s clear there is little love lost between Cameron and Fox. The PM is said to be convinced that Fox leaked the letter on defence cuts he wrote to the PM a few months ago. Cameron would shed no tears over his departure from government, especially as in these circumstances he would be a busted flush politically. But – and it’s a big but – the reason Number 10 may in the end want to put a plug in the plughole before Fox disappears down it is because there is no readymade replacement. Stick with nurse for fear of worse, may be the mantra among some of the less daring advisers in Number 10.

Tim Montgomerie tweeted earlier that Owen Paterson would be an ideal replacement, as he would appeal to the right. Guess again. Harry Cole is touting David Davis. I’ll plead the 5th on that one. The name being mentioned by many is the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell. We’ll see. Or perhaps not.

I think Liam Fox can survive. But only if he comes out fighting and quickly. He’s got some powerful enemies ranged against him. If he hasn’t seen them off by Monday lunchtime, he may live to regret it. It may be too late.

  • Tim Montgomerie thinks I have misrepresented him. I didn’t, because I wasn’t the only one to interpret his comments that way, but THIS is how he has responded on Twitter.

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