My interview with Ed Balls on Wednesday seems to have created a bit of a stir. According to the Huffington Post it was “the most cringeworthy LBC interview in, well, recent days.” Personally, I thought it was a hoot. You see Ed Balls had come top of a Mumsnet survey of sexy MPs. They described him as a “sexy beast”. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Anyway, we sent our reporter Tom Swarbrick out to see what the good citizens of London thought and then played this out to him. As the Mirror’s Owen Bennett put it, “The Shadow Chancellor was appearing on LBC radio when host Iain Dale surprised him with a small package”. Er, I can honestly say I have never surprised anyone with a small package, but perhaps that’s a story for my column in Attitude Magazine, rather than on ConservativeHome. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ed Balls waxed lyrical about his sexual prowess – he’s a “long, slow burn” in case you’re at all interested – and it was all good fun, at the end of an hour long phone in which covered heavy economic subjects. Naturally the Daily Mail wrote this up as “excruciating”. In truth, it was nothing of the sort. It was a good laugh which showed Ed Balls has a great sense of humour and in reality is a thoroughly nice guy – far away from the stereotype image that I am sure most of the readers of this column have of him. If we want our politicians to be robots and never show a sense of humour then that’s fine, but I’d rather have politicians like Ed Balls who aren’t afraid to stray off the political path once in a while and be entertaining.
All of which brings us to Natalie Bennett and her car crash on LBC. It was an interview when Nick Ferrari appeared to hand her a silver revolver and asked her if she’d like to shoot herself. And the duly did. Ferrari can be quite an aggressive interviewer if he thinks a politician is not on their game, but in this interview he just let Natalie climb on the chair, put the rope around her neck and jump. Now, there’s no doubt that she wasn’t feeling her best and had a massive cold. I have sympathy with her on that score as I too had a massive cold at the beginning of the week, and believe me, presenting a four hour phone in show when you’re not feeling your best is quite a challenge. I wasn’t at the top of my game but I got through it on the basis that the show had to go on. The fact is that Natalie Bennett should never have got out of bed that morning, but as a party leader it’s quite difficult to pull a sickie on the day of your general election campaign launch. But she needed her media adviser to tell her not to do the interviews and just to appear at the launch, then go home and take a hot toddie.
I suspect, however, that there won’t be too many long lasting effects from this “brain fade”. The Greens, like UKIP, has a slight Teflon quality, where bad news bounces off them – a bit like it used to be for the LibDems.
The final thing I would say about this is that this type of Brain Fade happens to Boris Johnson rather often, yet interviews let me get away with it. In future, we should all be far more damning of Boris and not let his bluster and general bon homie mask the fact that on many issues he can appear just as ill-informed as Natalie Bennett. Admittedly, it happens less and less nowadays, but if his political ambitions really are as high as we are led to believe, he will need to be much more on top of complicated policies than he sometimes appears to be.
Back in the 1990s there was a great series on ITV starring David Jason called A BIT OF A DO. Every episode revolved around some sort of family “do” like a wedding or funeral and the disasters and rows that happened. Whenever something bad happened David Jason would frown and utter the words “today, of all days…”. I wonder if Nigel Farage had those words on his mind when he woke up in Washington DC to hear the UK’s immigration figures announced. He and his diary planners (not that he has any, as he keeps his own diary) must have been kicking themselves that they were 3,000 miles away when it was announced that the net immigration figure for last year was 298,000, higher than any year under Labour. Talk about an open goal for Farage to score. But he couldn’t. Because he wasn’t here. Instead he had been persuaded by his trusty adviser Matthew Richardson to show his face and speak at the CPAC Conference, which takes place every February in Washington. The Conservative Political Action Conference really is a gathering of the ‘faith, flag and family’ wing of the Republican Party. I don’t mind admitting that my definition of the word ‘conservative’ differs somewhat from theirs. And I suspect that even Nigel Farage might be left feeling a little queasy by it all. I remember one anecdote from my last visit to CPAC in 2008. One afternoon I got talking to a young girl from Alabama at CPAC and was explaining to her the differences between British and American Conservatives. I mentioned that neither abortion or gay rights were big issues in British politics. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve never met anyone who’s gay.” I then offered my hand and said, “well now you have!” She roared with laughter and then added: “We don’t have any gay people in Alabama.” I told her the horrible truth and we then joked that they had all probably left or been driven out of the state.
It’s been reported that Sol Campbell is now the official CCHQ choice for the next Conservative Candidate for Mayor of London. I may be accused of partisanship here because of the nasty things he says about West Ham in his recent book, and call me old-fashioned, but exactly what qualities does Sol Campbell possess to make him the standout candidate? Apart from being black, of course. And a pseudo-celebrity. Do we know his views on anything apart from the Mansion Tax? Has he ever shown any aptitude for the cut and thrust of political life? Or an ability to run anything? Now to be fair, Boris Johnson wasn’t actually the ideal candidate back in 2007 when he was selected, and he hasn’t done a bad job, but are we really reduced to choosing a candidate just because of their celebrity or the fact they happen not to be white? The three declared Tory candidates so far are Stephen Greenhalgh, Andrew Boff and the appalling Ivan Massow. How anyone can take Massow seriously is quite beyond me. He’s announced several policies so far, none of which could remotely be called Conservative – hardly a surprise, I suppose bearing in mind his history of political flip-flopping. No doubt when he is rejected, as he surely will be, it will time for another defection. No doubt he will question ‘Is it coz I is gay?’ It’s his habitual excuse for political failure. I may have failed to get elected, but I’ve never trotted out that excuse and never will.
Moving on to Kensington, where Sir Malcom Rifkind saw the political writing on the wall and quit before he was pushed, it will be interesting to see how the selection develops. Victoria Borwick has already declared her hand and according to Guido Fawkes has hired Nick Wood’s Media Intelligence Partners to boost her profile.
The front runners for Kensington mostly seem to be a pot pourri of sporting celebs – Andrew Strauss, James Cracknell and Frank Lampard (yes, really). I know nothing about Strauss’s
political ambitions but I do know that James Cracknell has been serious in pursuing a political career and was a Euro candidate. But in Kensington we are told that Number Ten are determined to have a woman selected. The finger is being pointed at Cameron adviser Laura Trott, who has tried for various seats with no luck so far. I’ve no idea how good she is, but isn’t it rather sickening that in virtually every final at the moment, the same nine or ten people are appearing? No one can seriously tell me that this is all down to local decision making.
One name I was very pleased to see on the betting odds for Kensington was that of Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish. Tim and I may not agree on anything but I think he’d make a superb parliamentarian. Thoughtful, passionate and with a strong set of ideological beliefs. Trouble is, he’s having none of it. It’s a sad indictment on our politics that someone like Tim isn’t at all interested in pursuing a career in elected politics. I’d like to think that at some point he might indeed still appear in Parliament. In ermine.
And just for the record, even though my name has appeared at 33/1 on the betting odds for Kensington, I have absolutely no interest either. Not even a flicker. Not a twinge. Just as well seeing as it’s nearly five years since I have been on the candidates list. One of my LBC colleagues reckoned he could make a quick buck by putting some money on me to win and I kept protesting I didn’t want to do it (was he trying to get rid of me?!) and he then said: “What if David Cameron rang you up and told you he wanted you to stand?” I didn’t even need to think. “No, Dave,” I’d say, in the style of a sketch show character whose name I have now forgotten, “It’s not a maverick radio presenter you need in Kensington, it’s a future Prime Minister. I bid you farewell, now get on with running the country.”
His next call would probably be to Katy Hopkins.
Now there’s a thought. I really shouldn’t put these thoughts into people’s heads, should I?
But I am serious. Whoever wins Kensington should be someone who you could imagine in ten years’ time leading the Conservative Party and then the country. If I had a vote there, I wouldn’t even consider shortlisting anyone who didn’t meet that criteria.