A Tribute to Katy Scholes

9 Aug 2014 at 16:40

No, she hasn’t died, but she has left Biteback after five years, and we are all very sad. However, she has got a brilliant new job on Adam Boulton’s programme at Sky News and we all wish her well. I am convinced that within five years I will hear the phrase “This is Katy Scholes, Sky News, Lahore” bellowing out of my TV screen. Katy’s journey with Biteback started when she sent us this rather innovative email back in January 2009…

Hi Emily,

I see online that your team struggles in the department of tea making. Worse. I hear that you spend your valuable time debating its concoction and distribution around the office.

I can help you.
Hear me out.
I am brilliant at making tea.
I basically have a qualification in brewership. (‘basically,’ meaning… not entirely true but still highly talented.)

The plan is, I make tea for you and your colleagues, I work with you doing all manner and mixture of menial and exciting tasks for you and your team. I work my socks off for Total Politics with a little help from you, perhaps a recommendation? perhaps a chance at a meeting with you or someone in need of a ‘professional caffeine handy?’ (decaf permitted, fussiness will go unprejudiced.) The upshot is, with me dishing up great cuppa’s like Mary Poppins, you will be hailed beneath that ever coveted banner of ‘Employee of the Month’ in no time, just purely for having great taste.

I am an aspiring journalist in need of a foot in the door, it would be my pleasure to work with you as I have been reading Total Politics on a monthly basis since last July when I first discovered its juicy glossiness on a shelf in a Dubai Megamart. I have an attentive interest in the media, constantly following the news and am a huge fan of The Guardian newspaper but always read widely from other publications also. My interest in politics from a young age led to my BA from the University of Nottingham in Politics and American Studies. I read numerous magazines, (inc. Focus, The Economist, Weekend, The New African) because I love to learn, I love the process of researching and knowing more about the world. If you would be willing to give me the opportunity to start my career from the grassroots in your office… well, Emily, I will make you tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Thanks for your time, you can contact me at this email address or by phone xxxxxxxx

Kind regards,
Katy Scholes

Well anyone who can write an out of the blue email had to be worth seeing and so we took her on, first of all with Total Politics, then with Biteback Publishing where she developed her skills to take on the role of Marketing Manager.

Katy is one of those people who makes an office tick. She is loud, funny and emotional. Despite having the attention span of a flea (a bit like me) she was brilliant at her job. It was she who put together all the logistics of the Political Book Awards and ran the whole event despite having no experience of running anything like it.

I kind of knew I would lose her this year, though. Had she gone to another publisher I would have moved heaven and earth (by which I mean bribe her with more money) but when she told me what her new job was I knew it was exactly the right thing for her.

At her leaving do on Thursday night it was a tribute to her popularity that virtually everyone who has ever worked for Total Politics and Biteback Publishing turned up to wish her well. Normally at these events I give a little speech, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it because I knew that the waterworks would start. Luckily it was in a pub garden so it didn’t seem appropriate anyway. All I did was give her a big hug and whisper in her ear: “I can’t give a speech, but you know what you mean to me”.

Katy would easily be in the top ten people I have ever employed in my thirty year career and I can’t speak more highly of her than that. Thank you Katy for your time with us, your brilliant work, and above all your friendship. And of course the dirty jokes. It’s been a blast.

PS You can read Katy’s own version of her time at Biteback in her valedictory blogpost HERE



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BBC Radio Norfolk: Iain appears on Treasure Quest

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ConHome Diary: I am Proud to Be a Zionist (If It Means What I Think It Means)

8 Aug 2014 at 13:24

I’ve spent much of the last month being accused on my radio show of being pro-Zionist. It seems there are as many definitions of that word as there are types of baked bean. If it means supporting the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, then I happily plead guilty. The evidence of my pro-Zioninst support, it seems is my “neocon” credentials and my “friendship” with Douglas Murray. I am not, nor ever have been a neocon and although I am an admirer of Douglas Murray’s work, he is not a friend of mine. An acquaintance yes, but can you really be someone’s friend when you have never met them outside of a work situation? Surely a friend must have been to your house or you to theirs or met your family, or at the very least you go out for a meal or drink with them from time to time. I’d happily have Douglas as a friend, as I regard him as a very nice guy, but I find it odd that people on the internet appear to love to judge me by the company I, er, don’t keep.
I suppose in some ways Sayeeda Warsi was always a resignation waiting to happen. The only surprise has been that it has taken more than four years to happen. A minister who treated the phrase ‘collective responsibility’ with a degree of caution was always likely to fall on their sword at some point, or face the sack. Some of her fellow ministers were somewhat irritated by the latitude shown to her by the Prime Minister and his team of enforcers. But to them she was a graphic demonstration of the way the party had changed. Female, northern and muslim. In some ways she is irreplaceable, and for a party which has always been challenged by its inability to attract ethnic minority support, her departure is a considerable blow. It is also a blow to the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond. I’m told that William Hague made it his business to ‘handle’ the noble Baroness and ensure that she didn’t go off piste too often, whereas Hammond has adopted a different approach. His less inclusive approach to his junior ministers, which he also adopted at the MoD according to my source, did not sit well with Warsi.

So Joyce Anelay has replaced Sayeeda Warsi at the FCO. I got to know her when she was the Tory home affairs spokesman in the Lords. Hers is an inspired appointment as not only is she hugely competent she will be immensely popular with diplomats around the world. She’s a bridge builder and someone who has really earned the right to sit round the cabinet table. I welcomed her appointment on twitter by remarking that she has the best hair in the House of Lords, only to be assailed by ‘right on’ lefties who clearly object to any compliment being paid to a woman about her appearance. Frankly, I couldn’t give a monkey’s arse what they think of what I said.
Of course, if justice had anything to do with it (and it rarely does in politics) the job may well have gone to the Chancellor’s former PPS Rob Wilson. He was offered a job in the reshuffle but in the end it went to someone else because his book IN THE EYE OF THE STORM [ add link ] was about to appear, and if you’re a minister you can’t publish a book without Cabinet Office approval. On such threads do ministerial careers hang. So come on Prime Minister, next time there’s a vacancy, do the right thing.
I’ve never quite understood this fascination with Ed Miliband’s so-called ‘weirdness’ and ‘geekiness’. All politicians are weird to an extent. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in politics. But people who are weird and geeky are invariably not good when meeting the general public. Miliband isn’t like that at all. I’ve met him on several occasions and each time he’s been great company and lacking any degree of geekiness. I think he is a bit like John Major in that if everyone in the country could meet him face to face he’d be far more likely to win the election. But that’s not possible so he has to try to convey his real personality through the media, and that’s certainly Ed Miliband’s challenge over the next nine months. He’s got to get over this newspaper obsession with his apparent tendency to look odd in photographs. I say apparent, because we all know that in a film roll of 200 pictures of the same incident, there’s bound to be one that makes someone look odd. And that’s the one the photo editors always pick when it comes to the leader of the opposition. It may be unfair but that’s the way it is. Last Friday I did an hour long phone-in with Ed Miliband, in the slightly odd setting of a hotel in the marginal seat of Hastings. Politicians are usually incredibly nervous of these occasions, but Miliband soon got into his stride and answered each question well, avoiding using any of the usual soundbites. There wasn’t a mention of the phrase ‘cost of living crisis’, which is quite some going when you’re on air for the best part of an hour. The only time he was somewhat lost for words – as indeed was I – was when someone asked him which part of Number Ten he would refurbish first if he won the election. I thought he missed a trick on that one. He should have said he’d replace the black door with a red one! Trouble is, the Daily Mail would have probably thought he was being serious and done another double page spread on Red Ed.



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LBC 97.3 Iain talks to David Aaronovitch about Ed Miliband

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WATCH: The Ed Miliband Phone-in on LBC

1 Aug 2014 at 21:48



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ConHome Diary: Call Ed Miliband!

1 Aug 2014 at 14:00

On Monday night Newsnight had an interesting report from their Policy Editor Christopher Cook about an idea from David Willetts to allow universities to take over the student loan book of their students. David Willetts then appeared in the studio and was grilled by Kirsty Wark. Willetts ended by praising Cook’s “excellent journalism”. It may of course have indeed been excellent journalism. Of course his ability to “get” the story was in no way influenced by the fact that Cook used to work for Willetts as his research assistant. That fact wasn’t shared with Newsnight viewers. What a surprise!
This afternoon I’ll be broadcasting my radio show from the marginal constituency of Hastings. Why? Because Ed Miliband is spending much of the day there and will be doing an hour long phone-in with me, starting at 5pm. It’s the first time he has done this but I reckon it’s a medium he will thrive in. Most politicians do. It’s actually quite difficult for a politician to be spontaneous and show a side of them that few people see. Too often they go into radio and TV interviews primed by their media advisors with a single message to get across, and whatever the interviewer asks they will come out with the pre-prepared soundbite about “helping people through the cost of living crisis by delivering our long term economic plan.” I’ve banned these three phrases from my show as I reckon listeners are fed up with them and switch off when they hear politicians uttering them. Phone-ins aren’t like that. Politicians have to be more spontaneous and give genuine answers, otherwise they are found out. Tune in to LBC this afternoon to see how Ed Miliband does in what for him will be a new environment.

So on Friday it’s an outside broadcast from Hastings. On Monday we’re doing the show from the pavement outside Westminster Abbey as we build up to the service of commemoration to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1. Luckily I will have my friend Keith Simpson with me. He’s a military historian and what he doesn’t know about the war isn’t worth knowing. What I know about the war was gained from A Level history thirty odd years ago. OK, nearer 35. At that time Britain had a relatively small army, but as soon as war broke out tens of thousands of young men rushed to recruiting stations to volunteer. A hundred years on I can’t imagine the same thing would happen if we went to war, even if it was considered for a genuinely good reason. Perhaps as a nation we should ponder that.
I love sport, but have only watched about one minute of the Commonwealth Games. And that was only because I just happened to switch the TV on just as the Mens’ 100m started. It just about says it all that Usain Bolt was in Glasgow but couldn’t be arsed to run in this race. I wonder how long it will be before some bright spark in Brussels comes up with the idea of an EU Games. I’m surprised they haven’t blown billions on it before now. Although maybe the reason they haven’t done it is because it reinforces the idea of the nation state. And Britain would no doubt come top of the medals table .

No doubt next week’s newspapers will be full of the fact that politicians have had the temerity to have a holiday. In August of all months! How very dare they.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Simon Weston

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ConHome Diary: Clegg Has the Leadership Style of a Jellyfish

25 Jul 2014 at 14:42

The appointment of Chris Wilkins as special advisor to Nicky Morgan is a very welcome one. I worked with Chris for six months when David Davis was running for Tory leader in 2005 and have huge respect for him. He’s quiet, measured, thoughtful and full of wise advice. It’s almost as if Nicky has said “get me the exact antithesis of Dominic Cummings.”
A final reshuffle story. Former foreign office minister Hugh Robertson was on a ministerial visit to the Lebanon when he heard the fateful news that he was being sacked. As if that weren’t bad enough, the British Ambassador, upon breaking the news, said to him “I’ve been asked by the Foreign Office to take your Foreign Office pass of you immediately.” Politics is a cruel world, isn’t it. I suspect that feeling of utter humiliation wasn’t exactly assuaged when Robertson found out he is to be awarded a Knighthood, ostensibly for his excellent work on the Olympics as Sports Minister.

As usual this week Nick Clegg has shown all the leadership of a jellyfish. In response to LibDem MP David Ward tweeting that were he in Gaza, he too would probably be personally firing rockets at Israel, what did Clegg do about it? Sweet Fanny Adams. It’s not as if he is a first offender. And for good measure he also tweeted ‘Ich bin ein Palestinian’, as if he thought we would all ignore the use of German in an anti-Israel comment. Ward sits on a majority of 368 in his Bradford seat, which has a very high muslim population. On election night this is one seat where, when I hear the words LABOUR GAIN, I shall be silently cheering. The man is a c**t. And shame on Nick Clegg for not immediately withdrawing the LibDem whip. He gets an opportunity to show leadership and he flunks it.
The Evening Standard headline screamed TORY EX MINISTER TELLS OF REGRET AFTER POLICE CAUTION. Who’s that, I wondered? I knew David Ruffley had been expressing regret over being cautioned over a domestic incident with an ex-girlfriend, but surely there couldn’t have been another example? No there wasn’t. The ‘Ex-Minister’ referred to was indeed Ruffley. Trouble is, being elected in 1997 he has never been a minister. In the story, written by a “Standard reporter” they even said he was an ex Policing Minister. Bollocks. He held the position in opposition for a short while. To the Standard’s credit within twenty minutes of me pointing out the error they have altered the headline to “Tory MP” and also changed the text. Even so, a pretty elementary mistakeadamakea.

Next Wednesday I will be hosting another edition of Call Balls ™ on LBC. I imagine someone will ring in and ask him about the fact that Sharon Shoesmith has just been awarded £670,000 for unfair dismissal. You may recall when Balls was Education Secretary he saw to it that she lost her job as Director of Childrens Services at the London Borough of Islington, following the Baby P debacle. I cheered him at the time and I do now. She ran a shambles of an organisation and deserved to lose her job. Sadly an employment tribunal disagrees. Some say Ed Balls acted inappropriately and outside the law. He didn’t. He spoke for all right thinking people in this country, and I hope he doesn’t regret it at all. We’ll find out at 5pm next Wednesday.
Apologies this diary is shorter than usual. I am on holiday in Norfolk this week and to be honest entertaining my dogs has a higher priority at the moment than writing another 500 words!



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ConHome Diary: There is another story I could have written, isn’t there Prime Minister?!

20 Jul 2014 at 09:17

Yesterday’s Times Diary carried a bit of a bombshell. According to them Lord Ashcroft is keen for me to stand for London Mayor in 2016. So keen in fact that he has never mentioned it to me. Boris says being London mayor is the best job in British politics, so good in fact that he has ruled out standing for a third term. But there are growing numbers of people who believe he regrets making that pledge and is considering ratting on it. Well if he does that, it would save me from prostrating myself at the feet of London’s voters, wouldn’t it? I suppose people put two and two together and think, well, he hosts a four hour radio show in London with half a million listeners, that’s a pretty good platform. Maybe, but I have absolutely no interest in doing it. So let me rule myself out in very clear words which can’t be taken two ways. I’m not going to leave any door open, any chink of light. I’m not interested. I’ve already got what I consider the best job in London and nothing – nothing – could persuade me to stand for any sort of high profile national office again. End of. Period. Is that clear?
Predicting reshuffles is a mug’s game. Enter the mug. On Monday I made 20 predictions on my blog, maybe expecting to get 5 or 6 right. In the end, by my reckoning I got 15 ½ out of 20, which is a record most lobby journalists would kill for (he says modestly). But it was the William Hague prediction which stole the headlines. “You must have had a tip-off,” said some. “You broke the embargo,” said others. In fact, I predicted his demise in this column back in early June, and re-predicted it in my predictions blog on Monday. No one tipped me off, either. It was purely a bit of political wind-sniffing. Sometimes you can make educated guesses, and that’s all it was. Mind you, I was preparing for a lot of egg on my face on Monday evening after Twitter went mad when I suggested to Nick Robinson Hague would be the high profile minister tipped to go. There followed a couple of hours of very nervous shifting in my seat. It was only when Sky said they would be going to Downing Street for a major announcement at 10pm that I realised I had probably struck the prediction jackpot. Didn’t see the Gove move coming at all though. But then again, nor did anyone else, which was a minor miracle seeing as he had agreed to it a week before. The Westminster sieve didn’t leak for once.

Talking of the Govester, I interviewed him on my show on Tuesday afternoon and he was in characteristically ebullient form. I asked what Mrs Gove’s reaction had been to the fact that her husband’s pay had just taken a £36,000 dip southwards. Chief Whips don’t get paid as much as cabinet ministers apparently. He admitted he hadn’t told her, and I got the distinct impression he hadn’t realised it himself. I think it’s safe to say Mrs Gove (aka Sarah Vine) was told later that evening, for the following morning she retweeted a Daily Mail article whose headline described the reshuffle as ‘shabby’. You can’t really blame her, can you?
On Monday night my mobile phone almost melted with the number of texts I was sending to friends who had got the push. One or two maintained it was their decision and their decision alone, while one or two others were bloody furious. Some of the sackings or (un)forced resignations didn’t come as a surprise. Others, however, seem inexplicable. Damian Green’s departure falls into that category – a highly competent minister, good media performer and original thinker who hasn’t really put a foot wrong. If competence counted for anything he’d be in the Cabinet. He is the Alistair Burt of this reshuffle – a universally popular minister who was flung overboard for no apparent reason. Why was David Jones sacked after only a year as Welsh Secretary? Has he actually done anything wrong? I can’t think of anything, although I am told Cameron thought he was too gobby in Cabinet. Hugh Robertson is another very competent minister who is leaving the Foreign Office. He was a huge success as Sports Minister, something which could hardly be said of Helen Grant, whose public profile is less than zero and who stumbles from one disaster to another. Yet inexplicably she remains in post. I say it is inexplicable, but it isn’t really is it? The lesson from this reshuffle is that it is a real political disadvantage to own a pair of gonads nowadays.

If there’s one ministerial wall I’d love to be a fly on it is in the room where Department of Transport ministerial meetings will take place. I imagine Patrick McLoughlin is already honing his chairing skills, which will probably take the form of telling various of his ministers to ‘shut the fuck up’ so he can get a word in edgeways. Susan Kramer is hardly renowned for keeping her mouth shut, Robert Goodwill is a typical blunt northerner and now we have John Hayes and Claire Perry to join them. It’s almost the stuff of which sitcoms are made. I’m not quite sure what John Hayes has got on the Prime Minister but it must be quite something. He really is the Lyndon Johnson minister of this government – better to have him on the inside pissing out, rather than on the outside pissing in.
I wonder if David Cameron will live to regret insulting Liam Fox by offering him the very same junior ministerial job he had more than twenty years ago. Crass isn’t a strong enough word for it. And of course the minister Fox would have replaced, Hugo Swire, was in blissful ignorance that his job had been offered to Fox. He was on a tour of the US and safely out of the country. Had Fox accepted it would have been the second time that Cameron had shafted one of his early supporters, having already sacked him once before, only to bring him back into the fold a year later.

Poor old Cleggy was bleating on about how you can’t take David Cameron seriously on promoting women on his LBC phone-in yesterday. This from a man who in four years hasn’t promoted a single LibDem woman to the Cabinet. Yet again, breathtaking in his hypocrisy. I think people have almost come to expect it of him now.
This week came the bombshell that Clegg is going to rat on his support for the Spare Room Subsidy aka the Bedroom Tax. I don’t know why anyone should be surprised. Like a rat which has been cornered, desperate people do desperate things. And if you’re at 6% in the polls you’re desperate. Labour will now put down another Commons motion and challenge the LibDems to support it. Cameron should call Clegg’s bluff and make clear he regards it as a confidence vote, and if it’s lost the coalition will come to an end. Whichever way the LibDems vote, they’d be even more finished than they already are. Yellow. The lot of them.

There is another story I could have written in this piece. Isn’t there Prime Minister?!



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Duke Safo

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Iain Dale For, Er, Mayor of London! You've Got to Laugh...

17 Jul 2014 at 12:04

One mention in the Times Diary might normally be enough, but two in one day? That normally spells trouble… And so this is what they printed this morning under the headline TIPSTERS HAVE RESHUFFLE BLUES

Political prediction is a dangerous business (Lord knows I’ve made lots of duff calls), but the Telegraph has probably buried its headline from last weekend that suggested Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith would “make way for women” in the reshuffle. Likewise, The Mail on Sunday will forget its “scoop” that Liam Fox was set for a comeback. The champion tipster was the publisher and broadcaster Iain Dale, who made 20 predictions on his website and got most right, including William Hague leaving the Foreign Office, Pickles and IDS staying put and Michael Fallon stepping up. Perhaps Dale might now like to pick a Tory candidate for mayor of London in 2016. With Seb Coe and Karren Brady losing interest, they lack a big hitter.

And then came this…,

Well-lubricated Westminster pub gossip suggested last week that Lord Ashcroft, the party’s eminence grise, is keen on Dale himself standing for mayor. Dale laughs it off, sort of. “I don’t detect a clamour from the good people of London for me to stand,” he says. “I’m not exactly Boris Mark 2. Or maybe that is a good thing . . .”

I think that bit of gossip was incredibly well lubricated. I can assure you that Lord Ashcroft and I have had no conversations about this and if we had I suspect one of us would have fallen off our respective perches laughing at the suggestion. Well, both of us would, probably. The key in this world is to know your limits. And I know mine. Really. In the words of George Bush Snr, ‘Not gonna happen’.



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My Reshuffle Analysis Part 1 - Night of the Wrong Knives?

15 Jul 2014 at 08:16

“Well if it doesn’t happen, no one will ever remember we predicted it would.” Those were the words with which I signed off an interview on LBC on Friday after I had put to Sam my prediction that William Hague would leave the Cabinet in the reshuffle. And so it came to pass. I have to say last night was a bit of a rollercoaster. On the train back to Tonbridge I saw a tweet from Nick Robinson predicting a big name would be leaving the Cabinet. “It’s Hague”, I tweeted back to him. And then Twitter and the world of political journalism went a bit crazy. The Mail Online’s Matt Chorley ran an article purely based on that one tweet. They reckoned it must be true because no one had denied it. “Christ,” I thought. If this doesn’t happen I’m going to have a lot of egg on my face. Then I heard Sky say that they would be crossing to Number Ten at 10pm for a major announcement. “Stay cool,” I thought. This could be it. And it was. “Phew”.

The truth is, I had predicted it in my ConHome Diary column back on June 13th and on this blog yesterday morning. Well, when I say predicted, floated the idea may be more accurate. I hadn’t had any tip off, all I did was sniff the political wind. I just felt Hague might have had enough and might allow one of the big offices of state to be freed up. I certainly hadn’t imagine Hague would stay in the Cabinet has Leader of the House and I certainly can’t quite see the point of it. What’s he going to achieve there. He will be a lame duck Leader from day one. Far better for him to have quit altogether.

The identity of his successor soon leaked and Philip Hammond will apparently be the new Foreign Secretary. This is an interesting appointment for a number of reasons. Firstly, at a time when EU negotiations are about to start he is certainly the most Eurosceptic holder of the post in history. his EU counterparts will note that he has said if there were a referendum tomorrow, he’d vote to leave. But his appointment is also interesting as he now joins George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson as likely successors to Cameron. Cameron is avoiding the mistake Margaret Thatcher made, and giving potential successors the chance to shine. In all likelihood, if the Tories win the next election, Hammond and Osborne are likely to swap jobs at some point, probably not immediately after the election.

Last night I dubbed this reshuffle the “Night of the Wrong Knives.” The sackings were ruthless in their execution, and were reminiscent of Harold Macmillan’s cull of ministers fifty years ago. Not that it benefited Macmillan in the long run. Cameron is known to be an admirer of Macmillan’s, but perhaps this was taking things too far.

Some of the sackings or (un)forced resignations didn’t come as a surprise. Others, however, seem inexplicable. Damian Green’s departure falls into that category – a highly competent minister, good media performer and original thinker who hasn’t really put a foot wrong. If competence counted for anything he’d be in the Cabinet. He is the Alistair Burt of this reshuffle – a universally popular minister who was flung overboard for no apparent reason. Why was David Jones sacked after only a year as Welsh Secretary? Has he actually done anything wrong? I can’t think of anything, although I am told Cameron thought he was too gobby in Cabinet. Hugh Robertson is another very competent minister who is leaving the Foreign Office. He was a huge success as Sports Minister – just contrast his record with the shambolic performance of the current incumbent. But she’s a woman, so she’ll be safe, no doubt.

Both law officers have gone – Dominic Grieve and Oliver Heald. Heald had only been back in government for a year and Grieve’s face never fitted with Cameron. They were at constant loggerheads over human rights, and his departure means that the roadblock to a new party policy on the European Convention on Human Rights can be crafted without regard to Grieve’s concerns.

The other cabinet departures were heavily predicted – Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Owen Paterson. In addition Alan Duncan, David Willetts, Andrew Robothan, Greg Barker, Nick Hurd and Stephen Hammond all resigned or were sacked. So all in all, 14 middle aged white men were disposed of, with several more probably following in their wake today. It’s likely that more than half of them will be replaced by women from the 2010 intake. It seems equally clear that there will be few promotions for anyone elected before 2010.

In other news, I heard late last night that John Hayes is replacing Stephen Hammond at the Department of Transport. Words almost fail me. Personally I like John Hayes, but if ever there was a square peg in a round hole this appointment is one. One MP said to me that this was a “pissing in the tent” appointment. I think we all know what that means, and I reckon he is bang on.

I gave my other predictions in the post below so I won’t repeat them here. Apart from one. Adam Boulton and others are speculating that Grant Shapps is moving. My information is that is completely wrong and he will be staying as chairman right up to the election. He’s acted as a good lightning rod for Cameron and doesn’t mind taking flak even when the fault lies elsewhere – take those posters following the budget which were nothing to do with him, but he went on TV and took the rap like a the trooper that he is. He also gets on with Lynton Crosby, something which is vital for the holder of that post. Boulton tips Gove for the job. I think not. Can you imagine Gove and Crosby agreeing on a strategy? No, me neither.

Whatever happens, we are in for an interesting day.

I may update this post as the morning develops.



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Twenty Random Reshuffle Predictions & Completely Baseless Tips

14 Jul 2014 at 10:22

I’ve seen so much baseless reshuffle speculation in the papers over the last few days that I thought I would add to it. Much of it is based on nothing more than sniffing the political wind, but some people are better sniffers than others. If I get half of these right, I will be pleased!

1. Grant Shapps ain’t going nowhere
2. Mike Penning will be promoted either to the Cabinet, or a frontline position like immigration minister
3. My outside tip is for William Hague to leave the cabinet allowing one of the three top positions to become free
4. Mark Harper to return in a Minister of State role
5. Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry to join the Cabinet
6. Ken Clarke, Sir George Young and Andrew Lansley to leave the Cabinet
7. Penny Mordaunt to join the Ministry of Defence
8. Priti Patel to enter government
9. Kwasi Kwarteng and Jesse Norman to join the whips office
10. Cameron to fire one or all of his original leadership supporters, Greg Barker, Andrew Robothan and Hugo Swire
11. Eric Pickles will stay where he is – to do anything else would signal madness has set in
12. Iain Duncan Smith will refuse to move from the DWP. Again.
13. Gavin Barwell to move from the whips office, maybe to the DCLG to take on Minister for London role
14. Michael Fallon to join the cabinet or kept in post but given the right to attend cabinet
15. Therese Coffey to join the whips office
16. Watch out for a couple of rebels to be given jobs – Tracey Crouch and Stewart Jackson spring to mind
17. Watch out for one or two former ministers to be recycled, just to give the others hope
18. Theresa Villiers for EU Commissioner. Possibly. Or maybe not. This has been one of Number 10’s better kept secrets. Truth is, no one knows
19. Liz Truss to replace David Willetts as Minister of State for Universities with the right to attend Cabinet
20. Alan Duncan will fall on his sword


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Keith Simpson's Summer 2014 Reading List

13 Jul 2014 at 13:34

Another nine months before the General Election and, probably, barring accidents, no more ministerial reshuffles following this summer. Historically, July, August, September have been months of crisis in international affairs, and this summer we commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Parliamentary colleagues who are already yearning for sun and sand may seek escapism in bodice ripping novels, or what Lloyd George referred to as “shilling shockers”. But the more discerning of us, and I include husbands, wives and partners, often seek more substantial literary fare. As usual this selection is personal, and mainly consists of books published this year with an emphasis on history, military history and politics – a sound basis for any political career, and maybe, it would have benefited Tony Blair, if as it is alleged, Roy Jenkins had mused that it would have helped him as Prime Minister if he had read history rather than law at university. Maybe.

Mentioning Roy Jenkins highlights one of the very best political biographies this year. John Campbell has written biographies of F E Smith, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. Whilst Jenkins was still alive he wrote a short, rather uncritical biography. Given access to the Jenkins family papers and interviews with many contemporaries, his Roy Jenkins: A Well Rounded Life (Jonathan Cape £30) is a tour de force, and whilst a biography of admiration is not hagiography.

Attlee is always rated highly as a Prime Minister by British political scientists and has been well served by biographers including Kenneth Harris, Frances Beckett and Thomas-Symonds. So perhaps not much more to add? Well Michael Jago in Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister (Biteback £25) has discovered some new sources and has admirably reworked old ones to show that that whilst Attlee was lucky, he has experience, determination and grit. One for Ed Miliband.

Christopher Sandford is a prolific biographer, whose books include the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Imran Khan and Steve McQueen. Based upon official papers and private correspondence his Harold and Jack The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy (Prometheus Books £15) purports to cast new light on the many layered relationships between Macmillan and Kennedy. One for Obama and Cameron?

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre has written several well received books on spying and espionage in the Second World War. A Spy Among Friends Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (Bloomsbury £20) is more than another biography of Philby, but a study of a man who betrayed his family and friends and lived a life of deceit which enabled him to operate at the centre of British and American intelligence.

It could be claimed that Eleanor, the daughter of Karl Marx, was the first modern feminist. Rachel Holmes has written a dazzling and intensely partisan biography Eleanor Marx A Life (Bloomsbury £25) of an exceptional woman, who was secretary and researcher to her father, but wrote and campaigned on political and social issues in her own right.

For those parliamentarians unfortunate enough to have fallen foul of the law and thus served Her Majesty under constraint, there is always the opportunity to keep a diary and write about those experiences – Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken being two examples. Now the former Labour MP Denis MacShane has followed that example and written Prison Diaries (Biteback £20).

Born into a relatively privileged background but at the shabby gentility end of the social spectrum, Jean Trumpington had a fairly basic education followed by the land army, Bletchley Park, commercial life in New York, wife of a public school headmaster, Cambridge City Councillor, then a life peer and a minister in Thatcher’s government. Jean Trumpington has lived life to the full which comes through with vim in her delightful book Coming Up Trumps A Memoir (Macmillan £16.99).

American politicians who write or have written for them, their autobiographies fall into two categories – those who are at the end of their careers and wish to establish a reputation and retaliate against those who have done them down, and those who use their autobiography as a manifesto for higher office. Hilary Rodham Clinton Hard Choices (Simon&Schuster £20) falls into the second category, but with some interesting, usually positive comments about American and world politicians. A must for Simon Burns.

Many of the books written about Parliament are scholarly but tedious to read. The Labour MP and gadfly Chris Bryant has decided to write about Parliament through its Members, and has published earlier this year Parliament The Biography Volume One (Doubleday) which covered the period from the early middle ages to the early nineteenth century. He has been keen to demolish many old myths about Parliament and its Members. His second volume of Parliament The Biography (Doubleday £25) covers the period of reform from the early nineteenth century to Thatcher. Entertaining, opinionated and partisan.

And yet more books on Churchill? Every form of Churchill’s life, interests, family, relationships and career are being steadily covered. I await with interest Churchill and His Dentists (joke). But to be fair several of the latest studies cover crucial areas of Churchill’s wide ranging interests. Vincent Orange has been an historian of the RAF and biographer of senior RAF officers and in Churchill and His Airmen Relationships, Intrigue and Policy Making 1914-1945 (Grub Street £25) shows Churchill’s fascination with flying and air power.

Churchill disliked conventional education but read and wrote widely, and enjoyed the company of authors, actors and film makers. This side of Churchill’s personality had a powerful impact on how he saw himself as a politician and a minister which Jonathan Rose examines in The Literary Churchill Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press £25).

Edward Thring was a well known nineteenth century headmaster and for thirty-four years was head of Uppingham School which he developed from a small grammar school to a significant public school. No establishment man he, as he fought prejudice and ignorance and developed a broad curriculum and child – centred teaching methods through two influential books. Later in life he became deeply interested in educational opportunities for women. Nigel Richardson has now written the first modern biography Thring of Uppingham Victorian Educator (The University of Buckingham Press £25). One for Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt.

Timothy Heppell has written several books on the modern Conservative Party, and now in The Tories From Winston Churchill to David Cameron (Bloomsbury £18.99) has written an accessible history and analysis.

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP and PPS to the Chancellor, wrote a very good study on the formation of the present Coalition. In The Eye of the Storm (Biteback £20) he considers how politicians and ministers deal with political and personal crises, including Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt and Vince Cable.

With the rise and success of UKIP, Revolt on the Right Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Routledge £14.99) by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin is the “must read” book of the year in British politics.

In their time, both David Davis and Gerald Kaufman have written “bluffer’s guides” on how to be a minister. Now former Labour Cabinet Minister John Hutton with Leigh Lewis, has brought their experiences up to date with his own How To Be a Minister (Biteback £18.99) A must for ambitious thrusters in the Conservative Parliamentary Party 2010 intake.

Throughout the twentieth century and before, hundreds of determined British women defied social conventions of the day in order to seek influence and adventure abroad , travellers, explorers, business women, advocates of reform and women’s suffrage, and as wives and partners of diplomats, soldiers and colonial officials. Yet until 1946, no British woman could officially represent her nation abroad, and the prejudices of Whitehall and the Foreign Office were reflected in many other countries. This is well documented in Helen McCarthy Women of the World The Rise of the Female Diplomat (Bloomsbury £25) One for the Foreign Secretary and the Permanent Secretary.

Famously, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) ridiculed the great ones of the nineteenth century. Now W Sydney Robinson, who recently wrote a well received biography of the Victorian investigative journalist W T Stead, has written The Last Victorians A Daring Reassessment of Four Twentieth Century Eccentrics (Robson Press £20). They are William Joynson-Hicks 1866-1932, the moralising Home Secretary; W R Inge (1860-1954), the gloomy Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral; John Reith, 1889-1971, the moralising and intemperate founder of the BBC, and Arthur Bryant (1899-1985), the ultra patriotic popular historian and journalist.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP for Spelthorne is the author of Ghosts of Empire Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (2012). He is fascinated by the historical pattern – at least from the sixteenth century – of war waging, financial debt and fluctuations between paper money and the gold standard which he explores in War and Gold A Five Hundred Year History of Empires, Adventures and Debt (Bloomsbury £25).

Another MP who is a distinguished historian is Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, and sparring partner at the despatch box with Michael Gove. Biographer of Friedrich Engels and author of Building Jerusalem The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (2005) he has now written a well researched, stimulating and original book Ten Cities That made an Empire (Allen Lane £25) in which he examines the history, culture and development of ten of the most significant cities of the British Empire – Boston, Bridgetown, Dublin, Cape Town, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Melbourne, New Delhi and Liverpool.

The role of a British settlers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, colonial governors and slaves, and the part they played in establishing a dominance in the West Indies and enriching the United Kingdom was graphically told by Matthew Parker in The Sugar Barons Family, Corruption, Empire and War (2012). Adopting a longer and wider historical perspective is Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day (Macmillan £25).

Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat Peer, former Party Leader, former Royal Marine Commando, former international diplomat, is author of A Brilliant Little Operation The Cockleshell Heroes and the Most Courageous Raid of World War 2 (2012). Published to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of D-Day he has now written The Cruel Victory The French Resistance, D-Day and the Battle for the Vercors 1944 (William Collins £25), which deals with the tragic circumstances of the allied special forces and the French resistance at Vercors who were successfully attacked and brutally crushed by the Germans in the summer of 1944.

The international conference held at Bretton Woods in July 1944 and hosted by the USA saw them establish a new financial order which lasted for over thirty years. The meeting was dominated by the personalities and intellectual arguments of the senior US delegate Harry Dexter White and the senior UK delegate John Maynard Keynes. This conference and its consequences is examined by Ed Conway in The Summit The Biggest Battle of the Second World War (Little, Brown £25). This is the second major book in just over a year on Bretton Woods, the earlier being by Benn Steil The Battle of Bretton Woods (2013).

Books on the Gestapo range from personal reminiscences, mainly of victims, general illustrated books recycling secondary sources and known as “military pornography”, and scholarly accounts. Translated form the German The Gestapo Power and Terror in the Third Reich (OUP £19.99) by Carsten Dams and Michael Stolle traces the history of the organisation, its personnel and how it was used as an instrument of coercion and terror in Germany and occupied Europe, and how many of its people escaped punishment after the war and were able to work for either the American, British, or Soviet intelligence services and the West German and East German political police.

High in the mountains of the southern Massif Central in France is the small, remote village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Along with other villages they sheltered and helped Jews, communists and resisters during the Nazi occupation. There were those who collaborated and supported Vichy but the majority did not. Caroline Moorehead has spoken to villagers and those they sheltered and searched the archives to write Village of Secrets Defying the Nazis in Vichy France (Chatto and Windus £20).

British foreign policy is haunted by the legacy of appeasement, and how its interpretation and implementation in the interwar period tainted it forever as a method of diplomacy. This is examined by R Gerald Hughes in The Postwar Legacy of Appeasement British Foreign Policy Since 1945 (Bloomsbury £22.99) and influences our current debates on the Ukraine and Syria.

British military operations since the end of the Cold war have spanned the full spectrum of military commitments from the limited ones such as Sierra Leone and Libya to intense and drawn out campaigns like Iraq and Afghanistan. The RUSI has produced an edited volume based on workshops and a conference edited by Adrian L Johnson Wars in Peace British Military Operations since 1991 (RUSI £20). The political and strategic aspects are addressed and should be one for the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees.

An Intimate War An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012 (C Hurst and Co £25) is an account of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. The author Mike Martin was a TA officer and a Pashto speaker who interviewed dozens of Helmandis to get a different perspective of the conflict in Afghanistan. Media reports and rumours around the Whitehall bazaars claimed the MOD was not best pleased with his account. Government, like many professions and businesses, is susceptible to kicking difficult problems into the long grass. The former Labour Cabinet Minister Charles Charke, experienced government under Blair and has been fascinated by the habit of Whitehall to prevaricate and avoid taking difficult decisions. In The Too Difficult Box The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack (Biteback £25) he has edited a series of lectures by former ministers and experts on all the big issues frequently avoided, from Europe, national security, climate change, pensions, banking regulation, immigration, Lords reform, to assisted dying, just to mention a few. Proactive and stimulating as an editor, Charles Clarke shows what a loss he is to the political world.

With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War upon us the reader is spoilt for choice with an avalanche of books covering every aspect. This summer is a good time to catch up not least because of instability in so many areas of the world. A good overview can be found in Hew Strachan (ed) The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (OUP £25) which pulls together an international team and the latest research. Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Penguin £10.99) is less judgemental on Germany, whilst Max Hastings Catastrophe Europe Goes to War 1914 (William Collins £9.99) is an unapologetic case for the righteousness of the British decision to go to war, but scathing in criticism of the allied political and military leadership. The impact of the war and its legacies is superbly dealt with by David Reynolds The Long Shadow The Great War and the Twentieth Century (Simon & Schuster £25).

For those who have visited or are intending visiting one of the cemeteries of memorials maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission then the role of the first Director General Fabian Ware and the decision to establish these cemeteries is covered by David Crane Empires of the Dead How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves (William Collins £8.99).

Former foreign secretary David Owen is fascinated by what he sees as a “mind frame” at the Foreign and War Offices before 1914 which locked Britain into political and military relationships with France and Russia and is developed in The Hidden Perspective The Military Conversations of 1908-1914 (Haus Publishing £21).

Tim Butcher is an author journalist and explorer and in The Trigger Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War (Chatto & Windus £18.99) he examines the young Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The author literally retraces Princip’s childhood and youth across the Balkans and seeks to understand his background and motivation. It maybe inappropriate given the consequences of the assassination but I am reminded of Spike Milligan’s favourite fantasy newspaper headline “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Found Alive!” First World War a Mistake!”

Thomas Otte is a distinguished diplomatic historian who has written, The Foreign Office Mind The Making of British Foreign Policy 1865-1914 (Cambridge University Press £22.99) and has now published July Crisis The World’s Descent into War Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press £22.99). In this magisterial account the author argues that to understand how and why Europe descended into world war one must recognise the near collective failure of statecraft and diplomacy by the political leaders and diplomats of Europe. One for the FCO and the Cabinet Office.

Although the overwhelming majority of British parliamentarians supported the Liberal government’s decision to go to war on 4 August 1914, there were voices who opposed it, including Arthur Ponsonby the Chair of the Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee. His role and views are examined by Duncan Marlor in Fatal Fortnight Arthur Ponsonby and the Fight for British Neutrality in 1914 (Frontline Books £25).

The role of the public schools in nurturing a cultural and military atmosphere of leadership provided a source of thousands of young men who served mainly as officers in the First World War. In Public Schools and the Great War (Pen & Sword £25) Anthony Seldon and David Walsh have attempted to correct the myths and caricatures whilst detailing the extensive casualties school by school. Alexandra Churchill has taken this further in Blood and Thunder The Boys of Eton College and First World War (The History Press £20).

A lot of popular history was written at the time and more recently looking at the casualties suffered by sportsmen. The annual Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack published during the war included a roll of honour, and by 1919 Wisden had carried almost 1,800 obituaries. Mistakes were made which have now been corrected by Andrew Renshaw (ed) in Wisden on the Great War The Lives of Cricket’s Fallen 1914-1918 (Wisden £40) which is a mine of information.

Max Egremont has written, amongst others, biographies of Siegfried Sassoon and Arthur Balfour. In Some Desperate Glory The First World War the Poets Knew (Picador £20) Egremont combines part group biography of eleven war poets, part history, part poetic anthology. He goes beyond the collective of “war poets” to examine them as individuals in all their complexities.

Thank goodness for political diaries and letters, especially in the period before there were official cabinet minutes. In the era of the First World War several members of the Liberal Cabinet kept diaries whilst Asquith who was infatuated with the young Venetia Stanley wrote her gushing letters, sometimes two or three times a day and in Cabinet meetings. During the war he mentioned political and military decisions and commented on leading personalities. Michael and Eleanor Brock edited these as H H Asquith Letters to Venetia Stanley (OUP £18) in 1982. Finally they have edited a part of Asquith’s wife Margot’s war time diary – Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916 The View From Downing Street (Oxford £30). This volume is valuable not least for the one hundred page introduction and commentary. Margot was vivacious, opinionated, extravagant and frequently wrong, but her diary entries can be both amusing and perceptive. She appears to have tolerated her husband’s infatuation with Venetia Stanley.

Jerry White is a historian of London with several books to his credit. In Zeppelin Nights London in the First World War (Bodley Head £25) he uses official papers, and letters and diaries to show how the war changed London. Everything from the size of the population, the internment of aliens, the growth of war industry, better wages and more work for the working class, the enlistment of men and casualties, wounded and hospitals, and on the zeppelin and gotha air raids.

Given the current situation in Iraq, the historical context is crucial and Ian Rutlege Enemy on the Euphrates The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt 1914-1921 (Saqi Books) provides just such a basis from the Arab perspective and gets the reader beyond the Western front.

Imperial Germany made military and commercial investments in the Ottoman Empire and German archaeologists and historians were active in the Middle East and Central Asia frequently doubling as spies. During the First World War the Germans and Turks attempted to forment an Islamic revolt in British territories, particularly the Indian Empire as well as Afghanistan. Jules Stewart’s The Kaiser’s Mission to Kabul A Secret Expedition to Afghanistan in World War I (I B Tauris £20) considers the secret mission led by von Hentig and von Niedermayer to persuade the Emir of Afghanistan to attack British India. Britain saw this as a credible threat and moved to counter it. One for Rory Stewart.

The cataclysmic nature of the First World War and its impact on the old European order and its consequences is brilliantly addressed by Adam Tooze The Deluge The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 (Allen Lane £30).

Finally, many of you will have visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front or plan to do so, maybe this summer or autumn. There are several excellent battlefield guides, but one about to be published written by a school teacher and aimed specifically at school trips is Gareth Hughes Visiting the Somme and Ypres Battlefields Made Easy A Helpful Guide Book for Groups and Individuals (Pen & Sword Military £12.99)

Speaker Bercow has always been a very keen, competitive tennis player and coach. He has written Tennis Maestros The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time (Biteback £20). Perhaps he will write a second volume on the twenty greatest female tennis players of all time?

Did the ancient Romans smile, laugh, tell jokes? According to the magnificent Professor Mary Beard, a national treasure, there was no word for smile, but they laughed and told jokes unburdened by any modern concept of political correctness. None of the double entendre of Frankie Howerd’s slave Lurcio in the wonderful TV series “Up Pompeii!” As Mary Beard shows in Laughter in Ancient Rome On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up (University of California Press £19.95) Roman humour could be coarse, cruel and lacking in subtlety. It is thought that Enoch Powell, a classicist, was thinking of an old Roman joke when the talkative House of Commons barber asked him how he would like his haircut? “In silence”, was the reply. One for Boris Johnson I think.

Ann Treneman the Times parliamentary sketch writer has written a fascinating if at times macabre book Finding the Plot 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die (The Robson Press £12.99). She accepts it is a personal choice and is open to suggestions regarding omissions. I have suggested she includes the gravestone of Parson James Woodforde the eighteenth century diarist who was rector of Weston Longville in my Norfolk constituency.

Sandra Howard, a personality in her own right and a novelist is wife of the former Conservative leader Michael Howard. Her novels include A Matter of Loyalty, Ex-Wives and Glass House. Now her latest novel Tell the Girl (Simon & Schuster £12.99) must have some autobiographical basis as the main character is a successful career model who returns to the USA to relive weekends mixing with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and JFK and Jackie. Just the antidote to all those books on the First World War.

Keith Simpson MP
PPS to the Foreign Secretary



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