Those of you who fear Norwich might be relegated to League One (as I suppose we must call it) should make a plea to Ed Balls never to invite Gordon Brown to Carrow Road. The man has a jinx. I can think of no international sporting event which the PM has attended where England has actually won. The sight of him joining Presidents Sarkozy and Mbkei on the podium after last Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Final was too much for many. The sound of boos could be heard in virtually every pub in the country. Why is it that politicians of all parties feel the need to impose themselves on events like these? They should stay in their seats and count themselves lucky to be there at all.
For three weeks in a row David Cameron has bested Gordon Brown at Prime Minister’s Question Time. If he’s not careful, Gordon Brown could go the same way as Iain Duncan Smith, who never quite got to grips with PMQs and developed a cough which became known as ‘Freddie the Frog’. Most people in the Westminster village reckon that to the outside world it doesn’t matter how political leaders perform at the weekly cockfight that is known as Prime Minister’s Questions, but I beg to differ. In the end it’s all about confidence. If a political leader doesn’t perform in the House of Commons, slowly but surely they lose the confidence of their own MPs and their authority ebbs away. The electorate also get to sense that the leader in question is, perhaps, not quite the man they thought he was. While IDS had Freddie Frog, Gordon Brown’s lack of confidence is manifesting itself in a stutter, which gets worse when Cameron does better. We should remember that it was Ming Campbell’s disastrous performance at his first PMQs which almost sealed his fate. He started to ask a question about pensions when the late, and much missed, Eric Forth shouted: “Declare your interest!” The whole House, including LibDem MPs, collapsed in a fit of laughter and for Ming there was no going back. If Gordon Brown doesn’t grab back the initiative soon, he will risk being seen in the same way.
This weekend I am doing some media training in Berkshire for an organisation called The Young Britons Foundation. I like to call it a ‘Conservative Madrassa’, as it seeks to radicalise young Conservatives to become more political, and not treat their membership of the Conservative Party as some sort of social deal. It’s interesting that Conservative Future now has far more members than the Labour and LibDem youth organisations put together. This sort of training course teaches them debating skills, media skills and how to campaign. It may sound dull to those not involved in the political process, but this sort of thing is vital for young people from all parties if they are to acquire the skillset to become our politicians of the future. Some people believe we’d be better off without political parties at all, but whenever I speak at these sort of events I leave feeling very optimistic about our political future.
The Liberal Democrat leadership contest is already developing into a two month snooze-athon’ as TweedleClegg and TweedleHuhne vie with each other to find the slightest difference between them. Don’t get me wrong, I know, like and respect both of them. Either will prove a formidable opponent for both the main parties. However, it would have been far better for the LibDems to have had a proper contest in which they could have had a real battle of ideas. Instead, what we are getting is a battle of images – which man’s image best suits the media age, is the only question being asked. Both candidates freely admit it. While unity if purpose and unity over policy is admirable in any political party, you cannot have a meaningful leadership contest unless you have a battle of ideas. That’s why the 2005 Conservative leadership contest did the Conservative Party a lot of good. Two conflicting visions were put to party members and they made their choice. For the LibDems it’s a choice between Nick Clegg, a Cameron look-a-like and the greyer figure of Chris Huhne. Norfolk’s only LibDem MP Norman Lamb has unsurprisingly thrown his weight behind Clegg, but the question is: will LibDem activists do the same? Huhne did well in the 2006 LibDem leadership contest and has slightly more appeal to traditional LibDem activists, while Clegg has more appeal to those on the free market right of the LibDems. Indeed, there are many of us in the Conservative Party who think Clegg is in the wrong party. I interviewed him for an hour earlier this year and could find virtually nothing to disagree with him about. I mentioned this to him after the interview and he joked that he didn’t know who should be more worried by that – me or him. Quite!