Last night I interviewed Andrew Mitchell on my LBC show about the growing crisis in Somalia. The response to the interview was immense. We got a shower of texts, emails and tweets saying what a good job he was doing. Even left of centre people reckon he’s performing well in a job which has traditionally been a political backwater and a bed of nails.
Often, when you do a phone in on aid or disaster relief you get a stream of calls from people wondering why we’re not spending the money in this country rather than on far away economic basket cases. That didn’t really happen last night because I think most people with humane bones in their bodies recognise the seriousness of the situation in the Horn of Africa.
It often seems to be the case that politicians almost get religion when they take on the International Development brief. Andrew Mitchell is no different. Sometimes he’s been accused of going native, while showering African countries with British taxpayers’ money. It’s an unfair and simplistic accusation. He has transformed Dfid in his year in the post. He’s made aid far more dependent on accountability and stopped aid to countries like China and Russia, and is in the process of doing the same to India. Instead it is being far better targeted and far less money is being wasted. He’s also doing a good job of explaining the benefits to Britain of being seen as a development superpower.
There was a time when Mitchell, shall we say, wasn’t the most popular of MPs among his colleagues. He was considered a bit of a greaser. By that I mean someone who was determined to rise up the greasy pole come what may. It was always a source of amusement to us all in the David Davis leadership campaign the amount of time Andrew spent with his opposite number in the Cameron campaign, George Osborne. To be fair, they had always got on well before the campaign but there were many jokes made to Andrew’s face about his new best friend. He took them in good part.
Many of us think that the experience of the Davis campaign switched something in Andrew’s brain. He became more of a normal human being, something many politicians would do well to note. He developed a side to his character that not many had seen before. And the international development brief, which most of us had thought he would hate, suited him very well. I’m told that in opposition Cameron tried to move and promote him but he insisted he wanted to stay in the job. And I suspect there might be a similar reaction when a reshuffle comes.
Some months ago there were rumours that Andrew Mitchell was angling for William Hague’s job. The rumours were the usual type of manufacturered Westminster gossip. Hague is one Mitchell’s closest friends in politics and there is no way Mitchell would have been stirring up trouble for his good friend. But having said that, if Hague were to move on, there is now little doubt that Mitchell would be a strong candidate to replace him.
Whatever happens next in his career, I suspect Andrew Mitchell will look back on his years as International Development Secretary as the happiest of his career.