Writing wrongs

It's incredible how some journalists think you must be a close personal friend of Lady Thatcher if you have edited a couple of books about her, writes Iain Dale

A lot of rubbish has been written about Margaret Thatcher in the last few days.

Whoever thinks she will be silenced and is retiring into genteel obscurity wants their head examined. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, on the part of many - including the Tory high command.

Bruce Anderson wrote in the Independent on Sunday that only a week ago, Lady Thatcher wrote to the Falkland Islands government declining an invitation to visit on the twentieth anniversary of the conflict with Argentina.

This was based on an "exclusive" in The Times a couple of weeks ago, by Andrew Pierce. The trouble is that it is all - as Lady T's old press secretary, Bernard Ingham, would have said - bunkum and balderdash.

She did indeed write the letter, but in September last year, six months ago, long before her series of small strokes. Lady Thatcher may be retiring from public speaking: that does not mean she is leaving public life.

Three Saturdays ago I received a phone call from the political editor of a Sunday broadsheet - always a recipe for a nervous heartbeat.

Could I, he asked, corroborate a story he was planning to run, that Margaret Thatcher has an early form of Alzheimers? I most certainly could not.

I thought he must have had trouble standing the story up if he was phoning me: I have only ever met the great lady a handful of times. He didn't run the story.

It's quite incredible how some journalists think you must be a close personal friend of Lady Thatcher if you have edited a couple of books about her. And so it has continued.

On Friday I did a short piece with Sky News, which described me as a "friend" of the former prime minister, and yesterday, the Sunday Telegraph described me as an "old friend".

The Observer, however, took the biscuit when they described me as the publisher of her new book, Statecraft. If only it were true. Anyone would think I was getting ideas above my station.

Anyone who has ever organised a large conference or dinner can imagine how I felt on Friday afternoon, when I heard that Lady Thatcher's speaking engagements had been cancelled.

She was booked to speak at the Politico's fifth anniversary bash in a couple of weeks, and an hour earlier I had just sold the 490th and last ticket. In fact, we had started a waiting list. The hotel was booked and confirmed and everything was running smoothly.

And then, courtesy of Sky News, I heard the dreaded news. Not only did my life flash in front of me, but so did my business. £30,000 is a lot of money to find.

As I write this, two days later, we are still hoping that she may put in an appearance even if she won't be able to make a speech.

There's a tremendous capacity in this country for understanding and I have so far received only one cancellation alongside dozens of messages from people confirming they still want to come. Phew.

The question is, just how do you replace a speaker of the stature of Lady Thatcher? Answer: don't even try.

So instead of having one speaker, we'll have three or four. Sometimes quantity has to substitute for quality.

Meanwhile Nick Cohen's piece in yesterday's Observer about a novel satirising New Labour, which no one will publish, was almost spot on. His central accusation is that British publishers won't touch it because it is anti-New Labour despite being brilliantly written.

I have almost lost count of the number of anti-Labour or pro-Conservative books my publishing company has been offered, which the rest of the publishing world has turned down.

I have no desire to become the repository of other people's cast-offs but it does seem odd that the rest of the publishing industry is so keen to ingratiate itself with New Labour.

In the case of Carole Hayman, the author of the book Nick Cohen describes, there may be a less sinister reason why she is without a publisher.

I looked at it some time ago. Carole is an ebullient character and is very persuasive, but the book's plot is, as Nick Cohen says, verging on the preposterous. It would make a brilliant TV satire, but I had my doubts about it as a book.