Friday, June 19, 2009

In Conversation With Alan Duncan

In the new issue of TOTAL POLITICS I have an extended 'In Conversation' interview with Tory front bencher Alan Duncan. You can read it in full HERE. But here are a few extracts...

ID: What is it with you and Harriet Harman?

AD: On a personal level I really like her. We joke, we spar and we tease but I think it shows something important about Parliament. Just non-stop ding dong yahoo biffing and bashing across the dispatch box is not very good box office and people think 'just get real, get a life'... I've got far more out of her by introducing a bit of wit and not being ferocious than if I'd gone hammer and tongs. So although it is humorous it is also serious, and I think it's much more effective politics than just throwing grenades across the chamber.

You're naturally quite a combative politician and I suspect if it had been somebody else in that job you might have adopted a different approach.
Well I'm capable of being combative because I don't like just backing off, and I think in politics you should fight your corner. In that sense - and in many senses - I'm a misunderstood person in politics.
You said you were misunderstood, why did you say that?
Well we can come to that later [laughs]. I am always being caricatured as a short little terrier, but those that know me know that life isn't as simple as that.
But do you think sometimes people deliberately misunderstand you?
Of course.
And do the caricatures hurt sometimes?
Yes, they do actually. I am quite easily hurt but I'm quite good at not showing it. The trouble is that as soon as you start discussing it, people start saying 'pathetic little self-pitying wimp', which is not me either. Discussing one's inner feelings in politics is almost impossible because we live in a pretty malicious political climate and there's insufficient generosity of spirit to ever expect people to be understood. I'm sure Blair had feelings and felt that he was being ripped to bits all the time. That can't have been nice. I think it's better to be tough on people for their politics and their decisions and not their personality.
Do you feel you get far more thrown at you from your own side than you do from the opposition?
Maybe. I haven't seen it recently but maybe it's there. I suppose last January there was a lot flying around in the run up to the reshuffle, but why? If people want to have a go at me they can. I can't quite work out what their motivation might be, but that's up to them.
Do you think it's got to do with money?
I remember about 20 years ago, Peter Luff, who used to work for Peter Walker, said that the one thing Peter Walker regretted was that he got labelled rich before he ever really made any money. I really find it irksome to be labelled a multi-millionaire. I am not a multi multi-millionaire...
Just a multi...
...I suppose I am if I'm dead, but I can't just sign a cheque for a million quid or something. It's one of those modern labels where 50 years ago 'millionaire' was like billionaire today, and still newspapers just stick it in as a label. And yes, it creates resentment. I can't escape the label and compared to lots of politicians I'm nowhere near what they're worth. I certainly would have been if I'd stayed in the oil business, so you can imagine it gets up my nose that not only have I given up being super rich but I'm accused of being super rich when I'm not. It's one of those crosses one just has to bear in this game.
If you had your time all over again would you have still made the decision to go into politics?
If I was starting now, it really saddens me that I would probably recommend to a young professional that they should not do it.
The lack of reason, the vilification - it's almost impossible now in politics to retain one's self-esteem. I'm not just talking about the allowances and expenses issue, I'm talking about in general and from my own point of view. To quote someone I have met once or twice, "I'm not a quitter and I am seeing this through".
How well do you know Gordon Brown?
Gordon Brown's blown it. The man has completely busted the country, he has spent ten years spending other people's money as if there was no tomorrow and now is hitting us all in the gob and I am actually a very angry politician because of that. I think he's blown it and it's going to hurt people for generations. I think he has no leadership qualities whatsoever in the sense of those qualities that unite a country. He is the most divisive, antagonistic political figure I have ever encountered in my life. His only political motivation is to get one over the other side. He is incapable of any kind of general consensual action, and he is pathologically divisive. I think the same goes for Ed Balls. He's the little mini-me who has inherited all the qualities of the man whose boots he has licked for the last ten years or more.

He [Brown] is so tribal and so antagonistic he rarely engages any Conservative person in conversation. I used to bump into him in the street when he lived in his flat in Westminster every now and again. He only ever stopped in the street for a chat once and it was a begrudging few words as I was off to the laundry with all my shirts in a black bin liner. He said: "Oh, what's that? Your manifesto?"
You got a joke from Gordon Brown?
I thought, bugger me, he's got a sense of humour tucked away there somewhere; but it was said with a scowl. But that was it. I find him worryingly odd.
Why should the taxpayer fund your garden?
The outburst of fury is understandable and must be understood. We've reached the absurd and vulgar state of affairs in which a lot of people can't pay their basic bills and MPs look as though they are being paid in luxury items. Public opinion says: 'I don't care what the rules were. You should have applied a better moral code yourself.' I did. I refused to use expenses for TVs and cookers and things, and I declined ever to use the allowance to buy food. I didn't have to, but I insisted on giving receipts. That is why the Telegraph was able to say that what was pretty basic maintenance - which is what the allowance was designed for love it or hate it - was for pruning the roses which it wasn't. If you take Nick Clegg, wasn't it £800 on a rose garden, another £900 on his garden, £800 on curtains, and £1,400 on food? Where was the coverage for that? I don't think taxpayers' money should be used to pay an MP in things; you should just let an outside body decide what they should be paid and get rid of a lot of these allowances. MPs should not be deciding on their own pay and allowances. We are paying the price for prime ministers over the last 20 years not being able to stand up and accept the recommended pay rise and the whips hiding it under the carpet in this disguised allowance system. The world has changed and MPs should have seen this coming. I think I have set a very good example early on in this trouble by recognising the public outrage and getting out a cheque book and saying I don't care what the rules were, even if we were within the rules as all of us were, we are going to sign a cheque where it hurts to show we understand.
But some would say that's all very well for you because you can do that. There are other MPs who are in a very different financial position who are finding it incredibly difficult.
I know, it's a nightmare.
Do you feel that your own reputation has been besmirched by all of this?
Yes, and you have this standoff between politicians who are annoyed and upset that their reputation has been damaged when they don't think it should have been, and the public who say how dare you think you deserve any sort of reputation at all. This is a very corrosive period in British politics.
What would you say looking back on your career in politics so far, what do you think you have achieved?
My generation, the 1992 intake, has helped keep the party afloat through a very punishing decade. In terms of specific achievement, getting stuck into William Hague's leadership campaign and making that work was a very dramatic moment. We were working in the complete wreckage of the party after 18 years in government. There was no press apparatus to speak of in Central Office and I pretty much drove myself to the edge of a nervous breakdown for the six months after William became leader just trying to do the work of ten people in the press office. No one appreciates what was happening behind the scenes there. When I helped William get elected I didn't ask for a job on the Shadow Cabinet or anything like that, I just got on with the real nuts and bolts stuff in Central Office and tried to build up a press capability. But it was too much. The phone would start at six and finish at one in the morning. I just couldn't do it.
There are those who think he didn't treat you particularly well.
Well he had a lot on his plate. I didn't keep a diary or anything but I think I can look back on that and say if I hadn't flogged myself to bits for that year after the election I think a lot of the apparatus would have completely fallen to bits. There were some other players in there too, such as Charles Hendry - George Osborne was in William's office later. But in that period William kept the show on the road. He had some pretty horrid, torrid moments, but look where he is now. He's deeply respected, powerful, assured. The phrase I use is 'combat trained', as you have got to go through the mincer sometimes to come out as a strong politician and few people in Parliament are combat trained in that way.
How conscious are you of being a bit of a role model for gay people in politics?
It cuts both ways. I probably get about three or four letters a week quietly saying thank you. I have never been anyone who parades this and I regard it as something that ought to be matter of fact. But I do regularly get letters saying 'you have really made a difference to my life' and that's very heartening even though I don't like to go and jump up and down about it. In a way I would just rather be shot of the 'gay' label. I've done my bit. I hope it's helped, but the trouble is over the past few weeks exactly the opposite has happened. I've had letters that I know come for BNP-type people and some older people which are vicious. I know exactly what they are saying. You can read between the lines. There's a lot of hatred and nastiness tucked away beneath the surface and I think that actually political leadership had been very important on this and on racism and on other kinds of religious discriminations be it anti-Islamic or anti-Semitism. It's very important for political leadership to have consensual dominance of this issue so that it doesn't go wrong, but when there is an eruption such as we've seen recently, it becomes a pretext for some really nasty stuff. I can never un-derstand why, but people quite often want to have a go at me. It's probably one of the subliminal reasons why, but I have never complained. It's better not too.
I have always thought that this is the reason why that in some ways you have been held back in the Conservative Party and I think your reputation has been affected by this issue.
People accuse me of certain things which are not true because what they are really doing is getting at me because of that. Do I care? No, should I care? I don't know. I once joked with a friend that in politics you should never fall prey to jealously or self-pity. Sheer hatred on the other hand... [laughs]
You got civil partnered last July; do you regard yourself as married?
I don't use the word because, exactly as I said in the Civil Partnership Bill, we must respect the distinctive faith and belief of churchgoers and other religious believers who feel that the word 'marriage' is owned by them really, and that's fine by me. So although people use it as shorthand, I don't. It would be useful if we could find another word for it. But as I said in the debate these are two parallel lines - very similar, but distinctive. Parallel lines do not meet, yet nor do they collide, and we must respect the church in my view. There's room for both and no need for friction between the two.
Is being media friendly a double edge sword? Would you say your most recent experience on Have I Got News For You rebounded on you?
I try to be media friendly rather than a media tart, I'm not just rent-a-quote, I try to lift a discussion to more thoughtful territory...
Like shooting beauty queens?
We will come on to that in a second. One of the deepest frustrations of modern politics is where interviewers think 'how can I trip up a politician today' rather than get them to say what they think. I have been on Have I got News for you four times. Two were great, one was an absolute classic triumph with Brian Blessed and the fourth was a complete almighty disaster because when it was recorded no-one could have foreseen the fury that was about to burst. They recorded longer than ever before, over two hours, and I was knackered by the end of it and it was in the last five minutes that I goofed. I had faith in the editing and they edited it in instead of editing it out. Then of course all the blogs completely distort what happened and you get attacked for what was never said. I think it's a pretty sad world that doesn't any longer know how to distinguish between a comedy programme and really political comment.
But as a politician you aren't allowed to have a sense of humour are you?
We must be allowed to have a sense of humour, although I think there would have been a better occasion than that programme [laughs]. I admit it, it was a disaster but it's all in the editing.
You had a double whammy with making light of all the expenses stuff and murdering this beauty queen.
There's no point in going through this [laughs]. I did not say she should be murdered and, funnily enough, blog and media outrage can sometimes head up to the stratosphere and it doesn't actually bear that much relation to what most people in their daily life think.
I watched that and I thought you were pissed!
At the end I had a headache coming on.
No, at the beginning...
At the beginning, I hadn't had a drop; I'd been sat around the studio for two hours drinking water.
So you would do it again?
I doubt it [laughs].

Quick Fire

Jack Bauer or James Bond?
Definitely Bond

What makes you laugh?
Being interviewed by you [laughs]

What's on your iPod?
So much, but I am hopeless at remembering names, James Blunt and all that lot

Favourite meal?
Tagliatelle carbonara

Sarah Palin or Bree Van de Kamp?
Who's Bree Van de Kamp?
You know the one from Desperate Housewives
Oh God, anyone but Sarah Palin

Who's your favourite superhero?
Superman probably

Favourite Labour politician?
Alan Johnson

Most hated Labour politician?
Sorry Gordon, but you're it

Most formidable opponent?
In terms of me being up against them, it was Alan Millburn when I was shadow health spokesman

Thing you most like about Harriet Harman?
Her cheerful dippyness

Most romantic thing you have ever done?
It's a secret

Favourite comedian?
It's got to be Rory Bremner

You can read the full interview HERE.


Pam Nash said...

Whisper it quietly, but I like Alan Duncan - we, unfortunately, vilify MPs for not having a sense of humour, but then turn round and vilify the ones that have.

I LOVE his Gordo observations!

Anonymous said...

"cheerful dippyness"


Anonymous said...

His description of Brown is the best I've read.

Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

I think we have to give him a bit of slack for the HIGNFY episode as the editing could have made it worse than it really was in context.

The McBroon observation was chilling - when you banter with the opposition MPs and have a total disdain for The Son of the Manse, that is saying something about the PM's pathologically flawed personality.

Mark M said...

Sign. Alan Duncan missing the point of democracy. We don't need an external body to look over MPs pay and expenses. That is what voters are for.

My personal solution is to remove all the rules let MPs claim expenses for anything they feel like, but that all claims will be reported online as soon as they are made. Without revealing specific addresses, enough information will be given to allow people to determine whether there's any flipping going on (city + first part of postcode).

This moves the MPs mindset away from 'what can I get away with under the rules?' to 'is this actually a reasonable expense that I can explain to the public?'.

Coupled with a voters right of recall we can easily clean up parliament without having to give all the power away to a quango, who will be just as useless as the fees office was throughout all this.

Gareth said...

To be fair Gordon Brown probably has good reason to be a bit shirty with Alan Duncan.

Being Scottish 'will stop Brown ever becoming Prime Minister'

paleo said...

This going to make me look very stupid - I didn't clock the fact that Alan duncan was gay until now... Actually, thinking about it, that's a very healthy sign.

Philipa said...

Glanced at the link and thought it was Ian Duncan-Catholic. I cannot stand that man. Anyone who allows his vote to be owned by a Bishop shouldn't be in parliament. No guessing as to why Peter Hitchens likes him: a fundamentalist Christain AND a father in the forces. Blimey its a wonder we don't all wet our pants in deference when Duncan-Married produces a report on how we all should live.

But it's Alan Duncan. He seems alright actually. I couldn't care less that he's homosexual. That doesn't impact on my life.

Bearded Socialist said...

No person who listens to James Blunt is fit for office, end of

Administrator said...

Alan Duncan, Alan Duncan, Alan Duncan! Ohhh the name brings back happy memory of the grilling I gave him!

Gordon Brown said...

shouldn't this interview be titled "Two Queens in conversation"???!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this hijacked Daily Mail poll? 91% of 'Daily Mail readers' have voted yes to the question: should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?

Anonymous said...

Alan Duncan, all very nice but....

What's all this about then?

"Diverting away from MPs' expenses (I'll leave the tough analysis to Jon Craig), it was the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch today which included a speech by David Cameron.

Interestingly it seems the Tory leader has taken a hard line on Iran, going much further than the Prime Minister in his support for the Iranian protestors.

Blogger Iain Dale tweeted this message on Twitter: 'Cameron just told Iranian protesters: "We are on your side". Very different to UK and US government positions.'

He went on to write that David Cameron told the CFI diners that he wants "tough sanctions".

But is this the new Conservative policy on Iran? If so it would be a much harder line than the Government is currently taking on the issue.

Well, I've spent the day trying to find out from the Conservative leader's spokespeople if this is indeed the case...

So far they've not got back to me... but I'll let you know when/if they do."


If that's true then David Cameron is not as thoughtful and politically astute as I thought he might be.

Oh dear > DC sucking up to the Zionists who will probably donate to his party. What about the big picture , DC?

I really hope this is not DC's position on the Iranian election. I hope he remains neutral for now.

Anonymous said...

concerned but neutral

B G said...

Great interview, if I were a serving politician I would never go on Have I Got News For You, the only one I have seen who could match the wit of Hislop and Merton and come away with any credit was Alex Salmond.

Alan Duncan's analysis of Gordon Brown is spot on. I have met both Gordon Brown and David Cameron in a public role. To me there is no comparison, Brown had a misplaced arrogance about him, always with one eye on the camera for a photo opportunity (no pun inteded).

Cameron came across far more as a genuine person. Many people seem to agree with me too.

Plato said...

Great interview - I like Alan Duncan a lot but the HIGNFY did knock him back pretty seriously.

I had no idea he was meant to be an attack terrier. I thought he was more of a Hague wit.

Isn't it funny how different perspectives can be.

Jonny Mac said...

Alan Duncan told my friend she shouldn't call her unborn baby Ella because 'that's a name for a charlady, not a young lady'. He then 'rubbed her bump' in a 'sleazy' way.

Anonymous said...

This blog is becoming extremely tiresome.

Johnny Norfolk said...

How can he like Harman with what she stands for. i dispare at the Tories. They are just far to soft on Labour.

Anonymous said...

anon @4:04 - that's a valid point.
It's all banal conversation... Where is the serious conversation, Iain? I'm sure your mag is very nice - but perhaps you can raise your game this weekend?

Scary Mary said...

You should have asked him if he is the double of Geoffrey Booza Pitt from House of Cards fame.

Anonymous said...

Why the Palin-hatred?

Flemingcrag said...

I saw Alan on HIGNFY and was totally unimpressed, it was not his stupid remark about an American beauty Queen because of the views she held on gay marriage that moulded my opinion.
It was his inability to deal with the question(s) he knew had to come on MPs expenses. When they came he looked startled, like a rabbit caught in headlights. He gasped for air like a goldfish out of water and then floundered over his answers.
Front bench material! I wouldn't have him as an old dresser...

Janice Carter said...

Why is the Conservative Party allowing him to comment on the expenses scandal in the media when he himself is tainted by it. It is very damaging for the reputation of the party as a whole. We need a bit of clean house if we are to recover our former opinion poll rating.

Greg said...

"He only ever stopped in the street for a chat once and it was a begrudging few words as I was off to the laundry with all my shirts in a black bin liner. He said: "Oh, what's that? Your manifesto?""

LOL - that's actually quite funny.

Weygand said...

I found the whole interview reminiscent of a teen magazine.

I kept waiting for a question about his favourite colour or star sign or maybe his favourite

Just what audience is the magazine aimed at?

I'm afraid that if this interview is representative, it should have been called Total Bollocks not Total Politics.

Sorry, but I doubt I am alone.

Ed said...

A really good interview. I've gone back and forth on Alan Duncan. I've always quite liked him but every now and then he'll say or do something that gives me pause -- especially the expense claims and the beauty queen thing. So I'm glad he comes across as eminently human and his explanations all seem pretty reasonable.

Thomas Rossetti said...

Good interview. He came across as a humorous, reasonable man, but seemed incredibly naive when it comes to recorded panel shows.

A television show edits out the boring bits and leaves in a prominent politician saying he'd like to murder a beauty queen: What is the world coming to?

Moo said...

I'm still waiting for Cameron to fire him. What a tit.

Steve H said...

***Why the Palin-hatred?***

Have you ever listened to the woman? Pretty dumb.

Anonymous said...

When is David Cameron going to tell him that his services are no longer required?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Oops, for a moment, I thought I was reading "Hello" magazine.

Do gays really talk about being gay when they are together? And I thought stamp collecting was boring. For goodness sake, it isn't the Elephant in the Room anymore, its the fluffy cushion that has gotten pushed under the sofa and nobody can be arsed to fish it out. Except you.

The rest is a demonstration that Total Politics has not yet reached escape velocity.

This interview is not Jack Daniel's, it's not a vodka slammer, it's a Bailey's with a little umbrella in it.

Anonymous said...

An interesting interview Iain. I hope that Alan does appear on HIGNFY again! However I was a bit disappointed that you didn't ask him more questions on his job as Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, and how he would reform the House of Commons. He only mentioned electing select committees, didn't go into more detail.

Iain Dale said...

I did ask him more on this and there is more in the full interview. However I had to cut a lot out for reasons of space. I had to reduce 8500 words to 5000.

Chris Paul said...

Did you ask him about his and his friends' dodgy oil dealings and his decision - like GOO - not to declare the backers of his office in his RMI?

He shouldn't be an MP. Obviously compromised and dripping in oil/grease. Not in a good way.

disgrace said...


Anonymous said...

Okay Iain, I will buy Total Politics to see the full interview.

Francois said...

Stop making us pay for your garden, you sleaze.