Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Daily (Half) Dozen: Wednesday

1. Tory Radio asks why anyone would want to be a politician.
2. Coffee House on why we shouldn't forget the PPSs.
3. Public Affairs Central on why it's a LibDem-tastic time for lobbying firms.
4. Tory Outcast mulls over the prospect of a Cameron government leaving the EU.
5. Party Lines profiles John Redwood.
6. Peter Bingle speaks in praise of Ann Widdecombe.

Ken Clarke Is Right: Prison Doesn't Always Work

Last October, I wrote a blogpost which included this paragraph...

Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat. I hope under a Conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking up fewer people and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.

There is one way in which prison works. If an offender is locked up he can't commit an offence. But it's a short term fix. Many offenders who are sent to prison for short term sentences go into prison as normally decent citizens who have made one mad mistake. They emerge from the prison system twice as likely to commit a crime again and very likely to be drug dependent.

Prison should be a place where people go who are a clear and present danger to society. We need to re-evaluate why we seend people to prison and what happens to them when they are inside. The evidence shows that soft criminals emerge as hard criminals. That drug free prison entrants emerge as addicts to one form of drug or another. That they are not prepared for life on the outside and therefore turn again to a life of crime. That education and rehabilitation take second place to the prison officers' desire for a calm and stable prison life.

When Ken Clarke was last Home Secretary the prison population was half what it is now. Has our society become twice as criminal? Jack Straw would argue that if we imprison so many people, it means they can't commit offences. As easy but puerile argument, because it merely delays their entry back into lives of crime.

Ken Clarke's speech today is a breath of fresh air, but I have no doubt that he will be derided as weak, liberal and unconservative by many on the right and authoritarian Labour left.

I agree we must be tough on crime, but we must also reexamine what is happening in our penal system, and surely anyone can see that it is not fit for purpose. Hardened criminals must be punished, and punished by losing their freedom. But for others community sentences, or even tougher financial penalties may be more appropriate. Prison is not always the right thing. It ought to be the sentence of last resort, rather than first.

Ken Clarke is showing courage by making this speech today, and I hope he has the political will to drive through the reforms to our prison and sentencing systems which are long overdue.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guardian Economics Editor Can't Count

What a joke of an economics correspondent Larry Elliott of The Guardian has become. He splashes that" secre"t Treasury documents reveal that the budget cuts will cost 1.3 million jobs. Shock. Horror. The end of the world is nigh. Nasty Tories. Thatcher. Milk Snatcher.

Then, in the middle of the story, comes this sentence...

The Treasury is assuming that growth in the private sector will create 2.5m jobs in the next five years to compensate for the spending squeeze.

Now, I know that maths is not my strong point, but even I can work out that 2.5-1.3 = +1.2. So explain how that is a rise in unemployment, Larry. You prat.

Either you believe Treasury figures or you don't. If you believe the ones which say 1.3 million jobs will be lost, surely you then believe also the ones which say 2.5 million jobs will be created. Alternatively, you can believe neither. What is inconistent, is to believe the one you want to believe and not the one you find inconvenient to your argument.

UPDATE: For the record, I don't believe the 2.5 million figure either. But even if it's nearly 50% out, there would be no net fall in employment. Oh, and by the way, for any lefty economists reading this, you might like to remember that it's not budgets which create jobs, it's private sector risk taking entrepreneurs. Think on that.

The Daley Dozen: Tuesday

1. Ellee Seymour hopes Ken Clarke will come to the aid of haemophiliacs.
2. Mark Reckons AV could be disastrous for Labour.
3. Party Lines asks if there is any room for politics anymore at Glastonbury.
4. Liberal England on Lembit for London ... and Montgomeryshire.
5. Craig Murray on the government torture enquiry.
6. England Expects reports a change of heart among the Germans over the euro.
7. Burning our Money on exactly what constitutes the national debt.
8. Dave Hill accuses Boris of congestion charge confusion.
9. Paul Waugh on the Tory Minister who called The Speaker a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf".
10. Francis Beckett on free speech, Wayne Rooney and little old me.
11. FT Westminster's Top Ten Incapacity Benefit facts.
12. Peter Bingle muses on cross party political friendships.

And as a special bonus, click HERE to visit the Lembit4London site.

Fisk: Why Ann Widdecombe Should Go to the Vatican

I don't know who Andrew Brown is, but I have just read his ridiculous blog on the Guardian website which asserts that Ann Widdecombe is wholly unsuited to be the British Ambassador to the Vatican because, er, he doesn't really like her. Personally I can think of no one better for the position, and if it offered to her I hope she accepts.

You see, Andrew Brown doesn't think Ann Widdecombe can be a diplomat because, er, she tends to say what she thinks. As if that were a fault. What he fails to understand is that she understands the concept of collective responsibility and mission fulfillment. No ambassador is there to represent themselves. They are there to represent Her Britannic Majesty. Widdecombe is perfectly capable of articulating views she may not agree with - she did that often enough while a Home Office Minister and in William Hague's Shadow Cabinet. I feel in the mood for a fisk... (my comments in red italics). Brown writes...

The British ambassador to the Holy See is someone whose job is to understand and mutually interpret the attitudes of the Vatican and the British government and to broaden their mutual sympathy. I can't easily imagine Widdecombe expressing anyone else's opinions, yet that is one of the central skills of diplomacy.
Piffle. Just because Brown can't imagine Widdecombe taking a brief, it doesn't mean that she can't. Indeed, history demonstrates she can. She can be as diplomatic as anyone if it is required. And I'd like to see anyone better places to understand and intepret the attitudes of the Vatican and be able to convey them back to the Foreign Office.
Purely as a piece of symbolism, there is something in this appointment to upset most people.
For 'most people, read 'most Guardian readers'.
For the Vatican, there is the fact of a woman who won't hesitate to tell them what to do;
Oh really? Widdecombe may be many things but she's not thick. She will completely realise thaty telling the Vatican want to do isn't part of the job descroption of a British ambassador.
but she won't, when she does so, be representing any significant strand of British opinion.
Says who? A man who thinks he represents a significant strand of British opinion - in Islington.
Since she left the Church of England in principled disagreement over women priests, she clearly represents a minority opinion among British Christians.
Does she? She represents many Anglicans who despair at the way their own church is going. And she also represents hundreds of thousands of British Catholics.
Her contempt for Anglicanism doesn't really fit her to explain the religious landscape of this country.
I know from personal discussion with her that she feels absolutely no contempt for Anglicanism. She left the Anglican church out of conviction. That does not mean she is contemptuous of it.
For secularists she is anyway anathema, rather like the post she is proposed to fill.
Another outrageous and unjustified assertion. I know many people of no religion who greatly admire Ann for the strength of her convictions. I am one of them.
Within the Catholic church, as a prominent straight single lay conservative, she forms part of a minority of, oh, about two.
I think that was a passing attempt at satirical humour. Best he doesn't try that too often if it is as incisive as this example.
She is certainly not the candidate of the Bishops' conference,
Well if Brown is so well informed about the Bishops' wishes, perhaps he'd share with us who their candidate is. He can't because hasn't got a clue. And why should an ambassador be appointed by virtue of whether they are approved of by bishops?
but she has also been attacked by the conservative Damian Thompson, who calls her the rudest woman in Britain, and the liberal circles around the Tablet think she would be a catastrophe.
Liberal circles around Islington, he means. And Damian Thompson thinks she's the rudest person he's met. He should get out more. David Aaronovitch is one of the rudest people I have met. But I think he probably make quite a good ambassador.
This is not an appointment that could be made by anyone who thought Britain's relationship with the Vatican was something that really mattered. After all, Melanie Phillips is not going to be our ambassador in Washington.
Ooh, another lame attempt at humour designed to persuade Guardianistas that Ann Widdecombe really is the spawn of Satan. Don't worry, Andrew, they already think that anyway without any help from your poisonous little keyboard.
Now it may well be that the whole thing is a joke, a rumour got up to please her. She must fancy the job or she would have denied the stories more vehemently than has happened. The superficial advantage for the British government of having her as ambassador in Rome is that she would be in Rome, and not underemployed in the House of Lords. But no one in the House of Lords can make very much trouble, whereas diplomats who can't manage diplomacy can damage their country's interests.
Facile. It is usually the House of Lords which causes trouble for most governments. As for the last comment about diplomacy, this is one sentence where Brown and I can agree. Where we disagree is thaat Ann Widdecombe is perfectly capable of using diplomacy to achieve positive ends. She always says that her proudest moment in politics is when she freed a constituent from prison in Morocco. By which she means she got him out, she didn't spring him. This involved delicate and diplomatic negotiations with the Moroccan government, all carried out by her in her capacity as an MP, not a Minister. She even travelled to Rabatt twice, at her own expense, to do it. Don't insult her by saying she is not capable of diplomatic achievement. This case (which I have considerably shortened in description) is proof of that.
There is only one decent argument for her appointment: even though she's an amateur, she can't be less diplomatic than the supposed professionals who produced the memo suggesting that the Pope endorse a brand of condoms when they were asked to plan for his visit. Nor is she likely to run off with a journalist or even a gogo dancer as recent ambassadors elsewhere have done.
But wouldn't it be great if she did? (I knew you;d enjoy reading that bit, Ann!).
But if we are to have an ambassador to the Vatican at all, we should have one who knows something about diplomacy, and not just foreign policy.
And we will. So all is right with the world and God will be in her heaven.

Parliament Square "Peace Camp" Ordered to Leave

Sense prevailed in the High Court today as the Mayor of London won his case calling for the squatters on Parliament Square to be evicted. I wrote about this HERE and HERE so I won't rehearse my views, but suffice to say I am delighted. This so-called Peace Camp has gone way beyond what any normal person would term a 'protest' and it was time for Boris Johnson to do something about it.

The people 'resident' on Parliament Square ihave until 4pm on Friday to leave. That also gives them time to appeal, but I hope they will see sense and move on. They have made their point.

Labour Can't Fill Select Committee Posts

I am wondering what to make of this. It seems that Labour has not produced any nominations for either DEFRA or Welsh Committee and there are still vacancies to fill in other committees.

Not even the Health Committee had enough people for an election. Surely that is unprecedented for Labour.

This has been sent out by the Secretary to the PLP and is shown on the new Labour Uncut website.

I now invite unsuccessful candidates and anyone else who is not now elected to a select committee to apply for the following vacancies:

So, are Labour MPs uninterested in holding the Executive to account, or are they just plain lazy?

What a Waste of Time and Money

What on earth is the point of the Cabinet meeting in Bradford today? What can they decide in Bradford that they couldn't in London, to say nothing of the extra cost? I was hoping these kind of gratuitous PR gimmicks had ended with the last government. Clearly not.

Cabinet ministers tour the country the whole time. They do not need to do it collectively. It's a waste of their time and of taxpayers' money.

Monday, June 28, 2010

LibDems Plunge In New Poll

Liberal Democrat support has tumbled sharply since the budget, a ComRes poll for The Independent discloses tonight. This, on top, of the YouGov poll yesterday showing the LibDems on 16%, 7 points down on their general election performance.

Backing for Nick Clegg’s party is at a post-election low – and at its second worst level for six months. The Conservatives have support of 40 per cent, a rise of four points since a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday on June 20. Labour is up one point at 31 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats are down five points at 18 per cent.

The poll also shows that the Tories have increased their support among 25-34 year olds, and the Lib Dems have dropped in this group. Tory support is up to 45% among people in social group AB and 49% among over 65s.

Only 68% of people who voted Lib Dem in May would still vote Lib Dem now – however this support is more likely to go to Labour than the Conservatives.

The challenge for Nick Clegg is clear. How one earth does he differentiate his party from its coalition partners while he is still in coalition with them?

Answers on a postcard to 4 Cowley Street...

Why England Lose

Regular commenter Paddy Briggs sent me this earlier...

Last year Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski published an excellent (and serious) book called "Why England Lose". I've just glanced at it again. Here is their analysis, from the book, of the phases of England's Football World Cup campaigns. I haven't changed a word:

Phase One pre-tournament: Certainty that England will win the World Cup

Phase Two: During the tournament England meet a former wartime enemy.

Phase Three: England conclude that the game turned on one freakish piece of bad luck that could only happen to them.

Phase Four: Moreover everyone else cheated.

Phase Five: England are knocked out without getting anywhere near lifting the cup

Phase Six: The day after elimination, normal life resumes.

Phases Seven: A scapegoat is found

Phases Eight: England enter the next World Cup thinking they will win it

Well they weren't wrong, were they?

Questions for Eric Pickles

On Wednesday I am interviewing your chum and mine, Eric Pickles, for my next In Conversation piece for Total Politics.

If there's anything you think I should ask him, please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Podcast: The 7 Days Show Episode 30

The latest edition of the Seven Days Show is now online.

In the Show this week we talk about the Budget; the rise in VAT; whether there is any dissent in the coalition; should further cuts be made to aid the deficit; is it right to have the NHS Budget ring fenced; should help be given to aid people to move to where the jobs are; should there be a cap on none EU immigration and finally what should be done about the England Football team!

To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.

Has Diane Abbott Appeared On THIS WEEK For the Last Time?

Last night I caught up with the latest THIS WEEK programme in which Diane Abbott more or less resigned from the programme. Well, perhaps it is more accurate to say that Andrew Neil 'resigned' her. I just can't really see how she can return to the THIS WEEK sofa after the Labour leadership contest is over. Stranger things have happened, but we'll see.

So if Diane leaves, who would replace her? In recent weeks Caroline Flint and Hazel Blears have deputised. I thought Flint was especially good and could be a long term replacement if she doesn't want to go back on the Labour front bench in the autumn.

All this will also raise the question of Michael Portillo's future on the sofa too. The basic trouble with Abbott and Portillo is that nowadays, neither are particularly in touch with the parties from which they come. You can see from Abbott's leadership campaign that she lives in about 1984, and Portillo hasn't really quite got to grips with the new Tory Party.

That's not to say I would advocate replacing Portillo. I wouldn't, because he is often entertaining and brings some much needed gravitas to the THIS WEEK sofa.

So who would you like to see sit alongside Portillo in the future?

EU Abolishes a Dozen Eggs

You really couldn't make it up. We learn today that the E bloody U wants to interfere in the way eggs, oranges, apples and limes are sold. No longer will we be able to buy eggs by the dozen, or limes individually, shopkeepers will be forced to sell them by weight. I ask you.

I have no particular objection to anything being sold by weight, but why is it that bureaucrats think shopkeepers and their customers aren't capable of deciding themselves how to sell or buy things like eggs or oranges.

Too many bureaucrats, with too much time on their hands. That's what comes of employing them in the first place. If they weren't there we couldn't get these crackpot regulations that serve the purpose of no one apart from the idiot that wrote them in the first place.

And of course tame MEPs then endorse them and put them into law.

It is issues like this that bring the EU into disrepute.

Deborah Mattinson Lifts Lid on Rise & Fall of New Labour

Deborah Mattinson was at the heart of Labour's polling organisation for many years. Indeed, she was Gordon Brown's personal pollster.

Today, the Sunday Times is serialising her book, TALKING TO A BRICK WALL, which my company, Biteback, is publishing next week. I'd love to send you a link to the feature online, but as you know, the Sunday Times now has a paywall.

The title of the book has a deliberate double meaning. The book's main message is that voters have been talking to a brick wall for years, but it could equally mean that Mattinson herself was talking to a brick wall called Gordon Brown.

The extract today centres on the election that never was in the autumn of 2007. Mattinson tells how Brown was indeed planning to hold a poll and describes the polling evidence that was used by his team to argue for it. She gives a revealing insight into the way Spencer Livermore, Brown's chief political adviser, was treated.

This is a not a kiss and tell book, although there are a lot of fascinating and very revealing anecdotes which tend to reinforce the conventional wisdom about the way Gordon Brown managed his government - if 'managed' is the right word. The book really does chart the rise and fall of New Labour through the eyes of a pollster.

The book is published tmorrow by Biteback in hardback, priced £17.99.

You can pre-order the book HERE.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tucker Ga Ga

The Daley (Half) Dozen: Saturday

1. Rob Halfon explains why the iPhone 4 is rubbish.
2. A Very British Dude on the unreality of the leftie narrative on cuts.
3. Left Foot Forward talks to David Miliband.
4. Tory Totty says sorry to Nadine.
5. Paul Linford on why journalists should avoid the usual cliches.
6. Mark Pack unveils his new blog's "retro" design :)

Maguire: Liverpool Not on Coast

Kevin Maguire must have been desperate to fill his New Statesman diary this week. He bemoans the fact that none of the party conferences this autumn are being held by the seaside. Er, shurely shome mishtake? The LibDems are holding their annual jamboree in Liverpool. Last time I looked, Liverpool had a port, which kind of hints that it's on the coast.

I wonder if Mr Maguire ever got a Geography 'O' Level. Most weeks when I read his column I wonder whether he got 'O' Level English either.

But we love him despite himself, don't we? :)

PS: Yeah, I do know it;s on the Mersey but that's more or less on the coast, innit? :)

Friday, June 25, 2010

She Should Hang Her Head in Shame

To many people around where I live in West Kent, the name Rose Gibb is as notorious as the name Rose West. A bit OTT, you may think, but I defy you to visit Tunbridge Wells and find anyone with a good word to say about her.

She was the chief executive of the local NHS Trust at a time when 90 local people contracted the CDiff bug and died.

She was sacked and her quarter of a million pound payoff was withdrawn by the then Health Secretary, Alan Johnson - quite rightly I felt.

Yesterday three High Court judges ruled in her favour and said she wasn't to blame at all and could not be held responsible for the outbreak. Well, if the chief of an NHS Trust can't be held accountable, who can be? It was under her watch that a totally lax cleaning regime was operating.

By bringing this to court Gibbs displayed crass insensitivity to the families of the 90 people who died, all of whom lay the blame at her door.

The irony is that she now runs a consultancy advising NHS managers how to run hospitals. Health Minister Simon Burns should issue an edict orddering NHS managers to avoid employing her firm.

Perhaps then, she might get the message.

A Case of Two Sheilas

Trevor Kavanagh is in fine form in The Sun today, with an analysis of the new Aussie PM Julie Gillard. He concludes by saying...

"The ALP is back in the race. Here in Britain, Labour MPs must be wondering if they might still be in power if they had been less sentimental about Gordon Brown. Could they have beaten the Tories with a different leader in place? They had the chance to dump Gordon on three separate occasions. There is one big difference. Kevin Rudd's deputy was a popular, attractive and successful woman lawyer. Gordon Brown's was Harriet Harman".


Anyone for Tennis?

There was a time, in the late seventies and early eighties, when I would go to Wimbledon every year, but my interest in tennis waned in the 1990s as the main players just resorted to bashing the ball from base line to base line. Seeing a player come to the net was as rare as a British tennis victory. Today I am going to Wimbledon for the first time in at least fifteen years.

Strangely, in World Cup week my interest in tennis has been reawakened after Wimbledon has been hit by the same disease of ‘underdogitis’ which has affected the World Cup. Even the sainted Roger Federer came as close as you can get to losing in the first round. And then there was the match which ended 70-68 in the final set. This match has been lauded as the greatest in modern tennis history, and a tribute to the fitness of the two players. The latter is certainly true, but in some ways is displayed all that is wrong with modern tennis. During the match a record 212 aces were served. Aces certainly have their place in the game, but most people go to tennis matches to see exciting rallies, rather than ace after boring ace.

I used to be able to name all the top players. I would have at least heard of most of the Top 100 players in the world. I marvelled at the skills of the likes of Jimmy Connors, McEnroe, Lendl and Nastase. But today I couldn’t name more than the top five players in the world. And apart from the Williams sisters, the leading womens’ players are a mystery to me. But then womens’ tennis always has been the Vauxhall Conference of tennis – slow, plodding and full of grunting. There have been some great women players in the game - Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, but be honest - apart from Venus and Serena Williams, there are very few who you would pay good money to go and see.

[battens down hatch]

To be honest, the thing I am most looking forward to today is meeting up with my old German lecturer from my university days, Gordon Turner. In March 2009 I wrote this...
Yesterday I went to see my old lecturer from UEA, Gordon Turner, who I hadn't seen for many years. He was one of those people in my life who went the extra mile to help me. One of those special people who enhance every life they touch. I wondered if he had changed, but I needn't have worried. It was as if there hadn't been two intervening decades since I graduated.
We're meeting up with another university friend, Chris Bowers, who is a tennis journalist and this year stood as a LibDem candidate in the general election. Chris and I both had parts in two German musicals which Gordon Turner produced and directed. One of them was Brecht's 'Die Dreigroschenoper' in which I played one of Mack the Knife's henchmen. I'm the one in yellow in this picture!...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Daley Dozen: Thursday

1. Mark Reckons John Redwood has been taken out of context by the Daily Mail and deluded blogger Sunny Hundal.
2. Armchair Politics has received a bizarre email from Diane Abbott.
3. Ed Staite on why the Guardian should get off its high horse.
4. Crossfire on lies, damned lies and politics.
5. Valleys Mam on the LibDems and Short Money
6. FT Westminster Blog has the makeup of the new select committees.
7. Ambush Predator on how the ghastly Vera Baird tries to escape a driving ban.
8. Guido Fawkes on the Times paywall of death.
9. Paul Waugh on Diane Abbott's taxi claims.
10. Party Lines interviews the Labour candidates for London mayor.
11. The Staggers on Australi's first woman PM.
12. Propa Politics thinks Tim Farron is in denial.

Al Gore: "Crazed Sex Poodle"

Well, who'd have thought it. THIS is how Al Gore likes his southern hemisphere to be globally warmed. Allegedly.

Guest Post: Obituary of Peter Walker by Chris Guyver

Peter Walker, who died yesterday aged 78, was one of the great survivors of British politics over three decades. A self-made millionaire before he was thirty, he took into politics his sound business acumen and acute judgment of people, both of which gifts enabled him to ride out the tumults which assailed the Heath and Thatcher cabinets in which he served, with his reputation for sound political management unblemished. Although he left frontline politics twenty years ago, his legacy continues through many of us who are either members, or else active supporters of David Cameron's Government and who owe nearly everything to his kindness, support and sponsorship during the early years of our political careers.

The bare facts of Peter Walker's life and political career can be found in other obituaries. The salient episodes include his rejuvenation of the Young Conservatives in the 1950's – it's hard to believe now what an astonishingly influential group they were then, not only politically but also socially within the Party; his election in 1961 to the old Worcester Division of Parliament at what was then the extraordinarily young age for an MP of twenty eight; his role as Secretary of State for the Environment (1970-72) in what was the first 'super' department of Government and then as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1972-74); and his three Cabinet posts under Margaret Thatcher (MAFF, Energy – when he played an under-stated but supremely influential role in destroying Arthur Scargill's brand of anarcho-Socialism during the Miner's Strike - and Wales) over a grueling 11 year stint at the apex of government.

For those of us who knew him, one of the intriguing questions we often thought about but never asked (at least not in my case!) was the paradox inherent in a political career which enabled Peter Walker to serve both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher. The answer lies in his unswerving loyalty to the Tory Party. I think he was fond of Heath and admired the fact he was also a self-made man who had made it to the top of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, the membership of which was dominated largely by aristocrats of major and minor hues. In Mrs Thatcher, he recognised similar echoes from his own modest social upbringing. He admired her steel and resilience, although he saw it as his role to occasionally remind the Party via much-celebrated (at the time) 'coded' speeches at various Conservative Party conferences, that the rampant individualism which some associated with 'Thatcherism', was far removed from the main tenets of Conservatism.

But he was no great philosopher, of course. He was a pragmatist who sought to get the job done with the minimum of fuss. He understood that good government can be defined as quick and decisive political leadership, aimed at achieving the common good. He was never partisan in the sense that he would rarely put narrow Party interests ahead of sensible decisions. By making himself rich when so young, he endowed his political career with irreproachable independence, both from those who sought to influence the political process from outside, as well as from the wealthy plutocrats within the Party whose practice it was to patronise young Parliamentary upstarts and mould them into conformity.

He was a shrewd judge of politicians and I remember during the 1987 election, when we were sitting in the Darlington Conservative Association bar late one night trying, in our own way to help a young(ish) Michael Fallon win his seat, he told me that John Major would succeed Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. A pretty amazing call. I don't think John Major himself had thought that one through by then.

During that campaign with him, I learned that politics can be fun. He laughed all the time. He was supremely confident in any situation, even the time we arrived in Sheffield to be met by a baying mob who tried to tip our car over. 'It's got a solid roof, Chris. It'll be fine.' A bottle of champagne was nearly always opened at the start and end of every campaigning day.

His family was a source of pride and strength to him. He hated overseas travel as a minister if it meant nights away from Tessa and the children, to whom he was utterly devoted. He was kind and unfailingly helpful to everyone who worked for him.

It is a rare blessing that his illness was held at bay for just long enough for him to see his son Robin become the Member of Parliament for Worcester this year.

Quite simply, a wonderful man.


Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pushing Housing (Or Homing?) Up the Agenda

This afternoon, I took part in a panel session at the HOUSING 2010 event in Harrogate, organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing. BBC Home Affairs editor Mark Easton and Stella Manzie from the Scottish Executive, joined me on stage. We each spoke for 5 minutes and then answered questions.

When you think about it, housing ought to be at the top of the media and political agenda. After all it is one of the few things apart from death and taxes which affects us all. So why is it seen in either a negative light, or viewed with complete indifference? I tested this out on a small focus group last week. I asked them to give me a word they immediately associate with the word housing.

By far and away the most popular three were “Benefit”, “Crisis” and “Claim”. All negative words.
But then I asked them to do the same with the word “home” I got three very different words: “Life”, “Comforts”, “Cooking”. You can relate this to the reaction to the policy of selling council houses to their tenants. To the media, politicians and public we were selling council houses. To the people that bought them, we were selling them their homes. A house is an inanimate object built of bricks and mortar. A home is something very different – there’s an emotional attachment, even love. People cry when they move. I’ve even seen someone kiss a front door on the day they left their home for the last time.

So my message to the conference was that to change the image of housing there needs to be a big PR effort to associate the word with something more tangible than an inanimate object. Politicians, in many ways, will reflect the views of their electorate. Their views on housing will be formed by the letters they get – and most of them will be negative. So how do you counter that?
Two ways: Conduct a hearts and minds campaign. The House Proud campaign seemed to understand this message and was a success in that it did what it said on the tin. But it needed much more visibility across social media. I wonder how many people visit the Inside Housing or CIH website.

Secondly, remember what Margaret Thatcher said about Lord Young? “David doesn’t bring me problems. He brings me solutions”. All lobby groups should think about that next time they want something from government or a politician. Too often, lobby groups go to government with a problem, expecting them to provide a solution. The successful lobby groups and sectors are those that go to government saying, here’s the problem, we recognise your dilemma in this, but here’s a solution we think you will find politically acceptable and get some credit for.

If you’re offering a solution which isn’t politically acceptable, no amount of logical argument works. At that stage it is down to emotional blackmail. Joanna Lumley is proof of where raw emotion can win over any amount of logical argument, but she's the exception, not the rule.

But you’re only going to win with emotional blackmail if you have an army of supporters on your side who back you up and that’s why it is so important to use social media to build such an army of public support.

Think about it. There are millions of social housing tenants, both in local authority housing and housing association homes. Huge numbers of people are employed in the sector and allied industries. I have no idea how many people rely on their employment on housing related activities but there must be hundreds of thousands if not several million. They are all stakeholders and all potential allies in helping decision makers “get it” on housing.

The media can be an ally and an enemy, of course. The slogan Bad News is News and Good News is advertising is very relevant here.

TV documentaries are never made about the wonderful achievements of a particular housing trust. But they are made about housing disasters. TV dramas tend to reinforce housing stereotypes – look at Shameless. And I try not to. Look at Desperate Housewives.
But of course with the fragmentation of the mainstream media, there is a greatopportunity to break through this and get people to dance to your own agenda. Within 5 years I am sure there will be a Housing Internet TV Channel, where the sector could make and broadcast its own programmes.

In the end, any sector wanting to bump itself up the political agenda is going to have to do it itself. No one else is going to help them.

I have to say this wasn't exactly the size of audience I was expecting to turn up to listen to our pearls of wisdom, but the session was scheduled in the hour before the England game started. So instead of the expected 4-500, we actually only had about 100. But I hope they got something out of the three of us!

The Blunt Labout Attack

The Labour reaction to George Osborne's generally excellent budget has been hilarious to watch. They really do seem at sixes and sevens. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised bearing in mind their policies in large part caused the crisis we have today.

I said well before the election that whoever won would put up VAT and I firmyl believe it would have happened at some point if Labour had won. Alistair Darling knows full well that most of what George Osborne announced yesterday would have happened if he had remained in the Treasury too - except with some delay.

Darling had already announced £44 billion of spending cuts without actually specifying what they would be. Very courageous of him. He knows full well that most of the cuts announced yesterday would have been announced by him too. He knows it. We know it.

It is also interesting that the Labour attack yesterday was centred on the role of the Liberal Democrats. When I interviewed Yvette Cooper on LBC she was only too happy to stick the knife into the LibDems, following the lead given by Harriett Harman in her budget response. In some ways, it's understandable. I put it to Simon Hughes yesterday that not a single LibDem voter went into the polling booth on May 6th and thought to themselves: "I'll vote LibDem because I want to put up VAT, freeze child benefit, freeze public sector pay and cut welfare benefits." I would say it is to the credit of senior LibDem politicians that they have now recognised the dire economic crisis we are in and have endorsed the measures needed to get out of it. When I spoke to Danny Alexander yesterday he had no reservations in endorsing every single one of the measures outlined by George Osborne and I believe Vince Cable did the same on TV later.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ten Things I Expect To See in the Budget

1. Child Tax credits taken away from those earning more than £30k.
2. VAT increased to 19% or 20%
3. Capital Gains Tax increased to up to 40%
4. Increased taxes on banks
5. Public sector pay to be frozen for at least 1 year
6. Public sector pension contributions to be at least doubled
7. Alcohol and tobacco duties to go up by at least 5%
8. Welfare benefits to be frozen for a year
9. Additional spending cuts of more than £50 billion
10. The end of some universal benefits

I hope you might find time to tune into LBC's budget coverage, which I will be presenting between 12.30 and 4pm.

Will the BBC Follow Channel 4's Lead?

So, to cope with a more stringent budgetary regime, Channel 4 is getting rid of 25% of its middle managers.

I wonder if the BBC, as part of the public sector, will be following suit.

What's that Lassie? Pigs might fly? Thought so.

Why Does George Bother?

I don't know why George Osborne is bothering to go to the Commons to deliver his budget this afternoon. After all, thanks to the leaks to broadcasters and the press we more or less know what is in it.

I had hoped those sorts of leaks would have disappeared when Labour left office. It appears not.

I hope the Deputy Speaker will have something to say on the subject when he presides over the budget statement later.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Alastair Campbell Interview: The Long Version

My IN CONVERSATION interview in Total Politics this month is with Alastair Campbell. Here's a much longer version (one third longer) than the one which appears in the magazine. It's relatively unedited so forgive me if there are any errors. If you'd prefer to read the shorter, edited, polished version, click HERE.

You’ve just published the first volume of your diaries, but about a quarter of this book has already appeared, hasn’t it?
No. 75 per cent is new.
So a quarter isn’t. When did you start writing your diary?
I’ve always done a diary, I started when I was a kid when my dad was in hospital and I used to write him daily digests. As Tony was preparing to leave I was getting so inundated with ideas, other people’s ideas, about how I might say something, do something about it and I just thought sod it, I’ll do it. I’ll give my own version based on the diaries but it would be just be a single volume which was just extracts. Obviously a lot of focus has been put on the fact that I took out stuff that people thought might be damaging to Gordon but actually what I was trying to do was do a book about Tony. It’s very much the key episodes for Tony really. So that was what the Blair Years was largely about, and then this just follows on from it.
But how unexpurgated is it because presumably you can only ever publish a fraction of the material that you’ve got.
It’s pretty much unexpurgated because I’ve kept out a lot of stuff that people would not be remotely interested in. You know, how your kids are doing at school and holidays. Some judgements you had to make legally. But by and large in terms of the key moments and the big stuff it’s unexpurgated. Bear in mind most days I didn’t have more than 10, 15, 20 minutes to write. So where some days are a couple of sentences, that’s all I did. Other days where it’s ream and reams and reams, that’s what I did.
How difficult do you find the judgement about leaving stuff in that you know is actually quite hurtful to someone?
I did think a lot about that. And some stuff, where I felt... you know, I did make a lot of judgements in The Blair Years and I veered towards leaving out. This time I probably veered towards leaving in. Partly because we’re talking about a long, relatively long time ago. Also to be absolutely honest every single one of us who’s a big player as it were within the New Labour, it’s not as if we’re not used to people saying part true critical things. Now I suppose the difference is that it’s us saying it. I sometimes left things out if they were in the mouth of others and I felt actually it was unfair to them. But when I say unexpurgated, its ‘unexpurgated. There’s nothing there I’ve taken out. Sometimes taste, sometimes law, you know, libel sometimes just because you think it’s too harsh or it’s something that is so rooted in that moment that you think it’s unfair, either unfair on the person saying it or about the person about whom its said.
And who do you think will feel most uncomfortable reading them?
I don t know. I think of all of us. When The Blair Years came out Jonathan Powell came up with this really great line. He said, ‘well no one can say this is a self-serving memoir because you come across as a complete lunatic’. So I think all of us at points will think ooh, maybe I would have rather not have seen that in print.
How can you go on about change when you’ve been in power for 13 years and Gordon Brown as Prime Minister then brings Mandelson back, brings you back and one or two others. It completely goes against that message doesn’t it?
I can see that. I think the change, from Gordon’s perspective was that he had to represent both continuity and change. I felt he could do both. Continuity is a good thing, it gives him experience, it gives him the record, it gives him a sense of knows what he’s for and what he’s on about. I think change was about the way the world had changed and the change challenges. If you were talking about the economy, or public services or foreign policy or the constitution or climate change the challenges had changed and that was what would give you the policy agenda going forward.
But wasn’t his problem right from the start was that there was no plan? You just kept waiting for this vision and it never really came. He had 13 years to decide what to do, for goodness sake! This was illustrated in Peter Watt’s book when he said come the election that never was there wasn’t even a draft manifesto ready and Harriet Harman ended up writing it!
I think he needed the continuity. The change bit was more difficult because Tony and Gordon were politically not that far apart. Tony may have been more on the outer edges of modernisation and the public services end and so forth, but actually, certainly, going back to where this book starts, the differences in so far as they existed were deciding who’s going to do the job and whether they can stand against each other. So I think it was the loss of the sense of continuity that gave him that problem that you defined. People were saying hold on a minute where is all this new stuff. I mean there was a plan.
My view is that if Tony Blair had been leader at this election he would still be in Downing Street now. What do you think?
Well it’s an interesting hypothetical. Tony used to say that no one in a top job should stay more than eight years. Now, I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I certainly think that Tony, if he had been able to get through and fight this election, he was certainly the sort of opponent David Cameron would have found very, very difficult.
Did he ever contemplate actually carrying on that long?
No I don’t think so. He was always of the view that eight years was about as long as you could go. And he went 10. Now that being said I mean who knows. Who knows. Who knows whether the party would have allowed it.
Why did you go back into Downing Street after it nearly ate you up the first time around?
John Harris in The Guardian said it’s perfectly obvious to him Gordon Brown was the source of my depression. And I said, oh no, I used to get depression before Gordon. But people like him were saying how can you put up with all this angst and grief he’s causing you and then go back and help him in 2010. Now part of it is tribalism...
And that’s what people who aren’t involved in politics never get.
Yeah, I think that’s right. They just see the how can you put up with it. But part of it is also a residual understanding of his strengths and so I found at every stage, there were points at which I said to Tony ‘this is just terrible, I can’t go on like this’.
Did you actually ever come close to snapping?
Well there are points at which you think, there is another way here. But the point is Tony was the boss and Tony was always of the view, certainly for the bulk of the time he was always of the view that the problems were way outweighed by the strengths and the brilliance that Gordon brought to it. One, he was the boss and you had to go along with that, but secondly, he had a point. And so when the whole before the last election where there were lots of people saying that Gordon should be replaced kicked off, I was never 100 per cent of that view because you just don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know that we might’ve ended up in a worst position. You just don’t know.
But if Blair knew Brown was going to succeed him, it would have been good for him to be Foreign Secretary for a few years rather than just be Chancellor.
I think Gordon would have found it very hard to be anything other than Chancellor. Not that he couldn’t have done those jobs, but you know how they would have been perceived. But looking back, and I mean I haven’t talked to him about this, but would it have been sensible to have some sort of competition, some sort of leadership election? There is a view that the party would have found it very difficult for Gordon not to have been Tony’s successor.
But Gordon Brown appeared to think that the leadership was an entitlement, his by right and I think that was the root of the reason why he ultimately failed...
Because a normal politician would have had to fight for it and he just didn’t. He fought for it in the sense that there was a continual undermining of Blair but that was it.
No, I can see that and I think it would have been better had there been a fairly broad field. When you look now and see David and Ed Miliband in competition you do ask yourselves whether it might have been better back then. Prescott said so at the time.
Prescott comes out of your diaries as a bit of a hero.
Tony had a lot of doubts about John from the start but I think at the end he would say he had a great deputy leader. Really great.
He was sort of Heineken deputy leader- he could reach parts that Tony couldn’t.
But he was also somebody who’s political judgement and expertise is not to be underestimated. John’s always been somebody who, because of his rather curious relationship with the English language, has always been underestimated. People by and large do wear their hearts on their sleeves. I do, Gordon, whether he was saying what he thought or not you could always tell. Tony was probably the most able to just hide a little bit what he was thinking. Peter maybe a bit as well. But basically we were all pretty open people and John Prescott is somebody who, you know when he’s in a good mood, you know when he’s in a bad mood, you know when he’s serious, you know when he’s not. And I was the person who dealt with a lot of that.
And Peter Mandelson doesn’t come out of the book so well.
There was a problem there with me and Peter in that I never felt I could be totally open with Peter and I think funnily enoughin this recent campaign Peter and I worked really well together. Total openness, close. Back then I was never quite sure what he was up to but that’s part of who Peter is. The other thing I’ve learnt over time is that we’ve all got strengths and weaknesses and you have to appreciate all them. Sometimes the weakness is just the flip of the strength. It’s the other side of the coin and so you don’t necessarily get one without the other.
Is there part of you that would have liked to have been an elected politician but you had enough self knowledge to know that you were psychologically unsuited?
No, I don’t think so. The answer to the first part is yes. The answer to the second part is no I think I would be quite suited to it but it’s just the way the thing has worked out . In 1994 I was getting bored with journalism. In my mind I was thinking about moving into politics in some way. John Smith dies, Tony asks me to work for him and I do. Now actually there’s a passage towards the end of this volume which I’d totally forgotten about until I transcribed the diaries where Tony starts sounding me out about whether I should stand. By then I felt I was doing what I needed to do for him and for the Labour Party in that position. By 2001 I’m thinking as David Miliband Pat McFadden, James Purnell, you know these guys they’re all starting to get seats.. and I’m thinking maybe I should do that, but actually by then I’m kind of a round peg in a round a hole. But then by 2003, when I left, I just wanted out of the thing. By 2005 when I go back it’s very much to go back and that’s it. In 2010 I go back again and I sort of feel if I was going to stand I should have done it when David [Miliband] did.
Surely when Kitty Usher decided to go in Burnley, you must have thought, maybe now’s the time.
I did think that in 2005, and I thought it again this time. And actually when the results came in from Burnley and we lost it I felt quite bad about that because I think I could have won that. But you just have to make judgements and I did make a judgement about it when I left in 2003.
You will never escape the so-called dodgy dossier, however much you try and explain what it was or what it was not. That will hang around your neck for the rest of your life.
Well that’s for you to say. I get asked about it in interviews but when I go about the place talking to people very rarely does it come up.
You will always be associated with David Kelly. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it are, you will still always be associated with that.
If you put your head above the parapet and you do the sort of job that I did in the way that I did it there’ll be lots and lots and lots of things. I was thinking the other day, ‘bog standard comprehensive’, ‘People’s princess’... But every time I get into a cab in London if the driver is from Kosovo, I promise you I never pay. The driver will say ‘what you guys did in Kosovo, we’ll never forget it’. Going to Northern Ireland and it’s different. Yes, I accept the premise of the question and it’s a very, very odd situation because David Kelly, I never met him. I never met him. And yet we became inextricably linked. But all you can do, as you say, is keep explaining. That would never have happened if it had not been for what Gilligan broadcast.
When you learnt of David Kelly’s death you must have been like jumping off a cliff.
I felt a juggernaut coming my way. That was exactly what I felt. I felt an absolute juggernaut. And the truth is, you think about it. You do think about something like that. I don’t want to be pompous about it but they [the diaries] are, I think, quite an important historical document because they show politics and politicians in all their guises. And it shows how hard it is. It was hard enough for me but what it’s like too for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron? I mean it is such a difficult job. And it’s why although I will continue to work against the Tories and so forth I will always try and step back because I know how hard it is. And the other day for example when the David Laws thing was breaking and I did a blog about it Fiona said why are you so sympathetic? I said look, you’ve got to step back a bit and try and imagine you’re in their shoes. I don’t know them. I don’t know these guys as well as I knew our own guys. I’ve got very little time for Cameron in relation to this because of the way he exploited it in our campaign. But I did feel some sympathy for Laws.
Is there part of you that thinks you don’t want to push someone like that too far because you’ve always got David Kelly in the background? I’m not saying you pushed David Kelly to that, but I’ve always thought over this expenses thing that at some point someone could top themselves.
No, funnily enough,
I mean Laws I’m really worried about him.
I’ve been there. I’ve had to come out to my parents at his age, I know what it was like.
Well I can remember the Nick Brown thing. When Nick Brown was being done over by the News of the World. I remember that, I very quickly sensed that eventually he said that was the thing he was most worried about. I don’t really want to go there. Look, some MPs did terrible things but the general sense being given is that they are all at it but they are not. Most MPs have to subsidise their own existence. You know that, I know that, most journalists know that.
What do you admire about Adam Boulton?
I suppose the way he’s been there for a long time but I think that’s part of his problem to be honest with you.
Have you spoken to him since your incident?
But what happened when you went off air? Did it continue?
Oh yeah he just carried on ranting. “You’re a fucking liar, Mandelson’s a fucking liar, you’re all fucking liars”. Poor old Jeremy Thompson was trying to carrying on his broadcast.
And what provoked that? Just the fact that he was tired after the election?
I think it’s that, I really don’t know. Look, he really doesn’t like me, there is no going back. I think a lot of these journalists who see other journalists actually going over the other side of the fence have an issue with it. If you think about Adam Boulton’s life, he stands in Downing Street and talks about what’s happening inside but he’s not there. I think over the years he has really come to resent people like me. And he’s got this thing you know. I love the way he is describing me as unelected. Most people in politics are unelected, let’s be honest about it. Civil servants, defence chiefs, the people who run the quangos, journalists, people like Adam Boulton. The reason I was there is because Gordon Brown, in this very odd constitutional situation, had asked me to go back and help him, and then asked me to go and do some interviews because the Cabinet were meeting. So Boulton says he resented this unelected person telling him what the government was doing. Well that’s what he does 24 hours a day.
Did you actually think he was going to hit you at one point?
I thought he might headbutt me at one point. He came so close into my space. I remember thinking what happens if somebody headbutts you live on TV. Are you entitled, a la John Prescott, to go and hit back or do you have to stand there? I really was thinking about that. I thought he totally completely lost it. Now I don’t know if it’s true, I heard that Murdoch phoned him the next day and said well done. What Sky love is being talked about so they were being talked about. The really funny thing is when, if you are involved in something like that, you’re so conscious, I mean I was very conscious I’ve got a bit of temper, so I was saying to myself ‘keep calm’, so when I was saying ‘calm, calm’ I was probably talking to myself! I went back to Number 10 and I walked into what is my old office, you know the suite of offices at number 12 and they all stood up and clapped. I had no idea it had become this instant big thing.
But didn’t he do just what you did with Jon Snow after the Hutton Report was published?
No I don’t think so. To this day, I think I did the right thing there. Don’t get Fiona going on it! That was one of our biggest rows, of the many we have had. It reached that point where the media wasn’t listening on that story, and I just thought sod it, I’m going to have to do something about this. Now did I get a bit aggressive? People say they want candour and passion in politics and I was very candid. I’ve not seen that interview since - I’m not someone who goes and looks at how you did on the telly - but I read the transcript when I was appearing for the Chilcot enquiry, and I stand by every word. I stand by every word.
It wasn’t the words, it was the demeanour.
Yeah but sometimes you have to go just a little bit over the top for people to notice, and I’m not saying that was planned, but nobody could say I wasn’t saying what I thought.
And do you think it was right in retrospect to do the presidential thing after the Hutton Inquiry, the podium at the bottom of the stairs?
Well look, I felt I was entitled after all that we’d been through to say what I thought and, you know, I think that as to the venue, somebody else found that for me. It wouldn’t have mattered to me where it was. But I think I was entitled, after all the shit that was thrown at me over such a long period, you know with war protestors outside the house and all the rest of it. I was entitled to have my say.
How often does depression strike you, and how do you know what’s triggering it?
That is a hard one. I don’t record all my kind of depressive moments in my diary
Reading the last book, correct me if I’m wrong, I just got the impression you could tell when something’s really building up, but you can’t actually stop it.
I can tell but you can’t stop it, no. Some people can. Now as it happens I had quite a bad episode just before Easter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out, that was probably all the angst of going back. I’d promised Gordon, Gordon had been trying to get me to go back for a long time. I knew I could help him in some ways...
In your former position?
Or any other position. Lots of different positions but certainly that would have been one of them. And I just knew that that it wasn’t right, for me, and it therefore wasn’t going to be right. I had a pretty bad episode. Funnily enough, it’s just amazing how sometimes other people can see things for you. We were in Scotland on holiday at Easter and met up with Charles Kennedy and his wife Sarah, as usually do. I don’t think she’s even aware of this but Sarah basically persuaded me in my own arguments about how the Tories were stoppable. I’d been saying that Cameron had a problem with the public, that there people were beginning to resent the money and the posters and the negativity about Gordon and so forth. So I actually came back early from my holiday. I came back the next day. And the point I was making is that I neither saw that one coming, nor did I see it going. You always tend always to get a depressive episode after you’ve been through a big thing. I’ve had a bit of a wobble since.
Is depression also largely the reason why you haven’t gone into elected politics?
No I don’t think that’s the reason. I honestly think that I would have done had events worked out differently. I still might, but if this thing lasts five years I’d be 57 at the next election. I was 53 last week. Back in the old days that was fine.
Well I’ve already decided that I’m done with it now.
Have you?
Because I’d be 52 at the next election. Who do you know that gets selected in the Tory party over the age of 50?
I’ve probably made that decision too but I just don’t know it now. Depression is interesting because it’s really hard to describe, because it’s like childbirth. I’ve seen Fiona having a baby three times now, and you just think, how do you ever want to go through that again? Answer: because you forget the pain, and it’s the same with depression. When I’m not depressed I find it very hard to explain what it’s like and one of the reasons I wrote the novel because I wanted to give some sense of it. I used to have to wait until I was depressed to get in the right mood to write. But if I waited too long and became genuinely depressed I couldn’t write. The thing that really helps is having a sense of purpose. What it must be like for people who are depressed and unemployed? I can’t even begin to think. Tony to be fair he didn’t know how bad it was until he read the diary. I used to tell him but he said he never realised I was actually that bad.
Is it something that unless someone suffers from it they can ever really understand? It’s very hard for me to understand because I’ve never ever had any kind of depression whatsoever.
Fiona finds it hard as she has to live with it so she sees what it’s like when it’s really bad. I find for example with the kids even though they can see when I'm depressed, I'm not quite as bad with them as I am just with Fiona because with Fiona I can feel that I can let myself go. Likewise if I'm out and about. I mean you know, I remember periods when things were really really intense at work, when I was actually in a state of clinical depression. You’ve just got to keep going. It’s very hard
How bad does it get in those circumstances? Have you ever come close to thinking ‘I'm going to top myself’?
No, but you understand why people do. Where I’ve got to now is, depression at its worst is feeling l dead and alive at the same time. You feel you’re alive, there’s a glass of water there, you know you’ve got to drink it, you’ve got to eat but you feel completely dead inside and where I’ve got to is an understanding that it passes. One of the first lessons of crisis management is understand it will end, and that’s the same with depression. It will end. It may end in medications, it may end in you going to hospital but it will end.
When you had that incident on the Andrew Marr show were you in the middle of it then?
Possibly. That was just a moment of absolute frustration. I’d been through the whole inquiry. I’d really prepared for that inquiry. I'm self-employed and I literally blanked out a month to prepare because I knew there were a lot of people gagging for me to screw up, desperate for it. So I prepared very very hard and I answered all the questions fully, honestly, fairly. I took it seriously. As I came out there were hundreds of journalists hanging around and I could sense their disappointment. There’s a guy [Andrew Marr] who has made a very good living out of being part of this media culture, and when he threw in that question about the figures - by the way the BBC have apologised on this about getting the figures wrong, they won’t do it on air but they have apologised. He got it wrong. He said they were UN figures about casualties - I think it was just a combination of things. The thing that was going through my mind was like you said earlier, that, it didn’t matter what I said to him, it didn’t matter what I said to him. And they like to say that, like Adam Boulton, they’ve got no agenda, they’re totally impartial. Bollocks.
And what about this role you have now as a sort of ambassador for people with depression. Are you comfortable in that role, is it something you like doing?
Yeah, I’ve got, I mean the only problem it gives me is that leukaemia, lymphoma research, they think I'm theirs...
They’ve done quite well from you haven’t they?
Cathy Gilmore is the chief executive, she’s brilliant. She stared off as a volunteer eight years ago and she’s now chief exec, and whenever I pop up on the radio or television talking about mental health she sends me this text and she says “tart”. No I do, because if one in four people in the public get mental health problem in their life, why should politics be any different?
There are a lot of politicians, past and present who have suffered from depression aren’t there?
The Norwegian Prime Minister told his cabinet he had to resign because of his depression and they insisted he stayed. He took a sabbatical, his ratings went stratospheric. I do feel comfortable with it because I’ve never felt ashamed of it. It is like some people get cancer, some people break their leg, some people get depression. And I think it’s important that we understand it in politics because I suspect it attracts more people of a mentally ill bent than other areas. We should be open about it. I won’t say who it was but there were a couple of candidates at the last election who came to me and said ‘look I’ve got problems’ and I said look I think it’s great that you’re open about it but I don’t want to be prescriptive. And neither of them were. I feel it’s never harmed me. I feel I get a pretty unfair press. I'm not moaning about it, it’s just a fact. On this issue I don’t. I feel actually the press have been pretty fair on this and I think that’s in part because within journalism you’ll find there are more people getting this then you’d realise, so I don’t mind that.
Is it true, as Lance Price told me, that it was actually Tony Blair who made the psychologically flawed quote?
You’ll have to wait for future volumes of the diaries.
Oh come on.
No I'm not saying.
You took the rap for it. Did you, in the final days of the Brown bunker, take the loaded pistol to Gordon Brown and say ‘it’s time to go’.
No. It was a fascinating few days. We were conscious about what was happening with the Liberals. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the Tory party at all. There was certainly a point at which I wrote Gordon a note, saying in addition to pursing this track with the Lib Dems, we do need to start planning as it were, you know, an exit and it will be an important moment. These are really important moments. You’ve got to think about them and so I certainly wouldn’t say that was his lack of involvement, just saying you’ve really got to think about this, assuming this [the Lib-Lab coalition] wouldn’t work.
Why did Gordon Brown surround himself with thugs like Whelan, Balls and McBride?
Don’t know. There’s quite a lot about Charlie in this volume. I didn’t know McBride at all well. Ed Balls, he does have a lot of strengths. Charlie Whelan had some but I think Gordon would have done himself a service if he’d not had people like that too close to the operation
What was the truth of the meeting that was helped with the Lib Dems on the Monday afternoon?
I was getting text messages from Liberal Democrats who were not at the meeting saying this is all going very badly. So I sent a message back saying why, what do you mean? Oh Balls really rude, duh duh duh. So I sent a message to Peter [Mandelson] saying ‘don’t know what’s going on but I'm getting messages from Liberals saying this is going terribly and people are being really rude to them’. Peter sent me a message straight back saying ‘I don’t understand where that’s coming from, it’s going perfectly well’. You know what Peter’s like, he’s a very good judge of mood and that sort of thing. Afterwards when I talked to Peter and Andrew [Adonis] about it they said Ed Balls had been you polite and Ed Miliband had behaved perfectly well. What that said to me was actually that the Liberals had already decided, that they’d already made their choice.
I think I wrote at the time that they were doing this to get cover with the left wing of their party.
Absolutely right, I'm sure that’s right. Vince [Cable] was the one that was talking most of all from a let’s try and keep it going viewpoint. Paddy [Ashdown], Ming Campbell, Charlie Kennedy, David Steel were all pushing towards us.
Which hurt more, Labour losing the election or Burnley being relegated?
Well I’d prepared myself mentally for Burnley over a long period, but it was a bad week though wasn’t it
You’ve taken to the internet like a duck to water.
Oh, you think so?
Well, I do actually. But I do think part of it’s because of your personality. Because it is a bit sort of compulsive.
Well, there’s a few things to tell you, first of all that is all me.
Having taught you all you know...
That is me. I don’t know how to, I mean yesterday, my first hashtag. I’m hopeless at it, honestly. I get so many complaints off people who can’t read my blog off their iPhone.
That’s because it’s appallingly designed. That’s not your fault.
Well it is my fault, I OK'd the design. Anyway I’ve got to change it.
I remember having a surreal evening where I got an email from you saying ‘I'm going to start a blog how should I do it’ and then within minutes Piers Morgan had come up on Facebook chat thing and he said ‘oh I always read your blog when I'm in America, bla bla bla’. I thought can it get any more surreal than this?
Piers is very anti twitter. I like Twitter though, and I found on the blog, I found during the election what was interesting, was that I kind of used it as a bit of a strategic sounding board as well. Dave Muir who is one of Gordon's strategists, even before when I went back, I would be sort of not flying kites for them. I don’t mean in an organised way but it’s almost like a focus group goes on. You work out the ones who are just sort of rabid Tory or rabid Labour, but actually you can work out when something’s kind of connecting.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Podcast: 7 Days Show Episode 29

The latest edition of the Seven Days Show is now online.

This week we talked about why I no longer wants to be a Member of Parliament; why on earth anyone would, and how depression can effect people; what can be done to restore faith in politics; what we may see in The Budget this week; how ironic it is to read about Labour criticising possible cuts when it has been their economic mismanagement that has got us to where we are today; political affairs, and should we really care?

To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.

Presenting On LBC Tonight 10pm-1am

Tonight from 10pm-1am I'm sitting in for broadcasting legend Clive Bull on LBC. It's a very different show from the ones I have done before, in that it's three hours with absolutely no guests - just me, a microphone and listeners' phone calls. Very Midnight Caller! It's very much up to the callers to dictate the agenda of the programme but I will pick a few subjects to talk about at the beginning and see where we end up.

If you'd like to listen from 10pm, we're on 97.3fm, DAB, Sky 0124, Virgin 973 or you can listen live via the LBC website.

If you want to call the programme the number is 0845 60 60 973, text 84850 or email

You can also join the I LISTEN TO IAIN DALE ON LBC Facebook Group HERE.

UPDATE 9pm: Subjects covered tonight include Gaza, do we get the politicians we deserve, Wimbledon, Father's Day, PE lessons at school and much more!

The Talents of Chris Huhne

Man leaves wife for mistress. Happens every day to ordinary people all over the country. It's regrettable, but all part of life's mysterious pattern. And yet if it involves a politician, it makes the front pages of the Sunday newspapers. Even now.

Yes, I feel sorry for Mrs Huhne, but her husband is not a politician who has eulogised the institution of marriage or made speeches about it. The only hypocrisy he is guilty of relates to deceiving his wife.

Suggestions that he ought to lose his job are misplaced. The breakup of his marriage does not mean he is any less capable a Cabinet Minister than he was when he was appointed five weeks ago.

While I was driving to Salisbury last evening I got a call from the Mail on Sunday asking if I could write a quick commentary column on this. As I was driving, and had to get to the theatre for my show with La Widdecombe, I declined. I spent the rest of the journey musing over what I would have written. Suffice to say that it would have been rather friendlier to Chris Huhne than the column which appears in today's Mail on Sunday by James Forsyth!

James says that the LibDem members of the Cabinet were not properly vetted. This implies that he thinks someone having an affair should never have been appointed in the first place. Rubbish. The rest of the piece is one attack after another on Huhne. He's called "a busted flush", "a man with a high opinion of himself" and James thinks his "star is on the wane".

I think he exaggerates. Huhne is far from a busted flush and if anything happened to Nick Clegg he would still be a good bet to succeed him. I'm sure he does have a high opinion of himself - so do most politicians. I'm not sure I want people in politics who have low opinions of themselves! I had a chat with him earlier in the week and he was clearly revelling in the job and also enjoying working with Conservatives. Slightly to his surprise, he had found it very easy to work with people from another party. He pointed out that they were all on the same learning curve.

There are many LibDems I don't respect. Chris Huhne is not one of them. He is personable, highly intelligent and a man of clear views. I may not agree with many of them, but he is certainly one of the most talented LibDems in the Commons.

His affair doesn't change that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tory MP Recovers From "Suicide Attempt"

During the initial stages of the expenses scandal, Nadine Dorries warned that she thought it entirely conceivable that an MP might attempt suicide. A political hailstorm rained down on her, with bloggers and fellow politicians calling her remarks 'over the top' and far worse. Indeed, the party leadership briefed against her, describing her as 'whacky'.

Sadly, today it has been reported that her prediction apparently came true on Thursday, when Conservative MP David Ruffley allegedly threw himself in front of the Gatwick Express. Thankfully he survived with only minor injuries. Perhaps we will never know the whole reason which led him to do this - and depression usually relates to more than a single thing - but it has been an open secret among his colleagues that he was very badly affected by depression over the expenses saga and the Telegraph's accusations against him. The fact that he was cleared of doing anything wrong would not have changed the way he felt.

Depression is a terrible thing. Whatever you think of Alastair Campbell, you should read the part of the interview I did with him where he talks candidly about how it affected him. Those of us who have never suffered from it cannot begin to understand it. The temptation to tell someone to 'snap out of it' is always there. But snapping out of it is easier said than done.

David Ruffley, or Ruffers as he is known to his friends, has received a lot of support from colleagues and the party but in the end it's not possible from stopping someone from going down a particular path if that is what they are determined to do. Now he has reached the absolute nadir, everyone around him can provide the love and support he will need to recover from this awful episode.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Quote of the Day: Susan Kramer

"I have never supported increase on VAT.
If we have to accept the unacceptable,
I will look at it and make a decision"

Susan Kramer

Er, Susan, love. You're no longer an MP. Get over it. We don't care about your decision!

July Issue of Total Politics

The July issue of Total Politics is out today. You can read my interview with Alastair Campbell HERE, but I will be publishing a much longer version on the blog and on the TP website next week.

Do also read THIS superb article by Amber Elliott on the Labour leadership contest. It really is a cracking piece of journalism, in my opinion. Amber is our Political Correspondent.

If you'd like to subscribe to Total Politics, it costs £39 a year for 12 issues. Click HERE.