One of the great pleasures in life is people
watching. There’s nothing I like better than to sit in Central Lobby in
Parliament and just watch the world go by. Just seeing who is meeting whom can
be very educational. And so it was at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday. Who
should I see Lord Ashcroft having a quiet word with? None other than the Labour
leader Ed Miliband. I’ve been speculating on what they might have been talking
about. “Hello Michael, might you replace Unite as our biggest donor?” Perhaps
not. “Ed, I want to relaunch Labour Home, how about it?” Possible. Or perhaps
“Michael, about your advice on Ed Balls, can I ask you…?” Got it in one, I’d
Talking of the good Lord, the venerable proprietor
of this website has taken to Twitter. Yes, really. You can ‘follow’ him at
@Lord Ashcroft. At the time of writing he has a rather paltry 999 followers, so
come on chaps and chapesses, do your duty. Lord A certainly won’t be satisfied
until he overtakes my 39,000 odd followers. And some of them are even quite
normal. I was chatting to Michael (as I like to call him) at St Paul’s and
trying to explain the concept of Follow Friday on Twitter. It was when I used
the acronym ‘#ff’ that I realised I had gone too far. It was a bit of a Julian
Clary moment… Anyway, I look forward to seeing who he #ff’s today. Blame it on
me. Or the sunshine. Or the boogie.
Carol Thatcher has displeased Paul Dacre.
Another thing in her favour then. It seems the Mail had paid her a large sum of
money for an article post funeral. Sadly, she has refused to write it. The Mail
is understandably somewhat piqued, given the number of articles it has paid her
for in the past when she was on her financial uppers. Rumour is that M’Learnd
Friend is being consulted.
On Tuesday night after I finished by LBC show I
tootled off down to the House of Commons to pay my respects to Lady T at the
chapel of St Mary’s Undercroft. I arrived at about 8.30, long after most MPs
had been to pay their respects. It is a perfect place for silent contemplation.
I spied Conor Burns sitting alone in the front row. My instinct was to say
‘hello’ and give him a bear hug. But just in time I stopped myself. There are
some moments when people just want to be alone with their thoughts. So I sat
there for 15 minutes or so thinking about how Lady Thatcher had affected the
course of my life. I thought about all my Norfolk Tory friends who had asked me
to say a prayer for them. So I did. Finally I go up to leave. I approached the
coffin, said a silent thank you and then touched the coffin. And then choked
up. I don’t think I was alone.
I always cry at funerals. But I didn’t on
Wednesday. It was a wonderful service in so many ways, but strangely
unemotional. Unless your name is George Osborne, of course. More of him in a
moment. The only time my eyes moistened was when I heard the ‘three cheers’ and
clapping as the coffin emerged from the cathedral. Otherwise, there was nothing
in the service to really make the waterworks gush. I have every sympathy with
George Osborne as I do have a tendency for the waterworks to commence at very
inconvenient moments – usually when I am on the radio. Politicians are human
too and I suspect something triggered off a painful memory for the chancellor.
The disgusting reaction on Twitter had to be seen to be believed. My own
lachrymose moment came later in the day. At the beginning of my LBC show we
played a 6 minute ‘highlights of the day’ montage (It’s on my blog. Have a
Kleenex at the ready,
and by the end of it I was feeling very emotional. I then had to give a 4
minute monologue telling the listeners about my day. My voice was quivering
with emotion, but the show had to go on, and so it did!
Talking again of ‘people watching’, I met a lot
of old friends in the cathedral. The man sitting next to me turned out to be
Simon Murray of Hutchison Whampoa, a man I did some PR work for when his
company took over the Port of Felixstowe back in 1991. I hadn’t seen him for 22
years. On my other side was former IEA director general John Blundell and his
wife. As I sat there Dame Shirley Bassey and June Whitfield walked past. My one
jarring moment came when I said hello to Simon Weston and realised I was sat at
least 30 rows in front of him. I’ve edited four books on Margaret Thatcher,
while he fought for her. I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest.
In last week’s column I made a sniffy remark
about books which are being published to cash in on Lady Thatcher’s memory. So
you might think it odd – not to say hypocritical – that I’m about to
bring out a book called MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER: A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO
KNEW HER BEST. It’s a heavily updated version of a book I published 13 years ago. I had so
many emails and texts asking to do it, I thought why not? However to avoid any
charge of cashing in, all royalties are being donated to the Margaret Thatcher
Foundation. Apart from royalties, it’s unlikely to make anything because of its
length. I’ve included many of the parliamentary tributes and solicited lots of
new material. The Prime Minister has written a foreword. In the original edition,
there were 80 essays. This one has more than double. It will be out in early
A final word on the funeral. A friend of mine,
Deborah Slattery, who was a Tory agent in Norwich in the late 1980s, caught the
4am bus from Norwich so she could get to St Paul’s for 7am and book her place
in the crowd. I recruited Deborah and her husband Mike into the Party in
the 1987 election. They were stalwart party workers but got so disillusioned by
John Major they drifted away from actively helping the party. They are two
examples of people totally motivated by Margaret Thatcher but appalled by
today’s political leadership – or lack of it. When David Cameron can attract
the Slatterys back into active politics I’ll think he’s really making progress.
I’m not holding my breath.