Editor’s note: Many of us reflect over the Christmas and New Year break. Iain has done so, and decided that he needs to cut back on his commitments – including, alas, his ConservativeHome column. We will miss him, but we understand completely. Parting is such sweet sorrow, at least in this case, and here to ease its pangs is my compilation of some of his column’s greatest hits.
Tonbridge & Malling’s selection
Tomorrow morning, I’m moderating Tonbridge & Malling’s Open Primary, where local people will select a candidate to follow Sir John Stanley. My last experience of an open primary was competing in one in Bracknell in 2009, and a few weeks before that chairing the Bedford Mayoral Open Primary. The latter turned out to be rather more exciting that it should have been, with almost a riot on the night and allegations of skulduggery against several of the candidates. I won’t forget that evening in a hurry. In Bracknell, there were seven finalists, and it became a bit like the X Factor as one after another of us were voted out. I lasted until the last three before local GP Philip Lee emerged as the winner. I was gutted as I knew I had been in with a good chance, and it probably signalled the end of my candidate ambitions. I did do one more selection, in East Surrey, but made an absolute stinker of a speech and came last in a final of six. Nowadays candidates don’t even have to make a speech, which seems a bit odd to me as making speeches is in fact a major part of an MP’s job. Apparently it’s to help women succeed as men are supposedly more capable of rabble rousing. Tell that to Priti Patel, who won Witham by making a memorable speech which was, I am told, of the rabble rousing variety! There will be at least 500 constituents there, a figure which on its own justifies the format. Last night, I read through the application forms of the final four candidates. None of them are career politicians and each has a record of achievement outside politics. One of them will have their life changed forever tomorrow. Good luck to all four.
Adam Afriyie’s marbles
Has Adam Afriyie completely lost his marbles? His intervention on an early EU referendum is bonkers and when even such fervent Eurosceptics like Philip Davies react with suspicion he must know he has cocked up big time. Earlier in the year, it was reported that Afriyie had hired Phil Hall, the former News of the World Editor, to handle his PR. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at their initial meeting. I’m sure Hall can’t have started to advise Afriyie yet, because if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have advised him to use the line: ‘Oh, I am not causing trouble, I have to speak for my consicence’. Oh pass the sick bag. I’m told he has been asked to address a meeting of female Tory MPs next week. I suspect he’s being set up and they will rip him to shreads. Of course this is all the fault of the wretched LibDems. Without the coalition, I have little doubt Adam would now be a perfectly competent Minister of State, and the only time we’d ever hear from him would be when he was extolling the virtues of whatever portfolio he happened to hold. Nick Clegg has a lot to answer for!
Absent Guardianista women
Quelle surprise that the BBC has appointed a Guardianista, Ian Katz, to be the new editor of Newsnight. Employing its former political correspondent clearly wasn’t enough for them. What Andrew Marr called the BBC’s ‘liberal mindset’ is clearly alive and well in Broadcasting House. It’s an odd appointment in many ways as Katz has absolutely no experience of working in television. He’s actually a very nice guy and in my experience isn’t particularly lefty and I wish him well. He certainly leaves a hole at The
Guardian. Perhaps they might dare to promote a woman to replace him. That would be a first.
Loathing Russell Brand
Russell Brand has only one redeeming factor in my eyes. He’s a fellow West Ham supporter. And yet this week the New Statesman has, for reasons of publicity I imagine, allowed him to be their guest editor. As he demonstrated in a cringeworthy interview on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman, he has precious little to say that is worth hearing. He rails against the establishment, comes out with bizarre claims and counter-claims, and rants against the status quo and how awful the elites are to the poor – yet ,when pressed on what he would actually do, mutters something about introducing a socialist egalitarian system. Paxman didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So he sneered. Brand is someone who knows exactly how to generate self-publicity but precious little else. He’s a pisspoor actor, an unfunny comedian but is apparently a very good shag. If I never see him on TV again, it will be too soon.
Hating libel lawyers
Andrew Mitchell and his family have gone through hell over the last fourteen months. And their particular version of purgatory doesn’t look like ending soon. Due to the incompetence of his lawyers failing to register some court papers in time, he faces a legal bill of half a million pounds. It really brings home the fact that justice in this country is often available only to those who can afford it. You or I, in a similar position, wouldn’t have been able to do what he has done. I don’t know what the solution is, but it is clear that just like bankers, lawyers are out of control. The fees they charge are so outrageous that only the rich can now afford to take serious cases to court. I am far from rich, and know full well that whatever my principles told me to do, I just wouldn’t be able to undertake most sorts of legal action even if I knew I was 100% in the right. I have to use the services of libel lawyers in my publishing business. The fees that libel lawyers charge are simply out of this world. I could tell you a lot more, but I am afraid I can’t. I could tell you about the libel lawyers who act for celebrities who specialise in making vexatious complaints purely, it seems, to up their fees to their clients. I have lost count of the number of libel letters I have had to engage lawyers to reply to only then to hear nothing more. But they have been able to charge their clients a couple of grand for the pleasure, and I’m also a couple of grand out of pocket. They are leeches and are a very good example of why the libel laws need to be changed.
There are a couple of explanations for these cock-ups by the LibDem media team. Firstly, apart from the West Ham-supporting Head of Media Phil Reilly (naturally one of the good guys) not a single LibDem press officer has been working for the party for more than eight months. But I wonder if tiredness could be the issue. The entire LibDem front bench and team of special advisers were booked into rooms on the 15th floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Glasgow, but it appears they didn’t get much sleep. The exertions of a bonking couple in one of the rooms kept the entire floor awake for most of Monday night. They were apparently “at it” for several hours, and the identity of the couple caused much speculation the next morning. Your humble servant was lucky enough to be present (while waiting to interview the Cleggmeister) when a rather ashen-faced young man emerged from the room looking somewhat dishevelled. Discretion prevents me from identifying the poor bugger. But he did have a smile on his face. I’m afraid I ducked out of asking the Deputy Prime Minister whether he got a full eight hours. Of sleep, that is.
Snogging Jacqui Smith
“Next Wednesday I do my final Sky News paper review before Christmas with Jacqui Smith. Last year, I surprised her with a bunch of mistletoe live on air and gave her a smacker on the lips. I’m debating how I could go one further this time. Tongues? God alone knows what I would then have to do next year. Gulp.”