Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Yesterday’s Times (£) Diary carried a bit of a bombshell. According to them, Lord Ashcroft is keen for me to stand for London Mayor in 2016. So keen in fact that he has never mentioned it to me. Boris says being London mayor is the best job in British politics – so good in fact that he has ruled out standing for a third term.
But there are growing numbers of people who believe that he regrets making that pledge, and is considering ratting on it. Well, if he does that, it would save me from prostrating myself at the feet of London’s voters, wouldn’t it? I suppose people put two and two together and think, well, he hosts a four hour radio show in London with half a million listeners – that’s a pretty good platform.
Maybe: but I have absolutely no interest in doing it. So let me rule myself out in very clear words which can’t be taken two ways. I’m not going to leave any door open, any chink of light. I’m not interested. I’ve already got what I consider the best job in London and nothing – nothing – could persuade me to stand for any sort of high profile national office again. End of. Period. Is that clear?
Predicting reshuffles is a mug’s game. Enter the mug. On Monday I made 20 predictions on my blog, maybe expecting to get 5 or 6 right. In the end, by my reckoning I got 15 and a half out of 20, which is a record most lobby journalists would kill for (he says modestly).
But it was the William Hague prediction which stole the headlines. “You must have had a tip-off,” said some. “You broke the embargo,” said others. In fact, I predicted his demise when this returned in March, and re-predicted it in my predictions blog on Monday. No one tipped me off, either. It was purely a bit of political wind-sniffing. Sometimes you can make educated guesses, and that’s all it was.
Mind you, I was preparing for a lot of egg on my face on Monday evening after Twitter went mad when I suggested to Nick Robinson that Hague would be the high profile Minister tipped to go. There followed a couple of hours of very nervous shifting in my seat. It was only when Sky said they would be going to Downing Street for a major announcement at 10pm that I realised I had probably struck the prediction jackpot.
I didn’t see the Michael Gove move coming at all though. But then again, nor did anyone else, which was a minor miracle seeing as he had agreed to it a week before. The Westminster sieve didn’t leak for once.
Talking of the Govester, I interviewed him on my show on Tuesday afternoon and he was in characteristically ebullient form. I asked what Mrs Gove’s reaction had been to the fact that her husband’s pay had just taken a £36,000 dip southwards. Chief Whips don’t get paid as much as cabinet ministers, apparently. He admitted he hadn’t told her, and I got the distinct impression he hadn’t realised it himself. I think it’s safe to say that Mrs Gove (a.k.a Sarah Vine, a Daily Mail columnist) was told later that evening, for the following morning she retweeted a Mail article whose headline described the reshuffle as ‘shabby’. You can’t really blame her, can you?
On Monday night, my mobile phone almost melted with the number of texts I was sending to friends who had got the push. One or two maintained it was their decision and their decision alone, while one or two others were bloody furious. Some of the sackings or (un)forced resignations didn’t come as a surprise.
Others, however, seem inexplicable. Damian Green’s departure falls into that category – a highly competent minister, good media performer and original thinker who hasn’t really put a foot wrong. If competence counted for anything he’d be in the Cabinet. He is the Alistair Burt of this reshuffle – a universally popular minister who was flung overboard for no apparent reason.
Why was David Jones sacked after only a year as Welsh Secretary? Has he actually done anything wrong? I can’t think of anything, although I am told Cameron thought he was too gobby in Cabinet. Hugh Robertson is another very competent minister who is leaving the Foreign Office. He was a huge success as Sports Minister, something which could hardly be said of Helen Grant, whose public profile is less than zero and who stumbles from one disaster to another. Yet inexplicably she remains in post. I say it is inexplicable, but it isn’t really is it? The lesson from this reshuffle is that it is a real political disadvantage to own a pair of gonads nowadays.
If there’s one ministerial wall I’d love to be a fly on it is in the room where Department of Transport ministerial meetings will take place. I imagine Patrick McLoughlin is already honing his chairing skills, which will probably take the form of telling various of his ministers to “Shut the f**k up” so that he can get a word in edgeways. Susan Kramer is hardly renowned for keeping her mouth shut, Robert Goodwill is a typical blunt northerner, and now we have John Hayes and Claire Perry to join them. It’s almost the stuff of which sitcoms are made. I’m not quite sure what Hayes has got on the Prime Minister, but it must be quite something. He really is the Lyndon Johnson minister of this government: better to have him on the inside pissing out, rather than on the outside pissing in.
I wonder if David Cameron will live to regret insulting Liam Fox by offering him the very same junior ministerial job he had more than twenty years ago. Crass isn’t a strong enough word for it. And of course the minister Fox would have replaced, Hugo Swire, was in blissful ignorance that his responsibilities were offered to Fox. He was on a tour of the US and safely out of the country. Had Fox accepted, it would have been the second time that Cameron had shafted one of his early supporters, having already sacked him once before, only to bring him back into the fold a year later.
Poor old Cleggy was bleating on about how you can’t take Cameron seriously on promoting women on his LBC phone-in yesterday. This from a man who in four years hasn’t promoted a single LibDem woman to the Cabinet. Yet again, breathtaking in his hypocrisy. I think people have almost come to expect it of him now.
This week came the bombshell that Clegg is going to rat on his support for the Spare Room Subsidy, a.k.a the Bedroom Tax. I don’t know why anyone should be surprised. Like a rat which has been cornered, desperate people do desperate things. And if you’re at six per cent in the polls you’re desperate. Labour will now put down another Commons motion, and challenge the LibDems to support it. Cameron should call Clegg’s bluff and make clear he regards it as a confidence vote, and that if it’s lost the coalition will come to an end. Whichever way the LibDems vote, they’d be even more finished than they already are. Yellow. The lot of them.
There is another story I could have written in this piece. Isn’t there, Prime Minister?!?