Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
I spent most of Sunday to Tuesday with Valerie Trierweiler, the former First Lady of France, who was over in London publicising Thank You For This Moment – her book, which I have published. Virtually the whole time she was here, she was followed by the French press pack. Most of the time they kept a discreet distance, but I was constantly astonished at how they seemed to know where she would be and when. Even before she arrived, they were harassing customers at Hatchards Bookshop on London’s Piccadilly. One matronly type was happily answering their questions until even she became exasperated and blurted out: “Well, if you French could keep it in your trousers, there wouldn’t be any need for a woman to write a book like this!”
I dread and hate book signings, mainly because you can never guarantee if anyone will show up. I well remember organising one for Ted Heath at Politico’s twelve years ago or so. His memoirs had not received huge critical acclaim, and I remember trying to make polite chit chat while my colleagues attempted to find people who might actually like to procure a signed copy. They weren’t very successful. In Valerie’s case I needn’t have worried, since there was a nice long queue of people eagerly waiting her arrival at Hatchards on Tuesday lunchtime.
One person who might not have been so pleased was the new French Ambassador to the Court of St James, who, at the very time the book signing was taking place, was presenting her credentials to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Normally the French press contingent in London would have been there – but instead, they were at Hatchards. I wonder if the Queen asked the Ambassador if she had read the book. One can but hope. I imagine the Ambassador, having presented her credentials to the Queen, left with the words “Merci pour ce moment!” Or maybe not.
I was interested to read Paul Goodman’s article on Wednesday on this site about the apparent leadership ambitions of Theresa May and Sajid Javid. After eight years in the job, it is hardly surprising that people are speculating on a successor to David Cameron. The only surprise is that there isn’t more speculation, and that it has only started happening this year in any meaningful way. Margaret Thatcher suffered from it almost from Day One.
Although Paul only wrote about May and Javid, the other two current frontrunners would surely be Boris Johnson and George Osborne. The Chancellor’s chances of inheriting rely on a Conservative victory in 2015, and Cameron deciding to step down in 2018. If Cameron loses the election, it is difficult to believe that Tory MPs will ask for more of the same.
By contrast, Boris Johnson’s best chance of becoming leader is if Cameron loses in May and steps down immediately. His chances of success partly depend on whether the new intake of MPs, and indeed the current batch, see him as an election winner. The Mayor has made precious little effort to schmooze MPs, and would do well to remember that there’s no guarantee that he would come first or second among MPs – which a candidate must do to reach the final stage, in which party members vote.
I have little doubt that he would win a majority of them – but he’s got to get before them first. The only MPs that really know Boris are those who served with him in Parliament between 2001 and 2010. And believe me, not many of them liked what they saw. How far that will damage his chances, I don’t know. But, coupled with the fact that very few of the 2010 or 2015 intake will have ever met Boris, let alone got to know him, you’d have to say he might have a battle on his hands to get through the initial stage.
“I’d like to see taxes at the lowest level possible. I didn’t go into politics to tax people.” Who said that? Ronald Reagan? Margaret Thatcher? Douglas Carswell? Nigel Farage? Nope. Guess again. It was Labour’s Chuka Umunna on my LBC show on Wednesday. I do hope he has a word with some of his colleagues whose only policy ideas seem to involve new or increased taxes. Chuka really is setting himself up as a modern day Tony Blair – someone who won’t frighten Conservative voters. Good luck with that.
Make sure you get this week’s Sunday Telegraph. It’s serialising the referendum diaries of their Scottish Editor, Alan Cochrane. His book Alex Salmond: my part in his downfall is published next week, and to say it’s very readable would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve described it before as Alan Clark on crack. No sex, but hilarious anecdotes, great gossip and real insight from a man who seemed to be at the centre of every single important meeting or event in the campaign. You can’t learn to be a great diarist. You just are, or you’re not. Gyles Brandreth is. David Blunkett isn’t.
Talking of Scotland, this announcement that the Scottish government will be able to set income tax rates and bands, but not the threshold, is about as near an equivalent to a dog’s breakfast as you can get. And it surely makes independence at some point in the future more likely. It will also make people like me much more shouty about powers for England, which the three main parties dismiss as if the argument is madness personified. The SNP must be laughing their heads off at the idiocy of their counterparts south of the border, who continue to play into their hands.