Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Nick Watt is a political broadcaster that I always take notice of. He has a keen ear for shifts in Government policy, and is very good at keeping his ear to the ground. On Wednesday night, he made a film about how the Government is being urged by “senior Tories” to adopt the “Norway model”, and stay within the Single Market and keep the basics of freedom of movement.
The only “senior Tory” interviewed was Francis (now Lord) Maude, a former Europe Minister. What Watt didn’t say is that David Cameron is apparently phoning Conservative MPs and putting forward the same case.
Now I get that Remainers have their collective tails up at the moment, and some of them think that they genuinely have a possibility of putting a stop to Britain leaving the EU. As Nick Watt said: “I’m hearing that Brexit may not even happen”.
If we stay in the Single Market as a member, they will be getting their way, because we would still be paying billions of pounds a year to Brussels, and we’d be accepting freedom of movement will continue. In such a circumstance, the vote on 23 June last year might as well not have happened.
Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister and a Brexit Secretary who won’t countenance that vote being ignored or over-ruled. Because if it were, the political consequences for the Conservative Party would be unthinkable.
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The world of Westminster politics is perhaps the most gossipy in the country: Chinese whispers take on a whole new dimension. A baseless rumour can spread like wildfire without any facts intervening whatsoever.
And so it has proved over the last 72 hours or so. The Government has been without a Director of Communications for two and half months, since Katie Perrior’s resignation in mid-April. Fiona Hill effectively took over the role but, since her departure in the immediate aftermath of the election, there has been a void.
On Tuesday afternoon, my phone started buzzing – with text after text from Westminster journalists asking if it was true that I was to be Theresa May’s new Head of Communications. Well, er no. If I were, I might have had a phone call or something! But the rumours continued to swirl. Guido Fawkes included me on his list of runners and riders, and the Evening Standard then wrote a diary item suggesting the same. In between, Tom Newton-Dunn from The Sun had wrote an article online suggesting that the two front runners were James Landale and Robbie Gibb. Landale then tweeted on Wednesday morning that he did not want to be considered.
Well, it was certainly flattering to be mentioned as a possible candidate – but it was based on nothing. Just to be clear (and I haven’t made any comment on this elsewhere), there is no truth at all in any claim that I have been approached, and nor would I expect to be. The job requires a particular skillset, and I’m not at all sure it’s one I possess. In addition, why on earth would I give up my jobs at Biteback and LBC, which I hugely enjoy?
As I write this column, Gibb has confirmed he has accepted the job. I think his will be a great appointment. He’s a political adult – and will command the respect of everyone in the media and political worlds.
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There was an interesting article recently on CapX. Victoria Bateman urged the Tories to rediscover the art of making the case for capitalism.
She’s right. There is a populist case for capitalism and there is an intellectual case, but neither are being made by Conservative politicians at the moment, with the exception of Daniel Hannan (see this site yesterday) and a few others. The Left is being allowed to get away with the argument that capitalism is intrinsically evil, and designed to exploit the working classes. The truth is that it has enabled the world to enjoy prosperity that would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago. It’s improved the health of millions of people the world over.
I could go on. But where are the Tories making this case? The Cabinet is even split on whether a public sector pay cap should continue, with some of the weaker-minded members apparently forgetting that we still have a £55 billion deficit. Where’s the intellectual case for controlling public expenditure? It’s there, but so few are making it.
Many young people have become disillusioned with capitalism. Why be enthusiastic about capitalism, they ask, if they are prevented from accumulating capital? It’s a reasonable question to put. And if it isn’t answered soon, don’t be surprised if Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-capitalism messages start to resonate even more than they are doing now.
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I haven’t seen very many of the new MPs’ maiden speeches, but one which has caught the eye was made by the new MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, Bim Afolami. We Westminster watchers always like to talent spot from new intakes of MPs, and I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Afolami.