Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Rob Wilson, the former MP for Reading East MP who lost his seat last June, was George Osborne’s PPS in government and a close ally – which he apparently remains. He wrote in the Daily Telegraph this week that his former boss should be brought back into the government: “Osborne is an astute operator, incredibly at one time he was in all but name Party Chairman, Chief Whip and Chancellor. He is a huge and, at the moment, wasted talent for the Conservative Party.”
No dispute from me there. Timing is everything in politics, though, and Wilson’s article appeared on the same day that Esquire reported that the Evening Standard Editor had said that he wants to see Theresa May “chopped up in bags” in his freezer. A recall to power seems unlikely in the circs.
I do wonder, however, if Osborne sometimes regrets standing down at the election because, had he not done so, he would surely now be seen as the King over the Water. You can never rule a return out, but it may be that he is so enjoying his new career(s) that he is starting to put active politics behind him. I know how liberating that can be.
I also wonder if he hasn’t got his eye on some bigger fish in the media industry. It wouldn’t at all surprise me to see him editing The Times at some point in the future. No one can deny the impact he has made at the Standard. He’s brought it back to life, and although the constant anti-May front pages can be a bit wearing, he’s recruited some lively contributors and made some subtle changes to the layout. The critics he predictably encountered when he took on the job have had to eat their words. A lot of them.
– – – – – – – – – –
On Wednesday, I interviewed Michael Heseltine on my LBC radio show. I admit to finding him a tricky customer to interview. If he’s not in the mood, he can be quite monosyllabic, and has a habit of finishing an answer before you expect him to.
We didn’t get off to the best of starts when he said “I’ve been booked to talk about the history of Britain and the EU, and I don’t want to talk about the Florence speech.” Christ, I thought. But it was good of him to even turn up, since I know he’d told a host of other media outlets he wasn’t speaking in advance of the speech. Usually on a drivetime show you can’t do long interviews, since the show inevitably has to be quite fast-paced, but we made an exception in this case and did 20 minutes. It was vintage Heseltine in many ways.
I got a bit of criticism on social media afterwards for not giving him a pasting. The thing is that, when you interview a politician like him, you have to judge his mood, and work out the best tactics. It wasn’t the occasion for a Paxmanesque encounter. I decided to let him speak, and let the listeners judge for themselves the validity of what he was saying. I challenged him when necessary, but I think the listener got far more from this interview than I would have if I had picked him up on something every thirty seconds. Anyway, judge for yourselves here.
– – – – – – – – – –
If you’re reading this today, I’ll be in Berlin covering the German election for CNN and LBC. I don’t think we’re in for much of a surprise. It seems inevitable that Angela Merkel will be re-elected, although the identity of her coalition partner(s) remain uncertain.
The SPD’s Chancellor Candidate, Martin Schulz, must now regret leaving his position as President of the European Parliament to re-enter domestic politics. He’s been an utter failure, and looks set to go down to a humiliating defeat. It seems that the SPD is unlikely to return to government as part of a grand coalition, and will seek to re-establish a separate identity in readiness for the next Federal election in 2021.
Merkel has already ruled out a coalition with the new kids on the block, the AfD, Alternative fuer Deutschland. They’re a sort of UKIP on acid. They might well get more than 50 seats in the German Bundestag, the first time a party from the far right has ever exceeded the five per cent vote barrier which was supposed to bar parties like them from parliamentary representation.
Merkel would love to form a coalition with the FDP, a party which has usually provided the CDU with a coalition partner over the years, but which has recently fallen on hard times. However, there has been a revival in their fortunes and they are scoring eight to ten per cent in the polls. They are sometimes said to be the equivalent of our Liberal Democrats, but that is to misunderstand them. They are essentially a Thatcherite party from an economic viewpoint, but also socially liberal. My kind of party. Were I German, I’d certainly support them over the pseudo-Blairite CDU. They’re also very pro-British and would more than likely be far more receptive to a good Brexit deal than most European political parties.
The only trouble is that it’s doubtful whether the CDU, CSU and FDP will have enough seats between them to form a majority government. So Merkel may have to bring the Greens into a coalition too. This might sound a tad difficult, but it’s happened before in some of the different regional state governments, and sometimes to good effect. Sunday is going to be an interesting evening – probably more interesting than the campaign has been.
– – – – – – – – – –
And from Berlin it’s to Brighton for the Labour Party Conference. It’s apparently the biggest they have ever put on. I’m chairing a couple of fringe meetings. I suspect this will be a very different Labour conference with a brand new cadre of delegates. Gone will be the sharp-suited Blairites. In come the Momentum crowd. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’ll report back next week.