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As if the conference was not already beset with rivalry and intrigue, we now have the Battle of the Lanyards.

Most attendees wear their passes on bright blue cords sponsored by Tate & Lyle, but a rearguard action has been launched by British Sugar, keen to promote their home-grown product with a lanyard of their own, featuring the Union flag.

Tate & Lyle are no strangers to the hazards of politics. Gerald Mason, the company’s senior vice president, once promised Liam Fox a lifetime supply of sugar if he could successfully conclude a free trade deal with Cuba, and on returning to the company’s HQ received a stern lecture about the Bribery Act. “I got a bit overexcited,” he explains.

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Asked by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg what I made of Boris Johnson’s recent contributions to the Brexit debate, I replied that I didn’t see much harm. In fact it could prove useful, underlining to the EU that the government would not sign up to an unacceptable deal. Come to think of it… maybe the last fortnight’s manoeuvrings have all been part of some grand plan.

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My book signing went very well, thank you for asking. In fact, the bookstall sold out of The Lost Majority, although some among the steady stream of customers needed convincing: “is it any good?”, one chap demanded. Well, it depends who you ask. It already seems to have caused a stir among the hierarchy. But it seems to be that a stir is exactly what is needed.

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The Institute of Economic Affairs hosted a debate on Monday called ‘Solving The Housing Crisis’. Or at least, that was the plan. When the think tank submitted its conference programme to CCHQ, the response came back that the title was inadmissible – they couldn’t use the word “crisis”, but could call it a “shortage” instead. And rumour has it that there was a fuss at the Sun reception over a cocktail they had waggishly called the Strong & Stable. Good to hear the party is focusing on the really important things at such a time.

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A sobering event was held by UnHerd, Tim Montgomerie’s new venture dedicated to the proposition that the media values the new over the important, the personal over the substantial, and politics over things that matter more.

He, George Freeman, Liam Halligan, and Ian Birrell gave their thoughts on the theme of Ten Things Every Conservative Needs To Know. A small selection: PWC estimates that 30 per cent of British jobs could be replaced by robotics by the early 2030s; 68 per cent of teachers voted Labour at the last election; years of quantitative easing have dramatically shifted wealth from young to old and from poor to rich; many private sector tenants pay more than half their income in rent; global electorates are volatile, unhappy and less forgiving.

As Tim concluded, “if we don’t wrestle with these things and worry less about who’s up and down in the Cabinet, these issues will eat us up.”

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Owen Paterson is full of surprises. Asked a question at a fringe meeting by a reporter from Die Welt, O-Patz launched into a long answer in fluent German, to the astonishment and delight of the audience. We are used to hearing foreign politicians speaking to the media in English; a pity it’s such a rarity for one of our own to be able to reciprocate.

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Brexit could make our strawberries bigger. Unlikely though it might sound, the theory was expounded here by Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave Means Leave. Farmers are apparently experimenting with producing larger varieties in order that there will be fewer to pick for any given weight, helping to reduce labour costs. Maybe they should have put that on the side of the bus.

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Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, gave an interesting interview to Isabel Oakeshott at a ConHome fringe event. It’s an unusual title, and not many have held the position. One of them was Peter Mandelson, who had texted Damian with some advice on his appointment: “Make sure you get my old office!”

Damian is an advocate of performance appraisals for ministers. What would Boris’s appraisal say? “Boris’s appraisal would be that Boris is doing what Boris has always done, adding to the gaiety of nations.” And who would write the Prime Minister’s – the Cabinet Secretary? “Well, the Cabinet Secretary doesn’t appoint ministers so the Prime Minister’s appraisal would be done by herself. She would say ‘things went wrong at the election, I must work harder’.”

Still, he is sanguine about the current situation: “Harold Wilson said a week was a long time in politics but that week has been shortened to about two hours now. You get a Twitter storm and big things happen. Well, let’s be a bit calmer about that. In the real world, people don’t respond to politics like that, they take their political decisions more carefully and more slowly.” The next election will be fought on the record of this government and “an offering from the Corbynista Labour party, which will be scrutinised a hell of a lot more than it was this June.”

Isabel also took the opportunity to ask about something that happened when Damian was at university: the “mysterious incident where you very unfortunately got chucked over a bridge”, as she delicately put it. “It wasn’t a mysterious incident. It was a bunch of drunks.” Didn’t that include Dominic Grieve? “I was going to come on to Dominic. Not including Dominic. They chucked me in a river, and Dominic, being the perfect gentleman then, as he is now, lent me a pair of his shoes to get home in.”

24 comments for: Lord Ashcroft’s Conference Diary: The attempt to bribe Fox with a lifetime’s supply of free sugar

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