Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
The knives are well and truly out for the Vote Leave contingent in Number Ten.
Lee Cain resigned in dramatic style on Wednesday night and, although he didn’t have the public profile of Alastair Campbell, Boris Johnson will feel his loss just as acutely as Tony Blair did when Campbell departed Number Ten. Now it seems that Dominic Cummings will go in the New Year.
All Prime Ministers need trusted aides around them who act as their praetorian guards. Bernard Ingham and Charles Powell did that for Margaret Thatcher and were there until the bitter end.
Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, were let go as collateral damage after Theresa May barely won the 2017 election. Sacrificial lambs often have to be made, particularly when Conservative backbenchers are foaming at their collective mouth.
Cain never made his mark with them and, by all accounts, is quite an abrasive character. I haven’t had many dealings with him, but on the rare occasions I encountered him, I didn’t recognise the caricature I have read in the papers over the last couple of days.
He certainly wasn’t popular with all special advisers in departments – with one telling Times Radio‘s Tom Newton-Dunn: “Literally no one in here is mourning Lee this morning. A rude, needlessly abrasive, insecure clown with no brain for government, who crashed Boris’s comms into the ground before flouncing off in a huff without an apology”.
There will be few in the broadcast media who mourn his departure, given the number of programmes that he barred ministers from appearing on. I don’t think I was ever put on his banned list – although at times it felt like it, given the rarity of ministerial appearances on my show.
My point is: if Government ministers won’t appear on shows such mine to explain government policy, who do they think is going to do it for them? The Number Ten strategy seems to have been to try to go over the heads of the mainstream media. Well, good luck with that. It will be interesting to see how this changes in the next few months.
What sparked Cain’s resignation appears to have been the unwillingjness of the Prime Minister in the last resort to appoint him to the job of Chief of Staff. If we are to believe what we read in the newspapers ,this was predominantly because Carrie Symonds put her foot down.
Carrie is a communications professional herself, and can obviously see what the failures are in the Number Ten operation. She feels that the Prime Minister is being let down by the bad advice he has been receiving – not just from Cain, but others too.
Some think that Johnson’s consort should keep her views to herself, and be seen and not heard. Others believe that, given her knowledge of the personalities involved and understanding of the world of communications, she is entirely right to be giving him advice.
What she needs to avoid, though, is for her to become the media story. The last thing the Prime Minister needs at the moment is a succession of newspaper stories about how it is she who wields the real power in Number Ten.
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Extinction Rebellion continued their decline and descent into the political gutter on Wednesday, when they decided to hijack the Cenotaph.
What an absolute shower of an organisation they have become. Sarah Vine described them as “bellends” on Twitter, and it’s hard to disagree with her.
When they burst onto the scene several years ago they made a real impact on the debate on climate change. They genuinely seemed to want to engage in a debate, and raised awareness of the issue in constructive ways. Even their protests seemed different.
They were then taken over by the usual kind of radicals who infest protest organisation and, instead of gaining widespread support, their protests began to attract horror and ridicule in equal measure. The digging up of the lawns at Trinity College and the occupation of a Docklands Light Railway Train were particular lowlights.
In the immortal words of Gavin Williamson, they should just shut up and go away. They’re now doing more harm to their cause than good.
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Yesterday was publication day for my new book The Prime Ministers: 300 years of history.
It tells the story of each of the 55 people who have held the office since 1721. In a moment of madness, I decided to try to rank them in a list from best to worst. It was a fool’s errand in many ways, given it’s practically impossible to compare a Prime Minister from the 18th century to one in the 21st. The challenges and modus operandi could not be more different. Anyway, with the help of the 55 contributors to the book, I had a go. And here’s the top ten…