Iain Dale: Theresa May doesn't have to be Little Miss Popular to become Tory leader
I’ve never seen Theresa May as a political risk taker, but she certainly seem to be placing all her chips on red in her bid to rid us of the turbulent priest, Abu Qatada. As far as her political reputation goes it really is s*** or bust. If, in the end, he is plonked in steerage on an easyjet flight to Amman she becomes Boris Johnson’s new rival. If in two years’ time he’s still milking the British taxpayer and the legal aid system, it’ll be ‘Knock knock’ – ‘Who’s there?’ – ‘Theresa’ – ‘Theresa who?’ ‘That’s politics’. That joke ever reads as well as it sounds, does it? Ms May’s main weakness in the Tory leadership stakes is that she isn’t clubbable, in the way that Liam Fox is – and I’m not talking about seals. Ask yourself this. Who are her parliamentary acolytes? She’s been in Parliament since 1997 and it is still difficult to name any ‘May-ites’. Perhaps they are operating under the radar, but I doubt it. But as a certain Iron Lady would testify, you don’t have to be Little Miss Popular to be elected Tory leader. You have to be in the right place at the right time. In February 1975, Mrs T demolished Chancellor Denis Healey in a Finance Bill Committee, in the week before the leadership ballot. It made Tory MPs sit up and take notice. Mrs May is doing the same.
Shame on Penguin’s Allen Lane imprint. My copy of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher arrived on Wednesday. In many ways it is a wonderfully designed cover. It has a very velvety feel and the typography is superb. But I am afraid I am appalled that they have used the American spelling of ‘Authorized’ on the sub title. It’s certainly not what she would have wanted and it grates. Penguin ought to remember its British roots. Apparently using a ‘z’ is perfectly acceptable nowadays according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Not to me. I still hate to see ‘privatization’ rather than ‘privatisation’. Not that that is a word you hear much nowadays.
I really shouldn’t rise to the bait but there’s something about dickhead diary columnists that make me see red. Yes, yes, I know I am also a diary columnist, but some of my colleagues fail to see that a successful diary column should be whimsical and amusing rather than just plain nasty. Clearly that hasn’t got through to the Independent on Sunday’s Matthew Bell-end. Until this week I hadn’t ever heard of him, but at about 10pm on Sunday someone on twitter alerted me to a snide little piece he had written about me paying my respect to Lady Thatcher in the Commons crypt. How very dare I, he spluttered. After all, journalists weren’t allowed in. How on earth had I got in when other, plainly more respectable journalists, hadn’t? He had emailed me and I had had the temerity not to reply. Indeed he had. And indeed I hadn’t. But if the little pipsqueak had done what any other credible journalist would have done and actually picked up a phone and called me, he might have discovered that his email had, rather appropriately, gone into my junk folder so I hadn’t actually seen it. So I saw red and gave him my response on twitter. I will leave to your imagination which two words the response contained. His response was telling: “Scored a direct hit by pointing out he was the only hack to get into the crypt. Over-reactions like that make it all worth it.” Any normal hack might have thought – “good on him, he got in and the rest of us didn’t.” Anyway, I think I’ve given enough publicity to a diary columnist who probably has far fewer readers than this column does! Oh, and you want to know how I got in? I’d love to tell you, but I’d have to shoot you.
I think I have driven my colleagues at Biteback Publishing to distraction this week over the New edition of MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER: A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER BEST. The original edition in 2000 contained essays by 85 people and ran to about 80,000 words. Since Lady T’s death I have been beavering away and collecting new material. The book went to print yesterday with, er, 215 entries and it runs to 195,000 words. It is fair to say it will be a bit of a doorstop of a book. It’s also got 24 pages of pictures too. The thing is, whenever you met the Lady there was always an anecdote to tell. It’s a funny thing for me to say, but it’s a really good ‘loo book’. You don’t want to read it all in one go – you dip in and out of it. A friend who is in her twenties has read it and said “Well I learned more about her than I ever would by reading a full scale biography”. And that’s kind of the point. It’s a book which concentrates on Margaret Thatcher’s personality and character, and if you don’t understand those, no amount of wider reading will ever work. It’s being published on 2 May and all royalties are going to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, the nice people who look after www.margaretthatcher.org.
I listen to about 10 minutes of the Today Programme each day. It’s all I can stand. Yesterday I heard an interesting little snippet, though. Apparently Broadland is the least violent place in the United Kingdom. That’s a bit of a relief seeing as I am in the process of buying a house there. I immediately texted the local MP, my good friend Keith Simpson, who is on a Commonwealth War Graves trip to Turkey to tell him the good news. He is a military historian and I expected to get a reply along the lines of “Well, it’s like the Russian front in 1941…” but instead my phone pinged and I read “Suspect your new house is now worth more.” Keep it quiet, though. Wouldn’t want the vendors to know…
The story of the local elections may well not concern the performance of either of the two main parties. No. It may be how well UKIP do and how disastrously the LibDems do. UKIP, I believe, have put up marginally more candidates than the LibDems but how many of them will actually win? Perhaps the other question will be what impact UKIP has on the ability of Tory candidates to retain their seats. Perversely a good UKIP performance could actually boost the ability of LibDem councillors to unexpectedly retain their seats. Well it will certainly keep Messers Rallings and Thrasher at the University of Plymouth in business.
There’s no doubt about it, Nigel Farage is on a roll. This week he turned up like a fish out of water at the monthly Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch. I wasn’t there but I am told he put in a typically barnstorming performance and had the assembled journalistic brethren eating out of his hands. Simon Hoggart wrote afterwards: "Had he had talks with Tory MPs about cutting deals? "I have had discussions with many people in pubs all over Westminster, many of which I can remember!" There is something infectious about Farage [insert joke here] but I wonder whether he is peaking too early. His main aim must surely be to win next year’s European elections, something he has told me he is confident will happen. But in order to bring that about he needs to start selecting euro candidates who can take some of the weight off his shoulders. UKIP still gives the impression of being a one man band, and until it broadens its appeal it will only ever be seen as a rather shouty party on the fringe.
The Prime Minister held a Downing Street reception this week for leading members of Conservative Future. Never had the famous old house reeked so much of cheap cologne and zit cream. DC certainly got a little carried away in his speech to the assembled throng of nineteen year old know-it-alls. 'Today we have Conservative Future at the heart of government here in Downing Street. To think 20 years ago we would not have had the Young Conservatives here because of the reputation they use to have'. The PM really should check his facts. It wasn’t the YCs who had a bad reputation, it was the Federation of Conservative Students, and as I recount in Memories of Margaret Thatcher I recount how I attended an FCS reception in Downing Street in January 1983. It was two years later that the infamous Loughborough conference took place, where certain members saw fit to rampage through corridors of the student residences and bash doors down. Some time later FCS was disbanded by the then party chairman Norman Tebbit. And guess which member of FCS was tasked with putting it all back together again? One J Bercow. Yes, at that time he was more right wing than Tebbit. Whatever happened?