Iain Dale's Friday Diary: Could Rudd pip Abbott to the post in September?
The original version of this diary contained a story saying that Sir Alan Haselhurst had announced he was standing down from parliament at the next election. I wrote this in good faith, but Sir Alan tells me this is absolutely not the case. Clearly I should have checked with him first, and I would like to apologise to him for the undoubted embarrassment the story has caused him.
As the Australian election campaign cranks up a gear, Kevin Rudd, the new Australian Prime Ministerseems to be attracting quite a bit of media hostility. The Aussie media, having encouraged him to overthrow Julia Gillard, is now turning on him. The Australian Spectator has called him a “complete and utter fraud”. But it goes even further and concludes: “He is disloyal and he can’t be trusted. He works for his own advancement by trying to destroy the reputation of his rivals. He worked against Brereton, against Crean, against Latham, against Beazley and against Gillard. We wonder if he deceives himself or whether in private there come the sad or the infuriating moments when his conceit breaks and he exposes himself to himself." It’s hard to think of a more damning indictment of a politician, who at every turn seems to put the narc into narcissism.
The Sydney Morning Herald is also no great fan. They take him to task for his new immigration policy, which is one that would make even Enoch Powell blush. They write: “The mask has dropped. We now see the real character of the man who leads Australia, a man so overbearing, so dysfunctional, so self-obsessed that his own government sacked him in his first term, unprecedented in Australian politics, and a third of the cabinet departed rather than serve with him when he returned.” Ouch.
If you get queasy when I write about gay marriage, please look away now. On Wednesday lunchtime, the Prime Minister held a reception in the rose garden at Number Ten to mark the passing of the Equal Marriage Act. More than two hundred gay, lesbian and transgender people were invited, many of whom had been involved in the process and campaigned for the legislation. The Prime Minister did one of his “look, no notes” speeches, and it was clear that this was a subject he really believed in and was proud of. He was very keen to pay tribute to Peter Tatchell and his role in campaigning for equal marriage. So I was a little surprised to then receive a press release from Tatchell, tearing into the Prime Minister for refusing to invite him to the reception. He maintains he was on the original list of invitees but was vetoed. He says: “I am surprised and disappointed by this petty and sectarian exclusion. Not being invited is no big deal to me personally but the principle is important. All those who’ve made a significant contribution should be invited. Excluding me is an insult to the many people who have supported my campaigns for LGBT human rights and equal marriage.”
If he really was vetoed it is very odd that the PM should say such nice things about him. But Tatchell isn’t easily put off. He continues: “It’s nothing new. David Cameron has, like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, banned me from every LGBT reception since he became Prime Minister. Apparently, he’s worried that I might douse him in pink fairy dust or super-glue myself to the Cabinet meeting room table. Or perhaps he doesn’t want me there because I have pointed out that the so-called equal marriage legislation isn’t equal at all.”
Again, Tatchell makes a fair point. How can it be equal marriage when straight people can have adultery cited in divorce proceedings, but gay people can’t. I am totally in favour of gay people being allowed to marry, but surely the word equality has to mean something, and that means marriage under the same rules. It is in this way that the government has played into the hands of the opponents of equal marriage.
As an aside I must tell you about Nafis, a Ghanaian who phoned into my radio show yesterday. He reckoned that gay people shouldn’t have any form of equal rights and that the only way to deal with them is to murder them. I checked I had heard right, and indeed I had. Dear oh dear. I don’t think even the most fundamentalist member of Christian Concern would go that far! I decided there was no point in arguing with him and terminated the call. But it occurs to me that he probably committed a hate crime by saying that on live radio. I wonder if Inspector Knacker will be giving me a call.
Trouble at t’mill at The Commentator where Raheem Kassam has upped sticks and left to form his new multi-contributor website Trending Central. Kassam was somewhat tightlipped when I called, but it seems he has had a falling out with the owner of The Commentator, Robin Shepherd. It seems that My Learned Friend has become involved. However, the very entrepreneurial Kassam has wasted little time in setting up Trending Central as a multi-authored commentary platform. It seems to have a much wider remit than the foreign affairs and Westminster politics themes of The Commentator. “We’ve already attracted some big name contributors and we want pieces from people who are sick to death of being constrained by the mainstream media," he tells me. Indeed, it seems that most of the Commentator contributors have jumped ship with Kassam. Building traffic for a multi-authored site which covers a raft of subjects is no easy task, as I remember from Dale & Co. But if anyone can do it, Kassam can.
Alan Partridge would make a good MP, wouldn’t he? I can quite imagine him as the MP for North Norfolk, as opposed to the late night radio presenter of North Norfolk Digital. Most readers won’t be aware that there is in fact in real life a station called North Norfolk Radio. It is broadcast from a barn in a little village called Stody. Some people imagine my radio career is built on the fact that Alan Partridge must be my role model as a presenter. I was very aware of this morning when the news bulletins were reporting the premiere of his new film, ALAN PARTRIDGE IS ALPHA PAPA. I tried to avoid saying ‘back of the net’ or anything else which might cause my listeners to draw a comparison. I am sure my colleagues on Radio Norfolk know the feeling. There is an MP who reminds me of Alan Partridge and one of his names is also rather similar. I’ll leave it there before I get into yet more trouble.
If you are a fan of counterfactual history, and wonder what might have happened in May 1940 had Lord Halifax become Prime minister rather than Winston Churchill, then you will love a new book called Dominion. The author, C J Sansom, is a strange cove. He rose to prominence with a highly successful series of novels set in the reign of Henry VIII, all about the life of a lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. He then wrote a spy novel, Winter in Madrid, Dominion and hit the headlines recently when he donated £160,000 to the "Better Together" campaign. He literally hates the SNP, which is evident at various points in the plot of Dominion. This is his first counterfactual novel, but I suspect it won’t be his last. It’s long at 592 pages, which include a long explanatory note at the end justifying the approach he took to the book. It’s all quite convincing, because had Halifax put up a fight, there’s little doubt that he would indeed have become Prime Minister and I suspect would have sued for peace with Germany within a very short time.
The plot of this book surrounds a slightly quixotic scientist who learns that America has developed the atom bomb. The year is 1952. Queen Elizabeth is on the throne (still unmarried…) and Lord Beaverbrook is the Nazi-sympathising prime minister. Somewhat bizarrely, Enoch Powell is in the quisling-esque Cabinet as Secretary of State for India. Powell’s wife Pam was understandably furious with Sansom for portraying her late husband in this manner, and I suspect Jonathan Aitken is none too pleased at the portrayal of Beaverbrook. Churchill is the renegade leader of the resistance, but doesn’t feature much in the book until the end, when Hitler’s death is announced.
It’s a good yarn, but the book is at least 30 per cent too long and bears all the hallmark of being written with the intention of turning it into a TV drama. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. But although Sansom is very good at developing characters he is less good at telling a story. His writing style can at times be ponderous and lack a sense of anticipation. Many of the key points of the novel arrive with comparatively little build up. And they are then covered in a couple of paragraphs. This is especially so in the final scenes. His portrayal of a Scottish character is in some ways excellent, but it is ruined by his insistence on writing his dialogue in a Scottish accent. Totally unnecessary.
But having said all that I really enjoyed the book as a whole and wanted more! It’s a good holiday read, and I can’t imagine anyone would get to the end and wish they hadn’t bothered.