David Cameron's boldness: the overlooked clues

  • July 29, 2010 11:56
  • Katy Scholes

C9781849540308Writes author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister Nicholas Jones:

In his television documentary – Five Days That Changed Britain – the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson chides himself for his failure to have predicted that in the event of an inconclusive general election David Cameron might attempt to establish a coalition government.

I too was taken totally by surprise by the boldness of Cameron’s ‘big, open and comprehensive’ offer to Nick Clegg and his skill in negotiating a deal that paved the way for a joint Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration.

But just like Robinson I too overlooked vital clues. In his case, the BBC’s political editor says senior Liberal Democrats did tell him during the campaign that they thought Cameron was capable of repeating Disraeli’s bold risk-taking and pulling off a post-election deal.

‘If only I’d listened more to those two Lib Dems, I would also have predicted Cameron’s boldness’, says Robinson.

Immediately I heard the election-night exit poll suggesting that the Conservatives would fall short of an overall majority I feared my book – Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister – was about to become a car crash for my publishers Biteback.

But as a drowning author I still had one straw to clutch to: the year I spent researching Cameron’s background and early career had convinced me that if anyone could pull off a last-minute sensation, it was the leader of the Conservative Party.

From the moment Cameron took the initiative the day after the election and made his offer to the Liberal Democrats, I had a feeling that he would still make it to 10 Downing Street and I held to that view despite Gordon Brown’s counter offer.

What had so impressed me about Cameron was that whenever the chips were down, he held his nerve and took a risk. Speaking without notes to the Conservatives’ 2005 party conference – his first-ever speech at a party conference – was a gamble for any leadership candidate.

Nor did he over react when Gordon Brown dithered about the on-off general election of 2007. Cameron then risked all in the immediate aftermath of the scandal about the abuse of MPs’ expenses in 2009 by standing up to the Tory grandees and insisting they repay excessive claims.

On the eve of Brown’s resignation as Prime Minister and the Queen’s summons to Buckingham Palace, Cameron was still not sure he could secure an agreement with the Liberal Democrats; he told Nick Robinson he remembered saying to his wife Samantha ‘it’s not going to happen, I am going to remain Leader of the Opposition’.

I find it comforting now to hear Cameron come across sounding so relaxed about such a knife-edge moment. Needless to say a nerve-wracked author had nothing like the composure of the Prime Minister to be!

Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister is available to buy here, priced £9.99


A lesson from Tory history calls for 'fair play between all classes'

  • July 28, 2010 14:21
  • Katy Scholes

David Torrance
Biteback author David Torrance writes in the The Times (Scottish edition)

The beleaguered Scottish Tory Party would do well to revisit the writings of a largely-forgotten Conservative thinker. “Until our educated and politically minded democracy has become predominantly a property-owning democracy,” declared Noel Skelton in 1923, “neither the national equilibrium nor the balance of the life of the individual will be restored.”

With that, Skelton contributed an enduring concept to the modern political lexicon. The Unionist MP for Perth in the 1920s and early 30s said “property-owning democracy” was the cornerstone of the most important component of the party’s “view of life”. Later, this was interpreted as home ownership, characterised by Margaret Thatcher’s promotion of council house sales, although Skelton intended much more. He wanted individuals to have a stake in every layer of society, in government and industry as well as individual property. It was an influential idea. A trio of prime ministers – Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home – all pay homage to Skelton in their memoirs, while David Cameron is familiar with the phraseology, if not the man himself.

Winning Perth for the first time in 1922, Skelton said the duty of Conservatives was clear. “They must not only be Unionists on polling day but every day, and all the day.” He realised that the party could not regard any system of government “as necessarily permanent”. If there was to be “some devolution, some alteration in the present system”, he said in the early 1930s, Scotland would “come to that new duty and that new responsibility not as a minor member, not as inferior to England; she will come to it with a full knowledge of parliamentary life, and she will come because she is ready”.

He was, therefore, a Nationalist and a Unionist, Scottish and British, a political balancing act his successors have lost sight of. “If Conservatives are not to fight with one hand tied behind their backs, the active principles of Conservatism must be felt anew, thought anew, promulgated anew,” he proclaimed.

Not a bad mission statement for the modern Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

Skelton was the first to recognise the need to move beyond the party’s traditional association with privilege. The next Scottish Tory manifesto should emphasise what Skelton characterised as “fair play between all classes and the desire of each to farther the common weal”. His progressive Conservatism can, with a little refreshment, work again.

David Torrance’s biography, Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy, is available here, priced £25.00


Deborah Mattinson interviewed by Mark D'Arcy on the BBC's BOOKtalk

  • July 26, 2010 14:49
  • Katy Scholes

Watch Deborah Mattinson discussing her new book Talking to A Brick Wall on BBC Parliament's BOOKtalk with Mark D'Arcy. She covers all the twists and turns of the Brown premiership, the role and perceptions of focus groups among politicians and relationship between politicians and the voters.

Deborah Mattinson was Gordon Brown's Chief Pollster.


How Britain's first spy chief ordered Rasputin's murder (in a way that would make every man's eyes water)

  • July 22, 2010 12:04
  • Katy Scholes

9781906447007The Daily Mail's Annabel Venning looks at the secrets exposed by Michael Smith in his new book SIX: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service:

The Rolls-Royce sped along the road through the woods outside Meaux, northern France. It was October 1914, two months after the start of World War I.
Driving the car was Alastair Cumming, a 24-year-old intelligence officer. Beside him sat his father, Mansfield Cumming, head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, who had come out to France to visit him. As well as their intelligence work, they shared a love of fast cars. Then, in an instant, the Rolls suffered a puncture. The car veered off the road, smashed into a tree and overturned, pinning Mansfield by the leg and flinging his son out onto his head. Hearing his son moaning, Mansfield tried to extricate himself from the wreckage and crawl over to him. Despite struggling, he couldn't free his leg. And so, taking out his penknife, he began hacking through the tendons and bone until he had severed his lower leg and freed himself. He then crawled over to where Alastair lay and managed to spread his coat over his dying son. He was found, some time later, unconscious, by the body of his son. This act of extraordinary bravery, sacrifice and a willingness to use whatever means necessary, however unpleasant, to achieve an end, was to become a secret service legend...

To read more (and to find out how Rasputin really met his end) visit the Daily Mail website here.

SIX: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service by Michael Smith is available to buy here.

Richard Cullen's own investigation into the murder of Rasputin - Rasputin: The role of the British Secret Service in his torture and murder is also available to buy here.


What are the most important facts about the 2010 general election? Nicholas Jones reveals all.

  • July 21, 2010 12:08
  • Katy Scholes

What greater challenge could there be for a political enthusiast than to be given ten minutes to tell twenty sixth formers the ten most important facts about the 2010 general election?

Top of my list was a no brainer given the age of the audience. One in four of all 18-24 year olds commented on the election via social networking sites. Eighty per cent of them expressed an interest in political issues during the campaign. On polling day the turn out in their age group was up seven per cent on the 2005 general election, just one illustration of an unprecedented level of online interaction and participation. Old-style doorstep politics was overtaken by conversations via the web on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest.

So another key fact was what I called the ‘online insurgency’: David Cameron’s air-brushed poster became the most mocked image of the campaign thanks to viral graffiti artists; Nick Clegg was supported by an online fightback when accused by the Daily Mail of a ‘Nazi slur’; and Gordon Brown's disastrous 'Bigotgate' encounter became an online sensation.

But it was the three televised debates which were the election game changer – changing the dynamics of the way the campaign was reported. Without the three live confrontations between the leaders there would not have been ‘Cleggmania’ and Clegg would not have been able to command the Westminster stage as the kingmaker in the post-election hard bargaining that led to the formation of the UK’s first peace time coalition government since the 1930s.

Nicholas Jones was guest speaker at Overton Grange School in the London Borough of Sutton. He will be discussing his new book, Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister, at Gants Hill Library tonight at 7.30pm. Entry is £2.50 and you can book ahead on 020 8708 9206.

Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister is available to buy here.