Made my first ever trip to Jersey yesterday. Nice place, nice time, good run, met some old friends and then last night did a speech and q and a at a dinner. It is always interesting to see where questions are coming from especially when, as last night, they come from a mix on onstage interviewer and written questions submitted during the evening by guests.
The onstage interview stuff was as you’d expect – is Labour doomed? (No). Is Alastair Campbell the father of spin? (No – I gave them a history lesson about ‘spin alley’ where supporters of rival candidates gathered after presidential election TV debates back in black and white days?) Peter Mandelson asset or liability? (Asset). Was expenses’gate’ a disaster for politics? (Yes but we still need to defend politics). Credit crunch all the fault of bankers? (Not all but a lot?)
A bit about my own ‘demons’ and future, but after half an hour or so the conference organiser bounded up with her selection of 20 questions from the floor that I had to answer in five minutes. And then later she showed me all the questions that had been submitted, which I read this morning as I made my way to Burnley. (Sorry Alistair McGowan, I really am trying to cut my carbon footprint and doing well in many ways but flying was the only way I could make it on time, and I am committed to seeing every game this year).
Flicking through dozens of questions was quite a pleasant way to spend some of the flight. They went from the serious – Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Tories and Europe, public spending – to the less so, such as ‘what colour pants are you wearing?’ That was in fact one of the 20. The answer, I was almost ashamed to say as the Tories gather in Manchester, was blue. I shall wear claret and blue today, red tomorrow. The questioner, from table 12, later asked if she could see proof that they were blue. It was gone midnight by then, so I don’t want to give the wrong impression about the whole evening, even if I did learn Jersey spends more per head on alcohol than anywhere apart from Luxembourg, and another question submitted from table 8 was ‘does my bum look big in this?’.
As almost always happens when the public are asking the questions, the majority were divorced from the prevailing media agenda. So for example there were more about my time w
ith the British and Irish Lions than there were about the Sun’s switch back to the Tories. There were as many on mental health issues as there were on the Labour conference in Brighton, even though it had clearly been followed pretty closely.
Then there is always the usual worst day, best day, funniest moment, tell us about Princess Diana, are you Malcolm Tucker, do you still like Britney Spears (not like I did) and why does Gordon do that thing with his jaw? I quite liked ‘have you ever considered throwing a shoe at George Bush?’ (No).
The one current issue that came ‘top of the pops’, numerically (though still fewer than the combined number of questions on sport) concerned whether I thought TB would become the new President of Europe if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, and a few added a question about whether I would work for him. The second part was easily dealt with. No. I said I was proud and privileged to have worked for him for as long as I did, and as hard as I did, but I do not want to return to any full on, full time communications or political job. Added to which, as readers of my diaries will know, the European summitry scene was never my favourite way of passing time. As to whether I think he will get the job, I said I certainly think he is the best qualified.
When this new position was first devised, it was in part to have in Europe a big figure and a big voice leaders of the major countries of the world outside Europe would contact rather than, as now, having to find out which country holds the rotating presidency. He is also a superb decision-maker, negotiatior and communicator, skills which would all be required in large quantities. But I also know that Europe does not always get the best people into the right positions, and the complex and constantly shifting politics of the place means nothing is too certain for too long.
Meanwhile, I see the Tories have decided he would be a disaster and say they will do everything to stop it from happening. Given their European policy consists of sticking two fingers up to serious leaders so that they can jump into bed with a marginalised, marginalising alliance of racists, homophobes and misfits, I would say that the Tory onslaught is something of a campaign boost for TB, assuming he is up for it.
The tough Tory talk on Europe is being led by William Hague. Mr Cameron is otherwise engaged, busy getting his picture taken by his newly hired personal photographer. If the snapper sees any Cameron policies emerging anywhere, perhaps he could let us know. And maybe Andrew Marr could press Cameron as aggressively on missing policy tomorrow as he pressed GB last week on rumours about his health.