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Friday, 14 May 2010

14 May 2010

Regular readers may recall that from time to time I pick up odd bits of paper that I find on the bus. I’m never sure if they actually exist, or whether I’m simply imagining them – but this is one I picked up yesterday.

It was headed “Note to Nick – for your eyes only”, and it was unsigned. This is what it said:

“Nick: first of all, congratulations. You did it. One day soon, when you have a moment, you’ll have to explain to me how – having won fewer seats than you had last time – you’ve ended up as deputy Prime Minister. Not bad going, I reckon. Not bad at all.

“Second, you asked for my thoughts on what you should do next. Here are some early ideas.

“ -- You need to move fast to end this “gay wedding in the Downing Street garden” stuff. Yesterday’s papers were full of it after your lovey-dovey press conference with Cameron, and it’s got to stop. It’s not helpful – remember what Spitting Image did to David Steel by portraying him as David Owen’s puppet? These things can do real damage.

“ -- If you were thinking of changing your name to Cameron, don’t. (Ask Miriam about it if you’re not sure.) I’ve already heard Robin Lustig on The World Tonight call you “David Clegg” during one of the TV debates – he insists it was a slip of the tongue, but you can never tell with these people.

“ -- You need to start thinking right now about the party conference in the autumn. Osborne’s emergency budget will be horrible, as you know (by the way, you will make sure, won’t you, that Vince Cable isn’t rude about him in public – what he says in private is one thing, but you must keep Vince busy … I know he’s fuming that he’s not Chancellor, but let him take out his frustration on the bankers). I suggest you urgently get something meaty done on political reform – the AV referendum bill, House of Lords, whatever – to throw to party members. You may be able to keep them quiet for another year – but five years? No chance … Well done, by the way, for keeping the TV cameras out of the party conference this weekend – you can’t be too careful at this stage of the game.

“ -- Keep going with the happy-clappy stuff. You don’t have to worry about Sarah Palin, so “changy feely” works well here. Callers to the phone-in shows have been overwhelmingly positive so far … we need to keep talking about the “new politics” for as long as we can.

“ -- Try not to do Cameron better than he does. He doesn’t like it, and he’ll turn on you if he sees your ratings going up while his go down. It’s going to be tricky, but you need to remember that he is the boss. (Maybe stick a note on your fridge door? “Tories: 306 seats. Lib Dems: 57”.)

“ -- Finally, you may not like this, but grow a beard. Obviously, you’ll need to discuss with Miriam, but it will help voters tell you and Dave apart. (It might also win you the support of Keith Flett of the Beard Liberation Front who, as far as I know, has never voted Lib Dem in his life.)”

As I say, I may have imagined the whole thing …

And now a quick note about a special programme we’re doing next week. As part of our 40th anniversary celebrations, I’ll be chairing a special World Tonight debate at the leading foreign policy think tank Chatham House. The subject is “Britain in the world: the future of British foreign policy.” We’ll have a panel of speakers from the UK, the US, Germany and India, and if you have a question you’d like me to put to them, please send it in, either by email or as a comment on the blog, before Tuesday lunch-time.

The programme will be broadcast next Wednesday, 19 May, at 8pm on BBC Radio 4.

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