David Cameron livened up his talk to the Commons Press Gallery lunch with a joke about his long-delayed speech about whether there should be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU. It is a “tantric” speech, he said – it will be good when it comes. Later, he fell victim to the ridiculous modern trap that requires prime ministers to pretend to be just like the rest of us – something that began with Tony Blair.
Asked whether he had voted to keep Nadine Dorries in the jungle during her brief appearance on I’m A Celebrity…, he thought it politic to say no. But then his internal radar warned him that it would not do to sound sniffy about reality television, so he embarked on a story about how he had once voted for Will Young because his daughter told him to. It took only a few minutes for the story to fall apart, as a quick check established that Will Young won Pop Idol in 2002, and Cameron’s eldest daughter, Nancy, was not born until 2004.
If Margaret Thatcher had been asked a question like that she would not even have pretended to know what reality television was. And no one would have dared even suggest that she make a joke about ejaculation.
Cameron’s mistake evoked memories of Tony Blair’s “Jackie Milburn moment”, when he was quoted as having claimed that he saw “Wor Jackie” play for Newcastle United, when in fact he was only four when Milburn retired. However, Blair was exonerated years later, when the local paper that first ran the story admitted it was based on a mishearing of what he actually said. He never claimed to have watched Milburn in action.
One TV repeat the PM isn’t keen to see
Another question put to Mr Cameron at the lunch was whether he will sanction a rerun of the television debates that were highlights of the 2010 election campaign. His reply suggested that he is not going to, if he can find a face-saving way out. He claimed the debates “sucked the life out of the campaign”, which is true to the extent that nothing else that happened during that campaign caught the public’s attention, with the exception of the fiasco in Rochdale, when Gordon Brown called a voter “bigoted”.
It is arguable, however, that without the debates, the campaign would not have had much life at all. In his long and winding answer, twice mentioned that he had introduced a fixed-term Parliament, meaning that we already know the date of the next election. He did not say why this was at all relevant, but it suggests he is toying with the possibility of holding TV debates before rather than during the campaign.
Chloe Smith and her ‘wedding spreadsheet’
Chloe Smith, left, one of the youngest Government ministers, has had an interesting year. While at the Treasury, she endured a ghastly mauling by Jeremy Paxman over the fuel tax U-turn. Then she was shifted sideways to the Cabinet Office. Now some cheery news: she is engaged to Sandy McFadzean, a former soldier. A modern touch is that she popped the question and he said “yes”. The bride-to-be told the Norwich Evening News: “You should see how organised our wedding spreadsheet is.”
Knutsford’s Tories won’t toast Osborne
In Manchester and Liverpool you can still find Conservative clubs open for business, though it has been a long time since any part of either city has had a Tory MP, or even a Conservative councillor. Yet there is no longer a viable Conservative Club in Knutsford, 10 miles outside Manchester, although the Cheshire town is one of the safest Tory seats and George Osborne, no less, is the local MP. His constituency office shares a building with the once-popular Knutsford Conservative Club, but the Knutsford Guardian reports that the club has hit hard times and closed. “With the economic climate, social drinking has gone down,” said the chairman, Brian Fisher. The fact that Mr Osborne, left, put up the price of a pint by 5p in his March Budget will not have helped.