This week's big questions: Was McBride an aberration in UK politics? Is HS2 worth building for £50bn?

This week's big questions answered by novelist and former Tory MP Michael Dobbs


Is Damian McBride and his time in the  office of Gordon Brown a one-off aberration in British political life?

I hope not. What fun it’s been watching New Labour wash its dirty underwear. But as a Tory I can’t get too sanctimonious. After all, Neville Chamberlain tapped the phones of his Cabinet ministers. And my most famous fictional character, Francis Urquhart [in House of Cards], didn’t have the initials FU for nothing.

But when it comes to dirty tricks, I know of nothing to beat the Blessed Blair. He smeared an entire country on his way to war with Iraq. What Mr McBride did was disgraceful, of course, but I’d much rather watch juvenile political hacks throwing their toys out of the pram than prime ministers throwing weapons carelessly around.

Why does David Cameron struggle to retain the loyalty of so many of his parliamentary party and ordinary members?

Loyalty is perhaps not the outstanding characteristic of the Tory party. Thatcher had her Wets and Howes, Major his bastards and DC has his very own swivel-eyed loons. Being a great prime minister requires a certain seductive ability but Cameron has had to hold hands with both Clegg and his own Conservatives, and split loyalties don’t go down well in the Westminster harem.

Cameron used up a lot of political capital on Lords reform and gay marriage and what on earth was he doing dancing around Syria? Yet these issues are now out of the way, he’s given the Eurosceptics the referendum they want and the blue shoots of economic recovery are tickling at our toes.

The Prime Minister is also exceedingly fortunate with his opponents outside the party and if the next election comes down to a presidential shootout between Cameron, Clogg and Milipede, there’s only one winner. So optimism within the party rises and the mutterings recede.

Do you think the plans outlined in Ed Miliband’s speech if carried out by a Labour government would entail national economic destruction and class warfare?

The speech about putting business in its place was passionate, almost as passionate as last month’s speech when he promised to put the trade unions in their place. He does seem to shift smartly about the scene. He reminds me of a pilchard pursued by piranhas, although he seems only to know how to turn left.

Freeze energy prices? Then why not do the same with food prices, housing, travel costs –  all the things the last Labour government failed to do? But perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical of a leader who wants to learn from the mistakes of the last Labour government when the Energy Secretary was – Ed Miliband! Keep energy prices down? Which? Switch is infinitely more useful than Mr Miliband.

Is fracking the answer to any of Britain’s energy problems?

If it were left up to the band of professional protesters who roam the country looking for a cause, we’d be stuffed – which is precisely what they want. One moment the headlines scream that the lights are about to go out, next it’s all about how we are environmental vandals for even considering using shale gas.

If an energy crisis does hit, it will be the poor who suffer most. Sensibly regulated fracking will probably be cleaner than coal, less costly than nuclear, tidier than those bird-slicing wind turbines and, yes, I’m willing to take my chance on being swallowed by an earthquake.

Is HS2 worth building for £50bn?

Case far from proven. I’m much more interested in getting a third runway at Heathrow, and keener still on the technology for the driverless car which I suspect is (forgive the pun) just around the corner.

It’s likely to be one of the most exciting transport revolutions of the century. Slash costs, do away with traffic jams, reduce carbon footprint, boost productivity, increase leisure time, reduce crime and save the planet. Worth investing a few bob there, then.

Do we pay too little attention in this country to events in Europe, like the re-election of Mrs Merkel in Germany? And too much to the United States?

Too little attention to Europe? I thought we were constantly accused of being obsessed with the place.

Angela Merkel is a remarkable woman, a source of stability in a continent that is still like an albatross missing most of its flight feathers. Over the past five years almost every other elected leader in Europe has been thrown out as punishment for failure. If only we could do the same to the unelected government in Brussels!

The United States is in a dark place right now, it’s domestic politics poisonous, but it is still the mightiest power on earth and we are natural bedfellows. Yet friendship shouldn’t be blind. Blair followed so closely behind President Bush that he all but disappeared from view. We can do much better than that. Simple policy: Good Partners, Great Neighbours.

What does the popularity of Downton Abbey reveal about the British?

We are a class act.

Are Channel Four’s plans for a sex box programme a serious response to the supposed pornification of our culture?

Your’e kidding. You really are kidding, aren’t you? We take sex out of the closet only to put it into a box? It sounds about as much fun as picking your nose with a boxing glove.

Sex should be left in its appropriate place, which in my view means on a deserted beach, up a heather-covered hillside, in a laundry cupboard – or does that leave us back in the closet where we started?

Michael Dobbs’ latest thriller, ‘A Ghost At The Door’ is published by Simon & Schuster at £18.99

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