STEVE ANGLESEY takes a look at the Vote Leave cheats, and explains why Gemma Collins is his Brexiteer of the Week.
One question for whoever arranged the short stack of hardbacks which flanked Dominic Raab on his recent, much-mocked TV appearance. Since the former Brexit secretary served on the campaign committee of Vote Leave, which has quietly dropped its appeal against censure for cheating in the referendum, was it really wise to position him next to a biography of noted political cheat Richard Nixon?
Jonathan Aitken’s Nixon: A Life nestled on Raab’s window ledge next to Ronald Reagan’s Diaries, a book on King Hussein of Jordan and Total Recall – which disappointingly turns out to be a biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger rather than one of Fiona Onasanya.
It was part of a suspiciously staged-looking display which may have been designed to give the impression that Raab is a serious intellectual but actually made him look rather stupid. As interior decorating experts were quick to point out on social media, stacking books next to your fancy interior window blinds makes it impossible to open them – somewhat of a disadvantage as Britain currently basks in the Brexit dividend of a warm spring.
As to the Esher and Walton MP’s reading matter, Aitken’s tome is part of a select band of biographies written by right-wing jailbirds about the crooked president.
Conrad Black’s Nixon: The Invincible Quest came out in 2007, the same year the former Telegraph owner was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for fraud, later reduced on appeal to 42 months. Aitken’s appeared in 1993, the same year in which the then minister for defence procurement had a £1,000 hotel bill paid by aides of the Saudi royal family, breaching parliamentary rules. His subsequent cover-up resulted in an 18-month sentence for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
In his highly sympathetic biography, which Raab described in a 2012 interview as ‘fantastic… very well researched and deliberately even-handed’, Aitken claims that the tape of Nixon discussing a proposed $1 million pay-off to the Watergate burglars for their silence was just Tricky Dick ‘thinking out loud’ rather than evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
He also theorises that the infamous 18-minute gap in a recorded conversation between the commander-in-chief and his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman must have been the result of sabotage by Nixon’s political opponents rather than a crude attempt by the president or his aides to erase an incriminating conversation.
His main evidence for this appears to be that Haldeman’s notes of the meeting describe it as ‘innocuous, with no instructions or moves towards a cover-up’. Aitken writes that ‘to this day, the gap is one of the great unsolved mysteries of Watergate.’ What is equally mystifying is why he should trust the account of Haldeman, who was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice over Watergate and ended up serving 18 months in jail, most of it working in the sewage farm at Lompoc federal prison, California.
It is hard to read Aitken’s jaw-dropping excuses without thinking of the one offered by Gisela Stuart, the former chairman of Vote Leave, on The Andrew Marr Show last Sunday when asked why the organisation had cancelled its appeal against its fine for exceeding its £7 million referendum budget by nearly £500,000.
She argued that ‘our biggest problem in the end was that we destroyed all our data, and therefore some of the evidential basis which people are asking for’.
This did not tally with the official explanation offered by Vote Leave two days earlier (‘sadly, we now find ourselves in a position that we do not have the financial resources to carry forward this appeal, even though we are confident that we would have prevailed on the facts in court’) and raises the interesting question of why Vote Leave should have chosen to destroy all its data in the first place.
Perhaps in years to come a Jonathan Aitken-type will write a book explaining that the destruction of Vote Leave’s data was in fact not its own doing at all but actually sabotage by its political opponents. The hardback will no doubt appear on Dominic Raab’s special book ledges, nestling up to heavyweight biographies of Karl Rove, Mohammed Bin Salman and Keanu Reeves.
By then Raab, who is 6-1 third favourite to succeed Theresa May, might even be awkwardly stacking his reading material on the window sills of Downing Street. Unless Labour and the Metropolitan Police suddenly wake up to the fact that the referendum was won illegally, his close links to Vote Leave, which only last month was fined for sending 196,154 unsolicited spam texts to voters during the referendum campaign, will not seem to matter too much.
If they did, Sajid ‘The Saj’ Javid would not be hiring Vote Leave’s chief executive Matthew Elliott to run his campaign to become next Tory leader and therefore prime minister, and the front-runners would not be the group’s figureheads, Michael Gove (5-1 second favourite) and Boris Johnson (7-2 favourite).
When news first broke of Vote Leave’s overspending, on March 24 last year, Johnson tweeted: ‘Observer/C4 story utterly ludicrous, Vote Leave won fair & square – and legally. We are leaving the EU in a year and going global.’ Five falsehoods in a single social media message there – but maybe, like Richard Nixon, Boris didn’t really mean any of it and was just ‘tweeting out loud’.
Both he and Gove have been silent on Vote Leave’s dropped appeal, but they could always try a Nixonian ‘I am not a crook!’
Meanwhile Raab might like to ponder something he said in that 2012 interview about his reading habits. Asked ‘what would you like to write a book about?’, he replied: ‘I vaguely had a project in mind, to try to write some sort of political equivalent of Freakonomics… Something about the law of unintended consequences in political decision-making.’
Thanks to Vote Leave and the cheating which helped deliver Brexit, he has no shortage of material.
Brexiteers of the week
‘Just referring to what was said is not an endorsement of it,’ explained Professor
Yaffle in the Commons, defending his decision to quote far-right German politician
Alice Weidel in a tweet. The Alternative für Deutschland’s parliamentary leader may support the banning of minarets and burkas but, in contrast
to extremists like Rees-Mogg, does not want her country to leave the EU.
Meanwhile, I recently heard a bloke in a pub claim that Rees-Mogg’s flirtations with alt-right figures like Weidel, Steve Bannon and the Brenton Tarrant-endorsed Candace Owens make him not just a nest-feathering, narcissistic nanny’s boy but something far more dangerous. I’m just referring to what was said though, rather than endorsing it.
Paul Dacre may be gone but his spirit lives on in the Daily Mailletters page, where reader Bob could recently be seen ranting: ‘British people travelling abroad may no longer be able to use the faster EU passport lanes. Just another way of the EU being spiteful or, at least, unhelpful.’ Or perhaps just applying the rules of a club which Bob Wallace and many of his fellow Mail correspondents don’t
want us to belong to any more? Next week: Bob cancels his AA membership, then
fumes when they won’t pick up his broken-down Austin Allegro from the hard
shoulder of the M25.
The diminutive former soldier – no word yet on whether the army he served in was the one from Potty Timeor the one from Cloppa Castle– told the pro-Brexit crowd in Westminster on March 29 he had ‘a message for the europhiliacs of the odayprogramme… up yours!’ A few days later he was on Radio Five Live telling the hancellor, ‘If you’re listening Mr Hammond, my fraternal message to you is: ‘Up ours’.’ Tory defector Nick Boles escaped a third ‘up yours’, but as Francois lassily pointed out. ‘I’m not going to criticise Nick Boles because he fought off ancer.’ The title ‘most unpleasant Brexiteer’ has been hotly contested over the last three years but this dyspeptic Benny The Ball, a walking validation of the Napoleon complex theory, takes the prize.
‘I voted out and I would do again,’ said The Only Way Is Essex’s Collins during an appearance on Good Morning Britain. She added: ‘I think Theresa needs to lead our nation. Take a deep breath Theresa, make a deal and let’s move forward. If you’re
a leader in this country, take the lead and own it and people will follow. You’ve got to have some gumption and lead our country. She just needs to lead our country and go for it.’
A series of platitudes so meaningless and so repetitive that Gemma Collins actually could be our next prime minister.
• Steve Anglesey and Richard Porritt present The New European podcast live from the Politics Live festival in London this Sunday, April 7. Buy your tickets at podcast-live.eventcube.io/ and use the code EUROPE10 to get 10% off.