The irony of former prime minister David Cameron banning ‘Brexit’ from a talk on effective campaigning wasn’t lost on a group of volunteers.
David Cameron – the Miss Havisham of British politics – made a rare outing last week to address a group of youthful volunteers from Bono’s outfit ONE UK and pose for pictures. The public smiles masked, however, much behind-the-scenes angst.
“We were all subjected to rigorous security checks ahead of his visit, which we felt was demeaning, given that we have all been involved with the organisation for some time and not exhibited any terrorist tendencies,” one of the volunteers complains to Mandrake. “What was worse, we were ordered not to ask Cameron any questions about Brexit in the Q&A that followed his talk. His people weren’t apparently happy even with that and decreed only questions that had been approved by them first could be asked.”
There’s no doubt that ONE is a worthwhile organisation – part of a global movement committed to ending extreme poverty and preventable diseases – but at least some of the volunteers were dubious about whether it was a great idea for them to be associating themselves with Cameron.
She adds it was hard not to see the irony in what Cameron, a board member of the outfit, chose to talk to them about: effective campaigning. “Clearly the campaign that Cameron will always be most remembered for will be the EU referendum, and, with the best will in the world, that could hardly have been described as very effective,” she says. “I had a sense that we were all being used by him for a picture opportunity. I don’t say he wasn’t perfectly civil, but he wasn’t with us for long and all that seemed to matter to him was getting a picture done and tweeted.”
Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s £200,000-a-year editorial supremo, was seen as a favourite to succeed Lord Hall as director general until my foghorn-voiced mate John Sweeney called him out for trousering £12,000 for speaking at a bankers’ conference days after the sacking of 450 staff.
Former Panorama man Sweeney pointed out this was not merely crass, but also not in keeping with the spirit, if not also the letter, of the corporation’s editorial guidelines.
There’s little moral authority to be had in being forced to apologise and to waive a fee, but both of these Kamal had to do.
At the launch of his thriller The Useful Idiot at the Polish Hearth Club, Sweeney got a laugh when he included Ahmed in his “apologies for absence” list, but later added that no serious journalist would ever have chased both power and money in the way that his erstwhile colleague had.
Mandrake wonders if Charles Moore – Boris Johnson’s former editor at the Daily Telegraph – isn’t more of an influence over him than Dominic Cummings.
Moore’s climate science scepticism and obsession with scrapping the BBC licence fee have all informed Johnson’s thinking and I’m told the two Old Etonians confer regularly.
Once ridiculed as “Lord Snooty” by Private Eye, Moore is tipped to be made a peer by Johnson. On one issue only would they appear to disagree: Moore is a Catholic convert, whereas Johnson switched from Catholicism to Anglicanism.
One might have hoped, what with the coronavirus, the weekend storms and the aftermath of his shambolic cabinet reshuffle, Boris Johnson would have more important things to worry about than a flagpole, but it appears not.
Mandrake hears the PM wants a bigger pole erected over 10 and 11 Downing Street so he can hoist a flag even higher. He got an application into Westminster Council late last month and Historic England are now being consulted because of the properties’ listed status. A decision is expected by the end of March. No word about what flag Johnson wants to fly: probably a St George’s as a Union Flag would seem provocative in all the circumstances. Dominic Cummings would probably prefer an anarchist flag.