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Archives for January 2011

Tories wheel out the 'superwhip'

Michael Crick | 18:10 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

So the impasse on the Lords over the Voting System and Constituencies has been resolved with deal that will give various concessions, especially to the cross-benchers.

The Tories whips in the Lords had issued what they called a "Superwhip" demanding Conservative peer's strict attendance for between 4pm and 9pm on Tuesday, when the government was threatening to introduce a guillotine motion to get the legislation through.

Tory peers were told this was only the fourth occasion a three-line whip has been issued in the Lords since it was reformed 12 years ago. And peers were even told they could not ignore the whip unless it was a matter of "life and death".

The fact that the Tories' "Superwhip" found its way to the Labour whips was, I presume, all part of the threat.

Tories take steps to avoid losing out in boundary changes

Michael Crick | 18:02 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

The Conservatives are taking early and detailed measures to ensure that no Tory MP loses his job because of the new constituency boundaries.

I'm told a new unit has been set up inside Conservative HQ to manage the process in an orderly fashion, and to fulfil a promise recently made by David Cameron to the 1922 that no Conservative MP would lose out from the reduction in the total number of MPs from 650 down to 600, and there would be no head-on contests between Tory MPs for the newly drawn constituencies.

The unit inside CCHQ, working under the party's Boundary Review Manager Roger Pratt - a long-standing expert on boundary changes - has already done an exercise for the whole of southern England, making intelligent guesses as to how the new constituencies might be drawn by the Boundary Commission under the proposed new rules.

By carefully working out which MP should be allocated which seat, they have managed to ensure that in southern England, at least, there should be no Conservative casualties.

Pratt has been holding meetings with regional groups of MPs in recent days to assure them they will be looked after by the party.

But the party's internal calculations, I'm told, depend on persuading several older MPs to go to the Lords, or, if the Lords has been reformed by the next election, they will simply get peerages.

Among those they hope to nudge up to the upper house are Roger Gale, the former deputy speaker Alan Haselhurst, Bill Cash and Richard Shepherd. Not all of these would normally be in line for peerages.

But such an exercise is relatively easy for southern England, because relatively few seats will be lost in the South. It will get much trickier when the Conservatives start managing the process in the Midlands, the North and Wales, where many more seats will disappear.

The Conservative high command fears that unless they start taking action now, then the prospect of a free-for-all game of musical chairs among Conservative MPs for the new seats could result in a breakdown in party discipline at Westminster.

The worry is that MPs would try to impress local Conservative associations that they are independent of the party hierarchy.

The new boundaries will not finally be settled until October 2013, which will leave the political parties just 18 months to choose their candidates before the next election in May 2015.

A recent exercise by Liverpool University and the organisation Democratic Audit suggests that on the votes secured in May 2010, the Conservatives would end up with 285 seats under the new boundaries, 23 fewer than last May.

There are two ironies in all of this, of course. Whatever happened to localism? And, in managing the effects of the reduction in size of the democratically elected house, the party is planning yet further expansion of the chamber which is not democratically elected.

Alistair Carmichael's voicemail for Andy Coulson

Michael Crick | 12:47 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

The Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael went to address the local Lib Dems in Hampstead on Thursday night.

My source tells me he admitted he had some regrets about Andy Coulson's resignation, having got to know him and respect his professionalism in his role.

"I was upset enough," Mr Carmichael said, "that I wanted to send my commiserations. So I left a message on my voicemail and he'll pick it up soon, I'm sure."

A new strand to the News of the World story

Michael Crick | 18:42 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

A new strand to the story of the News of the World and its methods could open up next week.

Two years ago, in a Commons committee hearing, the then Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price asked this question of the News of the World Executive, Stuart Kuttner:

"In 2002 it emerged as a result of covert police surveillance that a News of the World journalist had been paying thousands of pounds to a detective agency, Southern Investigations, for information obtained illegally from corrupt police officers. Were you aware of those payments, Mr Kuttner?"

Kuttner shed no light on the matter.

But we could learn a lot more, I'm told, from prosecution evidence in a major murder trial which is due to begin on Monday.

Lord Taylor's BBC job mix up

Michael Crick | 13:17 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

Lord (John) Taylor, the peer who was this week convicted of expenses fraud, is a resilient chap, and will no doubt survive his expected jail sentence.

John Taylor has taken knocks before, and pulled through. Such as the racism of certain voters in Cheltenham in the 1992 election (and of some members of the local Conservative party which chose him as their candidate).

And subsequently he also survived a rather disappointing experience with the BBC.

In 1995 the BBC was looking for a new crime correspondent. John Taylor applied, and so did another John Taylor, a well-known reporter with London Weekend Television.

After the interviews, the Tory John Taylor rang the BBC, announced his name, and asked about the outcome. "Congratulations," he was told. He'd got the job, they told him, adding that a formal letter of appointment was in the post.

A letter was indeed in the post, but on its way to the LWT John Taylor, the man the BBC really wanted.

You can imagine the BBC's embarrassment when they learnt about the cock-up. And all the thoughts racing through managers' minds - will he accuse us of racism? etc.

A year later the other John Taylor gained some small consolation with a peerage awarded by John Major.

In the light of recent events, perhaps the other John Taylor would have been rather well qualified as a crime correspondent.

The Gerry Adams story which gets more bizarre by the day

Michael Crick | 18:13 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

This Gerry Adams story gets more bizarre, and funnier, by the day.

And now it seems that David Cameron got it slightly wrong in announcing at Prime Minister's Questions that Adams had "accepted an office of profit under the Crown" to become Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

He even mocked him as "Baron of the Manor of Northstead".

Only it wasn't quite true.

Gerry Adams denies he's applied for the post. He'd merely written to the Speaker John Bercow to say he was resigning. And later Adams claimed that Cameron's private secretary had apologised to him for making the mistake.

Even though he didn't APPLY for the job of Crown Bailiff, it seems the Republican leader was appointed to the post nonetheless, and so Adams is no longer MP for West Belfast.

Political jailbirds

Michael Crick | 12:40 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

When was the last time so many British politicians were in jail, or awaiting it?

David Chaytor has just started an 18-month sentence for expenses fraud. And today Tommy Sheridan got three years for perjury.

Eric Illsley and Lord Taylor are awaiting sentence, and others may well follow shortly.

'No legal bar to Gerry Adams sitting in both Houses'

Michael Crick | 17:10 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

My BBC colleague Mark Devonport reports that a spokesperson for the Dáil Éireann, Ireland's House of Representatives, said that it was not aware of any Irish law which would prevent Gerry Adams sitting in both that and Westminster's Houses of Commons.

So it seems being a British MP doesn't disqualify Mr Adams as a candidate in the Irish general election.

Apparently, between 1946 and 1948 the sixth Earl of Longford sat in both the British House of Lords and the Irish Senate.

The issue was also raised with the Speaker in the Commons this afternoon by Ian Paisley Jnr, as follows:

Ian Paisley Junior MP:‬

‪"Thank you Mr Speaker. Can you confirm that you have received a letter of the member of West Belfast indicating his resignation from this house.

"Can you indicate to us that he will not be allowed to breach any of the constitutional requirements that insist that he, like any other member, must receive office under the crown before he can leave this house.

"And if that is the case, can you indicate to us when you will be replying to him instructing him of his obligations as a member of this house.‬"

Speaker:‬ "‪Let me say to the honourable gentleman to whom I'm grateful for his point of order that correspondence with the Speaker is private - it's not the subject of an exchange on the floor of the house what members might or might not say about their correspondence is a matter for them, but I intend to keep my own counsel.

"There are procedures to be observed and observed they must be.‬"

What a useless answer from John Bercow. What happened to the Speaker's new climate of change and transparency in the Commons?

It's not like him to be so opaque and uninformative, especially when his officials are being so much more helpful in their briefings.

Docherty denies signing EDMs

Michael Crick | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Thomas Docherty's office have just rung me to say they he did NOT sign the three EDMs which mysteriously carried the name of Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty on them.

Indeed, I'm told that Scottish Labour MP Mr Docherty even went to the Commons table office to check whose signature was on the EDMs.

He was told that the paperwork is destroyed after three months.

A pity. It's all very strange.

Is Lambert angling to move from CBI to BBC?

Michael Crick | 15:01 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Was Sir Richard Lambert's speech on Monday something of a job application? I ask that because the out-going director-general of the CBI is among the leading contenders to become the next chairman of the BBC Trust.

But hang on, you'll no doubt say. You surely don't persuade ministers to give you a big job by launching a robust and very public attack on their economic policy?

Yesterday, in what was his last speech at the CBI, Sir Richard accused ministers of lacking "vision" for the economy, and lacking a "strategy" for growth.

It must have come as something as a surprise kick-in-the-teeth to ministers, as previously they regarded the CBI boss as being on their side.

The question of who becomes BBC Chairman is a subtle game. The two leading contenders seem to be Lambert and the former minister and governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.

And the big question, which will no doubt be asked once the winner is announced, is whether they would be a government stooge.

Nobody could accuse Patten of being a Tory stooge. True, he was chairman of the Conservative Party 20 years ago, but he's had few dealings with the Tories in recent years.

And even in the 1980s and 1990s he showed himself to be pretty independent of Margaret Thatcher (over economic policy) and John Major (over Hong Kong).

And the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt knows that Patten's appointment would cause a big stink with right-wing backbenchers.

Which is where Lambert's speech comes into play. Yesterday Lambert suggested that he, too, would be no government yes-man.

All of which augurs pretty well for the BBC.

The Director-General Mark Thompson has remarked that he much prefers it when the BBC chairman is someone whose politics are from the side of governing party, simply because they are then much more inclined to demonstrate just how independent of the government they are.

Gerry Adams makes British Parliamentary history

Michael Crick | 19:18 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

Gerry Adams, it seems, has made Parliamentary history - British Parliamentary history. It appears that the Sinn Fein leader managed to resign as a Westminster MP last Friday without going through the traditional procedures.

I wrote here a few weeks ago that if Adams planned to stand down as a Westminster MP, in order to stand for the Irish Parliament, he would have to go through the usual rigmarole whereby a resigning MP applies for an office of profit under the Crown - the British Crown.

All rather embarrassing for the world's leading Irish Republican.

A resolution of the House of Commons from almost 400 years ago - March 1624 - says an MP cannot directly resign their seat except by death, disqualification or expulsion.

A House of Commons factsheet states: "A Member wishing to resign has to go through the process of applying for a paid office of the Crown... There are two such offices - Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, and of the Manor of Northstead."

And it's the Chancellor of the Exchequer who grants them the job.

The Treasury this afternoon were quite cagey. They confirmed that no application had been received and stressed that the Chancellor's role is entirely ceremonial.

A Sinn Fein spokesman told Newsnight that Adams "wrote to the Speaker's office on Friday and informed him of his resignation. It's a non-issue from our perspective. He submitted his resignation and that's it. He's stepped down from that position. He certainly didn't apply for the Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead."

It seems Mr Adams has found some way of resigning from Parliament without going through these ancient procedures.

And the British Constitution has been changed for ever.

Update at 18:50:

I've just asked a senior Parliamentary official whether Gerry Adams is still an MP.

"At the last count, yes he is," he told me.

It's all governed by the Parliamentary bible Erskine May, it seems, and the following section:

"It is a settled principle of parliamentary law that a Member, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish his seat; and, in order to evade this restriction, a Member who wishes to retire accepts office under the Crown, which legally vacates his seat and obliges the House to order a new writ."

So in British law, Gerry Adams is still an MP, whether he wants to be or not. Until he applies for one of the two stewardships.

I was also advised that one way Adams might get round this without expressing allegiance to the British Crown in any form would be to turn up at the House of Commons and try to sit in the Chamber.

He would then be automatically disqualified from the House on the grounds that he hasn't sworn the oath, and a writ would then be moved for a by-election in West Belfast.

"The seat is vacated as if they were dead," I'm told.

And what a drama it would be if Adams were to do that, and be ejected from the Commons.

If Adams was elected to the Irish Parliament it would be no problem in British law for him to serve as an MP for the Irish and British Parliaments simultaneously. That was allowed by the Disqualifications Act passed in 2000.

Update at 1915:

The Speaker's office have been in touch: Gerry Adams remains a Member of Parliament unless or until he applies to the Chancellor for an office of profit under the Crown.

Did Sinn Fein MP sign Early Day Motions?

Michael Crick | 18:10 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

Whilst on the subject of Sinn Fein and its abstentionist attitude towards the Westminster Parliament, it was suggested to me a few weeks ago that one of their Westminster MPs may have breached - in a very small way - the party's boycott of the House of Commons.

Pat Doherty, the Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, was down as having signed three House of Commons Early Day Motions [EDMs]. These were on the subjects of:

1. The Science is Vital Campaign
2. Government Funding for UK Science
3. Human Rights in Burma

He was down as having signed all three motions on 11 October 2010, and his name was still up on the Parliamentary website a few days before Christmas.

But now, Mr Doherty's name has been "withdrawn" from all three motions.

His office tell me that he never signed them in the first place - that it was an administrative mix-up, and that the signatory was in fact a Scottish Labour MP - in all probability Thomas Docherty. (I'm trying to check that with the Scottish Mr Docherty.)

Just as well, for, as the spokesman for Sinn Fein's Mr Doherty says:

"We don't do EDMs. We're abstentionist."

I'm still slightly puzzled though. For while Pat Doherty's name has been withdrawn from all three motions, Thomas Docherty's name hasn't been added to any of them instead.

Perhaps that's another cock-up.

Gove advises people in Hull to vote Lib Dem

Michael Crick | 19:15 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Further evidence of electoral cosiness between the Conservatives - or at least some Conservatives - and the Liberal Democrats came in Michael Gove's speech in this afternoon's Commons debate on Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs).

It arose when Gove first said that "In Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull, any student in receipt of education maintenance allowance also receives a travel grant to cope with the full cost".

Whereupon David Blunkett interrupted to say "They won't now."

Gove replied, according to the following Hansard extract:

"I suspect they won't if a Labour council takes power, but if people are wise enough to vote Liberal Democrat at the next local election in Hull - [Hon. Members: "Oh."] - or for the Conservatives in any seat where we are well placed to defeat Labour, they will have a council that is fulfilling its statutory duty. It is no surprise that there are Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils that ensure that all students receive the support they deserve. It is striking that that is in addition to EMA."

What links Gazza and the Labour Party?

Michael Crick | 19:27 UK time, Sunday, 16 January 2011

I see that Paul Gascoigne is suing the News of the World over allegations that the paper hacked into his phone message.

And who is Gazza's solicitor? None other than Gerald Shamash, frequent solicitor to the Labour Party and several of Labour's disgraced MPs.

I wonder if Labour is quietly encouraging celebs such as Gazza to sue the NoW to keep the story going, and keep up the pressure on Andy Coulson, the paper's former editor who is now David Cameron's Director of Communications.

If so, it may make any Labour reconciliation with the Murdochs a lot harder.

The BNP's big decline in Oldham

Michael Crick | 12:10 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

An interesting side story last night was the battle on the right, and the big decline in the BNP vote.

The BNP came fourth last May, with more than 5.7 per cent of the vote, and 826 votes ahead of UKIP (who lost their deposit last time). And they did even better in the seat in previous elections, getting 11.2 per cent in 2001.

What's more, Oldham and east Lancashire have traditionally been one of the BNP's stongest areas. Indeed, their leader Nick Griffin is an MEP for the North West.

This week the BNP only really became visible in the seat within the last 24 hours, whilst UKIP had previously erected huge posters on billboards throughout the seat, and attached placards to many local pubs.

Last night the BNP were leapfrogged by UKIP, and pushed into fifth place, 469 votes behind their rivals. It was almost a reversal of their relative performance in May. This time UKIP saved its deposit, and the BNP didn't.

After the disastrous results for the BNP in the general election last year, it puts huge pressure on Nick Griffin. Those activists who'd like to get rid of Griffin as leader will no doubt feel angry and emboldened.

The Oldham East and Saddleworth result

Michael Crick | 12:02 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

The Times headline this morning on early Manchester editions spoke of the Liberal Democrats being humiliated. While the Guardian headline called it a "blow to Clegg".

Sorry, I can't agree. These headlines looked as if they were written before the result was known. If I was Nick Clegg I'd be quietly satisfied with last night's figures. The result could have been far, far worse.

Indeed, the Lib Dems narrowly increased their share of the vote since May - from 31.6 per cent to 31.9 per cent. That's in stark contrast to the Lib Dem support in national opinion polls since May, which have seen Lib Dem support more than halved.

The result will give Lib Dem morale a much-needed boost ahead of the far more important Scottish, Welsh and local polls in May.

Before Christmas, I thought there was a strong possibility that Elwyn Watkins would indeed be humiliated in Oldham East and Saddleworth. But he benefitted from a strong personal vote, as placards and leaflets promoted "Elwyn" rather than the Liberal Democrats.

Indeed, a visiting Martian might have thought it was the Elwyn Party. Watkins was by far the best known of the contenders, and many voters admired his courage and persistence in the way he successfully challenged Phil Woolas in court. He increasingly impressed me as a candidate, and deserves a seat in Parliament.

The big question today is what happened to the Conservative campaign? In other circumstances they could have leapfrogged the Lib Dems. David Cameron was the first Tory Prime Minister ever to campaign in a by-election, but that was probably a token gesture to hide the half-hearted nature of their campaign.

Before Christmas Cameron was telling people that he had "ordered" every Conservative member of his Cabinet to go and campaign in the seat. That didn't happen. Fewer than half of them actually went. Did they disobey him, or was his order rescinded?

The Conservative literature was atrocious. And their messages were confusing. Party chairman Baroness Warsi made it clear this week - including on Newsnight on Wednesday - that they'd be happy to come third.

One could argue that all three party leaders will be happy this morning.

Ed Miliband because Labour won quite comfortably with a big increase in vote-share.

Nick Clegg because he got a respectable vote. And Cameron and some of his advisers may quietly be satisfied because he's strengthened the Coalition by rejuvenating the Lib Dems at a time when the pressure seemed to be mounting against Clegg.

But every move that keeps the Lib Dems happy only upsets Tory activists and backbenchers, as we are already seeing today.

As I keep saying, the interesting story in this Coalition is not so much what's happening with the Lib Dems, but the growing sense of frustration and betrayal on the Tory right.

It will be interesting to see when the by-election expense returns are submitted over the next 30 days whether the Conservatives actually spent up to their full expense limit, as one would expect in a winnable by-election.

Election expenses can easily be massaged of course, though normally by-election agents massage their spending down to come within the limit. This could be the first case in electoral history where a party pretends it spent more than it actually did!

Debbie Abrahams' fight for Oldham

Michael Crick | 13:02 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Debbie Abrahams should win the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election tomorrow, but her real tough challenge - as so often with MPs - was in winning the Labour selection in the first place last month.

She was placed on a shortlist of three, along with two Asians who live in the seat - former councillor Riaz Ahmed, and current councillor, Bangladeshi Abdul Jabbar.

The Labour high command really wanted Abrahams, but it almost went wrong.

Ahmed was eliminated on the first ballot, and eleven of his 12 votes then went to Jabbar, I'm told, producing a tie between him and Abrahams.

Abrahams only won because she got more first preferences in the first ballot.

The full list of candidates (in alphabetical order) is: Debbie Abrahams (Labour) Derek Adams (British National Party) Kashif Ali (Conservative) Peter Allen (Green Party) David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party) The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party) Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom) Stephen Morris (English Democrats) Paul Nuttall MEP (UK Independence Party) Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats).

Despatch from Oldham East and Saddleworth

Michael Crick | 14:10 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

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This area is used to pretty rough elections. I was here 16 years ago for the 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, when a Labour team of John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Iain McCartney and Phil Woolas, ran a pretty nasty (and very expensive) campaign against the Liberal Democrat Chris Davies, whom they accused of being "soft on drugs".

At one point, as I plan to show on Newsnight tonight, I even accused Mandelson and Woolas of being misleading with their leaflets!

Woolas and the Lib Dems fought some pretty tough battles here in 2005 and, of course, 2010, which led to Woolas's disqualification as an MP, for telling lies about his Lib Dem opponent in his election leaflets.

The 2011 by-election, in contrast, has been a pretty tame affair. The parties fear being dragged into court. And race and the question of Islamic extremism have barely surfaced.

Nor has there even been a comment on Jack Straw's comments on Newsnight about some Pakistani young men seeing young white women as "easy meat".

However, the Lib Dems put out a pretty negative leaflet highlighting contradictions about what the Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams had said in the past.

In the old days the Lib Dems would have been equally negative about the Conservatives, and tactically they need to squeeze the Tories, who came third in May.

But under a coalition, it's not easy to put out leaflets saying horrible things about your government partners.

The Lib Dem, Elwyn Watkins, almost certainly won't win. But he won't be disgraced either, despite the Lib Dems' dreadful showing in national polls. Watkins has established himself as quite a character locally. He's well-known - referred to as "Elwyn" rather than "Watkins" - and he showed persistence and courage in pursuing Woolas through the courts at a time when his party gave him very little help.

The full list of candidates (in alphabetical order) is: Debbie Abrahams (Labour) Derek Adams (British National Party) Kashif Ali (Conservative) Peter Allen (Green Party) David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party) The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party) Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom) Stephen Morris (English Democrats) Paul Nuttall MEP (UK Independence Party) Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats).

Hunt's teasing catches out Whitehall officials

Michael Crick | 17:37 UK time, Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been given responsibility for deciding whether the Murdoch empire should be allowed to take over the rest of BSkyB - instead of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who was rather compromised by his unguarded comments before Christmas to two undercover reporters posing as constituents.

But could Hunt, too, be somewhat compromised?

I'm told that last summer Hunt held a meeting at the Culture Department to discuss his plans for the future of broadcasting.

"Now, I must just see what James thinks about all this," Hunt reportedly said as he closed the meeting.

His civil servants were horrified. By "James" they assumed Hunt meant James Murdoch.

And indeed he did mean Murdoch, though I am assured that Hunt was merely teasing his officials. And the teasing worked.

I ought perhaps to declare a minuscule interest in all this: I own 100 shares in BSkyB, and also £2,000-3,000 worth in News Corporation - relics from the days when I was writing a never-published book on Murdoch.

A wonderful funeral service for Tony Howard

Michael Crick | 16:06 UK time, Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Our former Newsnight colleague Tony Howard was given a wonderful funeral service at St Mary Abbots church in Kensington this lunchtime.

Although Tony was the son of an Anglican vicar, and he regularly attended the church, he always had big doubts about the existence of God.

"He may have been an agnostic," said the presiding clergyman, Father Craig, "but he was a Church of England agnostic".

Among the politicians there were his former Oxford friend Michael Heseltine, Roy Hattersley, Mark Fisher, Betty Boothroyd, Tim Razzall, Chris Price, and the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Newsnight (and former Newsnight) contingent included Jeremy Paxman, Peter Barron, Tom Gardam, Peter Horrocks, Mark Damazer, Gill Hornby, Robert Harris, Peter Kellner, Carolyn Schindler, Jane Bonham-Carter, Sue Robertson and Lucy Hetherington.

Heseltine, Hattersley and Paul Johnson gave readings, while Robert Harris delivered a brilliant eulogy. For 25 years, he said, Tony Howard had been the voice over his shoulder, telling him whether what he had written was any good.

There may have been political journalists in the last 50 years with better historical knowledge, or better prose style, or shrewder judgement, said Harris, but none had the combination of all three.

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