Despite being a partisan right-wing politician, I have been fortunate in being able to maintain friendships with opponents across the political divide, including Marxists and Scottish Nationalists, Liberal Democrats and Remainers. To be fair, a couple of my oldest Remainer friends won’t any longer speak to me -holding me personally responsible for our leaving the EU, an honour I certainly can’t claim – but they are rare and the choice is theirs, not mine.
I’m confident that political ideology has never been much of a barrier when it comes to convivial personal relationships.
I am therefore, all the more bemused by the way that the PM’s coterie of former advisers- despite sharing exactly the same ideological outlook and policy goals, have fallen out with one another so spectacularly to the extent that they clearly now hate each other’s guts.
As to the substance of some of the fallout from this, I can’t get excited about it. I am neither surprised nor alarmed that Sir James Dyson texted the PM, and that the PM sought to accommodate his reasonable requests in what was clearly the national interest.
Obviously I do not have one iota of the influence that the PM wields, yet friends, acquaintances and people of whom I have never previously heard, who have got hold of my mobile number or my email address, lobby me to wield what little influence I do have in their own particular interest.
The key point is that, in responding, I act in the interest of all my constituents when deciding how to accommodate them. I consider the process is proper so long as I do not become prisoner to any particular lobby: The measure of what is appropriate, must be what is in the national interest.
As the furore about leaks escalates, I recall David Cameron (whose parliamentary private secretary I was for 7 years) expressing his frustration at yet another leak of sensitive inter-departmental correspondence -properly handled through civil servants- expressing his frustration and asking “why can’t ministers just talk to one another?”
Certainly, that was the way that I always operated. I recall a difficult meeting in a foreign capital where my ministerial counterpart was refusing to co-operate with a UK policy objective because another UK department of state was making difficulties over a quite unrelated issue. I couldn’t understand the fussy objections of my civil servants when, after the meeting, I got back into our car and simply phoned the responsible minister back in London to get it sorted out.
Now as a back-bencher and having acquired so many mobile phone numbers during my time at number 10 and as a minister, when a constituent raises a time-sensitive issue with me, if I consider it important enough I will, of course, properly send correspondence to a minister’s private office, but I’ll also text or phone that minister to lobby them, or I’ll even bend their ear at breakfast in the Commons Tea Room.
This is the stuff of ordinary life. I believe in business they now call it ‘networking’.
As the photos of the various former aids, now at war, stare out at me from the Sunday papers, am I alone in thinking that they would do better dress properly and have a shave?