Tim Collins Watch

A friend writes to the Virtual Stoa:

Chris, Not your usual reading I’m sure but this month’s SFX features the very unlovely Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.SFX features a column called ‘My Sci-Fi’ where vaguely famous people give their top SF film, TV show, book and character. Normally it’s comedians, tv presenters, and the like but because of this, it’s Tim Collins this month.

His answers to the last two questions are worth sharing:

Favourite sci-fi or fantasy book: “Apart from The Lord of the Rings, I’d nominate the hard SF sagas of Iain M Banks, including the superb Consider Phlebas. Ironic, really – he loathes Tories, apparently!”

[Apparently, indeed. Banks’s dislike of the Tories is well documented.]

Favourite sci-fi or fantasy hero: “The Doctor, of course. Mind you, not the pale pink pacifist some believe him to be. Rather the guy who fights evil and who mocks those who think you can strike a deal with it. The Donald Rumsfeld of the cosmos, not the Robin Cook!”

And thanks for sharing that with us, Tim.

World of Blogs

Matthew Turner complains: “Isn’t the blogosphere boring at the moment?”

Well, I don’t much like the word “blogosphere”, I don’t think it’s appeared on this blog before, and I agree that things have been quite quiet chez the Virtual Stoa since an possibly-unprecedented amount of material was posted in the first half of November. But some of the following links have been keeping me entertained over the last few days, in the interstices of this, that and the other (which mostly involves marking essays).

Gert’s blog of President Bush’s trip to London is very well done, and very useful for those of us who aren’t living there and only use the telly for rugby and DVDs. Recently there’s been Josh Cherniss’s Greatest Marxists poll which started here, ended here, and prompted discussion here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and some of us are waiting for the announcement of the normblog’s Alternative Big Read (my picks were Ulysses, War and Peace and Midnight’s Children with Catch-22 following closely behind, and a long hard brood about what I really think about Brideshead Revisited).

One unintended consequence of the Mass. Supreme Court‘s work this week is that Andrew Sullivan’s blog has become readable again — and, just as predictably, it has prompted howls of… something… over at Conservative Commentary as well as a more thoughtful dissent from Nathan Newman (and this recent post of his on free speech and the Right also deserves a second look).

Thinking of the Right, Melanie Phillips’ blog is now churning out her particular brand of reasoned social commentary on a more-than-daily basis, and she has accumulated a small army of balanced commentators. And she certainly won’t like being listed next to what is almost certainly the most intriguing new-ish blog, Belle de Jour, being the blog of a London call girl, and which Green Fairy has been usefully advertising for a while now.

Finally, looking beyond the blogs to the kinds of things people occasionally blog about, if only to say, go here and read this: The Onion has a small classic, “Media Criticized for Biased Hometown Sports Reporting“, though it’s probably better if (a) you’ve ever lived in America and (b) you’ve ever been on the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting emailing list.

What we’re all really regretting, though, is not being at the Kendal ASDA for a chat with Tim Collins MP on the issues that matter last week.

Alright. That’s not a great deal. But it’s better than nothing, and probably better than whatever the TV show was that Matthew thought we should be watching instead. Perhaps the world of blogs has been dull because we’ve all been watching too much rugby and going to Emmylou Harris concerts instead of staring at our computer screens for too many hours of the day.

Tim and Ed

I saw Tim Collins on telly last night and recognised him. My diligence is paying off.

But — and this is the point of this blogpost — I also saw Ed Vaizey on the same programme. And since he was hymning the virtues of Michael Howard, I was reminded of what he wrote about him a little over two years ago in the Guardian.

He said then that while Michael Howard has “never been loved by the public”, “he is someone the public instinctively turns to when it wants genuine action…” This rather alarmed me — for, as I asked at the time — do you turn to Michael Howard when you want some, um, “genuine action”?

And today it struck me that maybe Ann Widdecombe‘s famous remark about there being “something of the night” about Mr. Howard has been systematically misunderstood…

OK, I’ll stop there. It’s too unpleasant to contemplate.

Tim Collins

Since my friends and I failed so lamentably to identify Tim Collins earlier this month, in a Guardian quiz on the composition of the Shadow Cabinet, I’ve been doing my best to keep up, mostly through regular visits to timcollins.co.uk, where you can read gripping stories like this or this. What appears on the website mostly focuses on celebrating his tireless work on behalf of his Cumbrian constituents, though, and this is of less interest to someone like me who isn’t really interested in Cumbria, and who has become convinced that Collins’ talent overflows his constituency boundaries and deserves a more prominent role on the national stage.

Which was why I was very pleased to hear Tim Collins on the Today Programme this morning, discussing the forthcoming votes on the leadership of the Conservative Party. Selected highlights appear below.

A couple of things to remember are (i) that Mr Duncan Smith had earlier suggested that his critics were cowards, since they weren’t going public with their plotting, so now that his critics were going public another line of criticism had to be developed; and that (ii) this interview went out shortly after 8am this morning, and that by 9.30am, Sir Michael Spicer had told IDS that the twenty five names were in the bag, and that he’d have to submit to the confidence vote. The interviewer is Jim Naughtie, and this is my own transcription, so no promises of strict accuracy down to the last syllable.

Q: Mr Collins, good morning to you.

–Good morning.

Q: Francis Maude has now come out as an opponent of Mr Duncan Smith’s. That may well encourage some others to do the same. Do you believe that the twenty five letters will go in, or not?

–No I don’t, and, to put this in context, it’s been an open secret around Westminster that for weeks, indeed, very possibly for months, Francis has been briefing against the Leader, has been seeking to organise efforts to destabilise him. I think, frankly, it’s a mark of desperation on his part that he’s has felt that has to come out and out himself this morning, because I think that that indicates that he and his colleagues are not confident of getting the twenty five names they have promised so many times by tomorrow evening.

Q: Do you think Mr Duncan Smith will survive?

–I do. We’ve heard from the plotters, or the intriguers, or however you want to call them, we heard two weeks ago that it was going to be within days, we heard last week it would be by the week-end, at the weekend that it would be by Monday, yesterday they told us it would definitely be by Wednesday. Iain took exactly the right decision, a bold and courageous decision, to say, “Now, come on, either you can do it by Wednesday evening or it will be clear that, frankly, you’ve been bluffing.”

Q: If you’re right, and if the twenty five letters don’t go in, what sort of condition will it leave Mr Duncan Smith’s leadership in after the last six weeks?

–Well, I think actually the position is moving potentially, decisively in Iain’s favour over the last twenty four hours, because there’s no doubt that the last few weeks [sic] the one thing every Conservative has been agreed on, whether it’s in the grassroots or in Parliament is that we can’t carry on like this. Now Iain is now the person who is charting a way by which we can bring this process to an end. If it is clear by tomorrow evening, as I hope and believe, that he has faced down his critics, exposed them as a very small minority, not even able to get fifteen per cent of Conservative MPs to call for a vote of confidence, then I think his position will be immensely strengthened, and that he’ll be able to go on from that to make whatever changes he’s believes are appropriate so we can prepare for the next election…

He ends by saying that since the plotters are having so much trouble assembling twenty five letters to force the ballot, he really doesn’t think they’ll be able to get the eighty-plus they need to topple IDS.Sadly, if Mr Duncan Smith does go down in flames tomorrow, that may be the end of Tim Collins’s Shadow Cabinet career, unless dribbling rightists are in demand under the new regime. We shall see. These are interesting — and entertaining — times.

Shadow Cabinet

How well do you know the Shadow Cabinet? (How well do you want to know them? I scored 9 out of 10, which seems an embarrassingly high score, really. Never having heard of Tim Collins was a problem).

Nick wrote [13.10.2002]: This has to be one of the cruellest things I have ever seen. 3/10, BTW. And I thought I was paying attention.

Martin wrote [14.10.2002]: I only managed 8/10, I fear, also never having heard of Tim Collins. I had no idea that Eric Pickles, that foul grotesque, was now in the Shadow Cabinet. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. There really isn’t a single redeeming feature among the current Shadow Cabinet. By comparison, to remember figures like Denzil Davies is to remember an era of political Leviathans. What a sorry damn state we’re now in.

Josephine wrote [15.10.2002]: I got 3/10 too, and I had never actually heard of any of them, so I don’t think Nick was paying much attention. I had heard of Michael Howard, but I think I got that one wrong.

Nick wrote [17.10.2002]: Picky, picky, picky. So it’s somehow *my* fault the Tories today are a crowd of anonymous no-hopers, Josephine? I vaguely remember Michael Howard, too… “the worst Home Secretary since Henry Brooke,” or some such.