Baby Hitler: The Remarkable Rise of Sebastian Kurz

Austria, Politics, Sebastian Kurz, Uncategorized

The Gentleman’s Journal

Ordinarily, when a hot young politician sweeps to victory on the popular vote – think Obama, think Trudeau, think Macron – we all hug each other and get terribly excited that change is going to come. But when, last autumn, Austria ushered in a political prodigy so youthful he’d be declared ineligible as a US presidential candidate, we gasped, collectively, instead – wondering what the hell just happened.

This, surely, was worse than Trump – who espoused right-wing rhetoric without actually forming a coalition with ex-neo-Nazis. The morning after the election result, the German satirical magazine, Titanic, responded by tweeting: ‘Time travel in Austria – it’s finally possible to kill baby Hitler.’You couldn’t predict, just by looking at him, that we’d anything to fear from fresh-faced 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz. Nor would you suspect, if you were introduced to him in person – at least according to Austrian journalist, Tessa Szyszkowitz, who has met him several times. ‘He just comes across as a really nice boy,’ she says. ‘Which he basically is… I had the feeling he was almost surprised when I said, “don’t you know that everyone in Europe is looking at the coalition you will build with suspicion?” He said, “Oh no, most people come to me and they congratulate me!” I had the feeling – either he’s trying to spin this or he’s really naive. And I don’t think that he’s particularly naive.’

Born in 1986, in a working-class district of Vienna, Kurz is the only child of Catholic parents – his mother a teacher and his father an engineer. His personal life – not that Austrians would be so prurient as to take a look at it – appears quiet bordering on the dull. He shares a flat with his long-term girlfriend Susanne Thier, who he met as a teenager, whilst studying law at the University of Vienna. Last year, on the day when many of his fellow Millennials were decking themselves out in rainbows to celebrate Gay Pride in Vienna, Kurz joined a ‘March for Jesus’ instead.

Kurz’s political rise has seemed swift, almost inexorable. When still in his early twenties, he was elected chairman of the youth branch of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and promptly sought to sex up its staid and stuffy image by slicking back his hair and riding around Vienna in a hummer, in the company of busty beauties sporting t-shirts in the party colours, with legends that read ‘Schwarz macht Geil’ (‘Black makes you Horny’). Such tacky tactics got him noticed. Two years later, he ditched his degree altogether to become the party’s Secretary of State for Integration. In 2013, he was elected as a member of the Austrian parliament and appointed Foreign Minister. He was still only 27.

It was in this post that he started to make his mark – and began to shift in a different direction. By 2015, polls showed that Austrians were increasingly unhappy about the number of refugees flooding across their borders. In 2016, Kurz proved instrumental in closing down the so-called ‘Balkan route’ by which hundreds of migrants had crossed illegally into Europe. Austrians were – reportedly – ‘mad as hell about refugees’ and this was Kurz capitalising on it.

Already nicknamed ‘Wunderwuzzi’ (‘wonder-hotshot’), last May, Kurz was unanimously elected the new leader of his party and threw himself onto an election footing, rebranding his party turquoise (as opposed to horny-black) and modernising fast. His key aide was 38-year-old, ex-MEP Elisabeth Köstinger – whose office is alleged to feature a disco ball. In Septempber, she tweeted enthusiastically about how he’d conducted an important interview – in emojis.

Two weeks before the election, the Social Democratic party (SPÖ) with whom Kurz’s party had been in coalition, panicked that he was proving too popular. The Schmutzkübel (dirt bucket) rocked Austrian politics – as there was an attempt to smear Kurz via Facebook where doctored images and videos were uploaded, accusing him of ‘secretly paving the way for a new wave of immigration from Islamic countries’ and of being in a ‘dubious political network’ with Hungarian billionaire George Soros.

It was a strategy which backfired spectacularly.

On 15th October 2017, Kurz’s party won 31% of the vote, beating the SPÖ into second place, and promising coalition talks with the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ). ‘The biggest contradiction is that though Mr. Kurzis by far the youngest western PM to enter public office, he’s been in government since 2011 and he’s running a party which has been in power for 30 years,’ argues Reinhard K. Heinisch, Professor of Austrian politics at the University of Salzburg. ‘Kurz moved to the right as a strategic move because Austrians were preoccupied with the immigration issue. The party hasn’t changed. The old elite and its mechanisms are still there. We’ll see if Mr. Kurz will actually prevail with his agenda.’ So far, Heinisch adds, ‘I don’t see Kurz as substantive – I see him as a communications genius.’

Szyszkowitz agrees that Kurz has managed to present himself as an agent of change but argues that he’s stumbled into very dangerous political terrain by opting to form a coalition with the FPÖ, which ‘is really the scum of Austrian society,’ she claims. ‘These are people who in their student years went to neo-Nazi exercises in the forests of Austria. This is not a joke. And it seems to me that the severity of that has not totally sunk in. If you look at pictures of the coalition talks they’re all smiling as if they’re having a nice meal together and are discussing what they’ll do for Sunday brunch. They’re actually discussing how they will build a very right-wing coalition which will change the character of Austria for as long as they are in power.’

Internationally, there is particular concern about the FPÖ’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache. ‘According to eye witnesses, the findings of the German authorities, and archives,’ the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has reported, ‘Strache was active in Neo-Nazi circles for years, and was still part of the movement when his FPÖ career began.’

Austria is populated by nine million people. It is one of the richest and safest countries in the world. According to Berenberg economist Carsten Hesse ‘the Austrian economy, at the moment, looks really, really good. The unemployment rate has come down around 5.5%. There’s a small budget deficit of around 1%…’

For Brits still mired in miserable growth forecasts after years of austerity, the situation in Austria seems positively utopian. So why are Austrians fuming?

‘Particularly for low earners,’ Hesse adds, ‘there hasn’t been a strong uptake in their earnings over the last decade. Obviously it’s always easy to blame someone else for that. And it was blamed on too much immigration. “There are too many people coming and that’s why…”’

But many think Kurz’s anti-immigrant shtick is not the sole reason for his success. Many Austrians are thought keen on shaking up Proporz: the political system invented to ensure political stability in Austria, after WWII, which many now perceive as responsible for total immobility. ‘The centre left and the centre right party constantly oppose each other,’ Professor Heinisch explains. ‘There’s no sense of change.’ Kurz seemed to promise ‘political momentum’ again.

So far Kurz has proven – much like Donald Trump – extremely adept at appealing to voters who felt disenfranchised. But it’s highly ironic that the only millennial who has so far won power, appears to stand for everything his contemporaries abhor. In America, they went wild for septuagenarian Bernie Sanders. Over here, they flocked to wrinkly old socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

‘All the millennials are going for the old lefties,’ says Pepijn Bergsen lead analyst for Austria at the The Economist Intelligence Unit. ‘Kurz is very much a hard right-y. I’m not sure that young people are his main support base. I think that’s probably middle aged women who see him as the perfect son-in-law. It’s the 45 to 50-year-old ladies who swoon over him.’

Politically, Kurz is a gambler – but it’s the Austrian voters themselves, says Szyszkowitz, who’ve taken all the risk. ‘In Vienna, most of the refugees who came in 2015-6 have been very well taken care of so it was really unnecessary to bring the far-right to power in my view,’ she says. ‘Many Austrians may believe all they’ve done is elect a moderniser… I think they’re lying to themselves. If you move a party to the right you will end up on the right.’

There is also, Professor Heinisch adds, a secondary concern, ‘that the Freedom Party not only has an agenda that is to the right on cultural issues but they actually prefer a different kind of democracy – more Swiss-style, where things are decided less in parliament but through the authorisation of the public. That would be a populist democracy and there’s some concern about that.’

Kurz is infinitely more likely to prove a baby Trump than a baby Fuhrer. But while it may be alarmist to fear that Austria is lurching back into the past, there are many legitimate concerns as to where Kurz will take his – and its – politics, in future.

A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO THE NEXT REVOLUTION

October Revolution, Politics, Revolution, Russia, Soviet Union, Tatler, Uncategorized

Tatler

Revolutions are as old as humanity itself and, alas, it’s always nature’s Tatler readers who get it in the neck. Exactly 100 years ago, one of the largest empires in history, which spanned three continents, collapsed in a matter of months.

One moment, the Tsar was in charge, and his super-rich aristocrats were dining
on stuffed peacocks and caviar, waited upon by vast numbers of servants, and attending balls. By the following year, they had been classified as ‘former people’ by the Bolsheviks who had seized power and were forced to clean public loos in return for a minuscule bread ration and having to speed-read Karl Marx in order to work out what the hell had happened.

When the Tsar and his family were shot dead in 1918, any aristo with a shred of sense nabbed the clothes off an obliging peasant, sewed their jewels into children’s toys, stuffed as much foreign currency as they could into a furled umbrella and made their escape. Those who stayed tried to hide their origins and integrate into the new regime. But their accents and mannerisms gave them away and most ended up being declared ‘enemies of the people’ and were deported to the gulag.

There, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn recalled, they braved death while maintaining a stiff upper lip. ‘Because of their upbringing, their traditions, they were too proud to show depression or fear, to whine and complain about their fate,’ wrote the Nobel Prize winner. Even as they were being marched off to be shot, he said, they acted as if the Revolution was all ‘simply a minor misunderstanding at a picnic’.

But those who escaped had a tough time too. When money ran out in exile, it could be hard to maintain standards. Headlines such as ‘Princess as Cow-Keeper: How Ruined Russians Earn a Living’ were published worldwide, describing a Russian nobility struggling to adapt to new lives as penniless refugees. The owners of vast estates were reduced to the status of ice-cream makers; aristocratic writers worked as cab drivers, window cleaners and house painters. Those who had been at the top of society were scraping a living at the very bottom, washing dishes in restaurants where they once would have dined, cleaning floors at railway stations where they would have travelled first class. In Cannes, one ex-colonel, reduced to working as a dustman, bought Tatler so he could keep track of his long-lost acquaintances.

And, once again, Tatler is offering its services to aristocrats who might, perhaps, find themselves at the wrong end of a social uprising sometime soon…

Tatler’s damage-control tips in the event of upheaval

  1. Flee!
    Do not cower in your stately home and hope for the best. Imitate Charles I’s sensible son, the Duke of Rothesay (later Charles II), who – after his father was decapitated for basically being an arsehole – escaped to France, having chopped off his ringlets, dressed up in greasy old clothes, stained his face with walnut juice and hidden whenever he saw the Roundheads looking for him. At one point he even shimmied up a tree – and stayed there for an entire day.
  2. Be humble – but fun – in exile
    Learn how to be the perfect guest: neat, not too imposing, full of jolly anecdotes at dinner and, importantly, aware of when it is time to move on… Hopefully, the common folk will eventually start to miss you and your lively posho ways, as was the case in the 17th century. As soon as Oliver Cromwell died, the English decided they were fed up with the new regime cutting down all their maypoles and banning the theatre and begged Charles to come back, crowning him Charles II.
  3. Acquire some useful skills
    For when the portable and valuable goods that you have taken with you run out and you still need to eat/buy new clothes, etc. Hairdressing is a good one – people will always need hairdressers, and scissors are easy to carry.
  4. Do as you would be done by
    If the world turns upside down, you’ll end up cleaning for your cleaner. So always remember your manners.
  5. And finally… don’t mope
    Because however shabby things might seem, it is possible, through luck, persistence and a little guile, to claw back your inheritance and position. Take this tale for inspiration: in 1922, there was a military coup in Greece. The royal family was banished. Even its tiny, 18-month-old prince was shipped out of the country in a crib made of an old orange box. For the whole of his young life this ex-prince was shunted between various European homes and through the English public-school system. Until the day when – like a fairytale in reverse – a princess fell in love with him and restored him to the rank he’d had at birth. His name? Prince Philip.

The Second Civil War

David Cameron, Donald Trump, Politics, Theresa May, Uncategorized

In 2014, a year and a half before he finally lost his head, David Cameron threw a rave at Chequers. The Prime Minister danced, in an open necked shirt, to a DJ known as ‘Hard Bitch’, with film stars and a foul-mouthed TV presenter, on a dance floor set up in the Great Hall. A portrait of King Charles I stared down at him and if Cameron had met the glance of this melancholy van Dyck, he might have paused to consider how the mighty fall. Later on – when hestood accused of ‘acts of self-indulgence bordering on decadence’ – perhaps he wished he had. But the party raged on until 3am, as civil war brewed outside the doors.

A year on from the shock Brexit victory, half the nation is still violently unhappy at having to leave the EU. These are people who know how to ski, watch the BBC on iPlayer and agonise on Twitter – while the other half hates their guts. The Establishment is at war with the Peasants Who Revolted. There are fresh skirmishes by the day between those who drink Premier Cru and those who prefer lager. It’s Waitrose v. Lidl, ‘sofa’ v. ‘settee’, avocado on toast v. HP sauce, Eton v. the bog-standard comprehensive, Range Rover Woman v. White Van Man. Or to encapsulate the two sides in all their manifold complexity: Cavaliers v. Roundheads.

This terminology is borrowed from the English Civil War – the bloodiest conflict in British history. War broke out in 1642 when King Charles I declared war on his own parliament. ‘Cavalier’ derives from the Spanish word ‘Caballeros’ meaning ‘horsemen’ and applied to the aristocrats who fought for Charles. The ‘Roundheads’ (whose severe haircuts made their heads look round) fought for Parliament.

King Charles was keen on Europe (in the form of his very French queen), introduced unpopular taxes, manipulated the honours system, alienated the Scots, chillaxed too much and kept picking fights he either lost or failed to win decisively. As Theresa May might put it, ‘remind you of anybody?’

Eventually, Parliament chopped Charles’s head off. Some Cavaliers – like today’s City banks – fled England altogether. Others sulked – such as the ex-Chancellor George Osborne, who sits on the back benches, in an attitude of despair, ‘waiting for it all to go tits-up for Theresa,’ as one of his confidantes assures me it most definitely will.

Many Cavaliers felt frightened that the killing of the King would bring about the End of Days – much as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, predicts the economic Apocalypse.
The Cavaliers should have made mincemeat of the Roundheads. They had all the money, power and privilege on their side. But they were out of touch with the common people and had no idea how ferocious the Roundheads would prove in battle. Oliver Cromwell, like Theresa May, hadn’t started the war; but rose swiftly from MP to leader of a cavalry regiment to commander of Parliament’s New Model Army. He relied heavily on his allies’ messianic zeal, much as May depends on her special advisors Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, whose ruthlessness helped her survive the Home Office, the graveyard of so many political careers.

Cromwell’s Roundheads were sober and serious and about as much fun as May’s grim-faced Chancellor, Philip Hammond, appears to be. Their rallying cry – for parliamentary sovereignty and individual liberty – is echoed by May’s Brexit ministers, David Davis and Liam Fox.

For a Cavalier to socialise with a Roundhead was unconscionable – and vice versa: the same is true today. Even on Tinder, ordinarily a sexual free-for-all, millennials often state if they were Remain or Leave so they don’t accidentally sleep with the enemy. In real life, it can be hard to spot your natural compadres. Expensive dress is not a reliable indicator. Our Roundhead PM, for instance, has been photographed in £995 gold leather trousers, and owns dozens of pairs of kitten heels. Haircuts are a more reliable indicator. Cavaliers were proud of their ringlets and today’s equivalent pride themselves on their floppy manes (both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, with their blond hair soufflés, reveal themselves as Cavaliers pretending to be Roundheads for electoral gain).

But while Cavaliers are ordinarily feckless, spendthrift and the life and the soul of the party -right now they’re in a state of shock. Whilst Roundheads, who tend to be dour, humourless and somewhat unimaginative are, all of a sudden, tremendously pleased with themselves. The clearest signal as to whether you’re speaking to a Cavalier or Roundhead is whether your interlocutor appears astonished and petrified – or smug and self-satisfied. If the former, then you are talking to a Cavalier, unable to believe in this sudden reversal of fortune; if the latter, you’ve unearthed a Roundhead rejoicing in Little England.

The difference between the two factions is most neatly encapsulated in the lives of their leaders: Cameron and May. The son of a millionaire, Cameron, as we know, was educated at Eton (and still demands that the crust is cut off his toast). At Oxford, he joined the Bullingdon Club. According to his arch-enemy Lord Ashcroft, it is possible he violated a pig’s head at a party. After getting his First, he swanked off into the Conservative Party Research Department, and then became a special advisor, before abandoning politics – very temporarily – for a highly paid job at Carlton Television where he learned the dark arts of PR. At every point in his career, he had his path smoothed by significant phone calls to significant people. His rise from stockbroker’s son to Prime Minister was inexorable.

Theresa May, by contrast, thrust herself towards greatness. The only child of a vicar, she won a place at Oxford thanks to her grammar school education. At Oxford, there are no wild tales of Theresa; when I contacted the press office of her biographer Rosa Prince in the hope of fresh revelations I was told, quite cheerfully, that there weren’t any. By all accounts, she worked hard and – in the words of one Old Wykehamist – felt fortunate ‘to meet the sort of people she never would have met had she not gone to Oxford’ – including her future husband, Philip May.

While Cameron is famous for his Notting Hill cabal, May made a few friends at Oxford who remain allies, like the Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, and the Minister for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Alan Duncan, but she’s never been a networker. At the same age as Dave was when he drank Bolly in the Bullingdon, Theresa was listening to visiting Tory speakers at the Union. (Certainly, she liked to go back and speak there herself. The Tory grandee Jonathan Aitken vividly recalls her wiping the floor with the hate preacher Abu Hamza in a debate some years before she deported him.) After leaving Oxford, May went to work for the Bank of England – so she has held down a ‘real job.’ She first went head to head with David Cameron in 1994, when they both sought selection for the safe Tory seat of Ashford, and were both beaten – by Damian Green.

The defining Cavalier characteristic is a love of the good life. Crises often hit Westminster during the summer and Cameron’s MPs would complain that the only way to get hold of him was ‘to hire a Cornish ice-cream van and set up on the beach.’ In the summer of 2013, a humanitarian crisis was escalating in Syria. There was no time for chillaxing. And yet that July, an image surfaced of Cameron, on Instagram, fast asleep on a four poster bed with a Red Box by his feet. Earlier in the day, he’d apparently left the same box unattended on a train while he nipped off to the buffet car. That August, Cameron was hoping to persuade President Obama into military intervention but he failed to put in the necessary effort to win over parliament. When the vote was held in the House of Commons, the government was defeated on a matter of war – for the first time since 1782.

But Cameron simply couldn’t resist taking time out to socialise. He loved nothing better than hanging out with his fellow Cavaliers – and has now swanned off into the sunset with them. On New Year’s Eve, David and Samantha Cameron decamped to Burford Priory, the home of the multi-millionairess Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, who threw a party that involved ‘an entire theatrical set, complete with revolving floors, an entrance made of flowers, cocktails on tap and roving graffiti artists spray painting the toilets mid-party with guests’ names,’ and reputedly cost half a million pounds. ‘Nobody is not a celebrity,’ Jonathan Aitken told me. ‘[Cameron] is in his element.’ The Camerons’ love of partying in a circle that included the disgraced former News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks – alarmed even their Cavalier friends; Lord Ashcroft’s controversial book ‘Call Me Dave’ labelled them ‘the Chipping Snorton’ set.

May, however, barely socialises at all. She is always at work: even on Christmas Day, when she doesn’t eat her dinner until she’s gone to the old folk’s home in Maidenhead to raise a glass of sherry with the residents. Even at the Conservative Party Conference, ‘when most politicians were out courting newspaper editors,’ the LBC radio host Iain Dale recalls, ‘Theresa May was in Cafe Rouge, having dinner with her husband.’ Aitken recalls inviting May, then Home Secretary,
to visit a charity in Maidenhead called Blue Sky, a rehabilitation scheme for ex-offenders, during the New Year recess in 2011.

‘The date suited nobody except those who had to be there,’ he recalls. ‘Everyone else was off skiing or on holiday and it was the filthiest day I can remember. The wind was blowing and the rain pouring – we might as well have been in a trawler on the North Sea. All she needed to do was stay inside and say a few words but she spent no less than an hour and a half going round talking to ex-cons, asking questions such as ‘how deep is that ditch?’ And I’ve never seen anyone do it better – there was not a scintilla of artificiality about her.’ When I ask Aitken how May compares to that other Tory Roundhead – Mrs. Thatcher – he says it’s too soon to say. ‘On that day, she was almost like the Queen.’

Cavaliers believe above all, that they are born to rule; Roundheads take advantage of insurrection – mounted by furious plebs. The Brexit vote was, in the first place, an act worthy of Charles I himself. Charles believed in the Divine Right of Kings while Cameron seemed to believe he was entitled to premiership. First, he promised a vote, to appease his backbenchers. Then, when he won an unexpected majority at the 2015 election, he rushed into holding the vote even though his most trusted advisor, Chancellor Osborne, advised him very strongly against it. Privately, Cameron assured EU leaders, ‘we’re going to win – maybe 70-30.’

Throughout his entire political career, Cameron behaved like a cocky undergraduate, so sure he’d ace the test, he didn’t bother to cram until the very last moment. And this technique had worked so many times – most nail bitingly in the Scottish referendum. When he lost he resigned in a fit of pique, allegedly demanding of his aides: ‘Why should I have to do the hard shit for someone else, just to hand it over to them on a plate?’

Certainly, ITV’s Robert Peston caught Cameron on camera outside Downing Street ‘humming a Winnie-the-Pooh style hum as he says goodbye to the cares of office.’ While that other Cavalier ex-PM Tony Blair has returned to urge fellow Remainers to ‘rise up in defence of our beliefs’ Cameron has stayed schtum. Had not his wife, Samantha, popped up to give so many interviews to promote her fashion label, Cefinn, one might have assumed he’d come to as sudden an end as Charles I himself.

Theresa May, it must be remembered, did not want to leave the EU – much like Oliver Cromwell had not wanted to start a civil war. She voted Remain and must now do her best to clear up the mess her predecessor created which she is doing with teeth gritted. Of course, she is helped by the fact that she faces no domestic opposition. She has either purged or handicapped her Cavalier rivals – Chancellor Osborne was dispatched with particular brutality while she has stripped her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, of his grace and favour home and two of the key responsibilities of his office – forcing him to share both with Liam Fox and David Davis. But she was equally merciless to her Roundhead opponents – she finished off her old enemy Michael Gove and political insiders claim he’ll never recover.

May – like Cromwell – has also been lucky in some of her battles. Labour is currently in an unelectable state thanks to its leader Jeremy Corbyn (who ought to be martialling the Remain-ing opposition but is, instead, making out like a militant Puritan.) Meanwhile, potential Charles II’s – the Tory Tom Tugendhat, a dashing former British army officer, who some fancy as Cameron’s heir – keeps very quiet on the backbenches and Labour’s great Cavalier pretender, the handsome, voter friendly, Tristram Hunt, has surrendered his parliamentary seat to become director of the V&A. In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that May enjoyed a 17 point lead in the spring polls.

Cavalier forces needed to regroup – and urgently – if Remainers were to exert any sort of influence on May’s Brexit deal. But they are too easily distracted by the finer things in life… Cameron’s disappearance, for instance, is largely to be accounted by his need to make money – he had often complained that he’d paid for his love of politics ‘with a pay cut before I even started.’ On standing down as an MP, and not having to declare his income in the Register of Members’ Interests, he hit the lecture circuit hard. ‘His agent told him he’d be the most wanted speaker in the world,’ a gossip tells me. ‘But only until January 20th – and then Obama would be… So he made a whole bunch of speeches for a lot of money but no publicity. He has to, because he does hang out with this group of very rich people. And money is how you keep score.’

Cameron was one of many Cavaliers who came a cropper during the 2009 expenses scandal. (Despite his private wealth, he claimed more than £80,000 on his second home, plus a £680 bill for clearing wisteria.) Roundheads – including, one doesn’t doubt, Theresa May – were appalled. She was one of the very few MPs to emerge almost utterly unscathed. The Telegraph’s report on her was three un-damning sentences long: stating that she’d claimed £15,000 in mortgage interest to which she was perfectly entitled.

But Cameron’s most blatantly Cavalier act was his dabbling with the honours system. He awarded OBEs both to the woman who put his Chancellor on the 5:2 diet and the stylist who picked out his wife’s clothes. One cannot imagine May doing this: she’s formidably trim and chooses her own outfits. Like one of Cromwell’s Ironsides, she knows her armour is vital. Many have sought to gain insight into her personality by examining her shoes. (As Iain Dale observes, it’s quite incredible that ‘after 19 years she’s still an unknown quantity.’) But far more can be gleaned from the state of her fingers. May is adept, tough and entirely self-sufficient: she never goes to a manicurist because she’s learned to paint her nails immaculately herself.

The perception is that she ‘is very middle class,’ as Dale explains. ‘But – anecdotally – she has an appeal for working class voters that David Cameron never had. He always seemed that little bit slippery. But callers to my show say they trust her. Even Labour voters trust her.’ In fact, May has been far more radical than she is perceived – and so suits the Roundhead masses. It was she (not Cameron) who first urged the party to modernise in 2002, telling the Tories that they were unelectable because voters thought they were the ‘Nasty Party.’ She also came up with the idea for an ‘A’ list of potential MPs because she knew how difficult it was for female and ethnic minority candidates to gain selection for Tory safe seats. She helped host a launch party a fortnight before Cameron became leader. (Steve Hilton, then Cameron’s strategist, said it was the first party he’d attended ‘full of normal people.’)

Even last year, May did not win any plaudits for introducing the law against coercive control – even though it was astonishingly popular, thanks to a controversial domestic abuse storyline on Radio 4’s, The Archers. May may not shout about her feminist credentials but she’s always done her bit for the Sisterhood.
She has, though, now reached a critical moment – and Cromwell’s reign, it must be remembered, was exceptionally brief. May was welcomed into Number 10 because of the reputation she had built as Home Secretary as ‘the safest of safe pair of hands.’ Yet all of a sudden – in January – her right one was grasping the tiny hand of Donald Trump – horrifying pretty much everyone. No one knows what kind of deal she’ll manage to cut with the EU.

Most famous for claiming that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she is also fond of the phrases ‘negotiations are negotiations’, ‘you will see what we publish when we publish it’ and ‘I gave the answer that I gave.’ Chequers, under May, will never – but never – witness another rave. But this summer it is likely to be used to host something far more ruinous to any Prime Minister’s reputation: a politician who transcends all historical precedent or description – President Donald Trump.

May’s Beard

Feminism, Politics, The Spectator

nick-timothy-beardThe Spectator

This week, the Tory party conference ought to be gripped by the question, who the hell is Nick Timothy, the vizier with all the power? To suggest that Theresa May’s joint chief of staff is the man behind our new PM’s manoeuvres is apparently misogynistic, but I’m a woman and I’ll say what I like. May’s regime change has been riveting, yet a core mystery remains: who precisely is in charge? We endured endless TV debates before last year’s election, but the person currently running the country was not on the podium. Now he’s in a Downing Street back office, luxuriating behind his lavish beard.

And it’s the beard that really mesmerises me. Nobody seems to know anything about Timothy, and he is shy of public statements. But is he not making a massive one with his bushy facial growth? It practically screams: ‘I am the most powerful unelected adviser in living memory.’ None of the last 16 Conservative leaders has been bearded; the most recent was Lord Salisbury in 1902. When Stephen Crabb crashed out of the Tory leadership race after sexting a young lady regarding his ‘downstairs situation’, it only proved my nan’s foolproof axiom: ‘Never trust a man with a beard.’ Close your eyes and picture a bearded leader. (You’re thinking of a dictator.) Our last Iron Lady would never ‘tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard’.

The Labour party’s current woes are neatly encapsulated by Jeremy Corbyn’s grizzled mien. It states clearly: I’m completely un-electable. New Labour’s success was predicated on the demise of Peter Mandelson’s moustache. As Lucinda Hawksley explains in her indispensable monograph, Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards, Mandy and Blair waged war on facial hair in the 1990s after market researchers found that voters were enamoured of a clean-shaven visage.

But with Blair long gone, Britain has experienced a beard boom. Men can now buy beard books, beard dyes and have a beard wash at Harvey Nichols. Perhaps Timothy was following fashion. Last year, even the Church of England sought to capitalise on the trend when the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, recommended vicars grow beards to reach out to Muslims. In January, he singled out for special praise two priests in the East End who had cultivated beards ‘of an opulence that would not have disgraced a Victorian sage’. The Revd Cris Rogers of All Hallows Bow explained: ‘One guy approached me and said, “I can respect you because you have got a beard.’’’

Historically, beards were interpreted as a badge of age and wisdom. Timothy is only 36, but he probably commands more respect than the entire cabinet put together. Mrs May barely trusts anyone — yet regards him as indispensable. If you read a quote attributed to ‘a close ally of the Prime Minister’, you’re privy to the thoughts of one of three people: Mr May, Mr Timothy or — if expressing bloody outrage — May’s other joint chief of staff, Fiona Hill. Timothy, however, is the one who writes policy. He likes grammar schools, so the decades-old consensus against them has been overturned — and no one particularly cares what Justine Greening, nominally Education Secretary, thinks about the matter.

It’s quite possible Timothy grew a beard for primal reasons he doesn’t quite grasp. Research by the University of Western Australia suggests that beards are intended — like the cheek flange of the orangutan and the upper-lip wart of the golden snub-nosed monkey — to attract a mate and petrify sexual competitors. But modern women, contrarily, do not fancy them. Analysis of the dating app Tinder showed that three-quarters of women prefer a beardless man: hardly surprising in the age of the Brazilian wax, when women are expected to have their pubic hair painfully ripped off because young men greet it with abject terror. Facial hair is said to grow faster when a man is not having sex, so it’s not astonishing that men en masse suffered the beard style of goldrush miners and militant jihadis. (Poor loves.)

Beards, I am reassured by a millennial, have now peaked. So the fact that Timothy retains his might be interpreted as evidence that he is stubborn, like his boss. But it is worth recalling that great minds loathe beards. Nasa has never allowed a bearded man on the moon. Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to shave before battle. Elizabeth I laid the foundations of empire by instituting a tax on any beard of more than two weeks’ growth. Today, beards make you 51 per cent less cheerful, 38 per cent less generous and 63 per cent more likely to win a staring contest — against another man.

Yes, I think we can divine a lot about Nick Timothy, thanks to that beard. And one key test of Mrs May’s government will be whether or not he shaves it off.

The rise and fall of the Cameron Chumocracy

David Cameron, Politics, Spectator Life, The Spectator

chumocracy

All political careers end in failure — it’s the dynastic death throes you want to watch. The leader departs with a wave and a whimper; the acolytes slither in blood and guts and gore. And so it was with David Cameron. While he made a dull speech in the drizzle outside Downing Street and his wife wore a nice dress, the Chumocracy he had presided over for 20 years and more tore itself apart behind the scenes. Gove knifed Boris — and botched it so badly that he died of self-inflicted wounds.Theresa May traipsed over bloodied corpses, defenestrated the rest, and by all accounts relished hacking apart theChancellor of the Exchequer.

The Chum-ocracy was dead… long live the Chum-ocracy! ‘Governments of chums won’t die off,’ onenotorious Westminster insider claims. ‘May has appointed her own in Damian Green and Alan Duncan. But with Cameron it was more extreme — he emerged through all three institutions that breed British prime ministers: Eton, Oxford and CCO [ConservativeCentral Office]. Wheneveranyone new was appointed to his staff, the lobby’d look up his name in the back ofFrancesElliot’s biography and find that whoever it was had been at Dave’s stag party or on one of his villa holidays.

‘There was a very telling archive clip that played on the news when Cameron resigned which showed him out-canvassing for the first time as a parliamentary candidate in Witney: he was accompanied by Ed Llewellyn, who’d been a friend since Eton, and was his chief of staff when he resigned. Cameron has always turned to his friends for help. When he needed money to fund the Conservative party he turned to Andrew Feldman — the same chap who’d raised the money for his college ball. What made Cameron a good friend also made him a bad politician because he never asked if there was anyone better for the job.’

To understand Cameron’s Chumocracy, I started to plot out his relationships on a piece of paper:starting with the friends he made at Eton, then at Oxford, through his PR career and life at CCO, on to Notting Hill, Westminster and No. 10. I started out drawing clear lines linking schoolmates to flatmates, Bullingdon buddies and policy wonks, but pretty soon exactly the same people started popping up in new guises — as fellow MPs, cabinet colleagues, party donors — and the lines started to veer into ever more deranged spirals as everyone turned out to be linked, several times over, to everyone else. Even their pets were connected, most notably in the marriage that took place between the bichon frises of George Osborne and Michael Gove. Snowy and Lola’s union may well have ended — like the friendship between their owners, according to the Sun — in bitterness, recrimination and muchbarking, but once upon a time everything was bliss. ‘I have thepictures,’ Mrs Gove, a.k.a. Daily Mail and Spectator Life columnist Sarah Vine, boasted at the 2014 Westminster Dog of the Year contest. ‘There was a ceremony with flowers.’

Canine union may have been an aberration for the Cameroons, but christenings were common and were used in much the same way as marriage in medieval Europe — to seal nascent political alliances. Rachel Whetstone, long-term partner of Tory strategist Steve Hilton, stood as godmother to David and Samantha’s eldest child, Ivan. At the time Whetstone worked for Michael Howard. Some time later she had an affair with Samantha’s stepfather, leaving an irate Cameron towonder if godmotherhood could, retrospectively, becancelled. Sam Cam is also, by all accounts, on non-speaks with Vine —godmother to her youngest child. Their husbands had once been the closest political chums, so they’d spent New Year and half-terms together. But when Mrs Gove gave herself a makeover as Brexit’s Lady Macbeth, Samantha was furious and Westminster insiders say they’ll never kiss and make up.

Even private moments such as bath time were grist to the Camerons’ social milieu. ‘My wife and I were once invited, with our children, to “dinner à quatre”, at the Camerons’ Oxfordshire home,’ recalls one guest. ‘When we arrived, as an opening salvo, we were asked if our kids would like to share a bath with their kids — who were then in one. It was like that bit in E.M. Forster’sA Room with a View when Mr Beebe was highly entertained because Freddy greeted George with, “How d’ye do? How d’ye do? Come and have a bathe.” With Cameron, everything was socialising. It’s a trait of English upper-class life that everyone else finds hard to understand. He wanted to look around him and see all nice people and good eggs.’

Of course, outsiders — oiks and bathtub refuseniks — were rarely permitted a glimpse of the Cameron clique. Occasionally, though, they had to be auditioned, such as when Cameron was searching for a potential chum in a trade too grubby for his natural allies to thrive in — journalism. His media advisers, Andy Coulson and Craig Oliver, were both appointed after passing muster at Sunday lunch. And, as my perfectly placed source points out, such intimate tests did pay off. Unlike the Blairs, about whom each successive home-help — from Alastair Campbell downwards — competed to share details ever more humiliating than the last,Cameron’s employees have kept schtum. Even after going to prison, Coulson has stayed loyal to Cameron, never spilling the braised beans.

Nick Clegg, however, is still smarting from his involvement with the Cameron project. A Westminster old boy, he initially seemed like Dave’s kind of chap, so at their first meeting in Downing Street he was honoured with helping Dave assemble an Ikea cot. Next, Clegg and his wife Miriam were put to the Sunday lunch test, where Mrs Clegg disgraced herself by sneering at Sam Cam’s offer of roast chicken with Hellman’s mayonnaise.Miriam absolutely refused to be drawn into the Cameroon set and her frostiness may or may not have contributed to Cameron’s decision to reallocate the deputy leader’s grace-and-favour home to his long-term and ultimate ally, Chancellor Osborne. ‘This is terribly awkward,’ Clegg recalls Cameron saying, when raising this vexatious issue. ‘The thing is… George has for so long had his eye on Dorneywood… He’s very close to me…’

Yet for all such canny manoeuvring, it was the social niceties that did for Cameron in the end. Just as Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions failed because he took the weekend off to play cricket with Earl Spencer (incurring the ire of Gove), Cameron’s relaxed approachcompletely ruined him when it came to the Brexit vote. Dave had carefully curated a coterie of yes men ever since he was eight years old (which was the last time anyone told him what to do, according to his late father). He was so cut off from the rest of the populace he could not foresee imminent doom: relying not just on the utterly hopeless pollster Andrew Cooper, but all the smug Remainers to whom he later gave gongs. As bloodymesses go, the Chumocracy’s was not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last — but it is, perhaps, the one that gives rise to the most schadenfreude.