The thankless work of a Party Chairman

An open letter to the Leader of the Opposition, from Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden.

Oliver Dowden, our MP, is Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party. It’s an unelected role that’s in the gift of the leader of the party (Boris Johnson), so it’s often used as a place to ‘park’ useful Ministers while they’re out of formal office (this also explains why there’s quite often more than one Chairman – it’s a kind of waiting area for soon-to-be-recycled ministers). While the party is in government the Chairman is also typically given a sinecure role such as Minister without Portfolio, which allows them to attend cabinet meetings.

In his role as Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden is required to do a fair amount of political spade work – defending the party leadership, keeping the latest policy wheezes in the news, rallying the troops at conferences, carrying the message to sympathetic foreigners, that kind of thing.

Today’s grunt work is a strongly-worded open letter to the leader of the opposition, part of a dizzying 36 hours in Westminster politics that seems worth a closer look. Let’s try to put Dowden’s letter into a sequence:

  1. Tuesday evening (19 April). Boris Johnson attends a meeting of Tory MPs, ostensibly to apologise for partygate and rally the troops. He takes the opportunity to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury and the BBC. As expected, the content of his speech is quickly made public.
  2. Later Tuesday evening. Friendly media outlets are briefed about the speech – that the PM asserted that the Archbishop has been more critical of the Government’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda than he has been of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, for instance. Also that the PM was unhappy about the criticism of the plan on the BBC.
  3. Wednesday morning. This is where it gets complicated. The press may also have been briefed that the PM was unhappy with the BBC’s coverage of Ukraine. On Wednesday’s Today on BBC Radio 4, Justin Webb picks up this line and grills Paul Scully, the unfortunate junior minister who happens to be on duty that morning, about the Prime Minister’s criticism of BBC journalism – “can you come up with an occasion when Boris Johnson has put his life on the line for the truth as Jeremy Bowen has, as Lyse Doucet has, as Clive Myrie has?” Webb’s line of questioning becomes part of the story, of course. There are complaints and a line is provided by the BBC press office (quoted in this Telegraph article).
  4. Wednesday lunchtime. Webb’s line of questioning obviously hits home, though, and when Keir Starmer accuses Johnson of slandering “decent people in a private room” and says “how can the Prime Minister claim to be a patriot when he deliberately attacks and degrades the institutions of our great country?” at Prime Minister’s Questions, The PM responds furiously – “…he must be out of his tiny mind…”
  5. Wednesday afternoon. So, by now the disagreement comes down to whether the PM criticised the BBC’s coverage of the Rwanda plan or its coverage of the Ukraine war (or both) in his speech to MPs.
  6. Thursday morning. Central Office concludes that this calumny – that the Prime Minister has criticised the BBC for its coverage of the Ukraine war – cannot stand and must be tackled head-on. One aspect of the response is Oliver Dowden’s letter to Keir Starmer, published on his Twitter account. It catalogues Boris Johnson’s various defences of press freedom (not a very long list, in truth) and finishes with a routine reminder that the Labour Party was once led by a Kremlin apologist. Ministers tour the breakfast studios to demand an apology from Starmer, newspapers pick up the letter and run it under headlines like Sir Keir Starmer told to retract claims Boris Johnson criticised BBC’s Ukraine coverage (The Telegraph) and Boris Johnson ally suggests he shouldn’t apologise to Commons – but Keir Starmer should (The Mirror).

And this is all in a day’s work for a hard-working Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

  • The Conservative Party has a useful page about the duties of the Party Chairman. Oliver Dowden’s letter is on Dowden’s own Twitter, not on the Party’s web site or even on an official Twitter account. Does anyone archive this stuff? Are Government librarians scouring MPs’ social media for material? Will historians be able to access statements like this in the distant future? Or does it actually serve politicians that official statements are now no more permanent than tweets?

Radlett residents roar… and the Red Lion listens

Red Lion Radlett

The arrival of new garden chairs and tables outside the Red Lion in Radlett on Thursday caused a reaction from residents almost as colourful as the furniture. Radlett’s response has resulted in the chairs and tables being removed and Youngs tweeting:

The metal chairs and tables, which were in bright yellow, orange and green and placed at the front of the Red Lion, became the subject of lively discussion online both on Twitter and the Facebook Radlett Village page. Many expressed surprise at seeing the new layout:

I drove past today and saw these! Thought there must have been some event and they were temporary! Not a good look!
Marcia Devine

It looks so cheap and nasty and totally un-inviting. Not somewhere you’d like to sit and relax!
Alana Riedl

People wondered if the chairs were in keeping with Radlett’s general appearance:

They look awful. Whatever possessed them to go and get outdoor furniture that would look better in a playground than a pub?? Maybe they need to go specsavers?
Sandra Beale

Whilst I am all for stylish modernisation, I do think the selection are simply bad taste and better suited to a beach bar. I think the neon would look a lot more attractive through the lens of my sunglasses.
Monique Spevock

And although not everyone disliked them they still weren’t convinced they were a good fit for the village:

I love them!!!! Granted they don’t suit the pub but I love the colours!
Susan Grace Farran

I’m not so bothered by the look of them although Youngs should have thought about whether a “one size fits all” approach would work-Putney this isn’t! I’m more bothered by the fact that the seats look exceedingly uncomfortable and the tables look too small for everyone to have space to eat!
Katie Lavan

A lively discussion developed about why such colours were chosen:

Perhaps this Operations Manager is hoping for his own version of the Turner Prize..?(!)
Phil Wye

Do they glow in the dark?!
Emma Kilkenny

Yeah maybe they are trying to counter the energy saving lighting regime that switches off half the streetlights at 12am!
Nick Robinson.

On Twitter, the Area Manager of Youngs, Andy Turner, was pleased with the results posting pictures saying “wow”. However responses were less ‘wow’ and more ‘why?’.

The discussion on social media was, on the whole very good humoured, as Radlett folk had fun likening the chairs to highlighter pens, playground furniture and even the Teletubbies. Someone suggested patrons should wear hi-viz clothing to match the chairs, others that perhaps rave culture had come to the village.

Youngs reacted very quickly to the feedback and by Sunday the chairs were gone. The Red Lion is now seeking suggestions on the patio furniture:

What do you think the front of the Radlett Red Lion should look like? Leave a comment here or join us on Facebook or Twitter.