While browsing in Barter Books, the wonderful secondhand bookshop in Alnwick that is fast becoming a national institution, I came across a volume of Piers Morgan’s diaries, covering his two years in the United States, judging America’s Got Talent and taking part in Celebrity Apprentice (the Alan Sugar role being played by one Donald Trump). I cannot claim to have been all that keen on Morgan ever since I discovered that in the mid-1990s, when he was an agent of Murdoch, he penned a note to Tony Blair demanding that he silence ‘idiots like Mullin shouting their mouths off about “loathsome tabloids” and my owner’. As you might expect, the Morgan diaries are brash, vulgar and celebrity-obsessed, but (it pains me to admit this) they are also bizarrely addictive. Morgan is amusing, self-deprecating and sound on issues that most civilised people care about — gun control, affordable healthcare and race.
One of the highlights is an interview, in August 2008, with a surprisingly lucid Donald Trump. This is Trump on George W. Bush: ‘I think he’s set back this country 50 years. We were a great country before he became president. A respected country. Whether you like Clinton or you don’t like Clinton, we had no deficit for the first time in many years, and were doing well economically. And then Bush came in and wrecked it.’ And this is Trump on Bush and Iraq: ‘He invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, absolutely zero. He purposely lied and lied badly and his lies got us into a war.’
Could it be that under that ludicrous exterior there lurks an intelligent human being? Or as the American writer and humorist Andy Borowitz put it recently, ‘Say what you will about Trump. He is a smart man with a deep understanding of what stupid people want.’
Hopefully the victory of Ted Cruz in Iowa last week will shed some welcome light on another of the seriously bad men in the running for the Republican nomination, who until now has been eclipsed by the sheer mesmerising awfulness of Donald Trump. Cruz ticks all the boxes: climate- change denier, death-penalty enthusiast, opponent of even the most minimal gun control. After the recent nuclear deal with Iran, he described President Obama as ‘one of the world’s leading financiers of radical Islamic terrorism’. He managed to include a reference to the Nazis in his unrelenting opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Needless to say, Cruz is in close touch with God, who features regularly in his campaign speeches: ‘I believe that this will be a religious liberty election.’ ‘My prayer is… that the body of Christ rise up to pull America back from the abyss.’ ‘Through prayer the Lord has changed my life.’ And so on. If it comes down to a choice between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, which please God (this God stuff is catching) it won’t, give me Trump any day.
Later this year Parliament will be asked to approve the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system at a lifetime cost estimated at anywhere from £30 billion to £100 billion. (Given the Ministry of Defence’s record on procurement, my guess is at the higher end of the scale.) Just about everyone who has given any thought to the matter knows it’s bonkers. Trident is not independent, it doesn’t deter and it soaks up badly needed investment in conventional defence. The one benefit it confers is a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. I quietly remarked on this to the Secretary of State for Defence the last time Parliament voted on the issue and he replied, ‘The Foreign Office put that in my brief, but I told them to take it out.’ Of course no Labour government could phase out Trident without mass hysteria but, were the Tories to do so, the fallout would be minimal and in years to come their wisdom would be widely praised.
Sorry to hear that my friend Hilary Benn has ruled himself out of any future contest for the Labour leadership. Since well before That Speech I have regarded him as one of the best and the brightest on the Opposition front bench. He is highly capable, engagingly normal and far too decent to get involved in any scheming and plotting, but four years in politics is a very long time. In the event that a vacancy for the top job were to arise between now and the election, I hope he can be persuaded to reconsider.
I am putting the finishing touches to a little volume of memoirs that I hope to publish in the autumn. It will be called Hinterland, a characteristic that all good politicians are supposed to possess; not all do. I am occasionally asked for advice by some young person hoping for a career in politics. My advice is always the same: do something else first, and then you will be useful if and when you are elected.
Chris Mullin is a former Labour minister and the author of three volumes of diaries.