David Blackburn

Across the literary pages | 4 July 2011

Michael Moorcock, China Miéville, Hilary Spurling and AL Kennedy celebrate the life and work of Mervyn Peake, who was born 100 years ago next Saturday.

Editor of the Times James Harding talks to his predecessor William Rhys Mogg about the latter’s memoirs (£).

‘What did you think of Ted Heath? “Well, I liked him, but he could be appallingly difficult.” That said, “He was a serious and important figure to a degree which people don’t at the moment realise”. What about Harold Wilson, you didn’t seem to have much time for him? “He was frightfully dodgy at the way he handled difficult issues.” Rees-Mogg remembers a dinner in 1966 at which the Labour Prime Minister suggested that he would approve the sale of The Times to the owners of The Sunday Times if the paper sacked its then troublesome political correspondent. (The sale was approved; Rees-Mogg was appointed Editor; Harold Wilson’s advice on staff changes was ignored.) “There was always this feeling that there was something absurd about what Harold Wilson was up to.”

Jim Callaghan was “a bit lucky to become Prime Minister”. John Major was “indecisive and alienated both wings of his party. He was unlucky in coming after a major prime minister and not being of that calibre.” Tony Blair seemed, if anything, too appealing. “I always thought there must be something wrong about [the Blair project].” Rees-Mogg ran into the future PM in the mid-1990s, when both men were changing planes en route to a Bilderberg conference. As they waited for their connection, Blair talked widely. “Everything he said,” recalls Rees-Mogg, a lifelong Tory, “I approved of. And I knew that I wouldn’t make a good Labour prime minister.”

David Cameron? “Basically favourable … He’s a shrewd professional, probably not a great Prime Minister but a very competent one … I would compare him more to Harold Macmillan than all the other Conservative prime ministers.”’

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