Pig-gate goes global, a nation’s guilt over Volkswagen, and standing in for a billionaire

And so to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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And so to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’d managed to escape going for the past four years but this year I thought I’d better make the effort. My company, Biteback (the publishers of that book on David “Hameron”), had a stand there and the aim was to identify books from foreign publishers that might work in the UK and sell rights of our books to foreign publishers.

I wasn’t sure what interest there would be in Call Me Dave but I’m delighted that the book has attracted the keen interest of one of the biggest US publishers and we have an agent who thinks that she can sell rights to most European countries. An Estonian publisher told me that our PM is very popular in her country. Who’d have thought?

My most enjoyable moment of the week was having to explain “Pig-gate” to an Israeli publisher. Strangely, I doubt it will be appearing on the shelves of Israeli bookshops very soon.

Talking of Israel, our stand wasn’t far from the Israeli publishers’ collective. It was the only stand with a permanent security presence of two men dressed in black and with earpieces. I walked past it three times a day and I never saw a single person there smile. Even when they had a falafel party (when the security presence increased to six), no one seemed to be enjoying it. I resisted the temptation to wander by humming “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. What a sad state of affairs it is when publishers feel the need to hire security because of the risk of an anti-Semitic attack – in Germany of all places.

 

Pardon my German

Thirty years ago this summer, I graduated from the University of East Anglia (or the “University of Easy Access”, as it was known in those days) with a degree in German. After spending two years living in Germany, teaching and working as a nurse (no sniggering at the back), I became fluent in the language to the extent that whenever I told a German that I was English, they refused to believe me. In one case, I had to prove it by showing my passport. Sadly, though, having had few opportunities to speak the language in three decades, my oral abilities have declined somewhat. So it was with some trepidation that I drove to Bad Wildungen to visit old friends and the woman I call my “German mother”.

In the end, I needn’t have worried. We picked up as if the previous 30 years hadn’t existed. That’s what true friendship is all about, isn’t it? And my German hadn’t deteriorated quite as much as I’d feared. Even if it had, so many English (or American) words have been incorporated into German that I could probably have got by. We now have three new German verbs – downloaden, streamen and skypen. Ich downloade, du streamst, sie haben geskypt. Ausgezeichnet.

 

Omissions and emissions

This was my first visit to Germany since 2011 but not a lot seems to have changed. The concept of corner shops that stay open all hours still hasn’t reached the country. Having last week attended my third speed awareness course, it has been a delight to be able to drive like the clappers (I reached 130mph in my hired Volvo 4x4) on the Auto­bahn without fear of being stopped by the police. German radio still hasn’t climbed out of the 1980s. Politically, they still obsess about the English and scratch their heads in disbelief at why we are so Eurosceptic (although that is gradually changing). And they want to know all about Kate.

Ask them about the Volkswagen scandal, though, and invariably the subject will be changed in the shortest time possible. The Germans know all about national guilt and the scandal has brought it all back. “It has brought shame on the whole country,” said a friend. “No one believes there were only two people who knew about it. There must have been hundreds who just turned a blind eye.” Now, where have I heard that before?

 

The Italian job

This week, I’m publishing a book on Silvio Berlusconi by the award-winning journalist Alan Friedman, called My Way. It is the nearest thing Berlusconi will get to an auto­biography, I suspect. He spent a hundred hours with Friedman, talking about his life, experiences and the people he has met.

It’s all on video, too, and Friedman is releasing a lot of it concurrently with the book, including some fascinating footage of Vladimir Putin and other world leaders opining about Berlusconi. The former Italian premier gave Friedman total editorial control over the manuscript, although a few months before publication he bought the Italian publisher of the book! So far, I haven’t received an offer I couldn’t refuse to buy Biteback. But there has been an incident involving a pig’s head . . .

 

Call me Michael

Back in London on Monday, it was the book launch that much of Westminster had been waiting for. Altitude London, on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower, is a great venue for such an event and it played host to 400 people, eagerly awaiting Michael Ashcroft’s author’s speech. Sadly all they got was a speech from me instead. Unbeknown to
anyone, Michael has been seriously ill for the past month. At one stage, it was touch and go. Thankfully he is on the road to recovery but he was unable to make the launch of Call Me Dave. I suspect that he had to be strapped to his bed, because I know he would have been desperate to attend.

Much has been said about him supposedly hanging Isabel Oakeshott and me out to dry by not doing any interviews about the book. Only she and I knew the truth and for once we both kept our respective gobs shut. As it was, I read out the book-launch speech that Michael would have given, had he been there. It was the only time in my life that I have been asked to stand in for a billionaire. Michael finished with: “I have fought many political and business battles over the past half-century but this is the first one – and, I trust, the last – in which I haven’t led from the front.” We both look forward to him rejoining the fray very soon – as, I am sure, does the Prime Minister. 

This article appears in the 22 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister