This is the speech from Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC that was delivered in his absence at the launch in central London tonight of Call Me Dave: The Unauthorised Biography of David Cameron. Lord Ashcroft co-authored the book with Isabel Oakeshott.
My lords, ladies and gentlemen: welcome to the launch of Call Me Dave – and I am sorry that I cannot be with you this evening. As you will have just seen, I have been a little pre-occupied for the past four weeks. I haven’t, of course, set foot in the UK since my illness but I am reliably informed that my book has caused a little bit of a stir.
I am delighted that Call Me Dave has captured not just the media’s attention but the wider public’s too. Almost every national newspaper in the land wanted to buy the serialisation rights before we signed a wonderful deal with the Daily Mail. As interest in the serialisation grew and grew, Biteback increased its initial planned print run of 6,000 to a staggering 38,000 copies – that’s nearly four times more than its largest ever previous print run for a book.
This was always a book that was aimed at the public, not just the Westminster commentators. And I am delighted to see that book sales are so far exceeding expectations: it reached number 12 in the “Amazon Hot 100” – an amazing achievement for a political book. At the same time, it was no 1 in Amazon’s biographies and politics sections. Furthermore, the public seems to like what it reads. “The subject is actually fairly treated,” wrote one of the many favourable Amazon reviewers, adding: “Fascinating and revealing, and not without its fair share of funny moments, Call Me Dave is an enjoyable account of David Cameron’s early life and career in politics, leading up to his time as Prime Minister. Well worth a read.” Last week, too, Biteback was contacted by a US publisher wanting to buy the rights to Call Me Dave.
My poor health over the past month has meant that my co-author, Isabel Oakeshott, and my publisher, Iain Dale, have – with support from my private office – been left to defend the book on their own. Although they have done a sterling job without me, I am well aware that I should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder at their side but – as my health deteriorated – that was, of course, impossible. 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.
This is not the right moment to go into a detailed defence of Call Me Dave against what, at times, has been some hysterical, ill-informed and illogical criticisms – most of it, incidentally, from people who had never even set eyes on the book. However, for my critics to suggest that the book was primarily motivated by a combination of revenge and malice is wide of the mark. The publication of the book – so soon after the last General Election – was, for example, carefully timed to ensure that, whatever our inquiries threw up, they caused no harm whatsoever to the chances of the Conservative Party and its leader being re-elected.
In the Preface to Call Me Dave, I wanted to explain why I had chosen to write the book, and, separately, why my relationship with David Cameron had become somewhat strained since 2010. I felt that readers were entitled to that background in assessing the book’s contents. I revealed my disappointment not to have been able to perform the kind of role that I had been led to believe I would be offered if David Cameron became Prime Minister. And so, yes, I was less than happy when the corresponding pledge made to me was reneged upon.
But people who know me well will testify to the fact that while I am certainly mischievous, I am not malicious. And you don’t just have to take my word on it in relation to the book. Chris Mullin, the Labour politician and hardly my natural ally, wrote in his review of Call Me Dave in The Guardian: “Remarkably, and despite the nonsense about a pig’s head, this is a biography almost entirely free of malice.” Ah, yes, the infamous pig’s head anecdote. More than enough has been said and written already on these handful of carefully-worded sentences based on information from a very respected source. All I want to add is that I shared in the decision to include the anecdote in the book and I take full responsibility for the judgement that we reached.
My final word on “piggate” is this – and it’s an apology. I read in The Independent, at the height of the furore, that management up and down the country were so worried by their workforce’s fascination with “piggate”, particularly on social media, that they fear productivity will be affected. All I can say if that if the UK’s GDP for the second half of this year really does dip significantly, then I am very sorry and I take full responsibility for it!
On a more serious note, I should stress that Isabel and I decided, for various reasons, to leave out a great deal of material out of the book relating to David Cameron’s private life.
Ladies and gentlemen, book launches should be happy, joyous events – an occasion at which to pat a few deserving people on the back for all their hard work – and tonight’s event will be no exception. I would like to begin by saying a massive “thank you” to Isabel for her professionalism, integrity and hard graft, and for holding the fort while I have been away. I am enormously grateful to Iain Dale and his team at Biteback for doing such a superb job, against the tightest of deadlines, in publishing Call Me Dave. Furthermore, Angela Entwistle and her team at Cowley Street could not have done more to prepare the way for the book and to promote it, including arranging tonight’s book launch. I must thank Paul Dacre and his team at the Daily Mail for serialising Call Me Dave and giving the book the sort of promotion that most authors can only dream of. And, finally, a big thank you to Gusbourne, the Kent estate of which I am the majority shareholder, for supplying tonight’s superb wines.
I sincerely hope that everyone present tonight will leave with a copy of Call Me Dave for two principal reasons. First, every penny of royalties from the book will be donated to military charities. But, most importantly of all, I would ask every one of you to read the book and draw your own conclusions about it. I am convinced that once you have read the final page and put down the book for the last time, you will consider Call Me Dave to be a fair and balanced assessment of our current Prime Minister.
By the way, I am very much aware that I owe many dear friends and supporters a phone call, an email or a text. Tonight’s revelations will, hopefully, explain the reason for my lack of contact. Even now, I am battling against protective doctors – so some of you will have to wait a little longer before you hear from me in person. Anyway, thank you to one and all for attending tonight’s launch – and have a great evening.
This is the speech from Isabel Oakeshott, delivered at the launch of Call Me Dave.
JUST before I left the Sunday Times two years ago, I interviewed David Cameron and at the end of the formal interview we had a conversation about plans for this book.
I recently looked at the transcript of this conversation again and was struck by his dark warnings about me getting involved.
“I’m just worried you’ll get caught up in some terrible fight between me and Michael Ashcroft,” he said.
“I just really fear for you.”
Well, he was absolutely right – but let me say that I don’t regret it for a minute. As George Osborne told a friend when he got into hot water for soliciting donations from a Russian oligarch, at least when I get into trouble it involves billionaires and yachts – or in my case, a billionaire and a prime minister!
It all kicked off with the Daily Mail’s serialisation – thank you Paul Dacre and your team, for the incredible coverage you gave us – we were on the front page of the Mail for a five days and everybody else followed the Mail’s lead. The book has not been out of the national news since.
Yes, it’s been controversial. Looking back at that conversation I had with Cameron two years ago, I was struck by the way he described the only other full life biography of himself, a very fine piece of work by Francis Elliott, now Political Editor of the Times, and the Independent’s James Hanning.
I asked Cameron if he liked it.
His reply was – and I’m sorry for my language, but these were his exact words:
“No, it’s a piece of shit.”
And that was a book he had asked everyone around him to cooperate with.
He went on to say – quite politely – that he wouldn’t cooperate with our book and furthermore, he would trash it whatever it said.
I brushed this off, but it shows what we were up against. And he did exactly what he said – though in a way I don’t blame him. This is politics, after all!
Call Me Dave is not a tome for the lofty commentariat, who have delighted in attacking it. It’s a book for ordinary readers, and as I’ve said countless times in recent weeks, we make no apology for making it colourful and entertaining where appropriate. But we also give plenty of attention to serious policy, as the Sunday Times’ fantastic second serialisation a fortnight ago showed. It focused on the chapters on Cameron’s position on Europe, just a fraction of the policy content of the book.
It is a horrible twist of fate that Lord Ashcroft became so seriously ill just before the book was published.
I have really missed him these past few weeks.
He would have been firing off mischievous tweets at all our critics and generally giving as good as he got. Those few of us who knew how ill he was have been incredibly worried about him, and it’s a relief that he’s now on the mend. He’s been wonderful to work with for the past two years – as has the rest of his team. Thank you in particular to the amazing Angela Entwistle, his head of communications, who has kept me in one piece these last few weeks.
We had two full time researchers on the project, both fresh out of university. I’m really proud that they both landed fantastic jobs after working for us. Laura Hughes, the best young reporter I’ve come across, is now a Political Reporter at the Telegraph – at the age of 23!- Tom Gardner, a brilliant young writer with a First from Oxford, is now on the Economist. Thank you to them both.
Finally, thanks to my family, who have been somewhat bemused to see me at the centre of this firestorm. At times it has been quite surreal.
When I came home last week after another long week doing battle on the Call Me Dave front line, I opened the front door, and bumped straight into a life size cardboard cut-out of David Cameron – my husband’s idea of a joke. I got the fright of my life.
He has not enjoyed these past few weeks, but at least he’s retained his sense of humour.
As have I. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening, and thank you all for coming.