LISTENING to (Lord) Digby Jones on Any Questions tonight, I was struck by how serious and respected a figure he is.
And I found myself – somewhat to my own surprise – regretting his departure from the government. I was never entirely comfortable with a minister refusing to join the Labour Party or accept the Labour whip. But I suppose what matters more is how effective you’ve been in your department and, in his case, representing British interests abroad. And Digby, by all accounts, did that extremely well.
Tonight he was critical of the government in a measured sort of way, but he also helped put the current worldwide downturn in perspective. And the audience listened.
I’ve met Digby only once – in 2003 during a select committee trip to Atlanta, Georgia, when I found myself in conversation with him at a reception held in honour of the visiting MPs. He was keen to discuss the Iraq war, which had only recently started, and wanted to know how I had voted in the Commons. I told him that I had supported the war and the prime minister, and he clearly approved of this. Then my friend and colleague, Parmjit Dhanda, joined us. Knowing that he had voted rather diffrently from me, I introduced Parmjit to Digby and said: “Digby, this is Parmjit, the MP for Gloucester. He voted against the war.” I heard Digby’s sharp intake of breath as he prepared to unleash a volley. Then I left them to it.
Parmjit, looking a bit shell-shocked following his grilling by Digby, told me later: “Thanks very much for that. Bastard.”