I’ve always been a keen letter writer. I had my first letter in The Times newspaper when I was 17. When I did a year abroad, I sent over 200 letters home to friends and family. I now publish a booklet every year and send it to friends and contacts with a written note every Christmas.

I’ve used writing a good letter to advance my business. I’ve sent persuasive letters to important people to get them to speak at conferences. I also write to public figures occasionally to tell them what I think of their interventions.

 

AND I LEARN A LOT BY HOW THEY REPLY.

 

I first wrote to Boris Johnson when I left university in the early 1990s because I’d seen him speak and I wanted to get into journalism. He replied with a handwritten letter full of encouragement. I’ve written to him occasionally since over the years and he always replies warmly, as if he remembers who I am.

I used to enjoy writing to my MP. I’d send a letter to the House of Commons. A few weeks later a thick creamy envelope would drop through the letter box. Inside would be a beautifully-presented letter with a couple of paragraphs thanking me for my thoughts and telling me that my concerns were being taken very seriously. It would be signed in ink pen.

Recently I wrote to my MP on paper and I got a long abusive email back ignoring completely the nature of my concerns.

I wrote a letter to an old university contact to ask him for advice, and he never replied. I wrote to the head of English at my old school, and he never replied. I sent a flattering letter to the Chairman of a FTSE company telling him that I’d heard on the grapevine that he was one of the best business speakers out there, enclosing a copy of one of my booklets. He never replied.

Now there is a good explanation for this. Top people are not set up to reply to letters any more. They don’t have old-school secretaries, they do everything on email. There is no supply of ivory-laid letter paper and creamy envelopes to hand.

But I had cause to think about it again this week because of something someone said about Rishi Sunak.

Years ago I had an aristocratic friend who sent me an email to say that she thought Rishi was going to take over and I should contact him to offer help with his speeches.

I knew this sort of thing never worked, and I didn’t want to. But I couldn’t be sure she didn’t know Rishi socially, so I felt morally obliged to do what she said.

I sent him a copy of one of my speechwriting books with a personal letter mentioning my friend. As expected, I never got a reply.

I remembered this because I heard Tim Montgomerie, a Conservative commentator, say yesterday that MPs are now desperate to replace Rishi before the election because they realise he ‘can’t do politics’.

My aristocratic friend died last year. I went to the memorial service. The son said in his eulogy how his mother spent huge amounts of time on her correspondence, something that he’d inherited. In fact his wife had told him that if someone so much as passed him the salt, he’d send them a thank-you note.

A light bulb went on in my head.

I don’t blame Rishi for not replying to my letter. But I do blame him, as a very wealthy man determined to get to the top, for not having a system where he paid someone to answer all his letters.

It’s no consolation to also say that I also wrote a personal letter to Kier Starmer last year about his oracy policy. I also wrote to Richard Tice, leader of the Reform Party.

No replies from them either.

There is no shortage of people eager to put themselves forward for public office. The problem is they ‘can’t do politics’.


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