Diary

ConHome Diary: No Dave, I Won't Stand for Kensington (Not That You've Asked!)

27 Feb 2015 at 14:30

My interview with Ed Balls on Wednesday seems to have created a bit of a stir. According to the Huffington Post it was “the most cringeworthy LBC interview in, well, recent days.” Personally, I thought it was a hoot. You see Ed Balls had come top of a Mumsnet survey of sexy MPs. They described him as a “sexy beast”. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Anyway, we sent our reporter Tom Swarbrick out to see what the good citizens of London thought and then played this out to him. As the Mirror’s Owen Bennett put it, “The Shadow Chancellor was appearing on LBC radio when host Iain Dale surprised him with a small package”. Er, I can honestly say I have never surprised anyone with a small package, but perhaps that’s a story for my column in Attitude Magazine, rather than on ConservativeHome. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ed Balls waxed lyrical about his sexual prowess – he’s a “long, slow burn” in case you’re at all interested – and it was all good fun, at the end of an hour long phone in which covered heavy economic subjects. Naturally the Daily Mail wrote this up as “excruciating”. In truth, it was nothing of the sort. It was a good laugh which showed Ed Balls has a great sense of humour and in reality is a thoroughly nice guy – far away from the stereotype image that I am sure most of the readers of this column have of him. If we want our politicians to be robots and never show a sense of humour then that’s fine, but I’d rather have politicians like Ed Balls who aren’t afraid to stray off the political path once in a while and be entertaining.
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All of which brings us to Natalie Bennett and her car crash on LBC. It was an interview when Nick Ferrari appeared to hand her a silver revolver and asked her if she’d like to shoot herself. And the duly did. Ferrari can be quite an aggressive interviewer if he thinks a politician is not on their game, but in this interview he just let Natalie climb on the chair, put the rope around her neck and jump. Now, there’s no doubt that she wasn’t feeling her best and had a massive cold. I have sympathy with her on that score as I too had a massive cold at the beginning of the week, and believe me, presenting a four hour phone in show when you’re not feeling your best is quite a challenge. I wasn’t at the top of my game but I got through it on the basis that the show had to go on. The fact is that Natalie Bennett should never have got out of bed that morning, but as a party leader it’s quite difficult to pull a sickie on the day of your general election campaign launch. But she needed her media adviser to tell her not to do the interviews and just to appear at the launch, then go home and take a hot toddie.

I suspect, however, that there won’t be too many long lasting effects from this “brain fade”. The Greens, like UKIP, has a slight Teflon quality, where bad news bounces off them – a bit like it used to be for the LibDems.

The final thing I would say about this is that this type of Brain Fade happens to Boris Johnson rather often, yet interviews let me get away with it. In future, we should all be far more damning of Boris and not let his bluster and general bon homie mask the fact that on many issues he can appear just as ill-informed as Natalie Bennett. Admittedly, it happens less and less nowadays, but if his political ambitions really are as high as we are led to believe, he will need to be much more on top of complicated policies than he sometimes appears to be.
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Back in the 1990s there was a great series on ITV starring David Jason called A BIT OF A DO. Every episode revolved around some sort of family “do” like a wedding or funeral and the disasters and rows that happened. Whenever something bad happened David Jason would frown and utter the words “today, of all days…”. I wonder if Nigel Farage had those words on his mind when he woke up in Washington DC to hear the UK’s immigration figures announced. He and his diary planners (not that he has any, as he keeps his own diary) must have been kicking themselves that they were 3,000 miles away when it was announced that the net immigration figure for last year was 298,000, higher than any year under Labour. Talk about an open goal for Farage to score. But he couldn’t. Because he wasn’t here. Instead he had been persuaded by his trusty adviser Matthew Richardson to show his face and speak at the CPAC Conference, which takes place every February in Washington. The Conservative Political Action Conference really is a gathering of the ‘faith, flag and family’ wing of the Republican Party. I don’t mind admitting that my definition of the word ‘conservative’ differs somewhat from theirs. And I suspect that even Nigel Farage might be left feeling a little queasy by it all. I remember one anecdote from my last visit to CPAC in 2008. One afternoon I got talking to a young girl from Alabama at CPAC and was explaining to her the differences between British and American Conservatives. I mentioned that neither abortion or gay rights were big issues in British politics. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve never met anyone who’s gay.” I then offered my hand and said, “well now you have!” She roared with laughter and then added: “We don’t have any gay people in Alabama.” I told her the horrible truth and we then joked that they had all probably left or been driven out of the state.
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It’s been reported that Sol Campbell is now the official CCHQ choice for the next Conservative Candidate for Mayor of London. I may be accused of partisanship here because of the nasty things he says about West Ham in his recent book, and call me old-fashioned, but exactly what qualities does Sol Campbell possess to make him the standout candidate? Apart from being black, of course. And a pseudo-celebrity. Do we know his views on anything apart from the Mansion Tax? Has he ever shown any aptitude for the cut and thrust of political life? Or an ability to run anything? Now to be fair, Boris Johnson wasn’t actually the ideal candidate back in 2007 when he was selected, and he hasn’t done a bad job, but are we really reduced to choosing a candidate just because of their celebrity or the fact they happen not to be white? The three declared Tory candidates so far are Stephen Greenhalgh, Andrew Boff and the appalling Ivan Massow. How anyone can take Massow seriously is quite beyond me. He’s announced several policies so far, none of which could remotely be called Conservative – hardly a surprise, I suppose bearing in mind his history of political flip-flopping. No doubt when he is rejected, as he surely will be, it will time for another defection. No doubt he will question ‘Is it coz I is gay?’ It’s his habitual excuse for political failure. I may have failed to get elected, but I’ve never trotted out that excuse and never will.
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Moving on to Kensington, where Sir Malcom Rifkind saw the political writing on the wall and quit before he was pushed, it will be interesting to see how the selection develops. Victoria Borwick has already declared her hand and according to Guido Fawkes has hired Nick Wood’s Media Intelligence Partners to boost her profile.

The front runners for Kensington mostly seem to be a pot pourri of sporting celebs – Andrew Strauss, James Cracknell and Frank Lampard (yes, really). I know nothing about Strauss’s
political ambitions but I do know that James Cracknell has been serious in pursuing a political career and was a Euro candidate. But in Kensington we are told that Number Ten are determined to have a woman selected. The finger is being pointed at Cameron adviser Laura Trott, who has tried for various seats with no luck so far. I’ve no idea how good she is, but isn’t it rather sickening that in virtually every final at the moment, the same nine or ten people are appearing? No one can seriously tell me that this is all down to local decision making.
One name I was very pleased to see on the betting odds for Kensington was that of Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish. Tim and I may not agree on anything but I think he’d make a superb parliamentarian. Thoughtful, passionate and with a strong set of ideological beliefs. Trouble is, he’s having none of it. It’s a sad indictment on our politics that someone like Tim isn’t at all interested in pursuing a career in elected politics. I’d like to think that at some point he might indeed still appear in Parliament. In ermine.

And just for the record, even though my name has appeared at 33/1 on the betting odds for Kensington, I have absolutely no interest either. Not even a flicker. Not a twinge. Just as well seeing as it’s nearly five years since I have been on the candidates list. One of my LBC colleagues reckoned he could make a quick buck by putting some money on me to win and I kept protesting I didn’t want to do it (was he trying to get rid of me?!) and he then said: “What if David Cameron rang you up and told you he wanted you to stand?” I didn’t even need to think. “No, Dave,” I’d say, in the style of a sketch show character whose name I have now forgotten, “It’s not a maverick radio presenter you need in Kensington, it’s a future Prime Minister. I bid you farewell, now get on with running the country.”

His next call would probably be to Katy Hopkins.

Now there’s a thought. I really shouldn’t put these thoughts into people’s heads, should I?

But I am serious. Whoever wins Kensington should be someone who you could imagine in ten years’ time leading the Conservative Party and then the country. If I had a vote there, I wouldn’t even consider shortlisting anyone who didn’t meet that criteria.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale & Lynnette Burrows fall out over Kissing in Public

Fireworks occur over whether two gay people should be allowed to kiss in public. Mrs Burrows thinks not!

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Media

EXCLUSIVE: Bruno Waterfield to Leave the Telegraph

21 Feb 2015 at 16:54

Yesterday we learned that top investigative reporter Holly Watts is to leave the Telegraph for The Guardian.

Another day, another journalist departs Telegraph Towers. I can exclusively reveal that highly respected Brussels Editor Bruno Waterfield is the next one to leave. He is off to The Times. It’s a very big loss for the Telegraph as he is a genuine story-breaker and will be hugely difficult to replace.

UPDATE: I should point out that I’m given to understand Bruno’s decision was made some time ago and was not as a result of the events of this week.

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Iain talks to Patsy Palmer about being ginger

Patsy Palmer unexpectedly rings Iain's show to share her experiences of being ginger.

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UK Politics

Why the Public & Private Sectors Can And Must Work Together in Healthcare

21 Feb 2015 at 10:03

THE private versus public sector debate has bedevilled health policy for some time. It lies at the very core of the failure of politicians to provide the leadership the NHS needs. The ‘public good, private bad’ mindset which is held by many politicians on the left is equally matched by the ‘private good, public bad’ attitudes often prevalent on the right. Only in this country could this happen.

Even in these days of supposed consensus, these attitudes still prevail. Do any of these politicians think people care if they are treated privately or in an NHS hospital, if they get the treatment they want, where they want, when they want it?

Of course not. Yet people who use Bupa or other private health providers are made to feel as if they are somehow being elitist, rather than being praised for taking responsibility for their own healthcare and not burdening the NHS with their demands.

A ComRes poll in July 2014 showed that two in three people (67 per cent) say that they do not mind if health services are provided by a private company or the NHS as long as they remain free of charge.

Beveridge and Bevan never meant for the NHS to have to meet every single demand ever made of it. Two systems can work happily together as long as each respects the other.

For too long in this country, Labour politicians have seen private medicine as a class enemy and Tory politicians have viewed the NHS as something for other people to use, not them.

David Cameron makes great play out of the fact that he is a regular user of the NHS. He had a disabled son whose seizures made regular overnight stays in a local hospital a normal occurrence for him. His view was shaped by his experience. He put the NHS at the top of his agenda. He says his three priorities can be summed up in three letters: N.H.S.

One of Cameron’s first acts was to abolish the Tory policy of encouraging private sector healthcare. George Osborne said in opposition: “We are having no truck with ideas for some alternative funding mechanism like social insurance. Nor are we looking to help fund escape routes from public services for the few who can afford it, which is why we have moved away from the idea of the patients’ passport.”

All very well, but where are we going to get the extra capacity that the NHS needs if the private sector is not embraced in a way it hasn’t been before? Ministers in the last Labour government would freely admit they would not have been able to reduce waiting lists without utilising private sector capacity.

Let’s not pretend that private sector involvement in the provision of healthcare is anything new.

Most people use private sector dentists. GPs are effectively in the private sector, as are most osteopaths and physiotherapists. A lot of primary care is provided by the private sector – the out of hours service and 111 to name but two examples. Drugs are provided by private sector suppliers. Chemists and dispensaries have never been in the public sector and no one has ever suggested they should be.

It was recently reported with some horror in the Guardian that 70 per cent of NHS contracts are with the private sector. They put this down to the Lansley reforms, omitting to say that the private sector has always played a major role in health provision.

Opponents of the private sector also raise the spectre of the NHS introducing charges, conveniently forgetting that patients already pay prescription charges.

From time to time, the issues of charging for hospital food or GP visits are floated, but quickly ditched until the howl of public outrage subsides.

However, on radio phone-ins such as my own, the idea of charging for NHS services is quite popular in some areas. For example, people ask why the taxpayer should pay for the treatment of people who bring their own misfortune on themselves.

People who binge drink on a Friday night often end up in A&E. Why shouldn’t they be charged? People who regret getting a tattoo can apparently have it removed courtesy of the NHS. But where do you draw the line? Charge smokers for lung cancer treatment? Charge obese people for diabetes drugs? Another one for the too difficult box, I suspect.

Very few people have anything nice to say about the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. And let me be no exception. It was set up by the Labour government with the best of intentions. Part of its mission was to end the variation in medical treatment across the country and ensure that if a drug was found to be effective, patients should not have to fight to get it.

Clearly there needs to be a body which licenses drugs, but there is a huge suspicion that too many drugs are still licensed through budgetary consideration rather than clinical need. And drugs which are available in some parts of the country are not in others – for much the same reason. And if a cancer patient should have the temerity to decide to use their life savings to fund their treatment using a drug which for budgetary reasons is not available via the NHS, what does the NHS do?

Instead of saying ‘thank you very much for helping us out and paying for your own drugs’, it refuses to continue any treatment for that patient. See? Public good, private bad. It’s the politics of socialist envy and says that just because everyone can’t have it, you can’t either. So people die. Is that really what should be happening? I don’t think so. It’s an example of the kind of dogma which has bedevilled our public-sector thinking over many decades.

I am surprised that no one has yet taken the NHS, or NICE, to the European Court of Human Rights over issues like this. I suspect it is a matter of time. Perhaps then the postcode lottery may be brought to an end.

No other country’s health system operates in such a bigoted and uncaring way. The sooner we eradicate this sort of thinking, the better. If we are to get anywhere in improving standards of healthcare and quality of outcomes, surely it is obvious that the public and private sector healthcare systems need to operate side by side and help each other where possible.

This article was the Saturday Essay in the Yorkshire Post. It is taken from “The NHS: Things That Need To Be Said” which has been published by LBC Books, price £8.99. Buy it HERE. Or download the eBook HERE=

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Fancy Talking About Male Genital Mutilation?

20 Feb 2015 at 14:03

It’s always bittersweet for a publisher when you see a book that you turned down being published. You wonder if you made a mistake and if it will in fact turn out to be a bestseller. That’s happened to me this week with the publication of William Waldegrave’s memoir A DIFFERENT KIND OF WEATHER. When I read the manuscript some time ago I felt it was, as you would expect, beautifully written but I wasn’t confident it would attract enough punters to make it commercially viable. Luckily for Lord Waldegrave Constable disagreed. I’m a total sucker for a political memoir. I hate it when one gets away. I was very angry with myself when I saw Baroness Trumpington was writing her autobiography. I had nearly approached her a few years before but I figured that at approaching 90 if she hadn’t written it by now, she never would. Wrong. I’m currently reading Tim Bell’s autobiography – another one I’d have liked to have published. The one I’d really like to get is Ken Clarke’s. Trouble is, he’s been around for so long that there would probably have to be at least three volumes. I’m not being horrible, but I honestly doubt he would have enthusiasm to start it or the application to finish it.
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Good on Esther McVey. She was asked on LOOSE WOMEN whether she’d like to be Prime Minister and instead of doing what most politicians do and saying “Oh, I’m just concentrating on the job I’ve got now”, she said “Yes, I would, actually”. How refreshing. How Heineken. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with ambition or expressing it. I asked Ed Davey on air the other day if he’d like to lead the LibDems. The politically correct answer would have been to day “There’s no vacancy” but instead he said “yes” and got a lot of credit from listeners for it. Others (are you listening Chuka Umunna?) take note.
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Readers may remember me taking the Telegraph to task for the fact they have lost so many of their best journalists over the last couple of years. Private Eye carried a story in their last issue that their journalists had been told not to use my name in the paper ever again. So when I did a search on my name on their website I was pleasantly surprised to see all the articles I have written for them over the years were still there. But after what I am about to write below, I suspect it will only be a matter of time before they are deleted.
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I’ve known Peter Oborne for many years. He’s great company, an original thinker and totally unpredictable. He’s also a fantastic writer and any newspaper he works for is lucky to have him. Why? Because he is thought-provoking and doesn’t follow the prevailing winds. He wrote recently about why Ed Miliband is a fantastic leader of the opposition, something which not even most Labour columnists would ever written. But like most idiosyncratic people he can also be very wrong and misguided, as readers of his book on Iran will testify. His very public resignation from the Telegraph demonstrates how far into the depths a once great newspaper has fallen. I now wonder if it can ever recover its former glories while it stays under its current management and ownership. The Americans have a phrase ‘clean house’ and that’s what the Telegraph needs to do, but the Barclay Brothers and their management team, led by Murdo Maclennan need to depart the scene before that can happen. The problem is, who on earth would buy the Telegraph at the moment? Answers on a postcard, please. Meanwhile speculation continues as to which Telegraph journalist will be next to abandon ship. Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield is my tip, and he would be a very big loss indeed.

On his weekly radio show on LBC, which I’m listening to as I write this, Nick Clegg has just said that he would like to extend his free childcare to all parents including rich ones. And yet he has a policy of removing winter fuel allowance and other benefits from rich pensioners. He’s clearly not heard of the word ‘consistency’. But then in politics he’s not alone in that.
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The West continues to underestimate Vladimir Putin. He made fools out of Merkel and Hollande by agreeing a ceasefire in Ukraine and then failing to prevent it being broken within hours of it starting. Michael Fallon has been talking in the last few days about the Russian threat to the Baltic States. Let’s remember that the three Baltic States are full members of NATO. If NATO is to mean anything it needs to deploy troops to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania forthwith, and make clear that their borders will be defended from any potential Russian incursion. If that doesn’t happen, Putin will interpret it as a sign of weakness and act accordingly. And it will be entirely NATO’s fault.
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On Wednesday night I did something I will never do again. Ever. I hosted a phone-in on male circumcision. I know it’s not on a par with FGM, but isn’t it barbaric to do it to babies? Quite a lot of my listeners agreed with me, but there were still plenty who still subscribed to the view that if it was perfectly OK to do it because that’s what people did in ancient times and tradition is important. Perhaps they think adulterous women should still be stoned too.
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I still cannot understand how Channel 4 got away with showing that so-called drama UKIP: THE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS. It should never have been commissioned, let alone broadcast so near to the election campaign beginning. The worst thing about it wasn’t the overt anti-UKIP propaganda, it was the subliminal stuff. It was reminiscent of the Leni Reifenstahl approach to making films, designed to implant a thought in people’s heads. But what was just as bad was the outright untruths told by the C4 Head of Documentaries Nick Mirsky. He told the world that Nigel Farage had been given the right of reply but had declined it. Total fiction. Channel 4 offered Farage an interview with Paxman, after the show. Farage accepted, but then C4 cancelled it. Farage was then booked into a public, meeting and C4 later re-invited him to an interview with Jon Snow. But by then it was too late, as he had given his word to somebody else. Mirsky failed to mention any of these facts. Apparently more than 1,000 people have complained to OfCom over the broadcasting of this abortion of a programme. I doubt whether it will do much good as OfCom have consistently shown themselves to have little appetite to do anything apart from tap TV companies on the knuckles over issues like this.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Simon Callow & Jane Ridley

Simon Callow discusses his biography of Charles Dickens and Jane Ridley talks about her biography of Edward VII.

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Random Thoughts

Attitude Column: What's Wrong With a Bit of Gratuitous Nudity?

15 Feb 2015 at 21:40

We British have a very strange attitude to the human body and showing it in public. I’ve never quite understood why. Perhaps it’s an innate puritanism that runs through our society, alongside a rather quaint hankering after Victorian times where a woman exposing a bare ankle was enough for her to be branded a brazen hussy. I’ve always wanted to use that phrase in an Attitude column. I can now die happy.

The majority of Britons imagine that you have to wear a swimming costume in a sauna, conveniently ignoring the fact that wearing anything which gets between the heat and the skin completely obviates the whole point of being in a sauna. On the continent everyone lets it all hang out without worrying a jot about what anyone thinks. Indeed, if you walk into a sauna in swimming trunks or a bikini you’d attract some very odd looks and certainly in some countries it’s obligatory to take your clothes off. Neighbours think nothing of taking saunas together completely in the ‘nud’. You’d never get that in this country unless it was all part of the foreplay for a swingers party. Not that I would, ahem, know. Obviously.

There is still a prurience about nudity in Britain. Why is it, after all, that many of the pictures in this magazine and others depict people who are semi-naked, but only semi. In Germany, even some mainstream magazines have no hesitation in showing the full naked human form and most of their readers don’t bad an eyelid.

Recently Rita Ora got into trouble for appearing on The One Show for wearing a dress with a bit of cleavage showing. The fuss that arose was astonishing. This wouldn’t have happened even ten years ago, I don’t think. It wasn’t as if she was flaunting her breasts. There was no nipple in view, but even if there had been, so what? What on earth is wrong with showing a nipple? It’s a part of the human body, just like a kneecap. Everyone has two of them, so why are they considered off limits in the world of newspapers and magazines?

It wasn’t that long ago that an erect penis wasn’t allowed to be shown on screen in this country, even in a pornographic film. A woman’s body could be shown in all its glory. You could have close ups of a gaping vagina, yet a full view of an erect penis was considered too much by the censors. That ridiculous rule was scrapped some time ago, but you’ll still rarely catch of a glimpse of a cock, flaccid or erect, on TV, although full female nudity is considered fair game. It’s a sexist old world.

All this brings me to the latest government initiative to restrict our sexual freedoms. In future, no British porn film will be allowed to depict some sexual practices which are perfectly legal for people to undertake in the privacy of their own homes. I’ve never quite understood the desire of anyone to be pissed on, but some people apparently get off on it. Well, it harms no one, so fair enough, I guess, but you won’t be able to look at a British made film which depicts it any longer. The same goes for inserting non dildo pieces of equipment into various orifices. Fisting is out. Again, not something I’d either want to try out or watch, but there are those that do. This is the Nanny State writ large and I hope there will be enough MPs who will speak out and get this proposal consigned to the big tissue bin of history. Credit to the LibDem MP Julian Huppert for being the first to try to persuade the Home Office to withdraw it.

Essentially, this is a proposal designed to wreck the thriving British porn industry, because if people can’t watch what they want to watch on a British made film, you can rest assured they will find their monkey spanking material elsewhere. Chris Grayling’s role as Justice Secretary is not to be the Mother Superior of the Nation, it is to defend our freedoms and civil liberties. And one of our basic civil liberties is to watch completely harmless porn in the safety of our homes. Not that I do of course. Oh no. No Sireeee! Never let it be said!

This article first appeared in the March edition of Attitude Magazine

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines talks about his new book AN ENGLISH AFFAIR and the impact of the Profumo scandal on British society.

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Diary

ConHome: How I Escaped a Lynching in Newcastle

13 Feb 2015 at 14:05

Ed Miliband’s troubles with the business community were highlighted by his no-show at the British Chambers of Commerce annual shindig. The fact that both Chuka Umunna and Ed Balls made speeches was ignored by a media looking for any opportunity to stick the boot in. The fact that Miliband had spoken at the CBI conference in November counted for nothing.

The trouble is that Labour find it difficult to wheel out people who have direct experience of running a business. I had Umunna on my show on Wednesday, and I asked him when he looked around the Shadow Cabinet table, how many people who could name who had ever run a business.

At first he did a bit of goldfish gulping and then eventually managed to name Jon Trickett, who may sit in the meetings but isn’t an actual member of the Shadow Cabinet. Trouble is, I can’t find any reference on the internet to any business that Trickett has ever run or even been employed by, although Wikipedia does inform us that from 1974-86 he worked as a builder and a plumber.

Of course, if I asked a slightly similar question to a Conservative member of the Cabinet about anyone round the table ever having been a teacher, I might get a similar answer.

- – – – – – – – – -

So Andy Carroll’s out for another two weeks.

- – – – – – – – – -

The Sun ran a feature the other day with the shock – shock I tell you – revelation that the BBC has paid £200,000 to MPs in appearance fees over the last 5 years. That’s £40,000 a year – in case, like the Sun, you have difficulty with maths.

What a scandal! What they didn’t point out, because it didn’t suit their narrative, is that 99 per cent of the time no payment is made if all MPs are doing is giving their political views in a short interview on a particular subject.

But if an MP makes a documentary, why on earth shouldn’t they get a fee, just like anyone else? If they do a BBC or Sky paper review, why should I get a fee and the MP not do so? Why shouldn’t Diane Abbott be paid the same fee as Michael Portillo for appearing on This Week?

A trumped up story designed to damage the BBC and politicians – perfect for the Sun, but yet another example of a media organisation trying to diminish politicians in the eyes of the electorate. I don’t know why they bother. Politicians are perfectly capable of doing that all by themselves.

- – – – – – – – – -

So who is the “top Tory” who bonked an au pair while his wife was downstairs at a friend’s dinner party? Guido Fawkes has the story but isn’t even dropping a hint. Spoilsport.

- – – – – – – – – -

I was going to be lynched on Saturday. This isn’t just because it wasn’t all that friendly to me the last time I was there. (I was booed on Any Questions before I had even uttered a word.) This time round, I was due to appear on Nicky Campbell’s Big Questions show on Sunday morning to discuss my new book The NHS: things that need to be said.

The trouble with raising even the most minor of criticisms about the health service is that you’re then accused of wanting to dismantle or even privatise it. My book says neither of those things, although I do say that the private sector has a key role to play in health provision.

Unlike most of the people who will criticise me (probably without even reading a word of the book) I have actually worked in a privately-run hospital. When I was 18, I spent a year working as a male nurse (stop laughing at the back) in a hospital for people with spinal injuries in the German spa town of Bad Wildungen.

It didn’t just cater for those with money, though. Most of the patients there were ordinary Germans whose health insurance (state-run) allowed them to come to this excellent facility. In Germany, France and virtually every European country the state and the private sector work in perfect harmony, and they have far better outcomes for virtually every serious illness – cancer in particular. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

- – – – – – – – – -

I don’t know Stanley Fink. I don’t think I have ever met him. I know nothing about his tax affairs. But it is unfair that he is now getting it in the neck for saying that the definition of tax avoidance is so wide that virtually everyone does it. The fact that he is right will be completely ignored, as Labour say “Ha! Told you he was a wrong ‘un”.

If you have an ISA you’re avoiding tax. If you buy one of these Granny Bonds you’re avoiding tax. If you employ an accountant you do so in part because you only want to pay whatever tax you absolutely have to. It is claimed that Miliband and his brother avoided tax on the home they inherited from their father.

It’s perfectly legitimate for any politician to close any tax loopholes, but while they remain open no one should be surprised if people take advantage of them. All the tax loopholes Miliband complains about so bitterly were all in operation during the eight years he was, er, economic adviser to Gordon Brown in the Treasury.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr talks about his new book A HISTORY OF THE WORLD

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Interview

Interview With Kent on Sunday: "I’ve got a brilliant job which I love; I wouldn’t think of going back to politics"

9 Feb 2015 at 18:15

Last week I met Sarah Linney, a reporter with Kent on Sunday. This interview is the result. You can find it on their website HERE

At Portcullis House – a parliamentary building in Westminster just across the road from the House of Commons which bulges with the offices of MPs, civil servants and political advisors – I am about to meet Iain Dale.

A political commentator who appears regularly on national TV, a weekday radio presenter for talk station LBC, the owner of a publishing house and a former Tory prospective parliamentary candidate, he has become an influential voice at a fascinating moment in British politics.

His political blog has become essential reading to many and despite a somewhat rollercoaster career trying to make it into Westminister, he now has settled as an award-winning broadcaster, writer and publisher.

He lives in Pembury, near Tunbridge Wells. When he arrives, he’s tall, polite, articulate and talkative.

“I was going to be a German teacher,” the 52-year-old, who grew up in Essex and studied the language at the University of East Anglia, tells me.

“My parents are farmers, but I knew from the age of five I wasn’t cut out for farming.

“My life took a different course.”

That course began at the tender age of 11, when a young Iain, influenced by his grandmother, became interested in the 1974 general election.

“I remember writing a little manifesto and telling my parents why they should vote Labour. They told me to go back to bed,” he said.

A brief stint as a member of the Liberal Party was brought to a swift end by the influence of Margaret Thatcher.

“I heard her make a speech and I thought, I agree with all of that, and never looked back,” Mr Dale recalled.

“She inspired me to get involved properly in politics. She was an amazing leader, and a leader for that time – Britain needed a strong leader who was going to carry out some important surgery to the economy.

“She turned the economy round in a way that people now don’t seem to appreciate. She was the greatest prime minister this country has had since the war.”

In 2002, he would sit next to her during an event in London; “she was very good company” he recalled.

Mr Dale founded his university’s Conservative Association and worked as a research assistant to Tory MP for Norwich North, Patrick Thompson after graduation.

After spells working in financial journalism, public affairs and business – he founded a political bookstore and coffeehouse and a publishing company – he stood in the 2005 election in the marginal seat of North Norfolk.

Identified as one of the Tories’ top targets, he had the task of over turning a mere 483 Liberal Democrat majority. Instead, incumbent Norman Lamb demolished him, increasing his majority by more than 10,000.

“I had two ambitions in life,” Mr Dale reflects. “I wanted to be an MP or a radio presenter.

“But North Norfolk proved to be a big mistake as Norman Lamb was a good MP. A friend in the Lib Dems had warned me not to go for the seat.”

He went on to act as chief of staff to losing Tory leadership candidate David Davis in 2005, and the following year was added to the Conservatives’ ‘priority list’ of candidates to fight the next election.

But when he made a bid to stand for the seat in Maidstone and the Weald, vacated by Ann Widdecombe, he didn’t even get past the first interview stage. Helen Grant would eventually get the nod and win the seat.

In 2009, he attempted to be selected as the Tory candidate for Bracknell in the 2010 election but failed. Admitting candidly afterwards he thought the phrase ‘openly gay’ “appeared a little too often for my liking” in the local media.

Later that summer he announced on his popular political blog he would not seek to be a candidate for any future election.

Today, he admits he is not even a member of the Tory party.

But if the first of his ambitions had eluded him, within months he had achieved the second when he was hired as a presenter on London talk radio station LBC. Since then his media presence has grown, and is now a regular on Sky News too.

“The radio show gives me what politics used to give me. It’s exciting,” he said.

“You’ve no idea what’s going to happen. Incidents happen which you have no warning of, and that’s when you find out how good you are as a broadcaster.”

Dale had thought his show would focus on politics – but discovered a talent for and love of human interest stories and emotional topics instead. He was shortlisted in two categories in mental health charity Mind’s media awards in 2012.

“There are calls which stick in your mind. There was a man on the M25 who was on the phone for 20 minutes – he said he was going to kill himself that night,” Mr Dale recalled.

“He was very matter of fact about it. I asked him to stay on the line and talk to the producer. The next day he phoned back and said he had tried to kill himself, but had thought about what the producer and I had said to him and called an ambulance.

“The secret is not to judge, to let people tell their story and empathise with the situation they found themselves in. You are not a counsellor.”

As he tells me another tale – that of a caller in her 50s who said she had once been raped at a family wedding by a family member – he has tears in his eyes.

“She said she had never told anyone, and now she felt a weight had been lifted off her shoulders,” he said.

“The next day she phoned back and said she had told her husband. He had completely understood. She said: ‘I feel as if I can see the sky again.’

“Calls like that mean far more than interviewing the prime minister.”

His interest in politics remains undimmed, however.

His blog, Iain Dale’s Diary, is one of the most read political blogs in the country; his publishing company, Biteback, published Nigel Farage’s autobiography Flying Free and is publishing his forthcoming work The Purple Revolution; and he regularly appears on news and current affairs programmes to talk about politics.

He’s happy in his private life too.

Mr Dale moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1997 to live with his partner John. After 13 years together, they had a civil partnership ceremony at Wadhurst Castle in June 2008, a day he describes as “perfect”.

So what are his predictions for Kent at the general election? Rather tame, as it turns out – apart from Nigel Farage winning Thanet, and Rochester and Strood going back to the Tories (after Mark Reckless switched to Ukip mid-term), he thinks nothing will change.

“I don’t see Labour winning anything – they would only win the north Kent seats if they won a massive majority,” he said.

“I assume South Thanet will be a straight fight between the Tories and Ukip, and I think Farage will squeak a win, but it’s going to be very close.

“I think Farage has a very difficult election there, as he’s not going to be able to spend as much time there as he needs to. And people in Thanet may not want someone who’s going to be in the national spotlight – a party leader can only devote so much time to the constituency.

“But the devil in me wants him to win as I think he will make politics a lot more interesting.”

He is more confident in his prediction that Kent’s first Ukip MP, Mark Reckless, will not retain his seat.

“His majority at the by-election was not as large as people thought it would be,” Mr Dale said.

“A lot will depend on what happens to the Labour vote. The Ukip win was in large part because a lot of Labour voters voted for Reckless. If they go back to Labour, which they may do at a general election, he’s in trouble.”

Across the country, he predicts that Labour will win about 300 seats, Tories 280, and Liberal Democrats 24 … resulting in major instability.

“The likelihood is that there will be another hung parliament, and it will be for Ed Miliband to try to form a coalition with the SNP or the Lib Dems,” Mr Dale said.

“But I don’t think the SNP are going to get as many seats as everyone says. I think the Greens are going to struggle to keep the seat they have, and Ukip will get five or six seats.

“It is going to be messy; it could take some time to work out what’s going to happen.

“I think there could be a second election within six months.”

He believes it is important for politics that Ukip and the Greens do well.

“It sends a signal to the other parties that they need to change the way they do things,” he said.

And does he wish he was standing for election again himself?

“I would have loved to have been an MP and I think I would have been quite good,” he said.

“But I would also have been a nightmare – I think I would have run the risk of being the male equivalent of [out-spoken Tory MP] Nadine Dorries. I wouldn’t have toed the party line, and I wouldn’t have become a minister because I would have broken ranks too often.

“Most MPs I know who got in at the last election hate it. It’s not the job they expected; they are taken no notice of and treated like rubbish.

“I think politicians are unfairly traduced. I’d say around 95 per cent are in it for the right reasons and want to do a good job.

“But I’ve got a brilliant job which I love; I wouldn’t think of going back.”

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Amanda Prowse

Novelist Amanda Prowse talks about her new book CLOVER'S CHILD and much else besides!

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TV/Film/Theatre

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho

8 Feb 2015 at 20:28

I think I might go and see this :).

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna talks about his new book HYPNOTIC GASTRIC BAND, and about hypnosis.

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Books

My New Book: The NHS - Things That Need to be Said

8 Feb 2015 at 15:57

Writing a short polemical book about the NHS when, inevitably, the readers of the book are bound to know far more about the subject than I do, is perhaps not the wisest thing for a political pundit and broadcaster to do. Let me explain why I have written this book. Each and every one of us uses the NHS. We have shared experiences, both good and bad. We all have opinions about what the NHS does well and what it doesn’t do so well. My motivation is not to write a book which contains all the answers to the NHS’s problems. That would be both stupid and impossible. Instead, it is to highlight some issues which are of concern to NHS users, the people who work in the NHS and those tasked with running it.

Any government wanting to get the best out of the NHS starts from a position where they know the NHS has huge amounts of public support. An Ipsos MORI poll in July 2014 found that more than half (52 per cent) of the public say the NHS is what makes them most proud to be British, placing it above the armed forces (47 per cent), the royal family (33 per cent), Team GB (26 per cent) and the BBC (22 per cent). Despite recent coverage of care failings and the increasing financial squeeze, we are prouder of the health service than we were two years ago, shortly after the Olympics (52 per cent now compared with 45 per cent then). Furthermore, according to the Ipsos MORI Global Trends Survey, Britain is the second most positive country, out of nineteen, surveyed about the quality of their healthcare, with only Belgium rating their healthcare more highly.

But . . . And here’s a very big BUT. The same survey found only one in ten of us (9 per cent) say that we expect quality to improve over the coming years, while 43 per cent think it will get worse. This makes us among the least optimistic of the twenty countries surveyed, and reflects concerns about the sustainability of the NHS in the future. So that’s the context. In the book I have tried to identify some issues which I think will dominate the health agenda over the next decade. I want to challenge orthodox NHS thinking and say a few things which I think need to be said, but don’t always seem to form part of the current debate. And forgive me if I use a couple of personal experiences to illustrate some of the points I want to make.

In many ways, senior health professionals and those in government and opposition have much in common – even if that thought might fill the latter with a degree of horror. The government is trying to wrestle with the demands of an empowered, knowledgeable twenty-first-century consumer base while NHS staff are all operating within a structure designed for a mid-twentieth-century command control system of healthcare provision. There is another communality of interest – NHS staff all have a fair idea of what needs to be done, but no one in politics is courageous enough to articulate either the problems or the solutions. And, sadly, I do not see that changing either under any government we might have in the foreseeable future. No one is prepared to think the unthinkable, say the unsayable, much less implement the doable.

The book is loosely based on a lecture I gave a year ago at Queen’s Hospital in Romford. To be honest, I almost declined the invitation, and had even started an email to do just that. But then I thought, no, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the NHS in the past few years, partly through personal experience and partly through hosting my LBC show. Dammit, I’m going to do it! I never dreamed it would end up forming the basis of a book. Much to my surprise, the 80 or so NHS professionals who attended my lecture, took what I had to say very well. I had half expected them to boo me at times, as I had some tough things to say, but not a bit of it. Even the union rep came up to me afterwards and said she thought most of what I had said was bang on.

When I finished writing the text for the book I sent it to half a dozen health professionals just to check I hadn’t made any huge howlers. Three of them were GPs, one of them was a surgeon, one was an NHS Trust administrator and one chairs an NHS Trust Hospital. I was releived when their comments came back that they were all remarkably positive.

Here’s the list of chapters…

1 Politics and the NHS
2 Private sector v. public sector
3 Targets, outcomes and a seven-day-a- week NHS
4 What is ‘national’ about the National Health Service?
5 The coming funding gap
6 Care and the patient experience
7 The challenges of population growth and demographic change
8 The challenges of personal responsibility
9 Still the NHS Cinderella: mental health
10 Transparency and the right to know
11 Diet and the nanny state
Conclusion
50 things which could make the NHS better

The NHS: Things That Need to Be Said by Iain Dale, an LBC Book published by Elliott & Thompson on 12 February in hardback at £8.99.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr talks about his new book A HISTORY OF THE WORLD

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 20: RAJAR - What Goes Up... May Come Down

7 Feb 2015 at 20:06

What goes up, must come down. That doesn’t apply just to Christmas decorations and share prices, but to radio audiences too. Every quarter we get listening figures courtesy of RAJAR. They instill fear into every radio presenter and producer, because those are the measure that we are judged by. For any radio station programmer, it’s like getting A Level results four times a year. You can survive the odd sticky one, but if a pattern develops you inevitably start fearing for your job. I’ve been at LBC for four and a half years now and that empty stomach feeling on RAJAR day never quite goes away.

I’ve always been told that you should never get too carried away by a single brilliant RAJAR card, just as you should never get depressed by a bad one. Easy to say, less easy to abide by. I remember when I was doing the evening show the audience plummeted by 100,000 in one quarter. Everyone said it was a rogue card, but you never quite believe it yourself. Sure enough, on the next it bounced back, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t feared the worst after that one.

What you have to look for is the trend and if you are starting a new show, you should never worry too much if the RAJAR in your first year is a bit all over the place. The audience has to get used to you. So when I see that Radio 5 Live’s audience is down by 7-10% in this quarter am I surprised? No I’m not. It’s not a reflection on their new presenting team, it’s a reflection that their three main daytime shows have changed all at the same time. Radio audiences often don’t react well to change and people take time to get used to new voices. It was unfortunate that Victoria Derbyshire, Shelagh Fogarty and Richard Bacon all decided not to renew their contracts at the same time (and it was THEIR decision, no one else’s, despite how the BBC disgracefully portrayed it at the time). And on top of that, my broadcasting hero, the legend that is Peter Allen, decided also that he wanted a change in routine and was moved from Drive to the mid morning slot, albeit only three days a week. I don’t care what the station is, you’re never going to card a good RAJAR with that degree of change. It’s only after three or four cards that 5 Live controller Jonathan Wall will be able to judge how his changes have panned out.

The Drivetime audience is a hugely competitive audience, not just on speech stations but music too. And each show is very different. So is each timeslot. I’m on between 4 & 8pm. Between 5 and 6 I have Eddie Mair on PM on Radio 4. On 5 Live between 4 and 7 we have Tony Livesey & Anna Foster. On BBC London between 5 and 7 it’s Eddie Nestor. On Radio 2 in the same slot it’s Simon Mayo. Each show is very different in format and content, so the listener has a wide choice of options. If they don’t like something on one channel, it’s easy for them to switch, so the key way to keep your audience is to provide some ‘stickability’ – don’t give the audience a reason to turn over. I like to think we do that on my show by keeping it pacy and demonstrating to the audience that we know what they want at that time of day.

I’ve been presenting Drive for nearly two years now. It’s probably the most enjoyable and rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s a very different ballgame to presenting the evening show, which I did for two and a half years. There’s less time, for a start – more news and travel to fit in – even though the show is an hour longer. It’s far pacier. There’s more news. You absolutely have to cover the biggest stories of the day. There’s a lot of breaking news in that time slot. For instance, I’ve had to cover the Woolwich terror murder, the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner, the shooting down of the Malaysian airplane over Ukraine and much else besides. We do lots of news hits, but it’s our phoneins that provide the ‘stickability’. We always try to challenge ourselves and our listeners. We did that this week in two 6pm phoneins on depression and down syndrome. Both are difficult subjects to handle in a drivetime slot, as time is limited. But I doubt anyone who was listening at the start of the hour switched over – that was little to do with me as a presenter, it was all to do with the quality of the calls and the astonishing stories they had to tell.

It’s also partly about providing a bit of light and shade during the four hours. Inevitably, the news can be somewhat depressing, and many of the subject we have to cover (we are, after all a newstalk station) aren’t very happy clappy. So as a presenter I do try to lighten things up, have a bit of a joke, try to be self deprecating and entertain, as well as doing all the serious stuff. We did a great hour, for instance, on Friday, on present buying, inspired by the Myleene Klass story. I think everyone had a smile on their faces after that.

We also do regular political phone-ins, and in a sense I think they are a big part of what has driven LBC’s profile in the last eighteen months or so. Nick Ferrari does them with Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, as well as a few public officials like Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sir Bernard Hogan Howe. I’ve developed my own phone-in stable. Unlike Call Clegg we don’t do them weekly with any politician – ours are monthly, which enables us to have a wider range of politicians taking part. We have Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, Chuka Umunna, Jeremy Hunt, Eric Pickles and now Michael Gove. We also do a quaterly phonein with Ian McCafferty, a member of the Bank of England Montary Policy Committee, which is hugely popular, believe it or not! We’ve also done one with Ed Miliband, which went incredibly well and got massive positive feedback from loads of people who said they saw him in a very different light afterwards. That was back in July. I hope he’ll do another one or two before the election, but we’ll see.

When I started on Drive the show had registered an audience of around 300,000 listeners in London in the previous quarter. That was one of those one-off RAJAR cards which didn’t reflect the real level of listeners. Over the previous three years it had had an audience of between 330k to 450k. James Whale had done a great job with the programme. His profile and fame attracted a new band of listeners to a timeslot which had been traditionally difficult for LBC. When I was offered the slot in March 2013, I remember saying to James Rea, LBC’s Managing Editor, that my ambition was to grow the audience to half a million and get a 5% audience share (at the time it was 2.9%) in London.

Well, I and my team are delighted to have achieved one of those aims. The figures released on Wednesday show we now have a London audience of 513,000 between 4 and 7. I haven’t got the 7-8 figures yet, but so that 513k figure will actually be much higher. (UPDATE: I’m now told the 4-8 figure is 546k). It also doesn’t include the national audience, which, judging from the level of calls we get from outside London, is growing very well indeed. For the third quarter in a row we have also achieved a 4% audience share. So a little way to go on the 5% target, but it shows how competitive the London market is. For the first time (I think), Drive is also beating 5 Live in London. We’ve put on 154,000 listeners quarter on quarter and 118,000 year on year. I’m also told this is the highest audience this timeslot has ever got in 40 years of LBC. And that’s where we must be cautious and not be too euphoric. No one will be more delighted than me if we continue with this level of audience, but we all know that this could be one of those upper end one-offs. As I said at the start of this article, what goes up, must come down. But in Radioland, you’re only as good as your last RAJAR, so forgive me and my team if we rejoice while we can!

The coming three months, as we head towards the election, are going to be massive for everyone in speech radio and LBC in particular as we ensure that we not only lead Britain’s conversation, but also set the agenda. Things are going to be even more competitive. I and my production team (Matt Harris, Jagruti Dave and Axel Kacoutie) are going to relish the challenge on Iain Dale at Drive. And enjoy it too. I hope. :)

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to JFK's Mistress, Mimi Alford

How do you ask a 69 year old if she gave the President's aide a blow job? Find out...

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