World Politics

Remembering Armenia's Karine Kazinian

11 Feb 2013 at 16:52

When I went to Armenia a few years ago I met a politician called Karine Kazinian At the time she was the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister and she had quite an effect on me. Indeed, I wrote THIS blogpost about her. Here’s an excerpt…

I had the pleasure of having an uproarious chat with the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister, a lady called Karine Ghazinyan (pic). She’s only been in the job six months, having previously been Armenian Ambassador to Rumania and Germany. Armenian Ministers are not politicians – they are appointees by the Prime Minister. She was the most untypical diplomat I have ever met – a real Margaret Thatcher in the making if ever I saw one. She also had a good line in jokes from the Soviet era… Both the American and Soviet constitutions guaranteed freedom of speech. The difference was that the American constitution guaranteed freedom after the speech. Boom boom. And… Damn, I can’t remember the other one.

Back in 2011 she was appointed Armenia’s Ambassador to the UK, and helped transform relationships between our two countries.

Anyway, I got an email this afternoon from my friend Dan Hamilton, which rather rocked me.

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that your excellent description of my late friend “Karine Kazinian” (sometimes written as “Ghazinian”) as an “Armenian Margaret Thatcher” was mentioned at her memorial service on Thursday evening. It was one of the few happy points in what was an horrendously difficult and sad evening. It’s still hard to believe we won’t see her again – but I thought you’d appreciate knowing.

I am ashamed that I had no idea she had died. Armenia has lots a truly great lady.

Frankly I can do no better than point you towards Dan Hamilton’s excellent blogpost which he wrote on the day Katrine died. He was a good friend of hers and writes poignantly about her life, and the very sad circumstances in which she lost it.



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Alan Johnson

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Remember You're a Conservative, Mr Hunt

11 Feb 2013 at 12:56

When I heard that the new much needed social care reform were going to be paid for by raiding the Inheritance Tax tin, I was frankly incredulous No one who calls themselves a Conservative should have any truck with increasing the burden of Inheritance Tax. It is a tax on aspiration, a tax on success and effectively licensed robbery. When the Conservatives launched their manifesto promise to take anyone who isn’t a millionaire out of the Inheritance Tax net I cheered. I remember making a speech suggesting just that at the 2005 conference, only to be told by George Osborne that this wasn’t a proceed of growth he intended sharing. Yet two years later he ruined Gordon Brown’s election plans by announcing he would increase the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1 million. Sadly that fell victim to the LibDems in the Coalition Agreement.

The government is doing exactly the right thing in reforming social care, and planning for the long term. But by effectively increasing Inheritance Tax he’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul. I cannot for the life of me imagine why George Osborne agreed to this. And agreed to it he must have. It shows huge political naivete and yet again the Government misses a chance to prove their Conservative credentials. I’ve said before that Jeremy Hunt isn’t a very political politician. He hasn’t got any sound Conservative roots. And this is proven today. He may be tempted to put this down to the need to pacify the LibDems, but if this had been a LibDem victory, don’t you think they would be shouting from the rooftops how they’ve persuaded the evil Tories to become slightly less evil?

Jeremy Hunt has made quite a good start as Health Secretary in some ways, but he does need to remember he is actually a Conservative, rather than a nanny statist. A true Conservative would not only never countenance the extension of Inheritance Tax, he would make clear that it is a tax which, in the long term, should be abolished.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to the Danish Ambassador about Borgen & The Killing

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My Ten Favourite Places in the World

10 Feb 2013 at 23:40

On my old blog, I used to do a lot of lists. Some people liked them. Others found them annoying. Well, I think it’s time for one on my shiny new blog, don’t you? So, here are my ten favourite places in the whole wide world… in no particular order…

Washington DC

Washington has everything I want from a capital city. Fantastic sights, great restaurants,political haunts and some memorable bars. I first went to Washington in 1990, visiting friends and I have been back about 20 times since. The magic of the place always gets me. Each time I go back, I make sure I go to the Lincoln Memorial at midnight and just sit in front of it staring down the Washington Mall, just contemplating my life. I also love to sit in the Central Cafe in Union Station. I’ve only been to the White House once, but I got a private tour, and even blogged from the Oval Office. Not many people can say that! I last went in November last year to broadcast a week of programmes for LBC.


I first went to Sydney back in 1992. Twenty years later I returned. Like Washington, Sydney has everything I want from a city. It’s far more cosmopolitan than Washington and is now massively multicultural. For me, Sydney’s main attraction is the water. The beaches are wonderful and the harbour has to be experienced. It’s impossible to describe its magnificence to someone who has never been there. Oddly, up close the Opera house is a little disappointing. I could imagine living in Sydney, and there aren’t many places in the world I could say that about. It’s also possibly the most expensive place I have ever been to, and that includes Switzerland. One day I want to go back and spent three months touring Australia. Can’t see it happening, though.


People who have never been there imagine Switzerland to be incredibly boring, and from this picture, you probably think I do too. Not a bit of it. I’ve spent most of my time in the German speaking part around Zurich and Lucerne. I love water and I love snow, and I love chocolate. So that gives you a clue as to why I love the country. It’s certainly one of the most scenic countries I have ever been to. Driving around there’s always something to look at. I took my mother on a weekend to Zurich three or four years ago. The memories of that trip will stay with me for a long time.


In 1991 I became the first British person to go to Beirut since the release of John McCarthy. Believe it or not I was speaking at a conference on transport privatisation. I got an SAS guard, and this picture shows me at the hotel with two soldiers from the Lebanese army. I was advised to stay in the hotel, but I couldn’t resist it and took myself off into the centre of Beirut and was then shown round the mountains and valleys surrounding Beirut. I must have been mad, but it was a memorable trip and I would love to go back now. Then, the place was largely still in ruins.

North Norfolk

North Norfolk feels like home to me, even though I am an Essex boy. The coastline is unique and s very beautiful. When I was at university in Norwich I would often drive up to the coast and walk along Mundesley beach on my own at midnight and just contemplate life. When I became Tory candidate for the area in 2003 I thought I had gone to heaven. We had a lovely little cottage in Swanton Abbott but had to sell it when I lost the election. We’ve just bought a house in Lamas, and hope to move in in the Spring. If I have my way, we’ll move there lock, stock and barrell at some point.

Bad Wildungen

Bad Wildungen is a spa town near Kassel in Hessen. I spent my gap year there in 1980-81. It’s where I learned to speak German fluently, while working in a hospital for paraplegics. I guess it was that year that made me grow up. In truth I love Germany as a whole. I also spent a year teaching in a school near Stuttgart. That was less enjoyable, but I did love my weekends in the Black Forest. This photo was taken in Bavaria. I just couldn’t resist it. I really miss my German family and it’s about time I went back to visit them.


I only spent about four days in Colorado, but what a four days. It was back in 1990. I absolutely loved Denver. We then spent two days in Vail skiing. What an experience. I forgot to apply any sun lotion and suffered the consequences. My face exploded, but it gave me the best sun tan I have ever had, which lasted for about 6 months. The skiing was better than anywhere i have ever skiied in Switzerland or Austria. It seemed a different kind of snow. I also spent a great evening in Boulder, Colorado at a dinner theatre, watching Chess.


I’ve only been to Israel once, and it was only four days, but boy was a lot packed in. This picture is from the Golan Heights. We went to the Sea of Galilee and stood on the spot where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. I’m not religious, but it did feel like a rather holy experience. Jerusalem was something else too. I love the markets, the smells, the people. We also went to Ramallah. We stayed in Tel Aviv, which is a real westernised city and full of sights.


I went to Budapest on the spur of the moment in 1990. I was in Vienna with an American friend and we decided to drive to the border. We hadn’t realised you could now cross, so cross we did, and ended up spending three days in Hungary. We found that the country’s first McDonald’s was just being built. The food was astonishing and everything was very cheap, including a luxury hotel. The Parliament building was very gothic and made me feel quite at home. Lovely people too. Highly recommended.


Rwanda is not a place I ever thought I would visit, but I am so glad I did. It was back in 2007 and I went to make a documentary, covering the social action projects embarked on by a group of Conservative volunteers. I had never seen such poverty anywhere else before, and yet it seemed a very happy country bearing in mind what had happened in 1994, when 800,000 tutsies were killed. We were based in the capital, Kigali, where the taxis take the form of hitching a ride on the back of a motorcycle. Great fun, but very dangerous. The roads are haphazard and the drivers are lunatics but it’s an incredibly beautiful country and one day I’d like to return.



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Oneword Radio: Iain Dale interviews Michael Foot

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Boris Johnson

10 Feb 2013 at 19:27

My lords, ladies and gentlemen, in the immortal words of Chris Huhne to Vicky Pryce, there are three points I want to get across to you tonight darling…

Boris Johnson, starting a speech



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Conrad Black

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Owen Paterson Tells Me: Horsemeat Could Be "Injurious to Human Health"

10 Feb 2013 at 15:28

A nice little scoop from Environment Secretary on my LBC show this morning. We spent ten minutes discussing the horsemeat scandal and towards the end of the interview (you can listen to it HERE) this exchange took place…

ID: There are no health implications, are there?
OP: As we speak this morning, this is an issue of fraud and a conspiracy against the public, probably conducted by criminal elements. They have substituted a cheap material for that which is on the label. It is a labelling issue, which we may find out as the week progresses and the results comes in that there is a substance, which is injurious to human health, which is not the situation at the moment. At the moment it is a labelling issue.

Frankly, I was grateful Owen Paterson appeared. Last night I got a frantic message from LBC to say that his press office had called to query me tweeting that Paterson would be on the show. They said he wouldn’t be. I knew different. You see nine times out of ten when our producers call a government press office to ask if we could have a minister on my Sunday show, they say no. Half the time I’m sure the press officer don’t even ask the ministers. The Department of Health, Home Office, Department of Education and the MoD are the worst offenders. It gets to the point when you wonder what on earth the dozens of press officers in those departments actually do all day. Every time I am turned down by the Department of Education I have a simple policy. I text Michael Gove. And more often than not he texts back to say how delighted he would be to come on. So that’s what I did when the Defra Press Office gave my producer the runaround yesterday. I texted Owen himself, and hey presto, he readily agreed to come on. Good on him. That was early evening. Just before midnight, following the phone call to LBC Defra and I had this following Twitter exchange…

Credit to the Defra twitter people, though. Their next tweet read “Oops, have a great show!”



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Political Book Awards: Bollocks Story in the Mail on Sunday

10 Feb 2013 at 08:52

There’s a story in today’s Mail on Sunday with the headline


Simon Walters, the Mail on Sunday political editor, alleges that Professor Mary Beard, a judge at this year’s Paddy Power/Total Politics Political Book Awards , effectively vetoed the Book of the Year prize going to Andrew Adonis, for his book ‘Education. Education, Education. I attended the judges lunch and it is entirely untrue. Yes, there was a spirited discussion about the merits of the various books and you would hardly expect the likes of Mary Beard, Adam Boulton, Keith Simpson, Chris Mullin and Carolyn Quinn to go into the meeting all with the same viewpoint. But by the end of the meeting there was a unanimous winner, and it was Caroline Shenton. There were no vetoes, no spats, no walkouts. Let’s lightly fisk the Mail on Sunday story…

Cambridge academic Mary Beard was embroiled in a new row last night after she opposed awarding a £10,000 book prize to an ex-Cabinet Minister who accused the university of failing poor state school pupils. Lord Adonis, an Education Minister in Tony Blair’s Government, had been shortlisted for Total Politics magazine’s Political Book of the Year award alongside little-known author Caroline Shenton.

True to the extent that she also opposed giving it to 8 other shortlisted books.

However, Professor Beard, a judge on the panel, criticised his book, Education, Education, Education, published by Biteback, and Miss Shenton was awarded the prize for The Day Parliament Burned Down, published by OUP. One source said: ‘Mary rubbished Andrew and his book and made it clear he’d get the award over her dead body. ‘When his book made the final two, it was virtually impossible for him to win because it had to be a unanimous decision.’

It was impossible for any book to win if there was disagreement. All judges agreed that Caroline Shenton should win.

However, the other judges did not know that months earlier the academic and TV presenter – known to millions for the BBC series Meet The Romans – had attacked Lord Adonis for ‘bragging’ after he blamed Cambridge for failing to boost poor state schools.

Wrong. They did. Because she told them.

The pair clashed at a Cheltenham Literary Festival debate last October when the Labour peer savaged the university for not backing the Teach First initiative – of which he is a trustee – whereby top graduates are sent to teach in tough comprehensives. Prof Beard accused him of ‘silly social engineering’ and ‘political nonsense’. A festival source said: ‘It seems there’s a feud between them.’

A policy disagreement does not imply a feud. Unless your name is Brown or Blair, of course.

Prof Beard confirmed she had rowed with Lord Adonis, but denied she should have stood down as a judge. In a statement, she said: ‘I did have a bit of a good humoured “set to” with Adonis. But that is what debate is all about … and it certainly wouldnt [sic] determine my judgment of what he says in the future.’ Lord Adonis said: ‘I find the whole thing very amusing. Prof Beard’s comments suggest Cambridge should be more open to criticism.’ The row comes weeks after Prof Beard was targeted by internet trolls about her looks after an appearance on Question Time.

And had she not been attacked by trolls, I suspect this non-story would never have appeared in the Mail on Sunday. I spoke to Simon Walters about this story on Wednesday and told him it was total rubbish. But it was clearly doing the rounds, as two other judges mentioned it to me during the awards event on Wednesday evening and were quite upset about it.

I suppose it’s much ado about nothing, but it is highly regrettable that one of the 8 people in the room for the judges lunch felt it necessary to leak proceedings and do it in such and inaccurate malicious way. Such is life, I suppose.



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LBC Labour Leadership Hustings Highlights

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It's Not Size That Counts! Oh, Really?

9 Feb 2013 at 22:45

Now, I post this purely as an educational tool. Tool. Geddit? I suppose we all knew that the French were the biggest pricks in Europe, and now we have proof! What I would love to know is how they worked this out. I doubt whether the research cost much to put together. I imagine there were plenty of volunteers.

Hang on, on further observation it seems the Hungarians are bigger than the French. No wonder my friend Deborah is going there in Monday!

In case you wonder, I saw this on Facebook and felt the need to bring it to wider attention. More on the Huffington Post

I think I will get my coat…



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Alistair Darling

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LibDems Pick Mr Charisma

9 Feb 2013 at 20:12

This is the candidate the LibDems selected tonight to fight the Eastleigh by-election. His name is Cllr Mike Thornton. This is him at a council meeting. Hardly a surprise that he was so bored, listening to all those LibDem councillors drone on. I suspect this picture is going to be quite a popular one over the next three weeks.

Perhaps the LibDems know what they are doing – selecting someone local, who’s about as boring as they come. After all, he’s not going to fall into the trap that the Tory candidate has already plummeted into, and given her views on everything in the first day, no doubt pleasing the Tory faithful but offending a lot of other people in the process. That’s why I would have been a hopeless by-election candidate. I’d want to answer a straight question with a straight answer. Not the done thing. I can’t imagine Mike Thornton ever making that mistake.

Picture courtesy of @Matthew_Myatt


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Video: Iain Hosts an 18 Doughty Street Fallands Special

18 Doughty Street

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How Eric Pickles Forces Councils to Subsidise Local Newspapers

9 Feb 2013 at 17:15

You know those rather boring adverts at the back of local newspapers? Pages upon pages of public notices and planning applications, all put there courtesy of your local authority. Many people wonder why on earth in the days of websites all these adverts appear, week after week. Well it’s because local authorities are under a statutory obligation to place them in local papers. It’s the law, you see.

Local authorities would dearly love not to have to do this. They think the same purpose could be served if the adverts and public announcements were put on their websites, thus saving huge amounts of council tax payers’ money. They also argue that they could be included in their regular Pravda-esque freesheets, although these are soon to be banned by Comrade Pickles. (In my view quite rightly, although it is arguable whether it really requires national legislation – surely local voters could vote in a party which promsied to abolsih them? I think that would be called ‘localism’).

So Eric Pickles is really pleased about this and will urge all local authorities to withdraw their local newspaper adverts so they can each save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, right? Wrong. And it’s for a very simple reason. He doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who killed off the local newspaper industry, because that’s what would happen if these adverts ended. Dozens of local newspaper simply wouldn’t be able to survive the fall in ad revenue they would undoubtedly experience.

So effectively, local government is subsidising local newspapers to the hilt. And council tax is therefore rather higher than it need be.

Local media is important, whether it be print or broadcast. But this cash cow won’t be there for ever and local newspapers would be wise to plan for a future without these public service adverts. Sooner or later they will be gone.

UPDATE: Here’s some information sent to me by a source close to Mr Pickles.

Helen Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will deregulate the publication of planning permission applications in local newspapers. 100347
Robert Neill: The hon. Member may not be aware of the fact that the last Administration produced a consultation paper on this issue, proposing to remove the statutory requirements to publish notices in newspapers (Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Publicity for planning applications’, July 2009). However, this was not well-received. Following that consultation, the Administration concluded:
“The Government has decided not to take forward this amendment. This means that the statutory requirement to publish certain applications in newspapers remains. It is clear from the responses that some members of the public and community groups rely on the statutory notices in newspapers to learn about planning applications in their area. The Government is not convinced that good alternative arrangements can be readily rolled out”. (Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Publicity for planning applications: Summary of responses to consultation’, December 2009. p.14).
My Department does not have any current plans to remove the statutory requirement for certain planning applications to be advertised in newspapers. Such notices ensure that the public are informed of decisions by their local authority which may affect their quality of life, local amenity or their property. This is especially the case in relation to planning applications, where there is a limited period for local residents to make representations.
Notwithstanding, there is scope for reviewing statutory notices in general. Ministers have been clear that, in an internet age, commercial newspapers should expect over time less state advertising as more information is syndicated online by local authorities for free. The flipside is the free press should not face state unfair competition from town hall newspapers and municipal propaganda dressed up as local reporting.”

In essence, it has have flagged to the newspaper industry that they should expect – down the line – a reduced income from statutory notices, and they should adjust their business models accordingly, and find new ways to raise income and adapt to the internet. My source says: “Equally, some statutory notices are useful, but some aren’t. It very much depends on what the notice is for. The public appreciate planning notices slightly more than – say – temporary road closure notices. But dumping information on an obscure council website doesn’t necessarily mean that people will see it…”



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Bruno Tonioli

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Right & Left Is So 1990s...

8 Feb 2013 at 13:00

What do the terms right and left mean any longer? These two words have defined political discourse and debate for most of the last century, yet they are becoming increasingly irrelevant as supposedly right wing politicians adopt what have been traditional left wing causes. In a similar manner, in the last 20 years Labour politicians have taken on right wing policy stances on law and order and immigration. David Davis, always seen as a traditional right winger, is Parliament’s leading advocate of civil liberties, while John Reid and various other Labour Home Secretaries took great delight in being further to the right than Michael Howard ever was. Devout Christian Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome, is a leading proponent of gay marriage, while lefty Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather opposes it.

Political commentators bandy the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ about with gay abandon without coming to terms with the fact that politics has moved on since 1988. Two things have caused this – the end of Communism and the rise of Blair.

In the Tory Party there are still a few traditional ‘hang ‘em and flog’em’ authoritarian right wingers, but they are a peculiar species, almost threatened with extinction. They generally answer to the name of Chope, Leigh or Howarth. From time to time they emerge from their habitat to squawk abuse but few in the Tory Party take much notice of their predictable views. They certainly made their presence felt in the gay marriage debate, but not in the way they had intended. All they achieved was to persuade MPs like Mark Menzies, who had intended to abstain, to vote in favour. But that is not to take away from the fact that most of us hadn’t seen the so-called rebellion coming. Far more Tory MPs voted against the government that I had imagined. And I won’t pretend that David Cameron hasn’t been weakened by it. But in some ways he only has himself to blame. I fully support the intention of the Bill, but if you actually study the wording of the legislation you cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that it’s a dog’s breakfast of a bill – hurriedly drafted by people who have little understanding of some of the complex issues. All this means that in Committee and further parliamentary stages there are going to be some further bitter debates. The opponents’ dander is well and truly not just up but fully erect!

Aside from the issue of gay marriage there are further distinctions which have to be made between the traditional right, and the modern right. The typical Tory MP from the 2010 intake is dry as dust on economic policy but at the same time as wet as a goldfish on social policy. And it is they who now hold the whip hand in the Tory Party. It is they who are coming up with new policy ideas for the next election. It is their loyalty David Cameron needs to cultivate and rely on.

No serious observer of the Westminster scene believes there is a serious plot to unseat David Cameron. The first priority of any coup plan is to have a King over the water, who is ready and willing to strike. There is no such person. Were Boris Johnson in Parliament that might be different. But he isn’t and won’t be until at least May 2015. There is no way on this earth any current Cabinet Minister could be persuaded to jump ship and lead a plot, and neither Liam Fox or David Davis are that stupid. There may be seven or eight Tory MPs who have sent Graham Brady a letter demanding a leadership vote, and I could probably name them all. None are figures of any influence at all, and most of them are bitter because of lack of preferment.

Cameron’s Number Ten team have always been useless at cultivating backbenchers. Thatcher and Major were far better at it, but it’s as if Number Ten has a deathwish in the way that they appear as if they couldn’t care less what their backbench colleagues think. That must change, but plenty of have been saying it for two years and nothing happens. One Tory MP, elected in 2005, told me recently David Cameron had never exchanged a word with him in the eight years he has been in Parliament. I found that remarkable. The trouble is, I suspect he is not alone.

All parliamentary parties are coalitions of people who agree with each other 85% of the time. It’s how the party leadership handles the other 15% which determines whether they command a happy ship. At the moment Cameron captains a somewhat mutinous ship, but all he needs to do is, in the words of Erasure, show a little respect.

  • This article was written for Comment Is Free



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale debates the findings of the Leveson Report

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