UK Politics

Mr Dale's Diary: Houses in Norfolk, Touched by Nick Clegg & My Granny's 117th Birthday

14 Aug 2011 at 20:58

  • I’m back in Norfolk this weekend searching for a cottage to buy. It’s not easy, is it, even in this economic climate? We’d like to buy a cottage on the coast, but it’s not up for auction until mid September and we can’t afford to put all our eggs in that particular basket. So yesterday was spent viewing what, on the face of it, seemed to be very promising prospects in Hevingham and Reepham. But the estate agent’s details are often not quite what they seem from the pictures. We visited one house recently which looked as if it didn’t have any properties either side. In fact it was crammed into a Brookside style estate. The estate agent’s photographer was clearly very inventive. We did in fact discover our perfect house in Wymondham. I lived in Wymondham for a year back in the 1980s. No disrespect to Wymondham or South Norfolk, but we really want to be north of Norwich as that’s where all our friends are. If only you could lift a house out of one area and easily transport it into another! In the end we put in an offer on the Trimingham property, but it is supposed to be sold at auction, so I have very little hope it will be accepted.
  • On Friday my grandmother, Constance Dale, was 117. Well, she would have been, if she hadn’t died in 1979. She was a huge influence on my life and I always think of her on her birthday. She sparked my interest in politics in my early teens. She was a rather regal figure and was known to some as the Queen Mother. She was born in 1894 and was a bit of a feminist. Had she been a teenager today she would have undoubtedly gone to university and had a glittering career. In her younger days she worked for the Post Office and then in 1922 she went to work at Wembley Stadium for a short time. She then married my grandfather, a much older man, who hailed from Ayrshire in Scotland and came down to East Anglia in the early 1920s having grown fed up of life working in the Consett steelworks. I think of her today and remember he telling me that Michael Foot was a communist and that I shouldn’t trust Labour as they always spend more money than the country can afford. Well, she was right on one thing, wasn’t she?
  • Imagine being yelled at by the Prime Minister for being 15 minutes late. Well that’s what happened to Boris Johnson when he arrived late for a Cobra meeting this week. And it was all done in front of other politicians and officials. Boris spent the rest of the meeting seething. I interviewed Boris this week for around ten minutes live on LBC. My interviewing style is less than Paxmanesque it has to be said, but I think Boris was a little surprised that I was a little bit more aggressive than normal. I’m sure I heard him say off mic “has he turned into boody Ferrari too?” The fact is that an interviewer does sometimes need to reflect the mood of his or her audience, and this week many people felt let down by the mayor. So I told him so.
  • I read in today’s Sunday Times that Robert Kilroy-Silk has published an e-novel called Betrayed. This is no doubt because he couldn’t persaude anyone to publish it conventionally. I was sent the manuscript and I have never read anything so crass and badly written. It ostensibly traces parliamentary characters through from 1974 to the present day, using real names. Bizarre wasn’t the word for it. But I do think this is going to be a new phenomenon. It only costs £100 or so to get an e-book published and I suspect it’s going to lead to some right old rubbish coming onto the market. Well, it just has.
  • There’s been some rubbish written about the riots – and most of it in The Guardian, but today Dominic Lawson has written a brilliant column in the Sunday Times taking on the apologists for the riots. He writes…
It’s true that one looter told a reporter: “It’s the government’s fault. Conservatives or something like that, yeah.” But what she seemed to mean was that she and her mates deeply resented the fact that their welfare payments couldn’t meet the cost of every item of gear they coveted, and it was therefore justifiable for them to steal the stuff.

Quite. And he ends with this horrific little tale…

Unfortunately, I was not surprised by this crass equivalence between banking and burglary. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the murder of my wife’s cousin, John Monckton, who was head of Legal & General’s bond investments. He had been knifed to death in his home by a burglar who also attempted to kill his wife in the assault. I then received a letter from a Mr Simon Malloni, which began: “While I appreciate that the loss of a friend of yours to an appalling crime is tragic, how many lives are ruined by investment bankers?” The author of this letter, who attempted to draw moral equivalence between the handiwork of the man who stabbed John to death in front of his family, and the victim’s choice of career, was at the time of writing a member of the Devon and Cornwall police authority. If such an individual is in any way typical of the sort of person to whom policemen are expected to justify their actions, we should have even more sympathy for their predicament.

I have never been in favour of elected police chiefs, but if people like this are on police authorities it makes me wonder whether I am right.

  • As a Reagan Republican I look at the growing field of Republican presidential candidates with sense of despair. Of the ten leading contenders there’s not a single one that I could vote for. Just as well I don’t have one, I suppose. At the last presidential election I ended up supporting the Democratic candidate for the first time ever and it looks as though I will do so again. The Republicans have become a nasty, quasi religious sect. They’re more interested in their own vicious social agendas against gays than developing a narrative which appeals to the whole of America. If they got their act together and realised that like Ronald Reagan did they could build a big tent they could sweep Obama out of the White House. But today’s Republican Party has forgotten the lessons Ronald Reagan taught it. And they will again suffer the consequences.
  • I hadn’t realised how tactile Nick Clegg is. I interviewed him on LBC on Monday night and he constantly kept touching my arm. Quite disconcerting when you’re trying to think of the next killer question. I’ve always liked him. He’s a risk taking politician, and nowadays they aren’t many of those left. I put it to him that I didn’t think he was enjoying the role of Deputy PM as much as David Cameron enjoys his job. He rather lamely said it wasn’t about enjoying it, which indicated to me I had a point.

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Rant

Let's Understand Less & Condemn More

13 Aug 2011 at 20:59

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the whole country is in a state of shock following the riots of the last seven days. The scenes we saw on our TV screens were ones I never thought I would see in this country. They threatened the very fabric of our society and showed just how fragile our normal way of life can be. The looting demonstrated that these were not riots with an underlying political message, they were riots motivated by pure greed, malice and avarice. Much has been written about the causes, but I think we need to understand less and condemn more.

Frankly, there is very little to understand. Most of the people involved were not impoverished. They did not live in poverty. Many of them were from good families and were clearly out for a kick. They got a buzz out of what they were doing. It became a drug. The only think we need to understand is that a generation of children have grown up without any of the normal moral values we expect parents and teachers to inculcate into them. They have little respect for anyone and there is a complete absence of fear. They don’t recognise the normal institutions of society like the church, parliament, the media or commerce. And they think the police are a joke.

Many of them haven’t had a male influence in their lives, and I don’t care what anyone says, that is one the major reasons why many young kids go off the rails. They don’t have fathers and there is an absence of male teachers in their schools. In some parts of London, 85% of families are single parent families. Don’t get me wrong. Many single parents do a fantastic job and this is not an attack on them. But our family unit has been diminished over the last few decades and this has, in part, led to a generation of almost feral youths growing up without the normal barriers in behaviour, which the rest of us respect. It is frightening that many primary school teachers say they are able to identify kids, who, at the age of seven, will probably go off the rails in their teenage years. But of course by then it is too late. The damage has been done.

SureStart was a brave attempt to attack this phenomenon but the parents who it was aimed at refuse to use it. Instead – and I know this is a generalisation – SureStart is populated by many mothers and children who don’t actually need it.

One solution, would be this. Instead of raising the school leaving age to 18, why not raise it to 17, and use the final year to take those who are not doing A Levels into a sort of boot camp. Youngsters would get the choice of a form of military service or community service. During the year they would be taught the value of community, respect for society, discipline etc. Yes, it would an expensive thing to do, and it probably wouldn’t rescue everyone, but it would bring people together from different backgrounds and allow them to discover themselves and the joys of working for the benefit of others. The government announced a small-scale scheme of community service volunteers a year ago. I suggest they should now think about massively expanding it.

  • This is part of my fortnightly column in today’s Eastern Daily Press

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During a phone in on gay marriage Jim is rather anti. But he says he is not homophobic. Never let it be said. Let the fireworks begin.

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UK Politics

Riot Response: Is This David Cameron's Katrina Moment?

10 Aug 2011 at 21:01

My honest view is that David Cameron’s initial response to the riots was rather pathetic. So far as I know no one, not even Denis MacShane, had called for the recall of Parliament. And yet that was the headline that came out of his Downing Street speech yesterday morning. I cannot see the point of it. All it will do is provide a platform for a lot of bluster and condemnation. If he wanted to amend the law, bring back the Riot Act, give the police emergency powers, I could understand it. But that’s not what’s being proposed. Announcing the recall of Parliament gave the impression of saying “Something must be done, but I am not sure what”.

He’s not quite there yet, but this threatens to be Cameron’s Katrina moment. The moment when the people decide that a politician doesn’t get it and is completely out of touch with their own views. It’s what both Cameron and Boris Johnson are being accused of. I interviewed Boris on LBC last night and deliberately gave him a hard time. Not because he didn’t come back until yesterday, but for not appearing to recognise that police tactics hadn’t worked and for failing to define (and he’s not alone in this) what a “robust response” means. Just increasing police numbers isn’t the solution. If you take away officers from other parts of the country, expect crime to soar there. No, it’s not quantity of policing which is the key, it’s the quality of the response. And we need to understand that it is the senior Met officers who are to blame for a complete failure to respond properly, not the politicians. Politicians don’t, and shouldn’t get involved in operational matters. But it can only have been orders from the top which ordered the softly softly response, and ordered police on the front line to stand back and watch people looting. In my book, if a crime is being committed it is the police’s job to intervene and stop it. Otherwise what’s the point of them being there at all? Scenes of police officers watching a crime scene rather than preventing it is why many people have lost confidence in the police. That’s what’s got to change.

A police officer texted my LBC show last night and tried to explain the tactic. He wrote “Property can be replaced”. Try telling that to the owner of the House of Reeves furniture store in Croydon – a family owned business which had served the people of Croydon for more than 120 years. Gone. Try telling that to the restaurant owners in West London whose businesses have been ruined. Try telling that to the butcher in Tottenham who told me last night that he has £25,000 of meat which has spoiled and isn’t covered by his insurance. Try telling that to the man who rang in to tell me that car insurance policies do not cover cars which have been burnt out.

That’s what Parliament could and should debate on Thursday – how the government can help those who through no fault of their own have had their lives ruined by the thuggery that has happened over the last few days. A compensation fund should be set up to help these people get back on their feet.

Margaret Thatcher’s first response after the Brixton (or was it Toxteth?) riots was “Those poor shopkeepers”. I wonder if David Cameron will think in the same way. He should. If not, he risks the public approbrium dished out to George W Bush after he failed to understand the scale of impact on New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina. You may think that is an exaggeration. I hope it is and that Cameron now responds to the crisis in the way I always expected him to.

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Tottenham Riots: The Shameful Comments of a Labour MP

7 Aug 2011 at 21:11

I’ve never heard of Derby North MP Chris Williamson. But tonight he’s made a dick of himself. Apparently the disturbances in Tottenham are the government’s fault. Yep, all David Cameron’s fault. Those wicked Tories are back, he says on Twitter.

Yep, the Tories are back alright. Why is it the Tories never take responsibility for the consequences of their party’s disastrous policies. #tottenham

This came minutes after he retweeted this comment from someone he follows…

Riots. Protests. Cuts. Unemployment. Disaffected Youth. Strikes. Recession.Police Brutality.

Is that really the best he can do? Does he really think that it is the Conservatives who caused these riots? Because his colleague David Lammy, the local MP, thinks rather differently. Tonight he has made a statement on his website…

“The scenes currently taking place in our community are not representative of the vast majority of people in Tottenham. Those who remember the destructive conflicts of the past will be determined not to go back to them. We already have one grieving family in our community and further violence will not heal that pain. True justice can only follow a thorough investigation of the facts. The Tottenham community and Mark Duggan’s family and friends need to understand what happened on Thursday evening when Mark lost his life. To understand those facts, we must have calm.”

I don’t know the circumstances of the shooting. But what I do know is that politics weren’t involved. It was a police operation in which Mr Duggan was shot and killed. Chris Williamson should take a good look in the mirror tonight. I doubt whether he will like what he sees.

A second aspect of tonight’s events was the insatiable appetite of the media for immediate reaction and comment. Here’s a tweet from Guardian journalist Dave Hill, who blogs about London.

@bbc5live still unsuccessfully seeking comment from Boris & from local MP @DavidLammy. Same here. Beeb also chasing Livingstone #tottenham

YeGods, do these people not think the local MP, the Mayor of London and maybe even poor old Ken might want to gather their thoughts before saying anything? Politicians have a responsibility in these situations to say nothing until facts are known.

People have every right to protest against anything they want to, but they must do it lawfully. This protest turned into an unlawful riot. Full of violence. Full of looting. There can be no excuse for that, and no explanation.

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Sport

Why I Am Warming to Sam Allardyce

6 Aug 2011 at 21:14

If you haven’t seen the feature on West Ham and Sam Allardyce in the Evening Standard yesterday, please do click HERE and have a read. Initially, I was deeply sceptical of his appointment as West Ham manager – indeed, I was half of a mind not to renew my season ticket – but I can’t help warming to him. Everything I hear coming out of the club relating to him is positive. He seems to understand how to motivate players. They seem to relate to him. I may change my mind after Sunday, but I feel quite optimistic and positive about things at the moment. I’d still like us to sign a goalscorer and a centre back, but to my mind he has done as well as he could so far. Doesn’t this make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up?

Big Sam fills a room and he has a personality to match. If you really want to know how much of an impression he has made at Upton Park, ask some of the people who see him at work every day at the club’s training ground. Ask Shirley, who has been helping to prepare the lunches for the players ever since Trevor Brooking was in his prime. “The other day Sam walked into the restaurant when the young players were queing for their food. He shook their hands, one by one, and talked to them. It reminded me of John Lyall,” she says. Ask Jimmy, who has been helping out with the coaching as long as anyone can remember. “Sam reminds me of John,” he says. “He’s a football person, he has football values and he treats people the right way.”

Allardyce has also spoken about his reasons for leaving Bolton. At least it shows he is ambitious. And he’s done a very long interview with Jeremy Wilson in tomorrow’s Telegraph. Fantastic stuff. I know, I know, I’m weakening… And there’s another long interview in the Daily Mail. Big Sam sure knows how to give good interview.

And finally, the club have posted a transcript of Allardyce’s pre match Friday press conference. Well worth a scaz. For me, this was the most revealing answer…

Where are you going to sit? Not quite sure yet. I will eventually always sit in the stand but whether I consider that to be the best place on Sunday I haven’t quite got my gut feeling yet. Probably on Saturday I will sit and think about it and should I go there right from the start or on the bench and get a feel for it. There is a better feel on the bench but there is no tactical awareness that you can see. We can all pretend we can as managers but realistically when you sit above you see the whole plan of the game very comfortably and of course your emotions don’t run as high.

I have never understood why managers always sit in the dugout. It’s impossble to get a full perspective of the game, so if he wants to sit in the stand for the first half, we ought to welcome that.

  • This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on West Ham Till I Die.

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Diary

Thursday Diary: Notes From Norfolk

4 Aug 2011 at 21:32

SATURDAY

I am so looking forward to this week. We’re staying with friends, Keith & Pepi Simpson, in Reepham. It’s meant to be a bit of a holiday but seeing as we’re househunting in Norfolk and I also have to spend a day in the EDP archives researching my new book on Norwich City FC’s history, it will be more like a busman’s holiday. It will be fantastic to see lots of old friends and revisit some old North Norfolk haunts. Rarely does a week go by without me yearning for the day when I can move back to Norfolk permanently. You can take the boy out of Norfolk, but you can’t take Norfolk out of the boy.

Talking of which, we spent much of yesterday afternoon looking for properties in local estate agents in Cromer and North Walsham. To my utter delight and surprise we found a cottage for sale in the village of Swanton Abbott, the very same village I lived in from 2003-2005. And this cottage is only 100 yards away from my old one. I’d dearly love to buy back my old cottage but the new owners have ruined it by adding an extension on the back. Vandalism. We’re going to look at the new one on Tuesday. I just hope it lives up to expectations. The only drawback is the massive size of the garden. You won’t be surprised to know what my fingers are not very green.

Saturday night was spent in the Ostrich pub in Castle Acre with Gillian Shephard, her husband Tom, Lord & Lady Hennessy and my colleague from Biteback Publishing, Sean Magee. We were celebrating the publication of Gillian’s book, KNAPTON (which you can read more about HERE.). The evening ended in a rather bizarre way with Peter Hennessy and I serenading the pub with our rather out of tune version of I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES’. You see, Hennessy is a fellow West Ham sufferer, I mean supporter.

SUNDAY

This afternoon we went to see our friends Bert and Sylvia in Overstrand, a small village a couple of miles along the coast from Cromer. They will always have a special place in my hearts as they were the ones who put me up for the first two months after I was selected as candidate in North Norfolk in 2003. They had a delightful house in Roughton (where I am told John Hurt now resides) and I loved living with them. Bert is suffering from bad health now, which is such a shame for such a wonderfully bombastic Texan. Sylvia is a real North Norfolk hero. She’s wonderfully vivacious, and has a very cheeky glint in her eye. John and I will always be in their debt for the wonderful support and friendship they gave us.

We then went to visit another old friend, Eve Collishaw, at her North Norfolk hideaway in Trimingham. She used to be both a Norfolk county councillor and a Norwich city councillor, but is now retired. She told us she’s selling up. The glint in Simmo’s eye had to be seen to be believed. It really is an amazing property. It’s a wooden structure, so totally unmortgageable, but its situation is astonishing, I reckon it has one of the best views in Norfolk. I wonder…

MONDAY

Well, we went to look at the Swanton Abbott house. Simmo loved it, I didn’t. The garden was huge, but the rooms were incredibly small. In any case, half an hour later we got a call from agent to tell us they had had four offers on it and it had no sold. And they say the housing market is static!

We really want to buy the place in Trimingham, but how can we finance it? We go back for another look. Eve wasn’t there but we have a mooch round the outbuildings and take some photos.

In the evening we went for a pub lunch at the Cross Keys in Smallburgh, near North Walsham, with James Carswell, my erstwhile campaign assistant inthe 2005 election. He’s now a county councillor and cabinet member for Culture, media and choirboys. At least, that’s what I think he said. Suffice to say we had a reet laff.

TUESDAY

We decided to go into Norwich to pick up a painting I had bought several weeks ago, having seen it in the EDP. It’s by a North Norfolk artist called Cornelia Fitzroy. In a way, I was dreading it. What if I didn’t like it ‘in the flesh’? I needn’t have worried. THe colours are less vivid than they were in the paper, but maybe that’s a good thing. On the way back to Reepham, we called in to see Deborah & Mike Slattery at their home on the outskirts of north Norwich. Deborah used to be a Conservative Party agent and she was my campaign manager in 2005. That evening we had dinner at the Kings Arms pub in the market square in Reepham with Keith Simpson. We sat outside as it was so hot. Anyone who knows the market square will know what a wonderful place it is. You can imagine you’re back in the 1940s or 1950s.

WEDNESDAY

I spent most of the day at the Eastern Daily Press researching my new book on Norwich City. I discovered some fabulous photos so it was time well spent. The book will appear next spring. We then paid a final visit to Eve to discuss the Trimingham house. It looks like she intends to put it in an auction, which will probably blow us out of the water. Oh well, it was a nice though while it lasted.

We decided to call in on my parents in Saffron Walden on the way home to Tunbridge Wells. My mum likes surprises. My father wasn’t hapy as his combine harvester had broken down. Again. And as soon as we arrived it poured with rain, along with some spectacular thunder and lightning.

We finally made it home around 11.30pm. To a very empty house, devoid of canine woofings. Not for much longer though.

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How Can You Be Pro Life & Be In Favour of the Death Penalty (Or Vice Versa)

4 Aug 2011 at 21:20

The death penalty is one of those rare issues I find it quite possibly to argue from either side. My conservative heart finds no problem in believing in ‘an eye for an eye’, but my more liberal head finds the barbarity of it repulsive. I do think it acts as a deterrent – just look at the murder figures in this country in the years either side of abolition. Unfortunately the category of ‘capital murder’ was abolished in the late 1960s so comparisons now are hard to make.

But the fact is, that occasionally, the wrong people are hung. Years later, it emerges that in fact the person who was hanged turned out to be innocent after all. But it’s too late. So I could never accept that the death penalty should be available to a judge for any murder, which is what many people seem to argue for. I can, however, see an argument for it being available for multiple murders, where the murderer’s DNA is used as proof that he or she is guilt on each occasion. I can also see an argument for the death penalty being used for terrorists or police murders.

But still I come back to the barbarity of it. And that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to vote for it.

I do find it slightly bizarre that as a general rule – and there are of course exceptions – that those who are most vociferous about the death penalty, tend to take the Right to Life side of the argument over abortion. And those who scream about the barbarity of the death penalty tend to be those who seem tto think little of terminating a 22 weeks old foetus.

Ironic, isn’t it? Either you believe in life or you don’t. It’s time people on either side of this argument looked at the consistency of their position.

This isn’t about left and right, as some people are trying to make it. I know plenty of people on the left who are pro life or in favour of the death penalty, just as there are plenty on the right who are pro choice or anti death penalty.

And I bet you do too.

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Books

Knapton - 8 Miles From Cromer

31 Jul 2011 at 21:33

Last week my publishing company, Biteback, hosted a launch for Gillian Shephard’s new book KNAPTON, which is a social history of the village in North Norfolk in which she grew up. Our London offices have a fantastic view over the river to Parliament, which the coachload of North Norfolkers very much enjoyed. I was amused at how many of them knew me because of my fortnightly column in the Eastern Daily Press.

They had all read about the death of Gio, my Jack Russell, and were all keen to offer advice on how to get over it. One man at the launch was a face I instantly recognised from my youth. It was that of David Richardson who used to host the Anglia TV Sunday lunchtime farming programme. My Dad, who still farms in Essex, wouldn’t miss an episode and was a huge fan of the programme. How sad it is that such programmes are no longer made. Oh for the return of proper local television. Maybe one day it will happen – on the internet.

Anyway, back to Knapton. Yesterday lunchtime we held the Norfolk launch in Knapton Village Hall. It was the first speech I had made in North Norfolk since the one I made on election night in 2005, when I conceded defeat to Norman Lamb at Cromer High School. Well, I didn’t have much choice. He had beaten me by 10,000 vote. OK, 10,606, if you want to be pernickety. This time I carried it off without tears in my eyes!

Gillian’s book features anecdotes and memories of village life in Knapton stretching back many decades. It reminds me of the German TV series Heimat, which traced the history of a Knapton-like village from the first world war to the present day. It was very slow moving but wonderfully filmed. I wonder if we might see Knapton – The Movie. I wonder who would play a schoolgirl Gillian Shephard? A very naughty girl, I imagine.

We’ve been organising booksignings for Gillian all over the place, but have so far struck unlucky with Jarrolds in Cromer. “No, we don’t think it would work here,” said the shop events manager. “Knapton’s too far away from Cromer. No one would come,” he reckoned. Well, my North Norfolk geography may not be quite what it was, but I reckon it can’t be more than 8 miles. Sometimes there’s just no point in arguing. He might as well have said “computer says no”.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Nick Harkaway & Simon Hoggart

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Diary

Mr Dale's Diary: Six Places Higher Than Lord Sugar

24 Jul 2011 at 21:35

  • On Tuesday we hosted a launch for Gillian Shephard’s new book KNAPTON, which is a social history of the village in North Norfolk in which she grew up. Our offices have a fantastic view over the river to Parliament, which the coachload of North Norfolkers very much enjoyed. I was amused at how many of them knew me because of my fortnightly Eastern Daily Press column. They had all read about the death of Gio, my Jack Russell and were all keen to offer advice on how to get over it. Just for the record, we’re getting a mini Schnauzer in September as well as another Jack Russell puppy. We want to get them on the same day otherwise there might be some unfortunate long term consequences!
  • I’m so excited at the way Dale & Co has been received. Slightly to my surprise there hasn’t been much negative reaction at all. Traffic is already higher than for my old blog, so it’s been a good start. In the next 48 hours we’re reconfiguring the front page and adding a gizmo in place of the blurb and video box. The gizmo will allow you to scroll through the last twenty people who have written on the blog. So that should be an incentive to authors to contribute even more regularly than they are already doing! Also this week, we’re launching a daily diary column. Each day of the week one of my contributors will write a diary column and write about their previous seven days. I’ve encouraged them all to be as amusing and observational as possible. As well as gossipy.
  • I was in Portcullis House on Wednesday to have a gossip with my old friend Ian Collins from talkSPORT. It proved to be rather difficult. Hardly had we started our conspiratorial conversation when Simon Walters from the Mail on Sunday plonked himself down for a goss. And hardly had he gone when Denis MacShane replaced him. And by the time he had gone, it was almost time to move on to the next appointment! There’s a lesson there somewhere.
  • If you’ve never tuned into LBC before and heard my dulcet tones (every weekday from 7-10pm, by the way), tune in at 9am on Tuesday morning when Boris Johnson will be presenting the last hour of the Nick Ferrari show. Anything could happen. And probably will. I’ll be hosting an In Conversation with Boris on the Tuesday evening of the Tory conference, which will be broadcast on LBC as well. And don’t worry, I’ll also be doing an hour with Ken Livingstone at Labour and one with whoever the LibDems choose at theirs. Please, please let it be Lembit.
  • Last night we hosted a little gathering at our home near Tunbridge Wells. Simmo, my partner, celebrated his birthday yesterday, and mine was a week earlier. It wasn’t really meant to be a birthday party but I wryly noted how everyone brought presents and cards from His Simmoness, but for me? Not a sausage. A week is a long time in birthdays… We had done far too much food of course. Well, when I say ‘we’ I use the term rather loosely. I am not allowed in the kitchen, you see. I make a scene out of protesting, but of course, I am rather relieved. And so should our party guests have been.
  • I got a call from one of my staff at 6.30 this evening. As I picked up the phone I didn’t bother saying ‘hello’, I just said “well at 6.30 on a Sunday evening it can’t be good news”. It wasn’t. He had been attacked, beaten to a pulp and stabbed. I could hardly have been more shocked. I muttered inanities I think. ‘Take as much time off as you need’, and ‘if there’s anything we can do’ were just two of the clichés that escaped from my mouth. What a terrible thing to happen. Luckily he’s OK, but I suspect he was putting a brave face on it.
  • The week ends with The Guardian naming me as the 93rd most influential person in the British media. I can’t pretend I’m not a bit chuffed, especially when I see that I am six places ahead of Lord Sugar, who is number 99. But as the rest of the Top 100 are release during the course of the evening there are a few surprises. Is Alan Rusbridger, at 37 really more influential than the editors of the Times and Telegraph, whose circulations far outweigh that of The Guardian? And my friend Guido Fawkes is also placed above James Harding and Tony Gallagher. I’m pleased for Guido, but really…

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UK Politics

In Praise of Andrew Mitchell

22 Jul 2011 at 21:37

Last night I interviewed Andrew Mitchell on my LBC show about the growing crisis in Somalia. The response to the interview was immense. We got a shower of texts, emails and tweets saying what a good job he was doing. Even left of centre people reckon he’s performing well in a job which has traditionally been a political backwater and a bed of nails.

Often, when you do a phone in on aid or disaster relief you get a stream of calls from people wondering why we’re not spending the money in this country rather than on far away economic basket cases. That didn’t really happen last night because I think most people with humane bones in their bodies recognise the seriousness of the situation in the Horn of Africa.

It often seems to be the case that politicians almost get religion when they take on the International Development brief. Andrew Mitchell is no different. Sometimes he’s been accused of going native, while showering African countries with British taxpayers’ money. It’s an unfair and simplistic accusation. He has transformed Dfid in his year in the post. He’s made aid far more dependent on accountability and stopped aid to countries like China and Russia, and is in the process of doing the same to India. Instead it is being far better targeted and far less money is being wasted. He’s also doing a good job of explaining the benefits to Britain of being seen as a development superpower.

There was a time when Mitchell, shall we say, wasn’t the most popular of MPs among his colleagues. He was considered a bit of a greaser. By that I mean someone who was determined to rise up the greasy pole come what may. It was always a source of amusement to us all in the David Davis leadership campaign the amount of time Andrew spent with his opposite number in the Cameron campaign, George Osborne. To be fair, they had always got on well before the campaign but there were many jokes made to Andrew’s face about his new best friend. He took them in good part.

Many of us think that the experience of the Davis campaign switched something in Andrew’s brain. He became more of a normal human being, something many politicians would do well to note. He developed a side to his character that not many had seen before. And the international development brief, which most of us had thought he would hate, suited him very well. I’m told that in opposition Cameron tried to move and promote him but he insisted he wanted to stay in the job. And I suspect there might be a similar reaction when a reshuffle comes.

Some months ago there were rumours that Andrew Mitchell was angling for William Hague’s job. The rumours were the usual type of manufacturered Westminster gossip. Hague is one Mitchell’s closest friends in politics and there is no way Mitchell would have been stirring up trouble for his good friend. But having said that, if Hague were to move on, there is now little doubt that Mitchell would be a strong candidate to replace him.

Whatever happens next in his career, I suspect Andrew Mitchell will look back on his years as International Development Secretary as the happiest of his career.

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