Diary

ConHome Diary: Will it be a Giveaway Budget?

13 Mar 2015 at 14:15

In many ways Chuka Umunna, for many Conservatives, is the acceptable face of the Labour Party. He’s a free marketer and gets what an entrepreneurial society is all about. He’s not particularly tribal and is quite happy to pay tribute to political opponents when he thinks they have done something good. Let me tell you that whenever he comes on my show I get a lot of emails and texts from people saying they would vote Labour if he was leader of the Labour Party. There’s little doubt that if Ed Miliband loses the election Chuka would be a leading contender. He does need to rid himself of an image of loving himself just that little too much. This came to the fore again in a House Magazine where he rather inadvisedly answered a question about how good looking he is. Instead of saying “not going there” he launched forth and talked about how awkward he feels when women say he’s gorgeous. Well, you can imagine that I wasn’t going to let that go without comment when he came in to do his monthly phone-in on Wednesday. Suffice to say, he didn’t disappoint. #awkward #squirm.

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There’s been a lot of criticism of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe this week for telling the Home Affairs Select Committee that the three girls who went to Syria would not be prosecuted if they return home. Most of my listeners were up in arms when I said he was absolutely right. These girls are children. They were clearly groomed and brainwashed into going. So what would be the point in prosecuting them? If they had been victims of child sex abuse, and groomed for it, no one would remotely suggest they too should be prosecuted.
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Tomorrow night the good burghers of Kensington will choose their new candidate. I know all three contestants and each one of them would bring something different to the job, and they all have their own negatives. Wasn’t it ever thus, I suppose? Charlotte Vere is a very independent and outspoken woman who would make a fantastic MP. She’s been in a lot of finals and not quite made it, something Kensington Association members might wonder about. Shaun Bailey was expected to win last time in Hammersmith but didn’t. He’s a hugely talented social entrepreneur and an original thinker. Seeing as the Tories already have far more ethnic minority candidates in safe seats, it would send a very powerful message if he were selected. Victoria Borwick is transparently nice and if being local had anything to do with it, she’d have it sewn up. As Deputy Mayor of London she’s also been endorsed by Boris, which might well count for something on the night. However, hiring a PR firm to boost her profile may not have been the wisest move. Actually, any one of them would be a good choice. I’m not going to put a jinx on any of them by saying who I would vote for and in any case the truth is I don’t know. I think I would be typical of many Kensington members and go along with an open mind and vote for whoever most impressed me on the night.
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Nice to see the LibDems get their comeuppance in this latest donations sting. They’ve always been sanctimonious about donations even when they were shown to be, shall we say, less than clean – remember Michael Brown? All parties have issues with dodgy donations, but the LibDems have always tried to make out they were whiter than their colleagues. The man featured in the Daily Telegraph video, Ibrahim Taguri, was not only LibDem candidate for Brent Central (successor to Sarah Teather) but also former chief fundraiser for the LibDems. A candidate might be forgiven for making errors about soliciting donations – local candidates probably aren’t acquainted with every rule from the Electoral Commission, but party chief fundraisers have to be. And that’s the awkward question the LibDems now have to answer. Can they be confident that all the other donations he has solicited are in order? We may soon find out.
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I think over the next couple of weeks I am going to have to revisit my seat by seat election predictions, especially in Scotland. I had got them down for 18 seats, but that is clearly going to have to be revised upwards. I am still not convinced that they can get the 40 or 50 seats the polls are predicting, but until I look at each individual seat I’ll reserve judgement on an overall total. I also have UKIP on 5. I don’t see that changing much, but I am starting to wonder about how safe Castle Point is for Rebecca Harris, and also whether Dudley North could be another UKIP gain. I have the LibDems on 24, but my gut feel is that if anything they are on the way down. I saw Nick Clegg the other day and he was absolutely adamant that I’m totally wrong in my predictions for the LibDems. Well, we’ll see in 55 days!
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I’m a petrolhead. I love Top Gear, and I want Jeremy Clarkson to continue to present it. But if I were his employer, I’d probably feel I had no alternative but to sack him. Why? Because if it had been the producer who had hit Jeremy Clarkson, I think we all know what the outcome would be. And in the end, that’s the game, set and match argument.
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Next week’s budget is a tricky one for George Osborne. It’s so close to the election that everyone will see it through the prism of winning short term votes. Some reckon it will be the most boring budget in living memory. Those people don’t really understand a man who is one of the most political chancellors, well, since Gordon Brown. I fully expect a few rabbits to be pulled out of the red box, although I’m not sure what they are. I suspect that pushing up the tax free allowance beyond the level originally planned may well be one of the things he will be allowed to do by the LibDems. This won’t be a giveaway budget and I suspect will be revenue neutral. So on that basis it might be a little bit boring, but even so there will be two or three headlines aimed at the usual “hardworking families”. Perhaps we should have three guesses as to how many times he will mention the “long term economic strategy” in the speech. Rather too many, I suspect.

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Video: Iain has a go at Michael Portillo

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Books

BOOK REVIEW: The NHS - Things That Need to be Said

12 Mar 2015 at 00:56

There’s nothing an author appreciates than when someone writes a nice review of their book. The review below appeared on ARRSE yesterday.

The author presents the drive time show on LBC Radio, the UK’s only national news talk radio station. This short book is one of a series of polemics being published by LBC on contemporary topics. Sensible debate on the NHS is long overdue and this is a welcome start. The prose flows lightly and well and points are tellingly made. Unsurprisingly the tone is chatty rather than learned, but that does not detract. It is a pleasure to read.

Or rather, it would be a pleasure to read were it not for the underlying tale. How on earth in a time of austerity can the NHS (or any other government department) employ over 7,000 people on salaries of £100,000 per year or more while at the same time performing so badly?

The book starts with the political context, notably the high turnover of Health Secretaries (average tenure of two years). It moves on to the question of private versus public provision, where it uncovers the NHS’s institutional loathing of private sector provision and ask why the NHS doesn’t really function at weekends. Further chapters cover funding issues, demographics and the “post code lottery.” Mr Dale then looks at some looming problems, diabetes (of which he has personal experience) and mental health Examples are provided, most often from callers to his show, but also from research. By the end you will be convinced that there is a case to answer, although to whom the question should be addressed remains a mystery.

A polemic is only required to make an argument, which this book does engagingly. The author does not go into great detail, but that is not necessary in a polemic. To his credit, the author then goes further and makes some suggestions of how things may be improved. Sadly he is probably correct in thinking that not much will change in the short term due to a lack of political will power.

This book unlikely to be popular with the medical establishment, which the author correctly points out is effectively a trades union protecting doctors and nurses from the customers (taxpayers and paymasters (taxpayers again). I very much doubt that may actual or would be Health Ministers will be accepting invitations onto Mr Dale’s show.

This is a book that you should read before you vote. So should your friends.

The reviewer gave it 4/5 stars. Thank you!

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UK Politics

WATCH: Is Chuka Too Sexy For British Politics?

11 Mar 2015 at 22:07

Hashtag awkward. He enjoyed it really, though :)

Actually, of all the phone-ins I do on my programme, Chuka gets the most positive response from people who text and email in. Yes, he obviously has his detractors, as all politicians do, but a lot of people reckon he comes across really well. Tonight was the last full hour phone-in I’ll be doing with him before the election. Which makes me kind of sad, as he’s been a good sport over the last year and is always an entertaining listen. He’s not afraid to give his views and also not afraid to give credit to politicians from other parties where it is due. Politicians across the parties could learn a lot from how he handles these phone-ins. He does ‘human’ very well.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Benjamin Cohen about Social Media Addiction

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Music

Concert Review: Mango Groove at the Hammersmith Apollo

8 Mar 2015 at 16:43

Well I have never been mentioned on stage before at a pop concert, but it happened last night when Mango Groove’s lead singer Claire Johnson dedicated the song ANOTHER COUNTRY to me. You could have knocked me down with a feather, but it was hugely appreciated. You see, I reckon I am Mango Groove’s biggest fan in the UK – and if I come across as a bit of a groupie in this piece I make no apology!

I first discovered Mango Groove back in 1994 when I was in a cafe called Aroma in St Martin’s Lane. They always played different types of World Music and suddenly this song came on and I had that hair going up on the back of your neck moments. I think it was Hellfire. Well, I went up to HMV in Oxford Street the next day and bought two of their albums and I’ve never looked back. I can honestly say I like every single song they have ever recorded, and there aren’t many bands anyone can say that about.

Mango Groove hail from South Africa, although the lead singer, Claire Johnston, was born only a few miles from me in Bishops Stortford. They’ve sold over a millon albums in their home country and you could see in what affection they are held by the reaction of the big South African contingent in the audience last night.

The evening started with no fewer than three warm-up acts. Matthew Mole is a young South African singer who could be a big name in the making. I liked his songs so much I have just downloaded his entire back catalogue and that’s also what I have done with The Soil, a three piece South African accapella group who knocked the audience for six with their uniquenese, their energy and their astonishing harmonies. Look them up.

I had dragged eleven friends along in a bit to indoctrinate them into becoming fans of Mango Groove, and I reckon my mission was successful. My sister Tracey (pictured with me and Claire Johnston) and I have very different musical tastes and I was amazed she came along, but she seemed to be hugely impressed by what she heard. Id be surprised if most of them weren’t spending part of today downloading some of Mango Groove’s back catalogue.

They came on stage and started as they meant to go on with two very up tempo numbers, Hellfire and Hometalk. The two highlights for me were Special Star, perhaps their biggest hit, and Dance Sum More. This really got the audience on their feet, even people in the upper circle. The whole show was a spectacle and there was always so much going on on stage that the lighting people sometimes found it difficult to know where to point their spotlights.

They were on stage for a full two hours and the concert didn’t finish till 11pm. I said to Claire at the after-show party that I could die happy now I had seen a Mango Groove concert. I think she thought I was joking! It was a fantastic evening. One of these days I want to see them live in South Africa, a country I have never been to. Hopefully I will put that right before too long.

UPDATE: Earlier this week I interviewed Mango Groove. You can hear it HERE

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Video

DOWNFALL VIDEO: Nick Clegg Says Sorry

6 Mar 2015 at 21:47

Nick Clegg Entschuldigt Sich from Iain Dale on Vimeo.

Miranda Green just asked on Twitter if I was behind this Downfall video, made after Nick Clegg’s apology for the tuition fees promise a couple of years ago. Guilty as charged, Miranda! I haven’t seen it for some time, but having just watched it again I’m rather proud of it. Perhaps I will make one about David Cameron and the election debates debacle… Now there’s an idea….

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell talks about his final volume of diaries BURDEN OF POWER

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Will Col Bob Stewart Resign His Seat?

6 Mar 2015 at 14:31

On Wednesday afternoon I wondered if my eyes and ears had deceived me. I had watched Prime Minister’s Question Time and thought that Ed Miliband had trounced David Cameron. On both immigration and the TV debates Cameron didn’t seem to have any answers and for once Ed Miliband piled home his advantage. So that’s what I tweeted. But many lobby journos thought the opposite. James Chapman of the Mail and Jim Pickard of the FT both felt that Cameron had played a bad hand well. They were in the press gallery but I watched it on TV. But they were not alone. I’ve always marvelled at how different people can watch the same event and draw completely different conclusions.
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It’s not often an MP threatens to resign his seat in the middle of a live radio interview, but that’s what Col Bob Stewart did when I interviewed him on Wednesday afternoon. He’s very angry at defence cuts and had told leading Generals it would make a huge impact if they resigned their positions in protest. I put it to him that it was politicians, not Generals, who make defence policy and as a member of the Defence Select Committee, maybe it would be better if he took the lead and led by example. Much to my surprise he took up the cudgels and said that not only might he resign from the committee but he was thinking of resigning his seat too. But not now. Of course the last MP to resign his seat on a point of principle won it back, and David Davis will believe till his dying day that he did the right thing. But he ruined his prospects of holding top political office in the process. Will Bob Stewart carry out his threat? I doubt it, but it is indicative of how strongly many Conservative MPs feel about defence spending at the moment.
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I’ve always thought that Gus O’Donnell was a bit of a dick. This week he’s proved it. He’s made an outspoken attack on politicians, calling them out of touch and much more besides. He attacks them for having chauffeur driven cars, saying they don’t “get” public services. Someone remind me how the former Head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, got to work every day? Yes, that’s right. In a chauffeur driven car. Effing hypocrite.
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I went out for dinner on Wednesday night with two members of the South African band Mango Groove. They’re over here to do a concert at the Hammersmith Apollo tomorrow night. I decided to take them to Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden. We placed our orders and I asked the waiter for some bread to tide us over until the main food arrived. A few minutes later he came back and rather shame-facedly told us that they had run out of bread. At 8.30 in the evening! Perhaps he should have let us eat cake instead.
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UK Politics

Counterfactual: Ed Miliband Refuses to Debate with Cameron in Election Campaign

5 Mar 2015 at 12:37

It has just been reported by the BBC that Ed Miliband has refused to take part in any election debates with the Prime Minister during the election campaign. The Leader of the Opposition said that in 2010 the election debates had sucked the life out of the campaign and that he was only willing to take part in one single debate prior to the start of the election campaign proper. Miliband’s decision has drawn ridicule and derision from the other political parties. A spokesman for the Prime Minister accused the Leader of the Opposition of being “frightened, frit and unable to stand up the scrutiny of an election campaign”. Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said Miliband was “taking the electorate for granted and behaving in a high-handed fashion.” He continued: “If he can’t stand up to the rigours of an election debate, how could he possibly think he’s qualified to run the country.”

Obviously, that is all complete fiction. But imagine if it weren’t. Does anyone seriously think David Cameron wouldn’t be making political hay? Now I don’t think Cameron is “frit” of taking on Miliband. His advisers have conducted a risk assessment and decided that it is more advantageous to them politically not to take part in a head to head, or indeed multiple other debates. Cameron often stands accused of not having a strategy and talking decisions for short term political tactical advantage. This is one of those occasions. It’s also an occasion when he should have looked Craig Oliver squarely in the eye and said:

“Advisers advise, ministers decide. I don’t care what your advice is, I’m going to look a hypocrite and a coward if I don’t do these debates. Make them happen.”

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UK Politics

Will the Broadcasters Blink?

5 Mar 2015 at 10:43

Frit. Coward. Hypocrite. Just three of the words being thrown at the Prime Minister over his refusal to debate head to head with the Leader of the Opposition. He’s offered to take part in a single, eight-way, debate but only if it takes place before the election campaign starts at the end of this month. At the time of writing the broadcasters have yet to respond. The question is: will they blink? Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me. If they have any balls they will tell Cameron it’s not for him to veto the rules of engagement, and they’ll say the debates will go ahead with or without the Prime Minister’s participation.

Political expediency shouldn’t come in to the equation here. If you look at David Cameron’s comments in 2009 on the pros and cons of leaders’ debates and compare them to what has happened now, the only conclusion you can draw is that Number 10’s tactics in these negotiations are determined solely by party advantage. That’s no way for a statesman to behave. Bear in mind he said: “These debates will now be a fundamental part of the political process”. He was right then, and he should stick to that now. Elections campaigns are there for politicians to debate each other, whether it be on a constituency level or nationally.

In 2009 it was perfectly possible to argue against leaders’ debates on the basis that we don’t have a presidential system, but that’s not what David Cameron did. The genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back. Tim Montgomerie has consistently argued that these debates can never advantage a Tory leader. He may well have a point, but I’d like to think we could all rise above narrow party political advantage from time to time. This whole issue is yet another example of blundering by Number 10. It’s all very well for Craig Oliver, the Director of Communications, to send a truculent letter to the broadcasters blaming them for handling the issue very badly. He’d be better off looking in a mirror.

Channel 4 political editor Gary Gibbon disagrees. He writes: “Abandoning consistency and deploying ruthless determination and guile, David Cameron has got his way or something close to it. Some will think that could be an omen for the election itself.” Well, he may be right, but there will be some who will think twice about voting for a prime minister who won’t debate his opponents. But then again, if Ed Miliband fails to make hay out of this, that will be very telling too.

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LBC97.3 Iain Has a Falling Out With a Galloway Supporting Interviewee

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Personal

Attitude Column: Cucumber Plays Into Far Too Many Gay Stereotypes & Is a Bit Bananas

4 Mar 2015 at 15:23

I wanted to enjoy Cucumber. I really did. I was a massive fan of Queer as Folk back in the late 1990s and expected great things from Cucumber. As someone in his early 50s I thought it would be a really good thing for a new drama to look at life for the slightly older gay man. It would be a risky thing to do bearing in mind our obsessions with youth, but if Cucumber was half as riveting as Queer as Folk we’d all be happy.

But I’m not happy. It’s not that I have found Cucumber boring or totally without its moments. In fact, despite the drab nature of the first episode, I’ve stuck with it and have even enjoyed it. There has even been the odd laugh out loud moment, although these have been far more infrequent than in the often hilarious Queer as Folk.

So why has Cucumber disappointed? People who don’t interact with gay men often have very stereotypical thoughts about them. They’re promiscuous. Obsessed with sex. Older gay men constantly prey on younger models. Penis size is all important. Gay relationships never last. They are never monogamous. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Sadly, Cucumber has fallen into the trap of portraying these stereotypes as if they are truths, and then throw in a few more for good measure. Black men all have large penises, obviously. Well that was a revelation to us all, I’m sure. The storyline where Freddy blackmails his schoolteacher who he happens to bump into after a few years was like something out of the 1950s. Henry filming videos involving his 15 year old nephew wasn’t just weird and uncomfortable, but also something a real life Henry would have run a mile from. Yet people in straightworld were nodding in condemnation, no doubt saying “See Mavis, I told you, they’re all like that – all wanting a bit of underage boy booty”.

Now, I appreciate this is a drama, and that sex sells, but I don’t know anyone in gayworld who is obsessed with sex to the extent that virtually every character in Cucumber is. More or less every storyline within the somewhat shaky plot has some sort of sexual element to it. Life’s not like that, is it?

The only genuinely interesting subplot I can think of is the debate about anal sex. Henry doesn’t like it, and refuses to do it. It lies at the centre of his breakup with Lance who is desperate for a bit of arse action. Henry prefers to stay on the vanilla side of sex. I am sure most non gay men imagine that gay sex has to involve anal sex, and who’s top or bottom. Does it really?

And then we come on to last week’s episode. It came as somewhat of a shock. I’m not going to write about the details as I don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t seen it. I watched it on my own in our house in Norfolk at about 1am in the morning. I was somewhat traumatised by it. As soon as it had finished I rang my partner who was elsewhere. “Whatever you do, don’t watch Cucumber before you go to bed,” I said.

Naturally,he ignored me and watched it anyway. He has an ability to compartmentalise TV soaps and dramas and tell himself that none of it is real and they are only actors. I am different. I replay things in my mind time and again and then relate them to events in my life and imagine how things might have been different. And not in a good way.
I suppose the fact that I made that phone-call proves that Cucumber has had an impact, and what more do you want from a drama?

One thing Cucumber does achieve, though, is to make young gay men realise that one day, they too will get older. Reaching your thirties, forties, or dare I say it, even your fifties does not mean that your life has come to an end. When you’re 22 you cannot really contemplate being 52. I couldn’t. But as sure as eggs is eggs, one day it will happen. And you know what? It may not be Cucumber, but it’s certainly Bananas.

This article first appeared on the Attitude Website today

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Photjournalist Paul Conroy

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Books

The Why Vote Books Sales Update: UKIP Voters Are More Computer Friendly & Green Voters Kill More Trees

3 Mar 2015 at 11:40

Back in the autumn Biteback published a series of books called “Why Vote…” covering the four main political parties. In January we added ‘Why Vote Green’ to the list. I’ve calculated sales up until the end of February, and these are the figures.

UKIP 26.7%
Labour 23.5%
Conservative 17.6%
Green 17.5%
LibDem 14.7%

It’s a very good performance for the ‘Why Vote Green’ book as it’s only been on the shelves for a little over a month.

Interestingly, UKIP voters are the most eBook friendly, with 13% of the ‘Why Vote UKIP’ book being downloaded on the Kindle or via iBooks or the Nook. By way of contrast only 2% of the ‘Why Vote Green’ book are eBook sales. How ironic that the Greens kill more trees than their counterparts. However, Green purchasers are more likely to buy direct from the Biteback or Politicos websites than Amazon, so good for them!

I’ll update the figures again at the end of March.

You can buy each of the books at Biteback Publishing’s website or the whole series is available for £37.50 (normal price £50) HERE

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Tom Bower

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