ConservativeHome Diary Week 33: Has Jacqui Smith Looked in the Mirror Lately?

29 Nov 2013 at 13:55

I never underestimate the political canniness of Alex Salmond, but his 670 page white paper on Scottish independence was a right old dog’s breakfast. Instead of answering 600 odd questions it provoked yet more of them. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised but the SNP clearly want to have their cake and eat it. They want to keep the Pound, they want to keep the Queen, they want to keep the BBC, they don’t want border controls. It’s a ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ sort of independence. Unionist should comfort themselves with the thought that the most recent purveyors of ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’, Woolworth’s, went out of business.

You can tell from the spelling of my Christian name that I have Scottish roots. My middle name is Campbell, and you don’t get much more Scottish than that. And yet I am constantly accused of being anti-Scottish when I even deign to comment on independence. If you point out the subsidy that Scotland gets through the munificence of the English taxpayer you’re then told by the SNP it’s a load of old hogwash and that because of North Sea oil it’s the other way around. They must take us for idiots.

Of course Scotland could exist as an independent nation, just in the same way as Greece can, to take a random example. My heart tells me that if I had a vote in this referendum I would vote for independence, purely out of national pride. The thing is, though. My head would tell me something completely different, and that is why Alex Salmond will be appealing to people’s emotions rather than their sense of reason.
Not long ago I was approached by an LBC listener who had a really good idea which he wanted to share with the government as it could help a lot of people. I won’t go into the detail of which department it was, but at every step he had been obstructed by civil servants who would never return calls. He patiently explained to me where he was coming from and what he could do. I was appalled that he wasn’t able to get his point across in the corridors of power, so I contacted the relevant Minister. Within an hour the minister had called the man, spent quite some time on the phone talking to him and had arranged for civil servants to take the matter forward. Great. Well done Minister. But it really shouldn’t have been like that. Why should someone have to go through someone like me who, just because I know someone, was able to get the whole thing in gear? The listener thinks I am a hero for what I have done, but there’s part of me that is deeply ashamed that in 2013 our government system still operates on the basis of ‘who you know’.
I don’t do a lot of TV nowadays. Four hours broadcasting on the radio every weekday is quite sufficient, but one programme I never say no to is the Andrew Marr show. I first did the paper review on the show – then presented by Sir David Frost – ten years ago, just as we were about to go to war with Iraq. My fellow paper reviewers were Polly Toynbee and somewhat bizarrely Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. Ever since then I usually get to go on the show about once a year, usually with Helena Kennedy or the redoubtable Polly. Debating with Polly is an interesting experience. There is very little we agree on and yet somehow we always manage to have quite a civilised debate. The Andrew Marr Show is certainly not one where it seems appropriate to have a shouting match, which is probably why I never get paired with George Galloway.
I got sacked this week from my weekly column on the Eastern Daily Press. It had been running seven years so I guess I had had a good innings, but it’s never nice to be relieved of one’s duties [ConHome editors please note]. I totally understand a newspaper’s need to keep things fresh, though, even though it’s ironic that I got the column just as I moved out of Norfolk and have lost it four months after I moved back. Normal for Norfolk?!
Andrew Mitchell and his family have gone through hell over the last fourteen months. And their particular version of purgatory doesn’t look like ending soon. Due to the incompetence of his lawyers failing to register some court papers in time, he faces a legal bill of half a million pounds. It really brings home the fact that justice in this country is often available only to those who can afford it. You or I, in a similar position, wouldn’t have been able to do what he has done. I don’t know what the solution is, but it is clear that just like bankers, lawyers are out of control. The fees they charge are so outrageous that only the rich can now afford to take serious cases to court. I am far from rich, and know full well that whatever my principles told me to do, I just wouldn’t be able to undertake most sorts of legal action even if I knew I was 100% in the right. I have to use the services of libel lawyers in my publishing business. The fees that libel lawyers charge are simply out of this world. I could tell you a lot more, but I am afraid I can’t. I could tell you about the libel lawyers who act for celebrities who specialise in making vexatious complaints purely, it seems, to up their fees to their clients. I have lost count of the number of libel letters I have had to engage lawyers to reply to only then to hear nothing more. But they have been able to charge their clients a couple of grand for the pleasure, and I’m also a couple of grand out of pocket. They are leeches and are a very good example of why the libel laws need to be changed.
Boris Johnson made one of the more bizarre speeches of the year when he gave the third Margaret Thatcher lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies on Wednesday. Its aim was clear – to claim the Thatcherite mantle. But having read the speech it had more than a touch of the Keith Josephs about it. Older readers may remember that Keith Joseph’s Tory leadership ambitions collapsed in 1974 when he made a speech in Preston (I think) referring to the unfortunate breeding habits of classes C and D. Boris used similar inappropriate language referring to the low IQ of 16% of the population and apparently idolising Gordon Gekko, leading to headlines in both the Guardian (which you would expect and the Daily Mail (which you wouldn’t) declaring GREED IS GOOD! Is this really the message he wants to get over. Having read the whole speech I have to say it was intellectually deficient, full of bizarre conclusions and lacking heft. It wasn’t so much a lecture as a haranguing by the political equivalent of Dame Edna Everage.

I did like his idea of naming Boris Island the Margaret Thatcher International Airport. It didn’t curry much favour with my fellow Sky News paper reviewer Jacqui Smith though. She acidly commented that it was highly appropriate since they were “cold, distant and out of touch”. I am afraid my usual gentlemanly spirit deserted me and found myself responding by asking if she had looked in the mirror lately. Saucer of milk for Mr Dale?
My favourite joke of the week, coined by my LBC presenter colleague James O’Brien’s small daughter…
Knock Knock
Who’s There?
The Doctor
Dr Who?
Maybe it works better if you say it out loud! Ideally with someone else…
Ed Miliband got a lot of flak from the pretentious, snobbish luvvies who think the Desert Island Discs should be the preserve of classical music and opera. Anyone who has the guts to choose Aha’s ‘Take on Me’ as one of his eight songs, and then to follow it up with ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams is OK by me. I loved the fact that by choosing these songs (and no one can accuse him of being persuaded by a spin doctor to choose them) he sent a subliminal message of ‘I couldn’t give a rat’s what you think. This my choice of music and I like it’. Maybe he should take that attitude to his next shadow cabinet reshuffle. If he does, Ed Balls will be kacking himself. [Not quite sure that’s how you sell kacking, but there you go].



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to James Caan

Dragon's Den star James Caan talks about his book on how to start a new business.

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My EDP Column Is Dead - It Has Ceased To Be

25 Nov 2013 at 12:03

For the last seven years I have been writing a column for the Eastern Daily Press, initially fortnightly but latterly every week. Any freelance columnist knows that at some point all good things come to an end, and for me that point was reached today. This morning I got a call from the EDP to relieve me of the column. OK, then, they sacked me!

I can’t pretend I am not sad about it, because I am, especially now that I am living in Norfolk (albeit part-time) again. However, there aren’t many columnists who last seven years on any newspaper, even when they come as cheaply as I do! The EDP is a great newspaper and is the biggest regional paper in the country. It’s been a privilege to be part of its coverage for so long, firstly when I was a candidate in Norfolk and latterly as a columnist,

Whenever this sort of thing happens you always look for a reason. I was told that “it was time to move on” and “it has run its course” and maybe they are right. Newspapers always need to refresh themselves and the EDP is no different. I would have liked to write a final column this week, merely to say thank you to those who have stuck with me for seven years but I was told that last week’s column was to be my last. Fair dos.

So can I through this medium thank all those who have read my words each week and especially to those who have taken the trouble to write or email me with their views and reaction? I am sure there will be some readers who rejoice that I have finally been culled too!

Anyway, thank you to the three editors, Peter Franzen, Pete Waters and Nigel Pickover who I have worked with. Peter Franzen gave me the column initially, Pete Waters was an inspirational editor and was a sad loss to the EDP when he left, and to Nigel Pickover who I fully expected to sack me when he took over 18 months or so ago, but he didn’t! He’s a human dynamo of energy and has given the newspaper a new vitality.

The end.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to David Leigh

David Leigh talks about his new book on Wikileaks and Julian Assange

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UK Politics

Attitude Column: Can You be Gay and be a Tory?

24 Nov 2013 at 10:38

Can you be gay and a Tory? Yes, I know it’s a stupid question, but people continue to ask it. The simple answer is, of course you can, but there are still those who believe that the two things are completely incompatible.

For most people being gay is completely separate to their politics. It’s the same with religion. I had to laugh recently when I saw a LibDem MP argue, apparently with serious conviction, that God is a Liberal Democrat, which presumably implies that Nick Clegg is his representative on earth. Religion, politics and sexuality are three phenomena which are completely separate from each other. Just as there are gay Christians, there are also gay atheists. Just as there are gay Socialists, there are also (whisper it) gay Conservatives.
According to a recent opinion poll 30% of gay people vote Conservative, 38% Labour and 13% Liberal Democrat, which is not far away from the trends in the general population.

This should come as a surprise to no one. We have exactly the same concerns as straight people – mortgages, cost of living, job opportunities, bin collections etc. Why on earth should our voting intention be any different?

Admittedly, there are some people who are single issue voters. A small number of people vote LibDem because they are obsessed by proportional representation. Some people vote Labour purely because they are trade unionists, and some people vote Tory because of fox hunting. But they’re all a very small minority. Most people support political parties because they support 70-80% of the things the party stands for and they like the party leader. Why does anyone think gay people would act differently?

But for some in the gay community, the Tories, no matter what they do, no matter what they say, will always be the party of Section 28. Yes, it may have been 25 years ago, but leopards don’t change their spots (together with countless other clichés), do they?

No one would deny that the bulk of legislative reform related to homosexuality has occurred under Labour governments. Decriminalisation came in 1967 when Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary and Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. Tony Blair’s government reduced the age of consent and brought in civil partnerships. I will admit that had the Tories been in power in 2004, I doubt very much whether that would have happened.

But how times have changed. Only eight years later a Conservative-led government brought in equal marriage. And let no one say that this only happened because of the LibDem part of the coalition. It didn’t. This was a policy pushed forward personally by David Cameron. Yes, it was opposed by a large part of the traditional, authoritarian right of the Tory Party, but over time they are gradually dying out and being replaced by MPs who are as dry as dust economically but very socially liberal. Let’s also remember that there were also Labour and LibDem MPs who opposed equal marriage.

During Manchester Pride, the only float to attract boos was the local Tory LGBT float. I’m sure it was all very good natured, but I wonder if those booing actually thought about the fact that it takes real courage for anyone, no matter what the environment, to stand up and say ‘hey, look at me, I’m different’.

In many ways gay people are natural Conservatives. Conservatives believe in the freedom of the individual to make their own way in life without interference from the state. They believe in equality of opportunity and social responsibility. I could go on.

To argue, as Labour MP Chris Bryant does, that gay people should never vote Conservative because the Tories would abolish all gay rights legislation if they felt they could get away with it, is simply monstrous. If you put the age of consent or civil partnerships to a vote now, I doubt there would be more than two Tory MPs who would vote to put the clock back. Attitudes in the Conservative Party continue to evolve. No one would pretend that the Tory dinosaurs are yet extinct, but even the likes of Gerald Howarth and Peter Bone are mellowing in their old age. And frankly, all they do is reflect the attitudes of a not insignificant part of the population.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying gay people should vote Conservative. What I am saying is that it is perfectly natural to do so.

So yes, you can be out, proud, gay and Tory. There’s a lot of it about.


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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Simon Mann

Former mercenary Simon Mann discusses his new book.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 32: What Would Ed Say if It Were a Tory Coke Snorting, Rent-Boy Addicted Religious Banker?

22 Nov 2013 at 14:58

I’m sure that like most of you I am left gobsmacked by the antics of former Co-Op bank chairman Paul Flowers – the so-called ‘Crystal Methodist’ preacher. In many ways we should be shocked by his drug-taking, but perhaps we’re not as shocked as we should be. The Sun is terribly shocked by him paying a rent boy and indulging in gay orgies. But, shocking as you may find this statement, having gay sex doesn’t actually impair your ability to do your job, even if you are a totally hypocritical Methodist preacher. And a stupid one at that. What kind of idiot would procure a rent boy using his co-op email address?

However, the simple fact is that Flowers was never in a position to do his job properly. His appointment was a crony appointment. He was appointed because of his record of supporting the Labour Party over the years. It clearly wasn’t based on ability. We are left scratching our heads that anyone can be appointed to chair the board of a bank without any knowledge of banking whatsoever. And yet his appointment was cleared by the Financial Services Authority, which just about says it all about the competence of that particular institution. You’d like to think that the system had been tightened up now, and we are assured it has been.

The other distasteful aspect to this scandal has been to watch the Labour Party trying to distance themselves from Paul Flowers. “Flowers? No, never heard of him. Minor player. Not important. Move along. Nothing to see here”. That’s the message that has been emanating from Ed Miliband’s office. It won’t wash, though. He’s had private, one on one meetings with the Labour leader and authorised a £50,000 payment to Ed Balls to help pay for the cost of running his office. The correct response would have been to say how shocked and horrified they were to find out about the activities of Mr Flowers and they would learn from the experience. Instead, they ran for the hills. How courageous.

When Nigel Farage walked into my studio last Thursday night, I immediately spotted something was wrong. “Are you OK?” I asked. “No, I’m not,” he said. I assumed he had a bad cold and said no more, as we started the interview. As the red ‘mic live’ light came on, the roar of the crowd and the smell of greasepaint arrived and Nigel, as ever, put on a sterling, combative performance. But as soon as it had finished, he winced with pain and explained that his election day air crash had caught up with him. He then had great difficulty in even putting his coat on. It was therefore with little surprise that I heard the news that he had undergone a spinal operation this week. Whatever one’s political differences with the UKIP leader, no one can doubt his bravery in coping with both the physical and psychological after- effects of that accident. He admits that it changed his outlook on life, and it has changed him as a person. Let’s hope that this operation has been successful and that Nigel will be able to conduct the vigorous European election campaign he has long been planning. I may not agree with some of what he says, but on a basic human level – and to someone I count as a friend – I wish him a very speedy recovery.

All of which brings me on to the subject of Paul Sykes, who this week announced he would pay for UKIP’s European election campaign. This could cost him around £4 million. It was news that would certainly aid Nigel’s recovery and enable him to spend less time chasing other big donations. Sykes is a genuine believer in the case for European Union withdrawal. If it weren’t for him donating money to the anti-Euro cause back at the turn of the century, it is entirely possible we’d now be part of it. He’s a bluff northerner who likes to tell it as it is. He told me in an interview on Monday that he hasn’t actually voted in a general election since 1992, and is not a member of UKIP. I do question whether it is healthy for democracy for one person to be able to donate a sum like this, but we should remember that back in William Hague’s leadership both Lord Ashcroft and Stuart Wheeler donated several million pounds each to the Conservatives, and their munificence essentially prevented the Party from bankruptcy. In the absence of state funding, political parties will always have to raise money to exist. Some people apparently believe that they don’t need money to pay staff or print leaflets, or launch campaigns. I certainly don’t believe the taxpayer should subsidise the existence of political parties, and would argue vociferously against it, but it is coming, be in doubt about that. If it does, the only system I could even begin to have any sympathy with is where individual voters ticked a box on their electoral registration form as to which party they wanted a donation to go to. Even then, there should be a ‘none of the above’ box.

Last night, I dreamt that I was selected as Conservative candidate for my home constituency, Tunbridge Wells, for the next election. There are a number of problems here. Firstly Greg Clark is doing a great job and second of all I am totally uninterested in becoming an MP any longer. So why did I have the dream? Is my subconscious telling my mind that no matter how much I protest, I secretly have a yearning desire to sit on the green benches? Well, if that’s the case, thank goodness my mind is still winning the battle! And long may it continue to do so.

So the PSBR has come down from £8.2 billion in October 2012 to £8.1 billion this year. Just wow. Ever since the end of 2010 Treasury ministers have been trumpeting the fact they have reduced the deficit by a third. Three years on, that’s starting to wear a bit thin. Why isn’t it down by a half by now?

Miliband is now trying to dismiss the Flowers scandal as a Tory-led media conspiracy. Can I invite him to imagine what his reaction would be if the positions were reversed? Just imagine what he would say if a religious Tory donor with no experience of banking was appointed to head Coutts and was then found to have bought crystal meth and taken part in gay orgies with rent boys. Does he seriously expect us to believe he wouldn’t be on it like a ton of bricks? Do us a favour Ed, and get real. You’re making a twat of yourself. A serious leader would take it on the chin and want to get to the bottom of what happened and why and to ensure it could never happen again.

I hear Matthew Bell, the so-called diarist at the Independent on Sunday, is leaving for pastures anew. So sorry to see him go. But at least they have now gained an extra reader.



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Katie Price

Iain talks to model and novelist Katie Price about the 5th volume of her autobiography.

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Attitude Column: Do Gay Men Have a Crap Taste in Music?

22 Nov 2013 at 10:36

“Loved your column in Attitude,” wrote my Sky News journalist friend. “Brings some ballast to the magazine.” Er thanks, I thought. I’m not sure he’ll agree once he gets to the end of this one though.

“Why is it that gay men have such a shit taste in music?” queried another friend to me the other day. Somewhat bridling, I asked what on earth he meant. “Well, it’s all Kylie, musicals and Eurovision with you lot,” isn’t it, he explained helpfully.

Well, he’s got a point, hasn’t he? I don’t mind admitting that my own musical tastes play up to that stereotype quite nicely. Abba, Roxette, Sparks , Pet Shop Boys – well, you get the picture.

A couple of years ago I attended a very rich friend’s 60th birthday party where Kylie was the main cabaret act. We were all strutting our stuff at the front of the stage to ‘Better the Devil You Know’ when someone whispered in my ear: “Do you realise we’re only six feet away from Kylie’s bum?” I turned round to find David Cameron giggling. Anyway, I digress.
I’m sure there are some gay heavy metal fans out there, but I have to say I have never met one. In fact, I’m not sure I’d want to. The nearest I get is the Meat Loaf anthem “I’ll do anything for Love, but I won’t do THAT!” And so say all of us. Whatever THAT is. I think we can guess. But seeing as this magazine is moving inexorably upmarket, I’d better not. I’d hate to be canned after only three columns.

I’ve been to the Eurovision Song Contest twice. Just writing that, it feels like it should be written into my official gay passport, as proof that my musical taste is somewhat dodgy. And yes, I did go out of choice. Back in 1994 I shared a flat with an ‘ex’, who was a complete Eurovision obsessive. On the first night we met, we were in the midst of passion when somehow we got side-tracked onto a discussion about the relative merits of Celine Dion and Vicky Leandros (Luxemburg 1972, since you ask). I guess you had to be there, although frankly I am rather grateful you weren’t.

I ended up attending a Eurovision convention in Germany (95% of the people there were gay, you might not be surprised to know) before attending the actual contest at The Point in Dublin in May 1994. It was the year of Riverdance – about the campest form of entertainment ever invented.

Four years later Tory MP Graham Brady rang me up and explained he’d been invited to go to the Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham by the BBC on the basis that at 27, he was the youngest MP in the House of Commons. Being a thoroughly nice bloke he thought I would enjoy the experience more than he would. He was right. I ended up sat next to newly elected Labour MP Stephen Twigg [you know, the one who beat Portillo]. It proved to be quite an experience, especially when the Israeli contestant, a stunning looking transsexual called Dana International took to the stage. Twiggy was up on his feet, boogying and clapping, momentarily forgetting that he was an honourable member. When I told him the next day I had met Dana International after the contest he could quite happily have killed me. I got the ‘bitch stare’. When I told Graham Brady about the evening I could tell that he was rather relieved he hadn’t attended himself.

But let’s not pretend that it’s only gay people who like Eurovision or music that’s considered camp. Follow the twitter feed of right wing Tory MP Nick de Bois and you might deduce that from his love of all things Eurovision, he is a confirmed Friend of Dorothy. Not a bit of it, as his wife will happily confirm.

The truth is that there is no such thing as ‘gay’ music. If Kylie, Lady Gaga, Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys only appealed to gay people, they wouldn’t sell the quantities of records or downloads that they do. It is true to say that some bands or singers have a disproportionately large gay following, but if you think about it, the same songs get people on a dancefloor whether they happen to be in a straight or a gay nightclub. Music doesn’t discriminate in its appeal. It just gives the appearance of doing so.

And we should acknowledge that it is entirely possible to be gay and not be into so-called trashy pop. It’s possible, but unusual. I have never yet met a gay fan of Led Zeppelin, but I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere. There always is.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Peter Hain & Toby Harnden

Peter Hain discusses OUTSIDE IN and Toby Harnden talks about his history of the Welsh Guards.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 31: What the PM Should Do in Sri Lanka

15 Nov 2013 at 14:34

The Times (£) trumpets that Croydon South has rejected three of David Cameron’s favoured candidates (they all work for him in Number Ten) during their selection contest. It is apparently a “snub” to the Prime Minister. Bollocks. What is far more likely is that the three of them failed to perform as well as the four who reached the final. But that doesn’t make good newspaper copy, does it? People automatically assume there is some great conspiracy or plot in candidate selections, and that Downing Street or CCHQ are able to “parachute in” their favoured candidate. Those who have been involved in selections as candidates or selectors will tell anyone who cares to listen that it just doesn’t work like that. The selectorate, whether it’s a closed selection or open one, is far too sophisticated. If you perform badly, you won’t get through. It’s as simple as that. Candidate selection is a bit like a dating process, especially in a safe seat. The selectors know they have to live with whoever they choose for a few decades. They vote with their hearts as well as their heads, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

And of course there are now complaints that a man triumphed over three woman in the final. Just a thought: rather than being a bunch of sexist pigs, maybe, just maybe they picked the best person for the job. Chris Philp came second in the Tonbridge & Malling selection which I chaired a couple of weeks ago. I told him afterwards it wouldn’t be long before he succeeded, and I am glad I am right. He is a great choice for Croydon South, and I congratulate him.

So at the age of 75, David Dimbleby sees fit to get himself a tattoo. What on earth is the world coming to? What next? An ankle bracelet for La Widdecombe? Perhaps that would earn her a much deserved peerage…

I do hope David Cameron uses the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting to have a stand up row, on camera, with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, who stands accused of war crimes. Someone at the Commonwealth needs a rocket up their backsides for choosing to hold this summit in a country whose government is unsavoury, to say the least. OK, that could be said of perhaps a third of the Commonwealth’s member states, but even so. Anyone who watches Newsnight or Channel 4 News will know that four years on from the end of the civil war government forces are mistreating Tamils in a way which ought to guarantee a war crimes charge for Rajapaska. The Canadian Prime Minister has boycotted the meeting in protest, and while it would have been difficult for Britain to adopt that stance, some think it might have been wise. I covered the subject for an hour on my radio show on Monday, and I was astonished at the number of calls coming in – ten times the normal amount. The Sri Lankan community in this country is sizeable, and they need to be listened to by Conservative politicians, or they will suffer the electoral consequences.

Britain stepped up to the plate and donated £10 million to help alleviate the plight of the Philippines. And then there’s the £14 million raised from private donations through Disasters Emergency Committee. Guess how much China has contributed? £100,000. Yes, you read that right. If China wishes to be welcomed into the family of nations and prove that it is not the despotic, human rights-disrespecting country we know it to be, it will need to do better than that.

Ian Katz has certainly rung the changes in his short period in charge of Newsnight. This week, he announced the return to the BBC of the excellent Laura Kuennsberg as Chief Correspondent (whatever that is). In addition, David Grossman moves off the political beat to become Technology Editor. However, I was sad to hear that Gavin Esler will be departing. I think he’s a great news presenter, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up next. There will also inevitably be another new appointment soon to cover Allegra Stratton’s maternity leave. I have to say that I rather like many of the changes Ian Katz has made. Newsnight has become watchable again. It’s about time.

Zac Goldsmith came on my LBC show on Tuesday to take part in a phone-in on whether voters should be given the power to ‘recall’ their MP. It was in all three parties’ manifestos at the last election and it was in the Coalition Agreement, yet for some reason nothing has been done about it. No one seems to know why. It’s in Nick Clegg’s power to do something about it, yet he remains reluctant to bring forward legislation. Perhaps he’s so keen to avoid losing Mike Hancock… If there were any justice in politics Goldsmith would be a minister by now, but no doubt he’s regarded as too maverick by the Tory whips who wouldn’t recognise genuine talent if it hit them on the nose. Do you still have to be lobby fodder to make it in politics and climb the greasy pole? During one of the commercial breaks, Zac said to me that if I had got into Parliament I’d have been like him – never to be promoted. I suspect he’s right. It’s a very difficult balance to strike. If you aren’t a minister you have no power, but if you are regarded as a serial rebel you have precious little influence, either. You can have a voice in the media but you might just as well become, er, a radio presenter. I’ll get my coat.

So Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott are teaming up to write a biography of David Cameron, which, they say, will be published “in the second half of 2015”. Wouldn’t it be better to publish it while he is still in power? *

I have always wanted to write a proper political biography. I once toyed with the idea of writing one about David Cameron, way before he became prime minister. He and his team even agreed to co-operate, but by that time Francis Elliott had also decided to plough ahead and write one with James Hanning. So I shelved the idea. Years ago, I also approached Cecil Parkinson with the idea of writing his authorised biography. Sadly, he was having none of it. Frankly, there are very few people nowadays I would want to devote the time to writing a book about. I’m surprised no one has written a proper biography of Norman Tebbit, but I suspect I’m not the person to do that. Perhaps I will turn my attention to Ed Balls. Or perhaps I won’t.

The Conservatives launched a new website this week. It’s quite a feat to make it look even more outdated than the old site, but somehow they have achieved it. It’s, er, very 2003. Still, I suppose we can all be grateful that it doesn’t have frames. I suspect they have spent very little money on it, and what money they did spend was spent removing old articles and speeches. Why is it that when people redesign websites they don’t look overseas at examples of best practice? There’s nothing on the front page that is inclusive, welcoming or makes you want to delve deeper into the site. It feels cold, unwelcoming and exclusive. Where’s the interaction? Where’s the campaigning zeal? Where is the appeal to the heartstrings as well as the purse strings. It’s as if the party has given up the ghost in internet campaigning. Frankly, I am astonished that Grant Shapps would give this amateur site his stamp of approval.

And what’s worse is the clumsy attempt to delete all the site’s archive before 2010. Chris Grayling appeared on Sky telling us that there’s a limit to the amount you can keep on a website. Utter bollocks. The best thing Shapps could do now is hold his hands up and admit that it was an error to do this and to reinstate the articles. What worries me is that there are people in CCHQ who seriously thought this was a good idea. I’m trying to imagine the brainstorming meeting when the decision was made. “Chairman, let’s delete all the speeches and articles which might prove a bit embarrassing. Political journalists are so lazy, they’ll never notice. I mean who wants to know what David Davis said when we used to believe in civil liberties anyway?” Amateur hour.

*Just my little joke, Prime Minister, if you’re reading :)


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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Has a Row With an Argie Apologist

Professor Guillermo and Iain were supposed to talk about the Falklands. They really didn't get on.

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Bloody Well Done to Jeremy Hunt!

8 Nov 2013 at 22:11

Steve Wright used to have a character on his Radio 1 afternoon show called Mr Angry. Each time he rang into the programme he would end his call with the words “I’m so angry, I could throw the phone down!” And that’s what he then did. I feel like that right now. Why? Because Jeremy Hunt has had the temerity to sell his company, HOT COURSES, for £17 million! £17 million I ask you! It’s a scandal! Except of course, it’s not.

For those in the bizarre world of leftish journalism, no, it won’t “be an embarrassment to the government.” And if it is (and let’s face it, you never quite know with this lot) it damn well ought not to be. Profit is not, and never ought to have become, a dirty word in this country. Those like Jeremy Hunt who start businesses often risk everything – their life savings, their houses. Sometimes risks work, sometimes they don’t. You never hear anything about the man or woman who risks everything to start a company which then goes on to fail, leaving them destitute.

No, what we hear is criticism of people like Jeremy Hunt who have gone on to make successes of their companies, created hundreds of jobs, paid millions in NI and corporation tax and then sell up. It’s a bloody outrage. But not if you’re an idiot who writes for the Huffington Post. Here goes…

Jeremy Hunt has already received several million pounds in dividends since he set up the firm.

Written as if that’s some sort of scandal. No, that’s how the free market works, you idiot. If you’re a shareholder, you get a dividend each year. Still, profit is an alien concept to the Huffington Post, I suppose. Let’s carry on…

This windfall, greater than the £15 million originally estimated, would leave him with a greater fortune than the prime minister, chancellor and defence secretary combined. This may be politically awkward for the coalition as Labour leader Ed Miliband has sought to depict the Tories as “out of touch”. News of Hunt’s potential £17m windfall comes in the same week as a GP challenged the Health Secretary to work for free.

Oh FFS. Each week Jeremy Hunt does a shift in a different hospital. He does it to little fanfare but he does it because he reckons he learns more from those few hours than the rest of the week. But why shouldn’t he be paid just like any other cabinet minister? I despair.

To my utter shock, I now see the HuffPo piece is written by Asa Bennett, a former intern at Total Politics. I suppose he must be pandering to the HuffPo audience.

Interestingly, though, I can’t see any mention of the story on the BBC website and The Guardian, to their credit, cover it fairly factually. But people on Twitter have been in full flow all day. In any other country we’d be congratulating Jeremy Hunt for being a successful entrepreneur. But here we have too much of the tall poppy syndrome.

Andy Grice of The Independent, who should know better, described it as a “windfall”. The use of that word implies it wasn’t earned and that he isn’t really entitled to it. A lottery win is a windfall. The proceeds of the sale of a company is not. Grice goes on…

The disclosure of the business deal revived the debate over whether Mr Cameron’s “cabinet of millionaires” is out of touch with ordinary people struggling during Britain’s “cost of living crisis.”

Almost as if it had been personally written by Ed Miliband. He then goes on to quote a Labour MP I have never of called Graham Morris.

What most people want is a government that is representative of the people they are elected to serve. What we have is a cabinet of millionaires having no experience or empathy with the daily struggles of ordinary families in Britain.

Yes, like Philip Hammond, who, like Jeremy Hunt made his money by creating companies, providing employment to hundreds of people and running a profitable business. What a crime. I could go on. Actually, I will. Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison says…

How can a man of such wealth possibly understand the problems of ordinary people or the value that we place on our public services?

We could equally ask a union baron who earns a good six figure sum the same question. I doubt whether he works a shift in a hospital like Jeremy Hunt does each week.

In my view Jeremy Hunt is just the sort of person we should be encouraging to get into politics. When I first met him back in 2003 he had just been selected for Surrey NW. He was not a political animal really, and I don’t think he had been a Tory Party member for long. We were both candidates in marginal seats and would speak on the phone off and on. He retains a sort of political innocence which isn’t obvious in many other politicians and that is to his credit. But there must be days when he wakes up and wonders why he ever went down the political path.

All I can say is that today has reaffirmed that we are a very envious country which delights in slagging off those who are successful. Successful people make the profits which pay the taxes which pay for the welfare state. What a pity some on the left don’t seem to understand that. What idiots they are.

Finally, here is a piece from Sky News which hosted a discussion between my former LBC colleague James Max and someone from Left Unity called Simon Hardy. It illustrates the debate perfectly.



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ConservativeHome Diary Week 30: Whatever Happened to 'Recall'?

8 Nov 2013 at 15:05

It was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It was in the Tory manifesto. It was in the Coalition Agreement. So why has nothing been done about it? What am I talking about? Yes, the power of recall. After the expenses scandal, David Cameron and Nick Clegg made great play of the fact that constituents should have the right to ‘recall’ their MPs if they had been involved in a scandal. And yet nothing has happened. It could have been included in any number of bills that have passed through Parliament over the last three years, and yet Cameron and Clegg haven’t availed themselves of the opportunity. One MP is determined they should. His name is Zac Goldmsith, and he is not to be underestimated. This week he launched an e-Petition which has already got 1,200 signatures in a couple of days. I am all in favour of recall, but it must be done in a way which will thwart vexatious constituents. I’d say there needs to be a minimum of 35 per cent or 30 per cent of them who would have to sign a petition before recall could be effected.

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of chairing the Tonbridge & Malling Open Primary. I’ve written about it in detail on my blog but it seems to me that these kind of selections are the way forward. It showcases the local Tories to their local media and constituents ,and I have yet to hear of any constituency which has felt that opposition voters have flooded the meeting and affected the selection. There are still those who say, ah, but what’s the point of joining the Conservative Party if I can’t have an exclusive right to select a candidate? There’s an easy answer to that question. Is there a single Tory Party member who joins the party for that reason? And if there is, surely they’ve joined for the wrong reason. Surely people join the party because they share Conservative values? Of course, in reality, these selections are not open primaries at all, they are open selections or caucuses, but people shouldn’t get hung up on the terminology.

There was one question from the audience which made me feel slightly uncomfortable at the Tonbridge selection, and it concerned religion. Each candidate was asked if they had any religious beliefs. Now on the face of it you could say that people are entitled to know about a candidate’s religious beliefs, but if you are not allowed to ask a candidate about their sexuality, why should you be able to test their religious convictions? I had half a mind to rule it out of order, but in the end didn’t. I don’t see religious convictions being at all relevant to a candidate’s ability to be a good MP, but I am sure many readers of this site will disagree.

I enjoyed chairing the selection much more than I ever expected to. “Why on earth did I agree to do this?” was a thought which ran through my mind quite often during the few days prior to last Saturday. I decided that I was going to make it fun, and encourage the audience to have a good time. It was a slightly risky approach because these events are all about the candidates and not the moderator. And if you are successful in introducing humour into the proceedings you risk it being too much about you. But I think it worked, because the candidates felt able to spark off me, and that was what I wanted – to allow them to demonstrate what kind of characters they were. I didn’t really ask very political questions. I left that to the audience. One man in the audience asked each candidate what they thought of the Tonbridge & Malling cycling strategy. “I’m delighted there is one!” came the answer from one candidate, who got a roar of approval from an audience which would not have been very receptive to any fannying around. In the end, we had four candidates each of whom I am sure will grace the green benches after the next election. Tom Tugendhat won after three ballots, but the others did themselves proud too.


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Book Review: Piers Morgan's Diaries: Shooting Straight

6 Nov 2013 at 13:39

I’ve never quite understood why so many people appear to hate Piers Morgan. I like him. I find him funny, witty, entertaining and, yes, often thoroughly irritating. People write about him as if he is somehow thick and has got to where he has purely by luck and good fortune. It’s bizarre that people don’t seem to understand that you don’t get to where he has if you are devoid of talent. Yes, he has had Rupert Murdoch, and latterly Simon Cowell, to guide and help him, but the ability has to be there if you are to rise to the top.

Piers became editor of the News of the World at 28 and then moved to edit the Mirror. He still doesn’t accept that the reason for his departure – the faked photos, were ever proved to be fake.

After he left the Mirror he published a set of diaries which were clearly very different to other diaries in they appeared – at least in part – to have been written retrospectively. As a connoisseur of the genre of diaries I would normally run a mile from a book like that, but I was completely gripped by it. His second volume was even better. But it was with a slight sense of impending disappointment that I approached this latest volume, as I expected it to be one big name drop. In a sense it is, but it is also so much more than that. It’s the story about a Brit conquering American and his first 18 months hosting CNN’s main talk show.

It’s a roller-coaster ride and although at times it concentrates too much on consecutive programmes and guests, you do get a real sense of Piers Morgan’’s own lack of self-confidence. Yes, you read that correctly. Piers is often seen as the world’s ultimate extrovert, yet deep down I detect an innate shyness. You might say that he keeps it well hidden, but it comes to the fore when he is covering news stories and interviews which are emotional in tone. He gets it right by never prying too far. Yes, he wants his guest to show emotion, but he doesn’t want to exploit them, and in an interviewer that is a real talent.

Let me be blunt. I think Piers Morgan is one of the great interviewers of our time. His LIFE STORIES programmes are rarely anything other than gripping, even when the celebrity he is interviewing is someone the viewer doesn’t really care much about. It’s a modern day THIS IS YOUR LIFE with added emotion. I haven’t watched much of his CNN show but from what I have seen, and from what I read, he gets the big guests and most of them want to return. It’s not because he always gives soft interviews, it’s because he’s fair but hard when he needs to be.

The second half of this book revolves around Piers Morgan’s campaign to persuade the US government to restrict guns laws. It’s a very brave campaign and although he doesn’t say it, I suspect he has put himself in some considerable personal danger. He exposes the arguments put forward by the NRA and its supporters for what they are and relates some fairly incendiary anecdotes about guests who have appeared on his show and whose arguments he destroys.

I think Piers Morgan has it in him to become a great interviewer. But I suspect he has a very short attention span and after three or four years on CNN his gaze will wander to other projects. The question is if the US will remain his main area of operation or if he will return to these shores. I suspect he will follow the path of David Frost and try to do both And good luck to him.



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Book Review: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine - Tony Benn's Last Diaries

5 Nov 2013 at 19:16

Last Thursday I went to see Tony Benn to interview him for the LBC Book Club. Because I hadn’t reached the end of his book, I hadn’t realised he had moved out of his family home on Holland Park Avenue and had moved into sheltered accommodation round the corner. The interview was all I hoped it would be and Tony was on good form although he clearly tires easily nowadays. At the end, I asked him to sign his latest diaries and two other volumes which I had got which I hadn’t had signed. I now have the full set.

An hour ago I finished A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE which takes us from 2007 to the end of 2009 when he stopped writing the diary. When I had read the last page I felt a profound sense of bereavement. I’ve read every word of all nine volumes and enjoyed them all. This book is necessarily shorter than the others as it only covers three years, but as usual is brilliantly edited by Ruth Winstone.

I said to Tony that there is a profound sense of melancholy running right throughout the book. It is much more reflective than the other volumes, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as self-obsessed it is only natural that a man heading for his ninetieth birthday looks back on his life and tries to assess his successes and failures. He tends to concentrate on the negatives quite a lot and the reader sometimes wants to shake him out of it, and get back the Tony Benn of previous volumes. He’s less angry in this volume and seems to have come to terms with the fact that his influence on political life is necessarily on the wane. But he rejoices in telling anecdotes of people who come up to him in the street and tell him ho wonderful he is and thank him for deeds done in the past. And why not. He won’t appreciate me saying it, but this book is all about personality rather than policy, and it is none the worse for it. We discover both a softer side to Tony Benn’s personality, but also a recognition that he easily takes against people. Even though he recognises it, he still can’t stop himself occasionally having a slight go at a few people, Hazel Blears and Jesse Jackson to name but two.

The book is littered with warm references to Tony’s family, who he clearly adores. His son Joshua comes across as a bit of a hero to his father, and they both clearly dote on each other. Joshua comes to his father’s technological rescue on many occasions and it’s all rather endearing. Perhaps the most overused phrase in the book is ‘bless his heart’ and it is invariably used with regard to Joshua. Hilary Benn, one of the nicest people I have ever met in politics, is clearly not in tune with his father’s politics. but Tony understands that and makes allowances. He’s clearly very proud of his son being in the cabinet and goes out of his way not to do or say anything which would embarrass him.

Perhaps the overwhelming themes that run through this book are illness, incapacity and the inevitability of death. Tony is philosophical about the prospect of death, and seems to think it is just around the corner at various points in the book. He is frustrated by his growing physical incapacity, yet refuses to allow any degree of infirmity to stop him going to to rallies, marches and his theatre evenings. At times his diary commitments leave the reader somewhat breathless and although at various times Tony writes in his diary that he needs to slow down, he never really does.

I first met Tony Benn fifteen or so years ago. He was someone I regarded in the 1970s as the most dangerous politician in Britain, and yet here we were twenty years later with us enjoying gossipy chats and him referring to me publicly as his ‘favourite Thatcherite entrepreneur’. They say politics is circular and that at some point left meets right. He and I found ourselves increasingly agreeing on areas like parliamentary sovereignty, Europe and civil liberties. That’s as far as it ever went, but I have thoroughly enjoyed our debates over the years.

There will never be another diarist like Tony Benn. He is primus inter pares of the genre. I am bereft that I will never have another of his diaries to read, but he has given me hundreds of hours of reading pleasure, and for that I thank him. It is a privilege to know him.

You can hear my half hour interview with Tony Benn on LBC 97.3 on Friday 22 November at 7.30pm.


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