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World Politics

Why I Oppose Military Action in Syria

28 Aug 2013 at 09:56

I want to explain why I think military action against Syria would be wrong and why the UK should stay out of it at all costs. I am not a natural peacenik. I believe that foreign intervention can often be justified. I supported the invasion of Iraq. I supported the invasion of Aghanistan and I supported helping the rebels in Libya. So why don’t I support any intervention in Syria, especially now that chemical weapons have now been used?

Let’s first address the issue of chemical weapons. I have never understood the argument that a death at the hands of a chemical weapon is somehow worse than at the hands of any other sort of weapon. A death is a death is a death. All deaths in military conflict are gruesome. David Cameron was rightly outraged that 350 people died in the chemical weapons attack. But wouldn’t he be equally outraged by 350 other deaths, caused by the dropping of conventional bombs? The argument for military action centres around the fact that chemical weapons have been deployed and therefore Barack Obama’s red lines have been crossed. Fair enough, but they were also crossed a year ago. Ah, says the Prime Minister, military action will act as a deterrent to them being used again. You reckon? Is that really the basis for launching missiles on Damascus – missiles which will inevitably then kill yet more innocent civilians?

The question to which I haven’t yet heard an answer is this: What is the end game? All wars or military conflicts need a final goal. In Afghanistan it was to rid the country of the Taliban. In Iraq it was to topple Saddam. In Libya it was to help the local population get rid of Gadaffi. Here the endgame is to stop further chemical weapons attacks. Everyone has made it clear that the Syrians will have to topple Assad themselves. If Obama or Cameron said their aim here was to overthrow Assad then at least there would be a valid argument to be had.

So let’s imagine we rain in a few missiles. What then? There will inevitably be calls from hawks in Washington to go further. There always are. It’s called Mission Creep. So we go further. Assad begins to weaken. What then? Ground troops? No one is seriously suggesting that now, but there will come a point when they do. And what then? I was reminded on Twitter last night of an exchange from The West Wing Series 7 Episode 12 over Kazakhstan between Matt Santos and President Bartlett…

Matt Santos: “What’s your exit strategy?”
President Bartlett: “I don’t have one.”

Do we learn nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan? Seemingly not.

Then we come to the question of legality and the UN. As usual, the UN has been as useful as a rice pudding in resolving the situation in Syria. It wrings its hands but those hands of course are tied by the attitudes of the Russians and the Chinese. Whatever the situation with chemical weapons I don’t see those two countries changing their rigid stance. It is to their shame that they remain allies of a man who is butchering his own people, but it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. But without UN sanction, it will be argued that any military strike will be illegal. I am not a lawyer and I don’t believe countries should only be able to act with UN approval, but no one can possibly argue a military strike would be in self defence. And surely that is the key issue relating to legality?

We then come to Britain’s own position. Traditionally we have seen ourselves, alongside the Americans, as the policemen of the world, even if we nowadays play the equivalent role of a PCSO. But at a time when our armed forces are being cut to the bone, can we really continue to punch above our weight? I’m not saying we should become an isolationist country. I am proud of the role our soldiers have played in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but can they really take on yet another foreign role, even one which at the moment might be very limited? Well, if you start a job you’ve got to finish it, even if it takes you down previously unexpected avenues. We got back to mission creep. I don’t for one minute think this involvement would end with a few missiles raining down on Damascus.

I am 95% sure these chemical attacks were instigated by the Assad regime. I am less sure that Assad and the people around him gave the orders. We know that Assad is not necessarily master of his own destiny and that the army has always held the whip hand. It is entirely possible that someone else gave the orders to launch this attack. That does not make it any better, and it doesn’t make the Syrian regime any less accountable, but will we ever get 100% verification that it wasn’t the rebels behind it? Because if not we are back in a WMD situation – where we are told one thing, but at some point later a rather different story emerges. For me WMD was never the only reason to topple Saddam Hussein, but that was then and this is now. If the US wants to make a case for going in and toppling Bashar Al Assad, then they should feel free to make it openly and transparently. They should not use the mask of the use of chemical weapons to hide behind.

Let’s move on to look at the rebels. They are a motley crew and even months on from the start of this civil war we know very little about them. All we seem to know is that they are in part controlled by elements of Al Qaeda. If that doesn’t give us pause for thought, what would? Moderate voices in the Middle East think we have lost our collective marbles by even considering arming the rebels. They’re not wrong. Providing humanitarian aid is one thing. Providing actual weapons is quite another, and we shouldn’t do it.

The consequences of countries like the US, Britain and France involving themselves/ourselves in a civil war in any Middle East country are incalculable. It may be going overboard to say it that makes one think of August 1914, but there are parallels to be drawn if you want to draw them. It’s the law of the unintended consequence. A perfectly reasonable action may be misinterpreted or totally misunderstood, and then BOOM! Does anyone think Iran would just sit by and do nothing? No. Nor do I.

As Professor Stefan Wolf argues at Politics.co.uk

Iraq is experiencing violence at levels similar to the height of its sectarian civil war more than five years ago, Afghanistan remains riddled with violence, and ..Libya resembles anything but a stable, secure and functioning state.

The trajectory of any intervention in Syria would arguably be worse. Assad’s regime and the Alewite community in which it is rooted perceive the current situation as a struggle for survival.

The more desperate the regime would become as a result of military intervention, the more ruthless its response will be.

Apart from the obvious danger of really widespread use of chemical weapons, further regional destabilisation would be on the cards drawing Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and possibly Israel ever deeper into a regional quagmire from which there will be no easy escape and which will be difficult to contain or roll back.

Quite. Do we really want to take that risk?

There is no public appetite in this country or America for intervention in Syria. I think the debate in Parliament will demonstrate that there are splits within our political parties, with some surprising voices being raised in opposition to military intervention. The votes will no doubt be whipped, but on a free vote I think the split in the country would be reflected in Parliament. One poll I saw showed only one in ten Americans believing there is a case for intervention. That in itself is not an argument for non-intervention. Sometimes politicians have to lead public opinion, make their case, and then be held to account for it. This is not one of them.

There is something we can do to make the situation better, and it is to increase the amount of humanitarian aid being provided to the region. More than one million children have been displaced. The camps dotted around the Syrian borders, but mainly in Jordan and Turkey, are huge and growing. They need more of the basic things people need to consume to survive. Those who have visited these camps have some very sorry tales to tell. The least we in the West can do is to ensure they are getting what they need to feed and nourish the people who have been forced out of their homeland.

Contrary to what Burke said, sometimes it is indeed best for ‘good men’ to do nothing. Sometimes you just have to let people get on with it and kill each other, no matter how horrible it might seem at the time. Human nature can be a vicious beast. Our western idea of democracy took hundreds of years to develop, yet somehow we expect Egyptians and Syrians to work it out over a few months. In the end, we can lend a helping hand but they have to get there themselves. But we have to recognise that some never will, and some don’t want to. We can’t impose it on them. Surely that is one lesson from Iraq.

This is the first time I have ever had any doubts about Britain being involved in military action. I find it a profoundly uncomfortable place to be. When I was on Any Questions on Friday, I found myself being the lost meft wing member of the panel on the issue of Syria. The other three thought we had to do something, but seemed unable to express what that something ought to involve. I am sure most of the people I generally agree with politically won’t agree with me. What I think makes very little difference to anyone, but if I remained silent it would be wrong.

I’d be interested in your views.

PS You can donate to the DEC who are coordinating humanitarian aid to the region.

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Books

Book Review: Don't Bite the Apple by Luke Bozier

26 Aug 2013 at 20:45

This is a book about sex addiction and computer hacking, and how those two things led to one man’s life imploding in front of his eyes. That man is Luke Bozier, a digital politics specialist who advised Tony Blair but then incurred the wrath of the New Labour establishment by defecting to the Tories. He made them even angrier when he set up a putative rival to Twitter with the then Conservative MP, Lousie Mensch, called Menschn. He and Mensch no longer talk.

But this is not just Luke’s story, it’s also a book that explores the whys and wherefores of sex addiction and how damaging it can be. A friend once blurted out to be that he was a sex addict and attended Sexaholics Anonymous meetings. I resisted the temptation to snigger and wondered what the definition of sex addiction actually was. Surely, I thought, it was just that some people like more sex than others. What on earth is odd about that? It appears I was wrong. This book explores how addiction to pornography can lead to a very perverted view of natural sex. Dr Michael Herkov defines sex addiction in the following terms…

Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like all addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members increases as the disorder progresses. Over time, the addict usually has to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results. For some sex addicts, behavior does not progress beyond compulsive masturbation or the extensive use of pornography or phone or computer sex services. For others, addiction can involve illegal activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation or rape. Sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders. Moreover, not all sex offenders are sex addicts. Roughly 55 percent of convicted sex offenders can be considered sex addicts. About 71 percent of child molesters are sex addicts. For many, their problems are so severe that imprisonment is the only way to ensure society’s safety against them. Society has accepted that sex offenders act not for sexual gratification, but rather out of a disturbed need for power, dominance, control or revenge, or a perverted expression of anger. More recently, however, an awareness of brain changes and brain reward associated with sexual behavior has led us to understand that there are also powerful sexual drives that motivate sex offenses.

So that’s clear then.

Luke was in New York when someone hacked into his computer and started posting naked pictures of him online, together with messages he had been sending random people setting up sex dates. He was literally stripped naked online. One of the pictures was of his erect penis. One of the emails concerned his apparent liking for looking at pictures of 16 year old girls. Other emails related to gay encounters. The prurient had a field day. Meanwhile Luke’s world had collapsed in on him. He was 3,000 miles away and being accused of being a pervert and a sub-paedophile. He did what most of us would do. Think about ending it all. He phoned his business partner Louise Mensch expecting a shoulder to cry on and her moral support. Instead, she told him she was phoning the Metropolitan Police and proceeded to drop him like a stone. (EDIT: I should say Louise Mensch disputes this version of events and says she was very supportive up until the moment she a picture of a girl on his hacked emails.)

He had to phone his partner to tell her what had happened. He was 27. His life in ruins. How do you recover from that?

I know Luke a little. Not well. We’ve met two or three times. I liked him. I still like him. When I read what had happened to him I texted him in the way that you do when people you know are in the middle of a crisis. It was a ‘if there’s anything I can do’ type of text. We ended up having a long conversation. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can offer in these situations – an ear. I’m not sure I said anything especially helpful, but he seemed to appreciate that someone cared enough to listen. I suspect it was a period when he found out exactly who his real friends were.

A few months later, he sent me a draft manuscript of this book. It was hot stuff. Brutally honest, searingly anecdotal, but also hugely well researched. Luke wanted to know what I thought of it – did it work as a book? It certainly did, although I could foresee a few legal problems on the horizon. My heart wanted to publish it, but my head told me that a firm like mine couldn’t possibly do it justice. We publish politics, not books about sex. Well, usually. I mentioned it to a couple of colleagues without showing them the manuscript but they were so dead against it, I didn’t pursue it any further. Now I wish I had. Luke was very happy to self-publish it and that’s what he has done, both as a paperback and as an eBook. And I am glad he did.

There’s a rawness to this book that sometimes causes the reader to wince out loud, if you know what I mean. There are also, if most readers are honest with themselves, a few ‘yup, that could be me’ moments. It’s an uncomfortable read at times, and there are other times when you want to give the author a slap and say ‘how could you be so stupid’, or ‘how did you think no one would ever find out?’ But that’s the thing about sex addiction – it’s that element of danger, the feeling that you’re living on the edge, that provides part of the thrill. Not, er, that I would know, naturally!

’Don’t Bite the Apple’ is available in paperback at £7.99 and as an eBook at £4.11

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 19: The Perils of Appearing on 'Any Questions'

23 Aug 2013 at 16:38

Tonight I’ll be on Radio 4’s Any Questions. It’s the fourth time I’ll have appeared on the programme, so you’d think I would be used to it, but not a bit of it. It’s one of those programmes where there’s a tremendous opportunity to make a complete idiot of yourself. I have a real fear of opening my mouth and nothing coming out. It’s never happened yet, but you never know. It’s a politician free zone tonight with my fellow guests being an economist, a scientist and the head of the National Farmers Union. I guess I am the light relief!
People always ask if we have any clue as to what the questions are going to be, but no matter how many times I protest that the first time we hear the question is when we are on air, people give you a knowing look. In fact, of the six or seven questions asked, if you have half a brain you can normally guess the subject area of three or four of them due to the week’’ news. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out there will almost certainly be a question on the detention of David Miranda, and also on the fracking protests. But there’s always a googly that they like to throw at you – something so unexpected that provokes a reaction similar to that of a gulping goldfish. Each panelist is desperate to come out with the answer that makes the audience laugh loudest but you have only a split second to formulate your hopefully incisive and witty answer. It’s that question we all dread the most.
**********
The stupidity of the fracking protesters in Balcombe knows no bounds. The usual professional green activists, who we no doubt fund through the benefits system, have gathered at a site where no fracking is taking place, nor is it likely to. These are the same people who no doubt pitched their tents at Greenham Common, supported Swampy and have hitched their skirts to the great global warming swindle. If they think fracking is so terrible, why haven’t they protested at the hundreds of other sites in the country where it has been going on for years? I’ll tell you why. Because they don’t give a damn about fracking. All they care about is rebelling against society and attaching them to the latest leftist-green cause. They’re the true watermelons- green on the outside, red on the inside. And Caroline Lucas is the perfect exemplification of this. I’m all in favour of people’s right to protest, but at least have the decency to have the vaguest idea what you’re protesting about.
**********

The resignation of UKIP’s chief executive after only eight months in the job tells us a lot. It got a lot of media coverage, which shows how far UKIP has come. If this had happened a year ago it would have barely merited a line in the Telegraph. But it also tells us UKIP is still a ragtag and bobtail pressure group of well-intentioned and enthusiastic amateurs. There’s a lot to be said for harnessing a revolutionary spirit and appearing slightly disporganised, and you can get away with it when you are recording a couple of per centage points in the polls. But when you’re in double figures people’s expectations change. I like Nigel Farage and admire him, but he continues to treat UKIP as his personal, private property and despite protesting that he has let go the control he has traditionally exerted, you get the feeling that he protesteth too much. UKIP’s biggest problem has always been that it is nothing with out Farage, but if he is to show true leadership he has got to allow other people to get on the with the job. If, as is rumoured, Neil Hamilton, takes over as chief executive, he’ll need to assert himself very vigorously right from the start. I don’t envy him, or anyone else, the job.
***********
Talking of UKIP I have been looking through their MEP candidates. The challenge for UKIP MEPs is to actually last the course of a parliament without being put in prison or defecting. So far, 20-30% of their MEPs seem to do one or the other. There is quite a bit of scrapping going on following the publication of the shortlists and now those on the lists are at the mercy of the UKIP membership who will cast their vote so there’s lots of grievous self-promotion going on. What are we to make of the fact that rent-a-gob Jon Gaunt didn’t even make it onto the shortlist, or indeed outspoken columnist James Delingpole? But it is those who make it that bear a bit of scrutiny. Many are scratching their heads as to how Tory Europhile turncoat Janice Atkinson (nee Small) is seen as the third most competent MEP candidate behind Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. She spent years working for Tim Yeo and was always seen as on the dripping wet side of the Tory Party, and yet here she is, a dead cert to become a UKIP MEP. It’s a funny old world. She is two places above Easteligh by-election candidate Diane James, widely considered to be the best candidate UKIP has ever put forward.

In London, current incumbent Gerard Batten is placed second on the shortlist behind Paul Oakley – Oakley is a former chairman of the London Young Conservatives. Batten will not be happy. Daily Express political commentator Paddy O’Flynn is top of the Eastern shortlist and many believe rightly so. The man who helped mastermind the paper’s ‘UK out of the EU’ campaign is a solid and decent bloke and would do UKIP proud. Michael Heaver, a 23 year old, also makes it onto the Eastern shortlist in fourth place. The feeling is he should be placed higher as he is exactly what the party needs – a young, fresh face, who is informed, intelligent and does very well with his radio and TV appearances. The membership would be foolish not to back this lad.

Finally, will UKIP get a MEP in Scotland? In 2009 they got around 5% of the vote, to get an MEP in 2014 they need 10%. The Tory vote is in a political coma in Scotland. Ccould UKIP benefit in the year of the Scottish independence referendum? The party is opposed to independence. Top of the Scotland shortlist is the inimitable David Coburn. A born and bred Scot, gay, and with the ability to give very good media and public speaking performances, He is the best hope UKIP have of getting a MEP in Scotland, though will Farage’s recent troubles north of Hadrian’s Wall provide him with a handicap?

It’s now up to the membership to cast their votes. Closing date is the day before the start of UKIP’s Autumn Conference. The stringent assessment programme has meant some good characters have made the shortlists, but will the talent be enough to give a UKIP victory in the European Elections?


On Wednesday night I went onto the Broadland District Council website to order a garden waste wheelie bin. Unbelievably, there didn’t seem to be a way to do it online so I emailed them to ask how I could do it. I then got an autoreply which said they would do their best to reply within ten working days – ie. Two weeks. Well, thanks a lot for that. If I answered emails after two weeks, my company would go down the pan. What gives local councils the idea they can treat their customers with such contempt? I expressed my displeasure on Twitter, and to be fair, they responded by tweeting that they are reviewing their ‘auto-replies’. Well at least I have achieved something. Still haven’t got an answer on the bin, though.

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Daily Politics, October 2007

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 18: My Perky Buttocks & Why I Won't Be Voting For Dan Hannan

16 Aug 2013 at 19:41

I’m afraid Dan Hannan will have to do without my vote in next year’s Euro-elections. I can’t and won’t vote for a list that has Marta Andreasen on it. She’s not a Conservative, never has been and never will be. I’m not even sure that she is eligible to stand. Has she really got a proper UK residence? I shall be looking at her nomination paper very closely. Having said that, she’s not alone in being a Conservative MEP without being a conservative, is she? The whole selection system for MEPs is so corrupt as to be totally appropriate for a banana republic. If the selection systems for selecting local government candidates have been reformed to make them more democratic, why has the Conservative Party insisted on sticking with this outrageous system which guarantees the incumbents have a job for life if they want it? He may be a nice guy, but didn’t Tim Kirkhope outlive his natural usefulness quite a few years ago? And yet he tops the Yorkshire list. In case you think I am going over to the dark side in these elections, I’m not – well, not unless I get a sniff that David Cameron doesn’t really mean it on his referendum promise. I will instead cast my vote in East Anglia and vote for the very hard-working and delightful Vicky Ford, even though I could sorely be tempted to vote for my friend Patrick O’Flynn who heads the UKIP list in the region. If I ever had any temptation to do that, I just have to look at the names below him to know that way lies madness.


One story I forgot to mention last week from my phone-in with Eric Pickles is that I can now explain his desperate desire to cultivate the petrolhead vote. It is he, after all, who is behind the moves to allow us all to park on double yellow lines. And all power to his considerable elbow. I can now reveal that Mr P has a secret desire to appear on TOP GEAR and be the star in a reasonably priced car. Surely an invitation from Jeremy Clarkson and his lads can only be a matter of weeks away?


Being egged is almost a rite of passage for most politicians. But it was particularly bad luck for it to happen to Ed Miliband on his first day back following his three week Scarlet Pimpernelish disappearing act. You could call it an Omniscrambles. My egging initiation came nearly 20 years ago when I was chairing a speaker meeting at the then very left-wing University of East Anglia (or University of Easy Access, as it was known). I was chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students at UEA at the time, and no, I never wore (nor even knew one existed) a Hang Nelson Mandela T-Shirt). Cecil Parkinson was the guest speaker. It was only a year after the Sara Keays affair and his resignation from the cabinet. His wife Ann and local Tory MP John Powley were on the platform with me, facing an audience of 900 students. The lecture theatre was packed to overflowing. Anyway, Cecil started giving a rather dull but worthy speech on trade. After about ten minutes, I could tell out of the corner of my eye trouble was brewing. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a couple of well-known Trots making signals to each other, then the eggs starting raining in. Splat. One hit my me. Damn. My only suit was ruined. Then another. Then a couple hit Ann. All in all a dozen or so eggs were thrown before our security contingent (commonly known as the Rugby Club First Eleven) intervened. All I remember hearing was Cecil shouting “Which of you dirty, lefty rats threw that at my wife?” Calmness was eventually restored and it was only when Cecil resumed his speech that I realised he had escaped scot-free. Not a single egg had hit him. He was as Teflon as his hair. Lefties never were very good at hitting targets.


The whole row over who was to blame for the fact that the Tories and LibDems trousered £520,000 of a widow’s request to the nation was nothing if not unseemly. It fed the conspiracy theory-like brains of those who want to believe that all politicians are on the take. But I reckon it was more cock-up than conspiracy. Michael Crick suggested that it all happened because her solicitors didn’t appear to know that the Treasury Solicitors are not in fact the Treasury’s solicitors. And on such lack of knowledge is a Daily Mail front page based. Good August story, though.


OK, 500 words written, 500 to go. Tell you what, writing a political diary column in August is bloody difficult. Consider yourselves privileged that I don’t do a Kevin Maguire and just bugger off for the whole of August.


Having learned more than I ever needed to about Andrew Pierce’s follically-challenged head, in Saturday’s Daily Mail he regaled us with tales of how he injects botox into his armpits to stop him sweating so profusely. Can you imagine if any politician had written about such things? Piercey would have spent his entire column ridiculing them. Did I ever tell you about the time I felt my buttocks needed to be a bit perkier? No? Well…. [enough, Ed].


I would like to apologise for the lack of innuendo and double-entendres in last week’s column, which was remarked upon by a valued reader called ExToryAgent. You want a double-entrendre? OK, I’ll give you one. The old ones are the best, eh?


I would also like to apologise to those of you who feel unable to leave a comment when I don’t mention gay marriage in a column. There. Happy now?


This is the time of year when I start turning my head to preparing to compile the Daily Telegraph’s Top 100 People on the Right list, which is published during the party conference each year. This will be its sixth year and inclusion in it has become highly prized, particularly by greasy young men on the up. They will shamelessly say to me: “I think I should be included in your list”. Er, OK. Thanks for the advice, but I think I and my panel will be the judge of that! I keep trying to think of a cutting response to such pleas, but I usually just respond with an enigmatic “Do you? I’ll bear that in mind.” Drawing up these lists is an easy way to make new friends and lose existing ones. There’s one MP, who had better remain nameless, who is always a candidate for relegation but I always save at the last minute. Frankly I just couldn’t bear the shrieks of anguish if he were allowed to drop out completely. This year, though, even I doubt I’ll be able to save him.

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Sport

Join my Fantasy Football League!

11 Aug 2013 at 18:39

Each year, I run a Fantasy Football League. Hundreds of people take part each season. Today I am launching next season’s league and inviting you to take part and submit a team.

Click here. When you’ve registered your details, follow the instructions to select your team.

When you’ve done that you need to join the Iain Dale League by typing this code 1430837-322040 into the relevant box. You need to register before the season starts on 17 August.

If you took part last year, all you need to do is pick your team. Your team will have automatically been entered.

I’ve chosen the following 15 players in my team – Mignolet, Adrian, Rat, Cahill, Clyne, Assou-Ekotto, Rio, Ramsey, Jarvis, Bellamy, Walcott, Paulinho, Sturride, Van Persie, Dzeko

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Random Thoughts

Attitude Column: Are You Born Gay Or Is It a 'Lifestyle Choice?'

10 Aug 2013 at 18:24

This is my first regular monthly column for ATTITUDE MAGAZINE, Britain’s leading gay lifestyle magazine, which appeared in the August issue. Seeing as it’s been out a few weeks now I thought I’d give it a wider audience.

I’ve always known I was gay. Well, when I say always, I mean I knew I was different to other boys almost from the age of 7 or 8. I have absolutely no doubt that I was born gay, yet I find it bizarre that some find that difficult to accept. There are still misguided souls who believe that people choose to be gay.

Well, perhaps we gayers play up to that a little nowadays. After all, legend has it we have the best music, we’re better looking (I exclude myself!), we have the best fashion and we have better skin (I don’t exclude myself from that one). But it wasn’t always like that.

People who believe we all choose to be gay should think back to when I was growing up in the 1970s. Homosexuality wasn’t illegal, but it might as well have been. Being raised in a small village in Essex meant conformity to a relatively conservative rural lifestyle. I loved my childhood and wouldn’t change it for a minute, but it did mean hiding a part of who I was, even from those closest to me. To have come out would have been unthinkable.

To most people homosexuality came in the form of John Inman and Larry Grayson. It meant camp cries of ‘shut that door’ or ‘I’m free’. It meant furtive fumbles in public toilets. In short, it was seen as a perversion, which few were willing to even try to understand or empathise with. Why anyone would have chosen to be a homosexual in those days is anyone’s guess.

Today it is very different. In some ways, it’s cool to be gay, so for some of our more bigoted members of society, you can sort of understand why they really believe it is a lifestyle choice. Believe me, I am very comfortable in my own skin, as I am sure most Attitude readers are. Were I now given the choice of being straight, I wouldn’t take it. But I suspect most of us, if we really examined ourselves deeply, might have given a different answer at the age of fifteen.

Because life is undeniably easier if you’re straight.

In some jobs being gay is still a big no-no. Gay people still suffer from discrimination, especially outside metropolitan areas. Being gay in some religions can lead to ex-communication and total exclusion from one’s family. From a personal viewpoint, I have absolutely no doubt I would now be a Member of Parliament were it not for the fact that I was/am gay, and didn’t mind who knew it.

On my LBC show I had a caller recently who told me she detested the ‘gay act’ and it was terrible that people should choose this lifestyle. She clearly hadn’t got a clue, poor love, who she was talking to. So in my usual loving, caring way I gently pointed out to take it from one who knows, that being gay wasn’t a choice. You were born like it. She still didn’t click. “I knew I was gay at the age of 7”, I then said. There followed an awkward two second silence, which on the radio sounds like two minutes. Whether I provoked her to examine her own prejudices I have no idea.

And then on Eurovision night it all started again. This time on Twitter. A fellow West Ham fan called Brian – someone who clearly believed it’s not possible to be gay and shout “Come on You Irons” every fortnight – told me that “nature, history and religion are against you. It is nurture and environment and perverse thinking.” Thanks for that. He continued: “Our minds are malleable and can be turned”. Speak for yourself, mate. And finally came this little gem: “We are all born heterosexual and get influenced to be gay in our twisted minds.” When I asked him if, as a straight man, he could be turned, strangely, I didn’t get an answer.

You may think it bizarre, but I don’t regard people like my LBC caller and Brian as homophobic. I just think they’re scared of something they have a fear of. Because they think that we’ve all chosen to become gay, they think we could persuade their kids to turn gay too. You might think it’s laughable, and it is, but it’s up to us to show that being gay is nothing for them to fear. As the brilliant E4 sitcom says – it’s the ‘New Normal’.

Next month in Attitude: Is there really any such thing as bisexuality?

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Lynda Bellingham

Lynda Bellingham talks about her new book 'Tell Me Tomorrow', surviving cancer and adoption.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 17: Why I Like Polly Toynbee

10 Aug 2013 at 09:49

If you were drawing up a list of the 20 nicest MPs, Labour’s Alan Johnson would get more than his fair share of nominations. He is a formidable politician who surely still has a future in front line politics. But last Friday, when I was interviewing him about his new book, This Boy, he categorically ruled out a tilt at securing Labour’s nomination for next London mayor. I am sure I heard Sadiq Khan exhale a sigh of relief. But the question remains: will Ed Miliband will offer him a seat on Labour’s front bench in his coming reshuffle? Miliband is said to want to rid himself of people associated with the past and doesn’t want to bring back Johnson or Alistair Darling. He’s deluding himself if he thinks a shadow cabinet of thirty-somethings is going to cut the mustard with an electorate which is tiring of youth-obsessed politics. Perhaps he should bring back Gordon Brown. After all, Ed Balls insists that he saved us. Anyway, back to Johnson. His book is superb, and tells the story of his poverty stricken childhood in 1950s Notting Hill. His sister, who brought him up from the age of 13 after his mum died emerges as the true heroine of the book. It’s been a surprising bestseller and, on the strength of it, he is planning to pen two further volumes before he gets to writing about his political career. You can listen to the interview here.


A month on from Tom Watson resigning as Labour’s campaign coordinator…and there is still no white smoke emanating from Labour HQ telling us who his successor will be. Wee Dougie Alexander was originally touted as a possible replacement among a few MPs, but faced a backlash as a famous three times loser (Euros 2009, General 2010, David Miliband campaign 2010). Also, Jim Murphy and Michael Dugher have been promoted by some. However, after the overseas hires of Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina by the Tories, Labour are desperately looking for their own person from the Obama team. I’ve heard Marlon Marshall’s name a few times. He was Deputy National Field Director for Obama. I’m told he came to London a few months ago and had a few private meetings with staffers in Parliament and Labour HQ, and think tanks. Make of that what you will.


Godfrey Bloom, the outspoken UKIP MEP, says his main job in life is to drive the BBC and the Guardian to distraction. Well, he should certainly get a bonus for his comments this week on “Bongo Bongo Land”. Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley waded in and said that he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and why people might be offended, but perhaps Bloom’s remarks were ill-judged. I think that’s called having your cake and eating it.


Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to dislike Polly Toynbee. Whenever I interview her, I think to myself “right, this time I’m going to monster her”, and then she completely disarms me, not just by being nice, but because sometimes, just sometimes, she does have a good argument. And so it was on Wednesday. “Afternoon Polly”, I started. “Hello Iain, can I just say, I’ve always wanted to be on your programme”. Well, how can you be nasty to someone after that?! I was talking to her about her column on misogyny and while I gave as good as I got in terms of arguing that misandry in our society was almost as prevalent as misogyny, I just couldn’t bring out my inner Paxman, which, believe it or not, does rear its ugly head from time to time, as the Labour MP Barry Gardiner will testify to. The truth of it is, I like Polly Toynbee despite the fact that I barely agree with a single word she writes. I don’t know what it is about lefty women like Polly, Yasmin or Zoe Williams. I clearly have a weakness for them.


I did an hour long phone-in with Eric Pickles the other night. Reading between the lines, it’s clear he is no big fan of these immigration vans that have been touring six London boroughs urging illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest. He said it was a trial and he would “take a lot of convincing” before the trial was rolled out nationwide. You can listen to his remarks here. It’s interesting that Crosby isn’t a fan of the vans either, according to the Sunday Times. No one will argue that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be deported, but it isn’t just people from ethnic minorities who felt that the vans were just plain offensive. In my experience, people who come to this country legally are the first to want to pull up the drawbridge to those who try to come here illegally, and rightly so. But these vans are just not British.


The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore is never one to ignore an opportunity to have a go at men, so on the back of Polly’s article on misogyny she has written an article titled Ten rules for managing your penis. Some of us are quite capable of thinking for ourselves on that issue. Just imagine the outcry if I had written a blog entitled “The rules for managing your vagina”. Just think about it. We’re getting to a situation where men can barely speak about women for fear of being told we are women-hating bastards. If the great cause of feminism is to hound a reputable CPS prosecutor out of his job because of some ill-judged remarks in a case whose details none of us can know the full details of, then I venture to suggest that feminism has won the day and the feminist movement can quietly abolish itself. Ah, they say, but what about all these vicious internet trolls who abuse women. Yes, they do. And they abuse men too. I know. I’m one of the abused. As the comment thread on this site will no doubt prove!

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Amanda Prowse

Amanda Prowse talks about her new novel A LITTLE LOVE

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Interview

LISTEN AGAIN: Alan Johnson Talks About His Childhood

5 Aug 2013 at 15:03

On Friday I interviewed former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson about his book, THIS BOY, which covers his somewhat unusual childhood. What a thoroughly nice guy, and what a fascinating story.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Michael Fassio

Michael Fassio talks about his book DEMENTIA & MUM: WHO REALLY CARES?

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Random Thoughts

A Weekend in Norfolk

4 Aug 2013 at 14:50

As a child I used to love mucking around in the garden. I had my own vegetable patch and loved to help my mother pottering around in her green house. But once I entered my teenage years, any affinity to gardening went out of the window. But last week something peculiar happened. I went to Taverham Nursery and had an absolute ball. In fact I went mad and bought so many plants my partner doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

Our new house has got a beautiful garden. It was the pride and joy of the lady we bought it from. It’s not manicured, but it has so much variety, including its own greenhouse and vegetable patch. Normally I restrict my gardening duties to the occasional mow of the lawn, but for some reason I think I am about to rediscover my green fingers. Perhaps it’s the final sign of middle age, but even when I was deputed to clean out the drain on the patio last Sunday I didn’t find myself trying to find an excuse not to do it.

Anyway, back to Taverham Nursery. I really was like a child in a sweetshop and almost had to be physically restrained from buying even more. We are now the proud owners of rhubarb plants, a gooseberry bush and blackberry bush, as well as lots of lavendery planty things. Luckily I was pulled away from the flowers section otherwise we’d have had to plant the lawns.

Also last weekend I took my Jack Russell, Dude, to the Worstead festival. It was the first time I had been in nine years. To be honest I was a little nervous as he is not used to crowds, and I was afraid he might disgrace himself at the least opportune moment. But I shouldn’t have worried. Dude is the sort of dog that thinks everyone is his new friend. He hasn’t got an ounce of aggression in him, which is unusual for a Jack Russell. And he loves children. Unfortunately, sometimes children recoil in horror as he bounds up to them wanting to lick them. But he was on his best behaviour although it was a little embarrassing to be asked to leave the food tent by a very polite gentleman who told us that dogs weren’t allowed. My friend Sarah Pettegree, who runs Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies (highly recommended) tells me that this rule was then subsequently relaxed. Good.

The next day we attended the Lammas annual church barbeque. It was a delightful lunchtime event in the garden of one of our neighbours, right next to the burbling River Bure. Bearing in mind that Lammas has a population of not much more than 120, there were over 100 attendees who enjoyed the lunchtime sun, food and company. It was a good way to meet the village all in one go. It was the sort of event that makes you think ‘yup, we’ve done the right thing moving here’.

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Video: Iain is Interviewed by Student Sports Journalist Tommy Wathen

The interview covers Iain's career in politics and broadcasting, and all things West Ham.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 16: How Big Is Wee Dougie's Sword

2 Aug 2013 at 14:03

It’s interesting that Lynton Crosby is being blamed for virtually everything the government does now – good or bad. This is a good thing. It means that it’s clear that he frightens the living daylights out of the opposition. The latest manifestation of this phenomenon is these billboard vans that are driving round London warning illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest. Personally, I think they are a disgrace, and something Dr Goebbels would approve of, but that’s by the by. Labour blame them on Crosby. It’s highly unlikely he had anything to do with them, but the fact that Labour thinks he did reveals a lot. Last week John McTernan warned Labour that they were wasting energy attacking Crosby. He recommended that instead of attacking him, they should get their own version of him. He asked the very pertinent question: “How do you fight a man with a twelve foot sword? Don’t start with a six foot sword.” It’s unclear whether Wee Dougie Alexander possesses even a three foot sword. But then they say it’s not size that counts.


A friend of mine went to a wedding in Lausanne at the weekend and while she was there had her handbag stolen. The thief thoughtfully left behind her passport, but it’s not the sort of thing you expect to happen in Switzerland, is it? The Swiss police were very helpful and told her it would undoubtedly make the front page of the local paper. ‘Why on earth would they put it on the front page?’ she queried. ‘Because it was the only reported crime in Lausanne that week…’ she was told. Just like home then.


It never rains but it pours. The former Labour MP Denis MacShane, who is up before the beak in a few weeks over expenses charges, got home to his flat in Pimlico earlier this week to find that a careless driver had knocked a wing mirror off his car. But much to his surprise the culprit had kindly left a note with his number on it. MacShane was even more surprised to find out the miscreant’s identity when he called the number the next morning. It was none other than the serial Conservative rebel, Peter Bone MP! Sadly I was unable to find out if Mrs Bone was driving…


Can it be long before China becomes a member of the G8? I suppose then it becomes the G9. In the next few months the Chinese economy will overtake the US in terms of the size of its economy. By 2020 it will be $23 trillion, compared to the US’s £15 billion. China’s economy is 17 times bigger than it was in 1960, but its growth is dwarfed by Thailand’s, whose economy is 22 times bigger than it was in 1960. I wonder if in 2030 Britain will still make it into the G20, let alone the G8.


The High Court has ruled that Jeremy Hunt doesn’t have the power to close the A & E and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital. Well, if he doesn’t, who has?! He is, after all, the Health Secretary. Perhaps this is what politicians mean by taking politics out of NHS. Let’s let judges manage it instead, shall we?


Last week, I took delivery of the manuscript of Damian McBride’s new book, Power Trip. For those who don’t know, my company, Biteback Publishing, is publishing it in late September. I have rarely encountered such high expectations for any book in living memory, with the possible exception of the latest exploits of Harry Potter. “Oh, it’s a shoo in for political book of the year” says one journalist.” Well, that sort of talk always makes a publisher nervous, for there is always a fear that the finished product might be an absolute turkey. Having now read the manuscript, my fevered brow needs no further mopping. I think everyone’s going to be rather entertained. And that’s all I can really say. Because if I tell you any more, I’ll have to shoot you. You see, if I say a single word out of line here, I could jeopardise what ought to be a major newspaper serialisation deal. We have every single paper gagging to see the book. My dilemma is, having got them all to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement, do I sent manuscripts out, or lock them in a room for two hours each. I have to say I am tempted not to do any of that, and ask them to bid blind. That way I can be certain nothing will leak. We’ll see.


Can anyone explain the point of having a Deputy Prime Minister, when that deputy prime minister is not around to deputise? For the second year in a row David Cameron and Nick Clegg are going on holiday at exactly the same time. You’d think with only 20 months of his tenure left, Clegg might want to make the most of his remaining days in power, bless his little cotton socks.


Looking through the European Parliament selection results, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that no one in their right mind bothered to apply for selection. It is a scandal that existing MEPs were more or less automatically reselected at the top of the lists. With very few exceptions, they are a very low calibre lot. But those seeking to replace them don’t inspire much enthusiasm either. Again, there are some exceptions, but is this really the best the Conservative Party can do? And I am afraid I shan’t be voting for Dan Hannan, much as it galls me to say so, as he is one of the few, bright lights among these monochrome candidates. I can’t possibly vote Conservative in a region which has the reprehensible Marta Andreasen on its list. I find it astonishing that she is fourth on the list in the South East. Frankly, I’d rather support Nigel Farage. But I won’t. Luckily I now have another alternative and am registered to vote in Norfolk, so it will be Vicky Ford who will get my vote. I think.


Andrew Kennedy is Tory agent for Tonbridge & Malling, Tunbridge Wells and Chatham & Aylesford. His blog on the life of a Conservative agent has become compelling reading. This week he has treated us to his Top 5 Things Which Should Never Happen to an Agent. As it’s summer and I have got bugger all else to write about, here they are in full.

Taking Dennis Thatcher back to the railway station after he addressed a fund raising dinner:
“What the f**k is that?”
“It’s my car Mr Thatcher.”
YOUR car? What the hell is it?”
“It’s a Citroën 2CV Mr Thatcher.”
“Oh! French. That explains it. How far is it to walk?”

At a Kent fundraiser for marginal seats
“Who’s the old duffer talking to Charles Gadd.” Lady sitting at my table: “That’s my husband.”

To an unknown lady who walked into my office, three days before polling day…
“I am sorry, would you mind seeing my Secretary. I am stressed, irritable, physically and emotionally drained, I haven’t slept or eaten for two days, I am hot, every bone in my body aches, I have run out of fags, I’ve got over 20 phone messages to deal with, and if that’s not bad enough, in 30 minutes Angela Rumbold will be turning up and I haven’t a clue who she is or what I am going to do with her.”
Unknown lady: Well, that’s an unusual greeting for a visiting Minister. I’m Angela Rumbold.

At Party Conference in Birmingham and answering a call on my mobile from a friend in Hampshire:
“Andrew, stop it immediately.”
“What do you mean…?”
“You’re standing three feet away from Andrew Neil who is doing a piece live to camera, and the world can see you behind him, scratching your…”

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Is Made to Cry by Sue in Twickenham

During a discussion about living with an alcoholic, Iain is moved to tears by a caller. The call lasted more than 20 minutes - very unusual in talk radio.

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