Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 36: Good Year? Bad Year?

20 Dec 2013 at 14:46

I hate the Daily Mirror. Always have. Always will. It employs people who laughingly call themselves journalists but effectively just contribute to a Labour propaganda sheet. And their editor is no better. I hadn’t heard of him until Wednesday evening. His name is Lloyd Embley. He’s the one who constantly calls Cameron a public school toff in his rag of a paper. Mr Embley, it turns out, was educated at top public school, Malvern. Obviously a man of the people himself, and totally in touch with his working class readers. Maybe that’s why the Mirror’s circulation is falling like a stone. I found myself in a Twitter spat with Mr Embley over their front page on Thursday which had a picture of IDS leaving the front bench during a Commons debate on food banks. I had a fairly loud row with Jacqui Smith on the Sky paper review about it, when she said it showed IDS didn’t care about the poor. I am afraid I saw the red mist and let her have it in no uncertain terms. If any Tory politician cares about the plight of the poor it is IDS, as he amply proved in the years following his leadership when he set up the Centre for Social Justice. But back to the Mirror. Why on earth would they have a front page seeking to diminish IDS in the eyes of their readers when a serial paedophile had just been sentenced to 35 years in jail? Strange priorities.
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Talking of left wing rags, I had to laugh at The Guardian’s front page yesterday. It had a story on the sharp fall in unemployment, but in typical Guardian fashion, far from giving these statistics an unequivocal welcome it sought to pick out the one possible negative result of falling unemployment – a possible future rise in interest rates. I suppose no one should be surprised. Of course, they are right in the sense that any rise in interest rates will have a negative effect on anyone with a mortgage. But for people with savings an interest rise will be very welcome indeed, after several years where deposit accounts have been made almost redundant. Indeed, I am told that some current accounts now offer higher rates of interest than deposit accounts. That way lies madness.
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I see ConservativeHome is running its usual end of year awards. It’s been an odd year in politics in some ways. For Ed Miliband it’s been a very up and down, then up and now down year. For Nick Clegg it’s been a year of treading water without quite sinking below the surface and for David Cameron it’s been a year that he ends in as good a position in the polls as he could have expected. For the Tories in general it is a year in which Plan A finally seems to have brought about some positive economic results. So the overall Tory winner of 2013 may be George Osborne. The Chancellor is a little like Ed Miliband in that his political fortunes swing from one extreme to another, often for no apparent reason. 2014 will be a crucial year for him in determining whether he is a serious candidate to succeed David Cameron when the time comes.
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If you appoint a paid up member of the establishment to chair a commission on airport capacity don’t be surprised if he comes up with a classic establishment fudge. I am of course talking about Sir Howard Davies, a man who has slithered up the greasy pole of public life and left little trace. His solution to the ‘Boris Island’ problem was not to include it on the shortlist of possible new runway sites, but not to exclude it either. He needs to think about it further. Presumably while sitting in the long grass. He’s had a year. How much deep thought does it need? The only reason ‘Boris Island’ wasn’t excluded from the shortlist altogether was because Sir Howard knew that it would provoke Boris to launch a judicial review of the decision. Sadly Boris doesn’t seem able to comprehend that his project is a dead duck. Unless of course he becomes Prime Minister…
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As the year comes to a close we all start asking ourselves if it’s been a good year or a bad year. I suppose my personal highlight has been the growth of my radio career and being asked to present the LBC Drivetime show. It’s very rare that anyone gets to do what they feel they were put on this earth to do. I know now that I am a far better radio presenter than I ever would have been a politician. Perhaps the good citizens of Bracknell had a narrow escape. I know I’d have loved the constituency side but I now think I’d have been frustrated by what goes on in Parliament.
I hesitate to describe it as a highlight of the year, but the most memorable programme for me this year was where the news of the Woolwich murders broke just before I went on air. It is moments like this where as a presenter you either sink or swim. Bear in mind I have no broadcasting or journalistic training, I will tell you that I was as nervous as a kitten. A minute before I had to utter my first word, I had no idea what I was going to say. But when that red light goes on, the adrenaline kicks in and off you go. I was told that the BBC held some sort of inquiry later questioning why their coverage was so lacklustre and ours was so on the ball. I was proud of what we did that day – four hours of informative breaking news, without, I hope ever becoming sensationalist. As for my worst moment of the year, well, I think we can all guess what that was – what is now referred to as the ‘incident in Brighton’. It’s a weird feeling – and not a nice one – that that scene is what most people will remember me for. If they remember me at all.
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Iain talks to Julie in Basildon about bad parenting

An emotional call.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 35: Snogging Jacqui Smith & Other Stories

13 Dec 2013 at 15:16

Can anyone explain what our revered Deputy Prime Minister was doing at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Tuesday? No, me neither. I thought his job was, er, to deputise and run the country in the Prime Minister’s absence. He said he had never met Nelson Mandela so quite why he thought his attendance was necessary is anyone’s guess. Mind you, I’d love to have been earwigging his conversation with Bill Clinton. I can imagine Clinton thinking to himself “Who the hell is this guy. Security!”. Perhaps the saddest sight was seeing Tony Blair sitting on his own with no one talk to. Something which cannot be said of the pushy Danish PM Mrs Helle Kinnock. I cannot imagine Birgitte Nyborg taking a selfie…
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David Cameron has put on a bit of weight, hasn’t he? By way of contrast, having lost a stone in the last month I am but a mere shadow of my former self. Weight gain for politicians goes with the territory in some ways and it’s possibly yet another reason why I didn’t succeed in my political ambitions. I’ve always had a tendency to be a fat bastard, but the lifestyle of an MP would have probably meant I’d be 19 or 20 stone by now – the British equivalent of Governor Chris Christie.
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It comes to something when the head of a state broadcaster tries to intimidate an elected politician into silence. No, I am not talking about what is happening in Ukraine, I’m talking about BBC chair Chris Patten’s warning to Tory MP Rob Wilson that he might be sued if he makes public a recording of the head of the Pollard Review in which he apparently undermines the conclusions of his own report. Wilson should publish and be damned. There would be many people who would contribute to a legal fighting fund if it ever came to it. Invariably those who issue libel threats are trying to bully people into submission, and they very rarely amount to anything. Do it, Rob. Just do it.


In a naked bit of plugging one of my books, can I recommend an ideal Christmas present for the discerning Thatcherite? In May I published a collection of more than 200 MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER. It’s a doorstop of a book, running to more than 500 pages and Amazon have it on sale for £22.50. But you can get it from Biteback for £15. There, Christmas sorted for you. It’s a particularly good present for a Socialist mother-in-law.
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I’d love to shake the hand of the person who thought Norman Tebbit’s birthday was the ideal date to allow same sex couples to get married for the first time. It’s what he would have wanted.
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Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of IPSA, is one of the more ridiculous Quango heads. So full of his own puffed up self-importance is he that he thinks that in constitutional terms he outranks the prime minister – or at least, that’s the impression he gives. In its short existence IPSA has done nearly as much to undermine confidence in parliament as the reason for its creation – the expenses scandal. It uses every opportunity that comes its way to pain MPs as money-grabbing, even going so far as to publish details of claims it has rejected, even if they were simple administrative errors.
I visited IPSA once. It inhabits a suite of offices in Victoria that would befit a monarch. The only office I have visited which has been fitted out more plushly is a merchant bank. IPSA is also very choosy about when it chooses to be accountable for its own actions. I have lost count of the occasions when I have asked Kennedy or one of his minions to come on my show to explain themselves. I think once in three and a half years I have been successful. As I write this my producer has asked Sir Ian Kennedy to come on my show tonight [Thursday]. I am not holding my breath. UPDATE: Just as well I didn’t hold my breath…
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Next Wednesday I do my final Sky News paper review before Christmas with Jacqui Smith. Last year, I surprised her with a bunch of mistletoe live on air and gave her a smacker on the lips. I’m debating how I could go one further this time. Tongues? God alone knows what I would then have to do next year. Gulp.
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Nothing to do with politics but I thought I’d get it off my chest anyway. The right hand headlight on my Audi went this morning. I phoned up the local dealer and explained I needed a new headlight bulb. No, they said, you need a whole unit. And what’s more you have to replace the one the other side too. That’ll be £850. Oh, I said, hardly surprised but rather resigned. I’ll bring it in now. We haven’t got any in stock, they said. It will take 5-10 working days. At this point I rather lost it. “So you’re a main Audi dealer that doesn’t stock headlights and you can’t get them for 5-10 working days, by which time it’ll be after Christmas. How do you suggest I drive my car at night?” A short silence ensued and the robot continued: “We haven’t got them in stock, Sir. It’ll take 5-10 working days.” That’s what passes for Vorsprung Durch Technik. Half an hour later my local village garage had sourced a pair for £350 and can fit them tomorrow. Job done. Glad I got that off my chest. And I am sure you are too.
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LBC 97.3 Iain Interviews Anjem Choudary

It get's sparky...

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The Nelson Mandela Flash Mob

13 Dec 2013 at 15:15

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Iain Dale talks to the Fleet Street Fox

Susan Boniface, aka The Fleet Street Fox, joins Iain to discuss her life as a blogger, tweeter and tabloid hack.

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UK Politics

Liberty Launches Anti-Tory Advertising Campaign

10 Dec 2013 at 22:45

This is an advert from the civil liberties group Liberty, headed up by Shami Shakrabarti. It appeared as a full page ad in tonight’s London Evening Standard. It is a disgrace. It’s inaccurate and partial and does Liberty a great disservice. It’s so partisan and inaccurate that it deserves to be reported to the ASA.

It quotes Theresa May saying…

The next Conservative manifesto will promise to scrap the Human Rights Act

It is an accurate quote, so far as it goes. Because as Liberty know full well, it’s only half the story. Because far from scrapping all human rights laws, which Liberty try to insinuate, the Human Rights Act would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights.

Frankly Shami, I expect better of you and your organisation. You fought a noble battle against Labour’s various attacks on civil liberties but I don’t recall any similar adverts to these. These are party political and totally misleading.

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Video: Iain Dale spars with Polly Toynbee

Sky News paper review

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Books

Keith Simpson's Christmas Reading List

10 Dec 2013 at 15:41

GUEST POST BY KEITH SIMPSON MP
As we approach the season of good will, which may, of course by pass Parliament, the FCO embassies and high commissions prepare for the panto and nativity as well as catching up on some reading beyond the official diptels. For parliamentary colleagues it is a chance to stretch the little grey cells and do some thinking as well as relaxing.

This has been a bumper year for books on history, politics, military history and literature. The outstanding political biography has been Charles Moore’s first volume Margaret Thatcher The Authorised Biography: Not for Turning (Allen Lane £30). It is in the same class as Robert Caro’s multi volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Jonathan Aitken journalist, politician and someone who has served at Her Majesty’s pleasure but not in the armed forces, knew Margaret Thatcher and her family and has written perceptively about her in Margaret Thatcher Power and Personality (Bloomsbury £25).

What more can be written about Benjamin Disraeli after biographies such as that written by Robert Blake? Actually quite a lot, and Douglas Hurd and Edward Young have written a wonderful reassessment of the great politician and showman in Disraeli or The Two Lives (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20) in which they explore the paradoxes at the centre of his character, and how his exotic personality and ability to dazzle his contemporaries overcame his lack of principles, indebtedness and disloyalty. Wickedly, they suggest the only contemporary British politician who can be compared to Disraeli for making politics interesting is Boris Johnson. Their account of myths surrounding Disraeli’s “One Nation” politics should make this a stocking filler for Ed Miliband.

Simon Heffer combines being a prolific journalist and an author, and amongst other publications is his magisterial biography of Enoch Powell. High Minds The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Random House Books £30) is a polemic, but the author ranges widely over politics, religion, art and personalities and the great Victorian institutions.

T E Lawrence still divides opinion between those who believe he was a romantic fraudster and those who believe he combined the aesthete with the man of action. Amongst other things he played his part in helping to shape the modern Middle East, and it is this that Scott Anderson concentrates on in Lawrence in Arabia Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Doubleday Books £16).

John Julius Norwich is the only son of Diana and Duff Cooper and a distinguished author in his own right. Diana Cooper was considered the most beautiful woman of her age and her husband Duff had a long diplomatic and political career. John Julius was apart from his parents for long periods during and after the war and Diana wrote him the most entertaining and chatty letters about great events as well as astute observations. Darling Monster The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to Her Son John Julius Norwich 1939-52 (Chatto and Windus £25) reveal the true art of letter writing which now may well be lost in the age of texting and twitter.

Francois Mitterrand, the French Fifth Republic’s first socialist President has long fascinated those interested in French political history and political leadership. As a young man during the war he managed, in the space of a few months, to move seamlessly from being a “Petainist” to being a “Gaullist”. A great survivor, he once observed that the most important attribute for any statesman was “indifference”. Philip Short, a former BBC Paris correspondent, has written a revealing biography in Mitterrand A Study in Ambiguity (The Bodley Head £30).

John Biffen served in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet as Chief Secretary, Secretary of State for Trade and Leader of the House. A charming, intelligent, thoughtful politician who increasingly questioned some of the policies of the Thatcher Government. Bernard Ingham once notoriously called him “semi-detached”. John Biffen decided to use that phrase as the title of this memoir – Semi-Detached (Biteback Publishing £30). A very honest memoir and Biffen recounts his recurring struggle against bouts of depression.

We are now in the prelude to five years of commemorating the centenary of what my grandparents called “The Great War”. The literary offensive has begun already and I have selected a few which have been published this autumn – a more comprehensive survey will be found in the January edition of Total Politics magazine.

Max Hastings’ Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War in 1914 (Williams Collins £30) is a robust, no nonsense patriotic view of the origins of the war and lays the blame largely with the Germans. Allen Mallinson’s 1914 Fight the Good Fight (Bantam £25) gives a solid British perspective with a traditional account of the role of the British Army.

Margaret Macmillan is a distinguished academic and author of the highly acclaimed Peacemakers The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempts to End the War, and in The War That Ended Peace How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War (Profile £25) concentrates on the diplomatic system and the series of crises which preceded the one between Austria-Hungary and Serbia in 1914. More subtle than Max Hastings.

In The Long Shadow The Great War and the Twentieth Century (Simon & Schuster £25) David Reynolds looks at the war’s long term impact up until today and moves beyond individual experience and memorials. A must read.

Understandably, many of the new books concentrate on the military experience and a good corrective is Richard Roberts Saving the City The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 (OUP £20). This is a formidable piece of scholarship and should be in the Christmas stockings of George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls.

Without the passion, ruthlessness and politiking of Fabian Ware the system for identifying and burying the dead and memorialising those with no known grave near the battlefields where they fell there would have been no War Graves Commission. This is a fascinating and moving story admirably researched and told by David Crane in Empires of the Dead How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves (William Collins £16.99).

David Lindsay, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, volunteered at the age of forty-four and served as a Private in the RAMC on the Western Front 1915-16. Before succeeding his father in 1913 he had been a Conservative MP from 1895 and was Chief Whip in 1911. His political diaries, including his time serving in the Lloyd George Coalition government, was edited by John Vincent. Now Christopher Arnander, one of his grandson’s, has edited Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries From Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister (Pen & Sword £19.99). A view from the ranks as a hospital orderly, critical of female nurses and junior officers as well as many of his political contemporaries.

The Blackadder School of Great War History has seriously sent up the reputations of the Public School officers. Anthony Seldon, prolific political writer and now Master of Wellington College, has, along with David Walsh attempted to correct the caricature in Public Schools and The Great War The Generation Lost (Pen & Sword £25). This they admirably do in comprehensively researched book which is based on memoirs, archives and a contemporary literature.

Frequently, what has been missing in collections of letters of men who served on the Western front has been those received from family and friends to provide a comprehensive picture of life both civil and military. In Life, Death and Growing Up on the Western Front (Yale University Press £20) Anthony Fletcher has used the correspondence of 12 officers and five other ranks to give a full picture. A very powerful and moving book.

The First World War produced an extraordinary flowering of poetic talent beyond those who served at the front. Tim Kendall has selected poems from the usual suspects – Sassoon, Brooke, Gurney and Owen – as well as from civilians both men and women. Poetry of the First World War An Anthology (OUP £14.99) is an excellent stocking filler and I was pleased he included a section of “Music-Hall and Trench Songs”, including the marvellous one “The Shit Shute” not attributed, but written by A P Herbert, about his divisional commander.

Under Another Sky Journeys in Roman Britain (Jonathan Cape £20) is an unusual and successful attempt to discover Roman Britain and its legacy by Charlotte Higgins who travelled the length and breadth of our country in an old VW Camper van. Caroline Vout, a classics donette at Cambridge University is fascinated by how the ancient Greeks and Romans used images to present what we would call sex. Her Sex on Show Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome (The British Museum Press £25) is a work of scholarship, but its abundant illustrations might prove a by-election special unless handled with care!

Roger Knight is the author of a celebrated biography of Nelson and has immersed himself in the sources of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. His Britain Against Napoleon The Organisation of Victory 1793-1815 (Allen Lane £30) is not about military campaigns and battles, or the leadership of Nelson and Wellington. Rather, it is a fundamental analysis of the political financial, industrial, commercial, agricultural and technological organisation required to achieve victory. This is not a dull accountant’s book but a superb study of how Britain faced the challenge of twenty-one years of war. George Osborne on seeing it was much taken by the sub-title “The Organisation of Victory” which is much in his thoughts these days.

For those who are fascinated by the old Habsburg empire then a must read is Simon Winder Danubia A Personal History of Habsburg Europe (Picador £18.99).

Doris Kearns Goodwin has written about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Kennedys as well as her much acclaimed Team of Rivals The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Now she has written about the friendship and then the breakdown of relations between Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft in The Bully Pit Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism (Viking £20). But it is not just about personal relationships, but the campaign against cartels and how Roosevelt used the Presidency –“The Bully Pit” – and his close links with journalists.

The strength of American isolationism and a desire not to become involved with Britain’s war effort is the theme throughout Lynne Olson’s Those Angry Days Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-41 (Random House £24). American public opinion was deeply divided over neutrality and aiding Britain and her account makes sober reading.

There is an impression reflected in many books that the British Army by 1944 was worn out and no match for the Germans. In Monty’s Men The British Army and the Liberation of Europe (Yale University Press £20) John Buckley challenges this thesis in a provocative but convincing way.

Frank Dikotter has published nine books about the history of China, including Mao’s Great Famine. Now in The Tragedy of Liberation A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57 (Bloomsbury £25) he recounts the way in which Mao Zedong established a ruthless tyranny and killing machine. Uncomfortable reading for the current Chinese elite, not least because the author has had access to party archives and interviewed many participants and survivors.

Sir Lawrence Freedman is at the applied end of the academic war studies genre having written the official history of the Falklands War and as a member of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War. Critics of Whitehall frequently suggest that minsters and civil servants don’t do “strategy”. Now Lawrence Freedman offers them his reader – Strategy A History (OUP £25) No ponderous theoretical work this which begins with a quote from Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth”. Something for members of our National Security Council.

David Howell served as a Cabinet minister under Thatcher, and more recently a Foreign Office Minister under Cameron. A thoughtful politician interested in how political relationships and networks are changing in the contemporary world which he develops in Old Links and New Ties Power and Persuasion in a Age of Networks (I B Tauris £20).

Civil Wars are often more passionate, brutal and degrading than other kinds of war. Ours was in the seventeenth century and yet still leaves a legacy. When Mussolini was overthrown by a coup d’etat in 1943 and Italy eventually joined the Allies the result was a vicious civil war. Claudio Pavone wrote a fine account in 1991 which has just been translated as A Civil War A History of the Italian Resistance (Verso £35).

Amongst many of Churchill’s attributes was a fascination with machines and inventions, especially if they related to war. He was not a scientist and had little grasp of the details but he did appreciate what science could achieve and hence had his own unofficial scientific adviser in the 1930s. Graham Farnello in Churchill’s Bomb A Hidden History of Science War and Politics (Faber &Faber £25) examines Churchill’s involvement with the development of what became the atomic bomb.

This autumn has seen the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy and there has been an outpouring of books about Kennedy and the assassination. I have accepted the advice of my old friend who is the doyen of the Kennedyistas in parliament, the Rt Hon Simon Burns MP (Chelmsford and Hyannis Port). He suggests three recently published books. Robert Dallek, who has published biographies of Lyndon Johnson and JFK, has written Camelot’s Court Inside the Kennedy White House (Harper £30). Probably the best – and the sanest – book on the assassination is a reprint of Reclaiming History Assassination of JFK by Vincent Bugliosi who forensically examines the evidence and comes to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald did assassinate JFK. Finally, Peter Savodnik has written The Interloper Leo Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union (Basic Books £16.99) which examines Oswald’s three years in the Soviet Union and attraction to communism.

Now for the stocking fillers. Jeremy Archer, a retired army officer has written something of a scissors and paste book in A Military Miscellany (Elliott and Thompson Ltd £11.99) which is made up of extracts from letters, diaries, memoirs and humorous military anecdotes. Something for the Whips office.

A wonderfully amusing book is Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience (Canongate £30). It is a sparklingly eclectic collection with almost all those letters selected being reproduced in facsimile from the good and the great to just ordinary people. My favourite is one that is well known to the FCO sent by Our Man in Moscow in 1943 concerning a new Turkish colleague – Mustapha Kunt.

Travel Books range from those written by people who have really “walked the course” and can write vivid descriptions with a feel for the country, its people and history, to those that read like travel brochures. Tim Cope is definitely in the former category with his On the Tail of Genghis Khan An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads (Bloomsbury £20). One for Rory Stewart Sahib our distinguished parliamentary nomad, and Owen Paterson, the badger culler, who quite recently rode across parts of Central Asia.

Finally, if only one volume of fiction appears on this list it has to be by Robert Harris, he of Enigma and Pompeii amongst others, and who has now written a powerful novel about the Dreyfus Affair in France, An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson £16). This has recently been the bed time reading of our Prime Minister. Need I say more.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Michael Winner

From the LBC Book Club on 20 December 2010, Michael Winner spends an hour talking to Iain about his life and relationships with the rich and famous.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 34: Why Can't We See the Chinese For What They Are?

6 Dec 2013 at 14:23

Am I alone in feeling queasy at the way David Cameron has been crawling to the Chinese this week in a craven attempt to gain their favour? “We will be the main advocate of China in the West,” he announced on Monday. Pass the sick bag. I completely accept we have to do business with regimes we disapprove of – it’s what Bismarck called ‘realpolitik’. But what we don’t have to do is prostrate ourselves in front of them and appear to beg them to like us. What we should be doing is recognising their agenda. Their strategy is to buy up key bits of our infrastructure and then in 20 years’ time exert their control and influence over us. It’s what they are doing all over the world. They’re buying up industries and infrastructure which has a common theme – and the theme is that they all revolve around things we need for our everyday life – power, water, sewers. And now I imagine they will buy many of the about to be privatised shares in the Channel Tunnel. We must be mad. The Germans would no more let the Chinese invest in their nuclear facilities than give them control over their armed forces. And let’s remember that the amount of German trade with China dwarfs ours. Regimes like China understand it when countries stand up to them and act in their own national interest. They laugh at countries which are so keen to ingratiate themselves that they will do anything to attract inward investment. Are we really that desperate?
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Another one bites the dust. Sir George Young has announced he is quitting his North West Hampshire seat at the next election. He is one of the nicest people in politics and will be a big loss to the House of Commons. But it does mean we have a bit of a lame duck chief whip. It seems he is almost certain to be reshuffled out at the next reshuffle. Could this mean a return to that post for Andrew Mitchell? I’d have thought a return to Dfid was more likely. The battle to succeed Sir George will be an interesting one to watch. Judging from the shortlists for the latest batch of ‘safe’ seats there are several contenders who seem to feature in each one. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt maintain that they are CCHQ’s favoured sons and daughters, but perhaps it is as simple as the fact that they just have brilliantly presented CVs? Sometimes these things are that simple. I remember back in 2003 when I was looking for a seat I applied for about 12 seats in all, and got called for interview in all bar one (yes, Wantage, you bastards!). I reckon it was because I took so much trouble with the presentation of my CV that it stood out from the others because it was so very different. And that’s what you have to do, stand out from the crowd. Put yourself in the position of the ‘sift team’ who may be looking at 100 or so CVs. If yours looks different (content can sometimes be somewhat secondary!) to the others the natural human reaction of the sifter is to look at it for longer than they have the others. Headlines are important, so is font. The hard part comes when they call you for interview. But even then, it’s down to presentation and how you can differentiate yourself. End of lesson.
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Most of us have verbal tics – words or phrases that we say far too often. I have noticed a new one creeping into the world of radio presenting and reporting and it’s the phrase “if you like”. It’s like ‘meanwhile’, a word which doesn’t actually mean very much. It’s a padding phrase, which allows the reporter or presenter to gather their thoughts for what they are about to say next. It is, however, bloody annoying when you hear it over and over again. The other morning I heard “if you like” used four times in three minutes by three different people on the Today Programme . Stop it.
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I must be mad. I have just accepted an invitation to give a lecture on the NHS to 50 doctors, surgeons and consultants from a London hospital in late January. Why on earth can’t I just learn to say ‘no’? I don’t do a lot of speeches nowadays. My job means I don’t do many speeches to local Tory associations, like I used to and because of the hours of I work (my show doesn’t finish till 8pm) I don’t do anything on the after dinner circuit either. So when this invitation came in my instinct was to say ‘no’ on the basis that it would involve too much preparation time, and that I wasn’t enough of an expert on the subject. But then I thought, well, that’s never stopped me before and frankly, I have learned a huge amount about the NHS from all the time I spend talking to people about it and getting them to give their experiences on my radio show. So I’ve chosen as my title “The NHS: Things That Need to be Said”. That should give me enough rope to hang myself… All ideas welcome.
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I honestly despair of whoever is running the Conservative Party’s internet communications strategy. I critiqued the new party website in a previous diary a couple of weeks ago, but unfortunately the website is not the worst of it. It’s also not the most important. Email is far more important than a fairly static website. Email can be used to engage with people, many of whom may be your natural supporters or party members. They should be mobilised and encouraged into battle. Instead, what we get every week – or every other day at the moment – is a turgid missive totally devoid of interesting content, calls to action or anything else. They’ve even taking to pretending they are replying to an email the recipient has sent them. Perhaps that’s the only way anyone ever opens the wretched things.
Take the latest email from Nicky Morgan, Economic Secretary to the Treasury. It had the subject line of “Re: our Long Term Plan: Investing in Britain’s Future”. Catchy, eh? Earlier in the week we got one from Sajid Javid with the subject line “Re: Our Long Term Plan: Deficit & Jobs”. Neither of the emails has a “Dear Iain” greeting or even a “Dear Friend” line. Both emails have a couple of facts which they would like you to share through Facebook. Which is nice. But where’s the passion, where’s the meat? And frankly, where’s the plan? All these emails have “Our Long Term Plan” in the subject line but there’s precious little sign of any plan at all in the content.
The next election won’t be “the” internet election any more than the last one was, but in marginal seats proper internet campaigning can make the difference between winning and losing. The Conservative Party shows no sign of learning the last election when far too much internet campaigning was started too late in the electoral cycle. As Lynton Crosby famously said, “you can’t fatten a pig on market day.” The late lamented “MyConservatives.com” was a great idea as a campaigning tool for candidates and party workers, but it was only launched properly a few months ahead of the election. Is an equivalent being planned now? If so, it needs to launch very soon.
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Idiot blog comment of the week goes to this reader… “You only support the campaign to save the Gay Hussar restaurant because it has the word ‘gay’ in the title.” Yes, banged to rights. I guess it’s also the reason those well known exponents of the Pink Pound David Davis and Michael Ashcroft have also put money into saving the Gay Hussar. Honestly, where do people like this come from? Do they actually have parents who taught them right from wrong, and can they actually read?
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LBC Book Club: Best of 2012 (Part 1)

Part 1 of 2. With Jack Straw, Lady Pamela Hicks, Peter Hennessy and President Mary Robinson.

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Personal

Attitude Column: The Christmas Dilemma

4 Dec 2013 at 10:40

I have been with my partner for 18 years and yet until last year we had never spent a Christmas together. I had always gone to my parents’ in Essex and he to his parents in Kent. In later years he’d make an escape and join me at my parents in the evening, but neither of us found it satisfactory.

Why, then, did we do it? Simple. Because both of us feared that the very year we chose to spend Christmas together would be followed by the death of one of our parents. Irrational maybe, but one year we would have been right.

This is not something unique to gay couples, of course. Yet for many gay couples Christmas can be a time when tricky choices have to be made, especially those who haven’t come out to their parents. And even in these enlightened days there are still many gay people who find that particular conversation difficult to have.

I had that conversation at the ripe old age of forty. My parents had known my partner for five or six years and he often joined me for the weekend at their home. But the penny hadn’t dropped. He was my friend and they liked him very much. But the fact that he was more than that never seemed to click with them. By way of contrast, my partner came out to his parents at the age of sixteen and didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t prepared to rock the parental boat. He was right, of course. I was being a coward.

But when I decided to try to be a Tory MP I decided that I had to tell my parents I was gay. Everyone in Westminster knew, but I didn’t want the parents reading about it in the Daily Telegraph or one of their friends saying something inopportune. I decided to do it when I reached the second round of a parliamentary selection – possibly not the best or most courageous criteria to use to come out. I remember that drive round the M25 and up the M11 as if it were yesterday. I rehearsed in my mind what I would say, but nothing ever seemed right. Everyone kept saying to me ‘don’t worry, it won’t come as a surprise to them. They must know’. I doubted that very much. After all, I knew my parents, and they didn’t.
My Dad is always good in a crisis. He is a man of few words, but I was fairly confident he would be OK. My mother was the sweetest and most kindly woman in the world but I sensed it would be more difficult for her. I won’t go into the details of the conversation but it wasn’t an easy one. There was incomprehension, bemusement and a degree of horror. I explained that John was much more than a friend, that I loved him very deeply and I hoped they could bring themselves to accept that. My Dad gave me a hug but my mum just had a far-away look on her face.

But all was well that ended well. They continued to welcome John into their home and came to treat him as a son-in-law and both came to our civil partnership in 2008. However, the subject of my gayness was never spoken of again. My mother died last June. I loved her with all my heart but in my soul I know how much I hurt her. But in the end we can’t live our lives for other people no matter how much we love them. We have to be true to ourselves. That’s not being selfish, it’s being honest.

I suspect Christmas is a time when lots of gay people come out to their parents. Is it the best time to do it? Probably not, but for many people there is never a good time. But the longer you leave it the more difficult it can get. Attitudes have changed over the generations, but for some people it will never be easy.

Last year was the first year I spent a full Christmas Day with John, but I spent most of it in bed with flu. This year we’ll be in our new home in Norfolk with only the dogs for company. And a Christmas tree. Happy Christmas!

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Amanda Prowse

Novelist Amanda Prowse talks about her new book CLOVER'S CHILD and much else besides!

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Speech

The NHS: Things That Need to be Said...

4 Dec 2013 at 07:59

I must be mad. When will I ever learn? I have just accepted an invitation to give a lecture on the NHS to 50 doctors, surgeons and consultants from a London hospital in late January. Why on earth can’t I just learn to say ‘no’?

I don’t do a lot of speeches nowadays. My job means I don’t do many speeches to local Tory associations, like I used to and because of the hours of I work (my show doesn’t finish till 8pm) I don’t do anything on the after dinner circuit either. So when this invitation came in my instinct was to say ‘no’ on the basis that it would involve too much preparation time, and that I wasn’t enough of an expert on the subject. But then I thought, well, that’s never stopped me before and frankly, I have learned a huge amount about the NHS from all the time I spend talking to people about it and getting them to give their experiences on my radio show.

So I’ve chosen as my title “The NHS: Things That Need to be Said”. That should give me enough rope to hang myself… All ideas welcome.

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18 Doughty Street

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News Story

Would You Like to Help Save the Gay Hussar?

30 Nov 2013 at 15:22

The purpose of this blogpost is to invite you to become part of an exciting new venture designed to secure the future of the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho, a favourite hangout of politicos for decades. I am doing so on behalf of a group of diners and staff, the Goulash Co-operative, a new venture aimed not only at saving the Gay Hussar restaurant but maximising the potential we all know that it has.

You may have heard that the current owners, Corus Hotels, are preparing to sell the Gay Hussar. Representatives of the Goulash Coop have met with them, and they are aware of their intent to bid for the business in early December.

An Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) has been formed in order to bid for the business, take it on and run it with the existing, excellent and loyal staff. This is a model that has worked well elsewhere, and given the traditions of the restaurant, the solid customer base and the enormous goodwill that exists, they believe that their plan provides a sound new long-term business base for the Gay Hussar. Their aim is not only to keep the Gay Hussar open, but to maximise its potential.

The Goulash Coop is seeking to raise at least £200,000 in order to secure the lease for the next eight years.

I have bought a share in the venture and have persuaded several others to as well. It struck me that there might be some of you that would also like to invest in the new venture ether individually or as part of a group. Investment will be in the form of IPS Shares. This type of share, used extensively in co-operative societies, housing associations, clubs and the like, does not appreciate in capital value but is entitled to interest payments or dividend dependent on profits. All the money raised through this appeal will be held in a Unity Trust Bank account. In the event of that our bid ultimately fails, all monies would be returned to you, immediately, in full.

Investments will be accepted in units of £500. The minimum investment will therefore be £500, but with an ambitious target, and time of the essence, we are asking you to consider investing more than the minimum if you possibly can. The legal maximum amount an individual or corporate body (except another IPS) can invest is £20,000.

You can find details of the business plan and how to invest on the Goulash Coop website HERE.

Time is very short as the bid has to be lodged by this Thursday, 5 December.

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Iain has a Testy Encounter with a Member of the Fire Brigades Union

Iain takes Laurie Brightman to task over the Fire Strike.

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Rant

A Question For Lloyds Bank

30 Nov 2013 at 10:31

When we bought our house in Norfolk in July we purposely chose a mortgage where we wouldn’t receive penalties if we paid off part of it earlier than planned. So on Tuesday I felt very pleased with myself as I went into Lloyds to pay in a cheque to pay off a small part of the mortgage. For some reason they don’t allow you to do it online. Bearing in mind the mortgage is also with Lloyds I assumed the transaction would be show up instantaneously on my account. It did on my current account. But four days later the mortgage account still hasn’t been updated despite it saying “As of 29 November”. I just called Lloyds to query why this would be. “There’s no transaction pending. Because it is a large sum it may take a while to process,” said the man from Lloyds call centre.

I retorted that “it didn’t take a long time to process coming out of my account, why should it take a long time to go into an account?” Answer came there none. I was advised to call back next week. I asked whether the interest that I continue to pay on the full sum would be credited back. Again, answer came there none. All i can say, is that it had damn well better be!

Can anyone in the banking world explain why Lloyds should have the use of that money for several days while I still have to pay interest on it? Or will they, as a matter of policy, credit the interest I have been paying since Tuesday on that sum?

Answers on a postcard…

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special

A special phone in on dealing with mental health issues.

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