Diary

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

8 Nov 2013 at 15:05

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


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


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


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

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Book Review: Piers Morgan's Diaries: Shooting Straight

6 Nov 2013 at 13:39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Nov 2013 at 19:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tonbridge Open Primary Showed the Tories At Their Best

3 Nov 2013 at 14:31

Yesterday morning I became poacher turned gamekeeper, or was it the other way around? Back in 2009 I was a candidate in the Bracknell Open Primary. There were seven candidates in the final. I came third, behind Rory Stewart, and the eventual winner, local GP Philip Lee. Yesterday morning I was the moderator of the Tonbridge & Malling Open Primary. It was a far more pleasurable experience quizzing the four finalists than being one of them, I can assure you.

A few weeks ago I got a call asking me if I would moderate the open primary, presumably on the basis that I lived only a mile over the constituency borders. My first instinct was to say no, partly because it was a day when West Ham were at home, and I would be at the start of a much needed, and long awaited, week’s holiday. To be honest, I also wondered if my little incident on Brighton sea front might also be another reason to say no. The last thing the local association needed was adverse publicity at a time when it should be concentrating on extolling the virtues of the open primary. In addition, I thought it highly likely that I would know one or two of the finalists. In the end, having initially decline, I was persuaded to do it, and looking back I am glad I did.

I purposely didn’t ask the constituency agent, Andrew Kennedy, or the chairman, Jacques Arnold, the identities of the long listed candidates, and I only found out the names of the final four at the same time as everyone else. They were Ed Argar, Vicky Atkins, Tom Tugendhat and Chris Philp. Chris was the only one of the three I knew at all. Back in 2003 or so I published a book of essays he had edited for the Bow Group, but our paths hadn’t crossed since. I checked with Andrew and Jacques and neither felt that to be an issue, and I was confident I could interview all four perfectly equitably.

Andrew, Jacques and I met a couple of weeks ago to agree the format, which didn’t take very long. I was very keen to give the audience as much opportunity to ask questions as possible. Candidates nowadays don’t make full speeches, they just get 3 minutes at the beginning to say why they should be chosen. I then had 12 minutes to quiz them, followed by 15 minutes of questions from the audience. I explained to Andrew and Jacques that I had no intention of asking them many policy questions and I felt my role was to enable the audience to get to know them as people and to find out more about their characters. So I drew up a list of questions to achieve that aim. Clearly, to be fair to all candidates, they all had to be asked similar questions. When I met the candidates I explained my approach and this was an opportunity for them to show the audience a human side to their characters. I said I was not looking to trip them up, but they should expect the unexpected. I wanted them to know that they would really have to think on their feet.

The meeting began with a short welcome from Jacques Arnold and Sarah Newton MP, Deputy Chairman in charge of candidates. She had got up at 2am and driven to Kent from Cornwall – way beyond the call of duty if you ask me! There followed a video, made by CCHQ about the life of an MP. It contained four fly on the wall films and interviews and four very different Tory MPs from the 2010 intake, Sajid Javid, Jessica Lee, Karren Bradley and Stephen Metcalfe. I think the aim was to show the audience that the role of an MP had changed over the years and they should bear that in mind when deciding who to vote for. The video was rather good and served its purpose well, apart from one or two typos in the captioning!

And then it was showtime! There were around 400 people in the audience and having given up their Saturday morning I thought they needed to be entertained as well informed. so I deliberately used humour throughout the proceedings, including during the candidate interviews. I knew it was a dangerous thing to do (especially when I told a rather risque anecdote) because if I overdid it I would be accused of hogging the limelight, but in the end it all seemed to go down very well judging from comments afterwards.I explained how the morning would work and that I would not be asking a lot of political questions to the candidates, that would be the job of the audience. The candidates had drawn lots and Ed Argar was on first. He had been in the Newark selection the night before but seemed to be on good form. I was impressed with the way he answered all the questions in a very calm and reasonable manner. He connected with the audience and displayed a good sense of humour. But being first can be a disadvantage because by the end people have forgotten why they were impressed by you.

Next up was Chris Philp. I had insisted they all wear radio mics, rather than use hand held mics or be forced to stand behind the lecturn by a static mic. It was very interesting to see how they moved around the stage and interacted with the audience. Chris placed himself right at the centre at the front of the stage to get as near the audience as possible, to the extent that when I asked a question he had to look behind him. He certainly connected and was quite animated throughout. It was a strong performance, especially on the answer to one of my more personal questions

Vicky Atkins was next and used her first three minutes very well. In fact they all did, and three of them were bang on three minutes without needing any reminder from me to stop. She was very strong in connecting with the audience, using some of her personal and work experiences to illustrate how she would handle the job of being an MP. One of the questions someone in the audience asked to every candidate was this: “What do you think of the Tonbridge & Malling cycling strategy”. Vicky’s reply got the biggest laugh of the day, when she said “I am delighted there is one!”. It’s a very good lesson to any would be candidate. You get more kudos by admitting you haven’t got a clue rather than try to bluster your way out of it.

Tom Tudgendhat, the eventual winner, came across as very genuine, not from the normal political stable and used his military background to illustrate several of his answers. He even recited a bit of poetry during one answer to a question, which must be a first at a candidate selection. He will have appealed in a way that some of the others may not have to the non Conservatives or independents in the audience and to be honest I think he charmed them.

In short, any one of them could have won. Often you get one candidate who puts in a much weaker performance than the others and therefore gets hardly any votes at all. That didn’t happen here. The worst thing to happen to any of them was that one of the candidates gave a very weak answer to a question on how they would react to an emergency incident in the constituency, and probably felt at that point they had blown it. But the true test of someone is how they come back from a potentially knock out blow. And in this case they came back all guns blazing and recovered well. Every losing candidate spends the whole journey home, and the probably the days after thinking “If only I had done this, or said that, or not said that” but sometimes a candidates wins just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time and connects with an audience.

The fact that the first candidate to be eliminated actually got quite a lot of votes tells you how even their performances actually were. The fact that it went to three ballots demonstrates that it was all very close.

I said to the meeting that I would happily lay a bet that all four candidates would be in the House of Commons after the next election, and I truly believe that. It was a pleasure to preside over the proceedings. I hope they all thought I handled it fairly and equitably and that the losing three don’t beat themselves up too much. The really important point is that you learn from the experience and deploy those lessons in the next selection that you go for. That’s possibly one of the reasons I never made it to Parliament in the end – I didn’t take enough notice of the mistakes I made in selections and failed to ensure I didn’t repeat them.

A final word about the organisation of the event. It was exemplary. No stone was left unturned and everyone knew that every eventuality had been prepared for. Andrew Kennedy, the agent, and his team deserve huge praise for the way they conducted this selection. It could all have gone horribly wrong but his attention to detail and immaculate planning ensured that a good time was had by all and that the day went off without a hitch. If any association is looking to conduct an open primary in the future, they could do worse than ask Andrew how to do it.

I don’t know how many non-Conservatives there were in the audience – probably 10-15%, I suspect. Did they make any difference in the final result? No one can ever say for definite, but I doubt it very much. This open primary served to open the Conservative Party up to the local community. It showed them at their best and if there were any Labour or LibDem activists there, they can’t have failed to have been impressed by the way it all panned out. One day, you never know, they may even do the same themselves!

Peter Franklin has another take on the day on ConHome HERE

Andrew Kennedy has also written his reflections on the process on his excellent BLOG together with a pictorial record of the day HERE

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 29: For Once, Ed Balls Was Right

1 Nov 2013 at 15:11

Tomorrow morning, I’m moderating Tonbridge & Malling’s Open Primary, where local people will select a candidate to follow Sir John Stanley. My last experience of an open primary was competing in one in Bracknell in 2009, and a few weeks before that chairing the Bedford Mayoral Open Primary. The latter turned out to be rather more exciting that it should have been, with almost a riot on the night and allegations of skulduggery against several of the candidates. I won’t forget that evening in a hurry. In Bracknell, there were seven finalists, and it became a bit like the X Factor as one after another of us were voted out. I lasted until the last three before local GP Philip Lee emerged as the winner. I was gutted as I knew I had been in with a good chance, and it probably signalled the end of my candidate ambitions. I did do one more selection, in East Surrey, but made an absolute stinker of a speech and came last in a final of six. Nowadays candidates don’t even have to make a speech, which seems a bit odd to me as making speeches is in fact a major part of an MP’s job. Apparently it’s to help women succeed as men are supposedly more capable of rabble rousing. Tell that to Priti Patel, who won Witham by making a memorable speech which was, I am told, of the rabble rousing variety! There will be at least 500 constituents there, a figure which on its own justifies the format. Last night, I read through the application forms of the final four candidates. None of them are career politicians and each has a record of achievement outside politics. One of them will have their life changed forever tomorrow. Good luck to all four.


Ed Balls was, and is right. Sharon Shoesmith – she of Haringey council and Baby P – deserved to lose her job. She certainly doesn’t deserve to trouser £600,000 for unfair dismissal. If she had had any ounce of self-worth or honour she would have resigned her position as Head of Childrens’ Services as the buck stopped with her. She presided over a chaotic department, which was totally incapable of carrying out the job it was there to do. I am perfectly prepared to accept that it is never possible totally to protect every child who is at risk but, in the case of Baby Peter, Haringey Social Services visited him on more than 60 occasions. The system failed a little boy and proved to be not fit for purpose. And so did Ms Shoesmith. One would presume she would never work in child protection ever again, and yet that is exactly what she says she hopes to do. It would be a brave council which would take her on. And a very stupid one.


So Nick Clegg wouldn’t form a coalition with Labour if it doesn’t back HS2. Well, that’s killed two birds with one stone then. I simply cannot understand why so many Conservatives are so keen on HS2. I’m all in favour of visionary transport projects, but this is not one of them. It is far too expensive and doesn’t give enough bang for the taxpayer buck. Even the economic studies produced by the government which were meant to inspire us all to rally to the project’s support haven’t really done the job they were intended to do. But in the end Labour needs to sh*t or get off the pot, to coin a phrase. Their current line is offering lukewarm support for the project (designed to keep Andrew Adonis from having a flounce) but saying they will withdraw that support if the cost rises to more than £50 million. It appears that Ed Miliband has told Ed Balls he will be the one to determine whether a future Labour government ends up supporting HS2. What an abdication of political leadership from the Labour leader. Does he not have a view on one of the most important infrastructure projects of our time?


So Gordon Brown says in a speech in Qatar that he is “an ex-politician”. Join the club. However, I am sure that will come as a bit of a teensy-weeny surprise to his 70,000 constituents in Kirkcaldy. He is still their MP, yet only appears in Parliament when there’s a ‘z’ in the month. Perhaps he will soon join Jack Straw and announce he won’t contest the next election.


As soon as I have finished writing this diary I am off to see Tony Benn, to interview him about his latest volume of diaries, ‘A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine’. It’s a very melancholy book and details how he struggles to come to terms with old age and contemplates his death. I’ve read every single volume of his diaries – I think there are eight in all – and enjoyed them all. The political diary is a brilliant genre of literature and provides a really raw account of contemporary history. You don’t have to be famous to write a gripping diary, as Chris Mullin has recently proved. There are a couple of Conservative MPs who I know have been keeping diaries and I hope one day they will publish them.


The Met Office has been receiving many congratulations for predicting the storm which hit the south and east of England on Sunday and Monday, and in many ways rightly do. Unlike 1987, we all had about five days notice that it was coming and were able to take precautions. Or at least some of us did. Four people lost their lives, although for many of us it was a rather tepid affair compared to the Great Storm of 1987. I woke up to a little light breeze on Monday morning, although by all accounts it had been a bit blowy during the night.

The rail companies came under great criticism for cancelling all their services for Monday well in advance. I was as angry as the next person, as it meant I had to drive into London to do my radio show, even though it appeared there was nothing wrong with the railway line. In the east, services were cancelled in most areas for the whole day. In retrospect, I have more sympathy with the rail companies than I did at the time. It took Network rail most of the morning and some of the afternoon to clear away fallen trees, and the fact that Monday’s services were cancelled meant that most trains were in the right place to start the Tuesday rush hour.

You do learn a lot about people’s commitment to their jobs on days like Monday. Some people will get to work come hell or high water, even if they don’t arrive until four o’clock, whereas others just use it as a good excuse to have what is now known as a ‘duvet’ day. I heard a chap on the radio describe how it had taken him several hours to get as far as Waterloo, but he was giving up and going home. He then explained that his office was in Vauxhall. The interviewer gently reminded him it would take 20 minutes to walk from Waterloo to Vauxhall. ‘Nah, mate, I’ve done enough today’, was his rejoinder. Having spent two hours in one traffic jam after another, I nearly hit the steering wheel.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 27: Russell Brand May be a Hammer But That's His Only Redeeming Factor

25 Oct 2013 at 16:34

I was on my sick bed on Wednesday, so I had the dubious delight of watching the entire coverage of the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on Plebgate. It didn’t exactly make me think we have the most wonderful police in the country. The three Police Federation representatives came across terribly. One was incoherent, one was gobby and the other looked a thoroughly nasty piece of work. None of them seemed to grasp why they were there or had anything to answer for. Keith Vaz, the committee’s Chairman, was brilliant in denouncing their evidence when they had finished, but even then they looked as if they thought they had done really well. Then it was the turn of their three chief constables. Again, very low rent. If this is really the finest the British police force has to offer, then God help us all.


So George Galloway likes elections, but doesn’t like the aftermath in which you, er, have to do some work. He seems to be thinking very seriously about running for London Mayor in 2016, despite the fact he’s Scottish and represents a seat in Bradford. Or is it Blackburn. If London ever wanted to play a practical joke on itself it could do worse than by voting for George Galloway, but the joke would soon wear a bit thin. But, yet again, Galloway is Labour’s worst nightmare come true, because he would eat into the Labour vote so much that he could very well let the Conservative candidate slip through the middle.


Russell Brand has only one redeeming factor in my eyes. He’s a fellow West Ham supporter. And yet this week the New Statesman has, for reasons of publicity I imagine, allowed him to be their guest editor. As he demonstrated in a cringeworthy interview on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman, he has precious little to say that is worth hearing. He rails against the establishment, comes out with bizarre claims and counter-claims, and rants against the status quo and how awful the elites are to the poor – yet ,when pressed on what he would actually do, mutters something about introducing a socialist egalitarian system. Paxman didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So he sneered. Brand is someone who knows exactly how to generate self-publicity but precious little else. He’s a pisspoor actor, an unfunny comedian but is apparently a very good shag. If I never see him on TV again, it will be too soon.


Best we admit it. David Cameron was awful at PMQs this week. Concede and move on. It’s usually the best strategy. There’s always next week.


We hear a lot of Labour politicians bleating on about how wealth is divided so unequally in this country and things are getting worse. Not true. Next time you hear that, here’s some ammunition to hit back with. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook for 2012, wealth is spread more equally in this country than Germany, France and the Netherlands. And, get this. The Left always holds up Scandinavian countries of paragons of wealth equality. In fact we have a more even spread of wealth than either Denmark, Norway or Sweden. So put that in your IKEA flatpack and smoke it.


This time last week I was looking forward to spending a weekend in Dubrovnik. I really should have known better. Guess what? I spent the entire three days suffering from a terrible cold and an even worse cough – not great when you have to make a keynote speech to six hundred travel agents at Dubrovnik’s leading hotel. And not just that – the speech had to last half an hour. Well, you try speaking for thirty minutes with a streaming cold without sniffing or coughing. Let me tell you, it’s not easy. Anyway, the show had to go on and I ‘manfluey’ struggled through it. I can’t say it was my finest performance. And when I got back into London on Tuesday I told LBC I wouldn’t be able to do my radio show. ‘You’ll have to,’ came the reply. ‘We can’t get a stand-in’. One listener texted that she thought she was tuning into Mariella Frostrup as my voice sounded so gravelly. We have a button you can press to mute the microphone if you need to cough, so I made judicious use of that, but of course that doesn’t really work when you’re in full flow and you suddenly have the urge to cough.

Let me tell you how wonderful Dubrovnik is. I had never been to the Balkans before but the Adriatic coastline is something to behold, and the city itself is an absolute gem. It hasn’t been ruined by too much touristy development, and the walled old town is one of the wonders of the world. You can certainly detect an Italian influence in the architecture, and discovering its long history was gripping. It’s hard to think that only 20 years ago the city was enduring a seven month long siege. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls. But in those 20 years Dubrovnik has developed into a well-to-do resort with some excellent eateries and very friendly people. It’s also proving very popular with the cruise line industry, although locals complain they descend in their thousands into the town for a few hours, but spend very little money before climbing aboard again and heading off to Venice or Athens. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Croatia. Someone must explain to me the delights of going on a cruise, as I have to say being stuck aboard a ship with several thousand other people and with no way of escape is not my idea of fun. But then again, nor is three days in Dubrovnik with a raging cold…


I’ve spent the last few hours reading Katie Price’s latest autobiography. Yes, her latest. Astonishingly, bearing in mind she is only 34, it’s her third. I have to inform you, dear reader, that I have not read the first two. Yet. In case you are asking yourself “what is the normally sane Mr Dale doing reading such trash when he could be reading Charles Dickens?” let me reassure you that it was all in the line of duty, for I am about to interview the artist formerly known as Jordan for my radio show. If I am honest, I rather enjoyed the book, which is a racy account of two marriages and sundry other relationships with celebrity wannabes. OK, it’s not a challenging read but it carries her authentic voice, which is more than her bestselling novels do. She’s quite open that while she thinks up the plots of her novels, someone else does the writing.

Her readers don’t seem to mind and, so far, she has sold more than three million books. In fact, she is a very astute businesswoman whose successful fashion and beauty brands, along with her equestrian business, have made her millions. People think of Price as a botox-fuelled clothes horse with a couple of major assets. She is so much more than that. But her outward exuberance and extrovertness mask an emotionally vulnerable woman who through bitter experience has found it very difficult to trust men. Last year. she married husband number three, a 25 year old plasterer who also doubles as a part-time stripper. Put like that you may think it is a relationship doomed to fail, but there’s something in the way that she describes their relationship that makes me think this one may last.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary Week 27: If Chris Bryant Can Apologise to Andrew Mitchell, So Should Ed Miliband

18 Oct 2013 at 16:21

My job leads me to meet some interesting people. This week I interviewed Princess of Michael of Kent about her new novel, The Queen of Four Kingdoms. We were sent a protocol sheet in advance which instructed us what to call her and how to bow. Never having been very good at any form of forelock tugging I indulged in more of a crick of the neck than a bow, and never once uttered the words ‘Your Royal Highness’, or even worse, ‘Ma’am’, as in spam. She didn’t seem to mind and we got on famously. Indeed, not only did I find her an engaging interviewee, I couldn’t help but think for a woman of 68 she really is incredibly beautiful. You can hear the interview tonight on LBC at 7.30pm. Next week, Katie Price. Honest.


This weekend I am off to Dubrovnik, which is apparently called the jewel of the Adriatic. The reason for my trip is that on Monday I am giving a keynote speech to the annual conference of the Association of British Travel Agents. Luckily, ABTA have nicer venues for the conferences than political parties seem to go for! I’m supposed to be speaking on ‘Politics 2015’ and giving my views on what might happen after the next election. This may prove somewhat of a challenge, bearing in mind that far more accomplished political pundits than me don’t seem to have the remotest idea. A further challenge may be that the 600 travel agents attending the conference are unlikely to the kind of political geeks that would enjoy my normal repartee. Oh well, throw in the odd Ann Widdecombe pussy joke and that should keep them happy J. I’ll report back next week.


I keep feeling sorry for my friend Simon Burns, but then I think to myself, surely he knew what he was doing when he resigned to stand for deputy speaker? I think most people thought he would get far more votes than he did, but it just goes to show how important hustings are in this kind of contest. By all accounts he didn’t perform well in any of the hustings, but he also suffered because he was thought of as David Cameron’s candidate, and in the end, people wondered how on earth he could work with John Bercow. While many would have relished the prospect of watching them try to be civil to each other, unless BurnsCam was installed, we could only have surmised how it was all going. But it wouldn’t have been pretty. And nor, I imagine, will it be pretty when Bercow and Burns next cross swords in the chamber.


There are lots of apologies being made to Andrew Mitchell at the moment, and rightly so. Even Chris Bryant tweeted “It seems Andrew Mitchell has been stitched up. I am sorry I believed the police and The Sun.” It takes a big man to do that. I wonder when Ed Miliband will rouse himself to do the same. Some of us remember full well the pure joy on his face at the first PMQs after Andrew Mitchell resigned. The Labour Party has already taken down its Plebgate websote where they ask: “Who do you trust – the Police or Andrew Mitchell?” It seems this was one bandwagon the Leader of the Opposition was very unwise to jump on. Let’s see if he is as big a man as Chris Bryant and apologises publicly to Andrew Mitchell. Personally, I think he is. As he might say, Britain can be better than this.


Because I will still be in Dubrovnik, I’ve got the night off from my LBC radio show on Monday evening. But would I leave you with four hours of radio silence? No Sirreee. For one night only, standing in for me is …. Cue drumroll …. Alastair Campbell. This happened once before. Call me weird, but after that programme, my mobile phone ringtone was replaced with the LBC signature music and the words “Standing in for Iain Dale, Alastair Campbell.” I still get a kick when I hear that. Sad bastard.


Hardworking people. There, I’ve said it. Happy Grant?


Next Thursday at 7pm I’m hosting a new hour long segment on my LBC drivetime show called The LBC Parliament. Each week we’ll be having three panellists in the studio from across the political spectrum – not always politicians – and they’ll be taking questions from our listeners. On the first show we’ve got Polly Toynbee, John Redwood and Charlie Falconer followed the week after by Lynne Featherstone, Charles Clarke and Peter Sissons. Future panellists include Hilary Devey, Melanie Phillips, Sir Christopher Meyer, Jeremy Hunt, Neil Hamilton, Lord Levy and a whole host more. I hope you’ll make it an appointment to listen, and maybe also phone in with your questions.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 26: Has Adam Afriyie completely lost his marbles?

11 Oct 2013 at 14:36

I try not to obsess about West Ham in this column, but you will forgive me reporting an exchange between West Ham supporting Tory MPs Alec Shelbrooke and Bob Neill, and Spurs fans Iain Duncan Smith and Mike Penning. You will recall that West Ham hammered Spurs 3-0 on Sunday by adopting a deft 4-6-0 formation. On Monday the two pairs of MPs encountered each other in a Commons corridor whereupon Neil and Shelbrooke broke into a very tuneful rendition of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’. IDS and bruiser Penning, who had just been promoted to be Minister of State under IDS, didn’t exactly see the funny side. I’m told they issued a rather humourless ‘F*** off’ and carried on their way. Obviously they only sing when they’re winning.


What we refer to as the ‘incident in Brighton’ is clearly one of those things which is going to stay with me until I meet my maker. Virtually everyone I encounter tries to make some deeply unoriginal joke about it and then laughs uproariously at their humorous jibe, clearly imagining I haven’t heard it all before. I grin and say ‘haha’. Tom Watson texted me after it had happened and said “You won’t feel like this now, but one day you’ll laugh at this’. I haven’t reached that stage yet. I thought it was all going away and then I watched ‘Have I Got News For You’. It wasn’t quite how I imagined my first appearance on that show, shall we say.


Some MPs have the cheek of the devil. Alun Cairns, the diminutive Tory MP for the Vale of Glamorgan is clearly one of them. When the Damian McBride book was published, he wrote to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, asking him to investigate whether Damian had broken the law by logging into Gordon Brown’s computer. No doubt a good wheeze dreamed up by some bright spark at CCHQ. So guess who turned up at Damian McBride’s booklaunch at the Westminster Intercontinental on Wednesday night? Yup, Alun Cairns! Some brass neck! He then told me he had a letter back from Sir Bernard which said there was no case to answer. Well, there’s a surprise! I have to say I find the growing tendency of MPs to report people (and each other) to the Metropolitan Police deeply disturbing. They rarely do it because they think there’s a case to answer. They do it because their party HQs tell them to, the whips tell them to, or because they think it’ll get the a page lead in the Daily Mail or The Sun. And invariably they are right.


Has Adam Afriyie completely lost his marbles? His intervention on an early EU referendum is bonkers and when even such fervent Eurosceptics like Philip Davies react with suspicion he must know he has cocked up big time. Earlier in the year, it was reported that Afriyie had hired Phil Hall, the former News of the World Editor, to handle his PR. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at their initial meeting. I’m sure Hall can’t have started to advise Afriyie yet, because if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have advised him to use the line: ‘Oh, I am not causing trouble, I have to speak for my consicence’. Oh pass the sick bag. I’m told he has been asked to address a meeting of female Tory MPs next week. I suspect he’s being set up and they will rip him to shreads. Of course this is all the fault of the wretched LibDems. Without the coalition, I have little doubt Adam would now be a perfectly competent Minister of State, and the only time we’d ever hear from him would be when he was extolling the virtues of whatever portfolio he happened to hold. Nick Clegg has a lot to answer for!


The election campaign to be the next Deputy Speaker continues apace. Having appeared before Tory MPs on Wednesday evening (see the report by Paul Goodman) ,they will now face an unprecedented meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. At the 1922 it seems that Gary Streeter and Henry Bellingham got the best reaction, with the two favourites Simon Burns and Eleanor Laing not quite living up to expectations. I’m not sure Eleanor was wise to pick Chris Bryant as her Labour organiser. Bryant is a marmite character – loved or hated, even on his own side. I like him and he has been very kind to me on occasion (cue the predictable comment: ‘You gays stick together’), but is he the man to persuade Labour MPs to vote for Laing? We’ll see. One MP who is picking up support on the Labour side is Brian Binley. It will also be interesting to see how many Labour votes Nadine Dorries picks up. If you were a Labour MP and wanted to cast your vote in a way designed to upset the Prime Minister, you could hardly do better, could you? The question is, though. Would they rather upset the PM or the Speaker? If it’s the latter the job is Simon Burns’s for the taking. Again, oh to be a fly on the wall at the first meeting of The Speaker and his deputies.


Well the reshuffle was a bit of a damp squib, wasn’t it? The highlight was when the irrepressible Grant Shapps went on Sky News to describe it as “a reshuffle for hardworking people”. Hashtag facepalm. I interviewed him later and asked him why on earth he kept repeating this tired old mantra, first invented by Gordon Brown. He said that the new ministers would be working very hard, thereby implicitly accusing the sacked ministers of not working very hard. This sort of political sloganising treats the electorate with utter contempt. I mean, who isn’t in favour of hard working people? It must be the most vacuous conference slogan the Conservatives have ever had. I finished the interviewing by saying ‘thanks to the hard working Conservative Party chairman’. Had I been thinking more quickly I might have pointed if he worked even harder he might not need a co-chairman.


Who on earth thought it a good idea to sack Alistair Burt from the Foreign Office? The Prime Minister? The Chief Whip? Or was it George Osborne? Burt was just the kind of minister every government needs a stack of – hard working, competent, amiable, totally on top of his brief. He hadn’t ever put a foot wrong. Mark Prisk, too. Was it because they are short? That they haven’t achieved high media profiles? It’s a travesty. Nothing is fair in love and politics, but for certain ministers to keep their jobs and these two to lose them isn’t just unfair, it is plain wrong and plain stupid.


This week I have interviewed both Harry Redknapp and Jennifer Saunders for my LBC radio show. Next week I am talking to Princess Michael of Kent about her new book for half an hour. I’m not very good at tugging my forelock, so I’d better mug up on the protocol. This is a very varied job! Last week we did hour-long phone-ins on Marxism, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, finding love in later life and, er, the appeal of naturism. If I told you I did that hour stark bollock naked, you’d probably think I was telling the truth, wouldn’t you?


The complete trauma of switching from Blackberry to the iPhone continues. After around ten years of being a Blackberry devotee, my patience has finally snapped and I have gone to the dark side. I fell almost dirty for having done so, as if I am betraying a friend, but it had to happen. I loved my Blackberry Curve. I cherished my Blackberry Bold, I loved the keyboard, I loved the functionality. But in July I had what was laughingly called an upgrade to the new Blackberry Q10. On day one I took against it but decided I should be patient, and it was probably just teething problems. Everything on the phone was counter-intuitive. Yes, it had the same keyboard, but everything else on the phone was too ‘appy’. It was a Blackberry trying a little too hard to be an iPhone. After six weeks I finally gave up. When you use a phone you shouldn’t have to think about what you’re doing. It should just be automatic, but with the Q10 you have to think about everything you do. You have to think about whether you swish the screen left, or is it right, or is it up, or is it down. No more swishing for me. So this week I ordered the new iPhone 5S. I’ve always thought iPhones were a bit like Tottenham Hotspur – pretty to watch, but in the end the product doesn’t live up to the veneer. I’ve shied away from them in the past because I found typing on them too difficult, but hopefully it is something I will get used to over time. If not, I suppose it’s back to the good old Blackberry Bold!

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Talks to John Barrowman

John Barrowman talks to Iain's callers about gay equality, bullying and homosexual rights in other countries.

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Humour/Satire

MPs in Grinder Shock!

5 Oct 2013 at 12:06

Shocked. I say, I’m shocked. This was a picture taken on one of the commercial stands at the Tory Party Conference. Sadly I have no idea what the real context is. Maybe just as well.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Miranda Hart

Comedienne Miranda Hart talks about her new book, IS IT ME?

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