World Politics

Why Do We Give Aid to a Fellow G20 Member?

1 May 2013 at 07:33

The increasingly hapless Justine Greening, who has largely disappeared off the political radar since her unwanted move from Transport to International Development, seems to have inadvertently upset the South Africans. She has announced that Britain’s aid to the country will cease from 2015. Judging from the reaction of South Africa and her Labour opposite number Ivan Lewis, you’d think she had suggested that in addition there should be a slaughter of the first born in Cape Town. While there seems to have been a cock up in the communication of this decision to the South Africans (she says they knew all about it and welcomed it – they say the opposite) can anyone really support giving development aid to a fellow member of the G20? As usual in these cases, the facts go out of the window and raw emotion takes over. Perhaps Ivan Lewis doesn’t actually know that he is bursting several blood vessels over a mere £19 million.

I am sure there are areas of dire poverty in South Africa that could do with £19 million. Perhaps Ivan Lewis might like to justify why the South Africans should get that money rather than the Labour client states of Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester – cities that have been kept in dire poverty by Labour governments over the years, yet inexplicably still come back and vote for them. (And yes I know Glasgow went SNP in recent years, but you get my point).

So over the top has Ivan Lewis gone, that he has said our withdrawal of aid reminds South Africa of our role during the Apartheid years. Perhaps I should send him a copy of Robin Renwick’s book so he can inform himself better. Renwick was our ambassador in South Africa during many of the Thatcher years and for the first time tells the true story of Margaret Thatcher’s role in trying to persuade the South Africans to release Nelson Mandela and end Apartheid.

The truth is we should be giving aid to the very poorest countries, not fellow members of the G20. This is how international aid gets a bad name. It needs proper direction, and although hr department might have been clumsy in the handling of the announcement, the fact is that Justine Greening has done the right thing. The fact that Ivan Lewis is whipping up a storm in a tea-cup will do him and Labour no good politically at all.

I feel we might discuss this on my show this afternoon.

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UK Politics

The Real Winners on Thursday Could be the LibDems

28 Apr 2013 at 22:57

I’ve been thinking about the local elections and I have come to a rather surprising conclusion.

It seems to me that the Tories are frit. Frit of UKIP. The fact that they have put up more than 1730 candidates tells its own story. In a sense, even if none of those candidates does any campaigning at all, they will all get a couple of hundred votes or more. Now the fact is, in most county councils, the LibDems are in second place, with Labour trailing a poor third. Despite this, the conventional wisdom is that Labour will do very well on Thursday. No one quantifies what ‘well’ means. With 2500 seats up for grabs, you’d think a gain of at least 3-400 seats must be the minimum which Labour must aim for.

So if UKIP does well and scores around 10-15% of the vote, it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of these votes will come from disgruntled Conservatives. Which might well mean that the LibDems do disproportionately well assuming their vote doesn’t entirely collapse. There is little evidence from council by-elections that this will happen. Their vote has held up very well bearing in mind their terrible polling results.

So I wonder whether they really will lose the 150 seats they are projected to. I can imagine a scenario, where, thanks to UKIP they might not lose very many at all.

The real winners on Thursday will be the ’Don’t votes’. If turnout is much above 25-30% I will be very surprised. And the losers? If the Conservatives restrict their losses to 300 that would be regarded as acceptable by most Tories. But if they lose more than 500 I suspect there will be much muttering. And we can all imagine what the muttering will be about. Leopards don’t change their spots and Tory MPs clearly haven’t changed the habits of a lifetime.

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President Obama Being Funny

28 Apr 2013 at 10:17

This is Barack Obama speaking at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Why on earth do we have nothing similar here? It’s an opportunity for the President to poke fun at himself, and boy does he grasp it with both hands. George W Bush was superb at these events too.

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

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 3: Theresa May & Little Miss Popular

26 Apr 2013 at 22:20

I’ve never seen Theresa May as a political risk taker, but she certainly seem to be placing all her chips on red in her bid to rid us of the turbulent priest, Abu Qatada. As far as her political reputation goes it really is s*** or bust. If, in the end, he is plonked in steerage on an easyjet flight to Amman she becomes Boris Johnson’s new rival. If in two years’ time he’s still milking the British taxpayer and the legal aid system, it’ll be ‘Knock knock’ – ‘Who’s there?’ – ‘Theresa’ – ‘Theresa who?’ ‘That’s politics’. That joke ever reads as well as it sounds, does it? Ms May’s main weakness in the Tory leadership stakes is that she isn’t clubbable, in the way that Liam Fox is – and I’m not talking about seals. Ask yourself this. Who are her parliamentary acolytes? She’s been in Parliament since 1997 and it is still difficult to name any ‘May-ites’. Perhaps they are operating under the radar, but I doubt it. But as a certain Iron Lady would testify, you don’t have to be Little Miss Popular to be elected Tory leader. You have to be in the right place at the right time. In February 1975, Mrs T demolished Chancellor Denis Healey in a Finance Bill Committee, in the week before the leadership ballot. It made Tory MPs sit up and take notice. Mrs May is doing the same.


I really shouldn’t rise to the bait but there’s something about dickhead diary columnists that make me see red. Yes, yes, I know I am also a diary columnist, but some of my colleagues fail to see that a successful diary column should be whimsical and amusing rather than just plain nasty. Clearly that hasn’t got through to the Independent on Sunday’s Matthew Bell-end. Until this week I hadn’t ever heard of him, but at about 10pm on Sunday someone on twitter alerted me to a snide little piece he had written about me paying my respect to Lady Thatcher in the Commons crypt. How very dare I, he spluttered. After all, journalists weren’t allowed in. How on earth had I got in when other, plainly more respectable journalists, hadn’t? He had emailed me and I had had the temerity not to reply. Indeed he had. And indeed I hadn’t. But if the little pipsqueak had done what any other credible journalist would have done and actually picked up a phone and called me, he might have discovered that his email had, rather appropriately, gone into my junk folder so I hadn’t actually seen it. So I saw red and gave him my response on twitter. I will leave to your imagination which two words the response contained. His response was telling: “Scored a direct hit by pointing out he was the only hack to get into the crypt. Over-reactions like that make it all worth it.” Any normal hack might have thought – “good on him, he got in and the rest of us didn’t.” Anyway, I think I’ve given enough publicity to a diary columnist who probably has far fewer readers than this column does! Oh, and you want to know how I got in? I’d love to tell you, but I’d have to shoot you.


I think I have driven my colleagues at Biteback Publishing to distraction this week over the New edition of MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER: A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER BEST. The original edition in 2000 contained essays by 85 people and ran to about 80,000 words. Since Lady T’s death I have been beavering away and collecting new material. The book went to print yesterday with, er, 215 entries and it runs to 195,000 words. It is fair to say it will be a bit of a doorstop of a book. It’s also got 24 pages of pictures too. The thing is, whenever you met the Lady there was always an anecdote to tell. It’s a funny thing for me to say, but it’s a really good ‘loo book’. You don’t want to read it all in one go – you dip in and out of it. A friend who is in her twenties has read it and said “Well I learned more about her than I ever would by reading a full scale biography”. And that’s kind of the point. It’s a book which concentrates on Margaret Thatcher’s personality and character, and if you don’t understand those, no amount of wider reading will ever work. It’s being published on 2 May and all royalties are going to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, the nice people who look after www.margaretthatcher.org


I listen to about 10 minutes of the Today Programme each day. It’s all I can stand. Yesterday I heard an interesting little snippet, though. Apparently Broadland is the least violent place in the United Kingdom. That’s a bit of a relief seeing as I am in the process of buying a house there. I immediately texted the local MP, my good friend Keith Simpson, who is on a Commonwealth War Graves trip to Turkey to tell him the good news. He is a military historian and I expected to get a reply along the lines of “Well, it’s like the Russian front in 1941…” but instead my phone pinged and I read “Suspect your new house is now worth more.” Keep it quiet, though. Wouldn’t want the vendors to know…


The story of the local elections may well not concern the performance of either of the two main parties. No. It may be how well UKIP do and how disastrously the LibDems do. UKIP, I believe, have put up marginally more candidates than the LibDems but how many of them will actually win? Perhaps the other question will be what impact UKIP has on the ability of Tory candidates to retain their seats. Perversely a good UKIP performance could actually boost the ability of LibDem councillors to unexpectedly retain their seats. Well it will certainly keep Messers Rallings and Thrasher at the University of Plymouth in business.


There’s no doubt about it, Nigel Farage is on a roll. This week he turned up like a fish out of water at the monthly Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch. I wasn’t there but I am told he put in a typically barnstorming performance and had the assembled journalistic brethren eating out of his hands. Simon Hoggart wrote afterwards: "Had he had talks with Tory MPs about cutting deals? “I have had discussions with many people in pubs all over Westminster, many of which I can remember!” There is something infectious about Farage [insert joke here] but I wonder whether he is peaking too early. His main aim must surely be to win next year’s European elections, something he has told me he is confident will happen. But in order to bring that about he needs to start selecting euro candidates who can take some of the weight off his shoulders. UKIP still gives the impression of being a one man band, and until it broadens its appeal it will only ever be seen as a rather shouty party on the fringe.


The Prime Minister held a Downing Street reception this week for leading members of Conservative Future. Never had the famous old house reeked so much of cheap cologne and zit cream. DC certainly got a little carried away in his speech to the assembled throng of nineteen year old know-it-alls. ‘Today we have Conservative Future at the heart of government here in Downing Street. To think 20 years ago we would not have had the Young Conservatives here because of the reputation they use to have’. The PM really should check his facts. It wasn’t the YCs who had a bad reputation, it was the Federation of Conservative Students, and as I recount in Memories of Margaret Thatcher I recount how I attended an FCS reception in Downing Street in January 1983. It was two years later that the infamous Loughborough conference took place, where certain members saw fit to rampage through corridors of the student residences and bash doors down. Some time later FCS was disbanded by the then party chairman Norman Tebbit. And guess which member of FCS was tasked with putting it all back together again? One J Bercow. Yes, at that time he was more right wing than Tebbit. Whatever happened?

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 7 - Beware of Breaking News on Twitter

23 Apr 2013 at 20:21

I love a breaking news story. The adrenaline flows. You never know what’s going to happen next. It’s the biggest challenge a talk radio presenter can face – especially when it concerns a subject you have less than a passing acquaintance with. One thing is for sure, as a radio presenter, breaking news gives you a tremendous opportunity to make a complete berk of yourself.

When I am in the studio I have my laptop open in front of me. I have Tweetdeck open, both to be able to see people tweeting into the programme, but also to follow news events. For example, today I saw that former Labour General Secretary Jim Mortimer had died, so I mentioned it briefly on air. In real breaking news situations Twitter can, as a presenter, be your best friend, During the London riots and the Egyptian revolution I was able to report things to my listeners far more quickly than if I had relied on the normal news sources – Reuters, AP, PA etc. But as well as being your best friend, Twitter can be your worst enemy. Take tonight as an example.

I can’t remember the time (around 615, I think) but I noticed a tweet from the AP feed which read….

BREAKING: Two explosions in the White House. Barack Obama said to be injured.

Wow. Big story. If it were true. I looked at my Sky News screen. Nothing. I couldn’t see any other tweet referring to it. I have a rule of thumb that I won’t announce anything on air unless I have double sourced it on Twitter. But boy was I tempted. But a sixth sense kicked in and told me to bide my time. I clicked onto the AP feed and it looked fine. But there was something which set alarm bells ringing. Thank goodness, because a couple of minutes later I saw a tweet which explained the AP feed had been hacked. As I wrote this, it’s been suspended.

So I wasn’t taken in, but the American stock market was. It plummeted in the minute after that tweet was sent. So Wall Street turns out to be more gullible than me. This time.

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Books

A Question of English

23 Apr 2013 at 08:56

Shame on Penguin’s Allen Lane imprint. My copy of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher arrived this morning. This is its cover. In many ways it is a wonderfully designed cover. It has a very velvety feel and the typography is superb. But I am afraid I am appalled that they have used the American spelling of ‘Authorized’ on the sub title. It’s certainly not what she would have wanted and it grates. Penguin ought to remember its British roots.

Happy St George’s Day, by the way! At least no one can americanise that!

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Olivia Newton-John

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 2: People Watching & What Did Ed Miliband Say to Lord Ashcroft?

19 Apr 2013 at 21:23

One of the great pleasures in life is people watching. There’s nothing I like better than to sit in Central Lobby in Parliament and just watch the world go by. Just seeing who is meeting whom can be very educational. And so it was at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday. Who should I see Lord Ashcroft having a quiet word with? None other than the Labour leader Ed Miliband. I’ve been speculating on what they might have been talking about. “Hello Michael, might you replace Unite as our biggest donor?” Perhaps not. “Ed, I want to relaunch Labour Home, how about it?” Possible. Or perhaps “Michael, about your advice on Ed Balls, can I ask you…?” Got it in one, I’d say.


Talking of the good Lord, the venerable proprietor of this website has taken to Twitter. Yes, really. You can ‘follow’ him at @Lord Ashcroft. At the time of writing he has a rather paltry 999 followers, so come on chaps and chapesses, do your duty. Lord A certainly won’t be satisfied until he overtakes my 39,000 odd followers. And some of them are even quite normal. I was chatting to Michael (as I like to call him) at St Paul’s and trying to explain the concept of Follow Friday on Twitter. It was when I used the acronym ‘#ff’ that I realised I had gone too far. It was a bit of a Julian Clary moment… Anyway, I look forward to seeing who he #ff’s today. Blame it on me. Or the sunshine. Or the boogie.


Carol Thatcher has displeased Paul Dacre. Another thing in her favour then. It seems the Mail had paid her a large sum of money for an article post funeral. Sadly, she has refused to write it. The Mail is understandably somewhat piqued, given the number of articles it has paid her for in the past when she was on her financial uppers. Rumour is that M’Learnd Friend is being consulted.


On Tuesday night after I finished by LBC show I tootled off down to the House of Commons to pay my respects to Lady T at the chapel of St Mary’s Undercroft. I arrived at about 8.30, long after most MPs had been to pay their respects. It is a perfect place for silent contemplation. I spied Conor Burns sitting alone in the front row. My instinct was to say ‘hello’ and give him a bear hug. But just in time I stopped myself. There are some moments when people just want to be alone with their thoughts. So I sat there for 15 minutes or so thinking about how Lady Thatcher had affected the course of my life. I thought about all my Norfolk Tory friends who had asked me to say a prayer for them. So I did. Finally I go up to leave. I approached the coffin, said a silent thank you and then touched the coffin. And then choked up. I don’t think I was alone.


I always cry at funerals. But I didn’t on Wednesday. It was a wonderful service in so many ways, but strangely unemotional. Unless your name is George Osborne, of course. More of him in a moment. The only time my eyes moistened was when I heard the ‘three cheers’ and clapping as the coffin emerged from the cathedral. Otherwise, there was nothing in the service to really make the waterworks gush. I have every sympathy with George Osborne as I do have a tendency for the waterworks to commence at very inconvenient moments – usually when I am on the radio. Politicians are human too and I suspect something triggered off a painful memory for the chancellor. The disgusting reaction on Twitter had to be seen to be believed. My own lachrymose moment came later in the day. At the beginning of my LBC show we played a 6 minute ‘highlights of the day’ montage (It’s on my blog. Have a Kleenex at the ready, and by the end of it I was feeling very emotional. I then had to give a 4 minute monologue telling the listeners about my day. My voice was quivering with emotion, but the show had to go on, and so it did!


Talking again of ‘people watching’, I met a lot of old friends in the cathedral. The man sitting next to me turned out to be Simon Murray of Hutchison Whampoa, a man I did some PR work for when his company took over the Port of Felixstowe back in 1991. I hadn’t seen him for 22 years. On my other side was former IEA director general John Blundell and his wife. As I sat there Dame Shirley Bassey and June Whitfield walked past. My one jarring moment came when I said hello to Simon Weston and realised I was sat at least 30 rows in front of him. I’ve edited four books on Margaret Thatcher, while he fought for her. I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest.


In last week’s column I made a sniffy remark about books which are being published to cash in on Lady Thatcher’s memory. So you might think it odd – not to say hypocritical – that I’m about to bring out a book called MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER: A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER BEST. It’s a heavily updated version of a book I published 13 years ago. I had so many emails and texts asking to do it, I thought why not? However to avoid any charge of cashing in, all royalties are being donated to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Apart from royalties, it’s unlikely to make anything because of its length. I’ve included many of the parliamentary tributes and solicited lots of new material. The Prime Minister has written a foreword. In the original edition, there were 80 essays. This one has more than double. It will be out in early May.


A final word on the funeral. A friend of mine, Deborah Slattery, who was a Tory agent in Norwich in the late 1980s, caught the 4am bus from Norwich so she could get to St Paul’s for 7am and book her place in the crowd. I recruited Deborah and her husband Mike into the Party in the 1987 election. They were stalwart party workers but got so disillusioned by John Major they drifted away from actively helping the party. They are two examples of people totally motivated by Margaret Thatcher but appalled by today’s political leadership – or lack of it. When David Cameron can attract the Slatterys back into active politics I’ll think he’s really making progress. I’m not holding my breath.

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Radio Discussion: The Thatcher Legacy

19 Apr 2013 at 00:26

A 28 minute discussion on the Voice of Russia about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, chaired by Brendan Cole. Participants are Michael Cockerell, Peter Tatchell, Guardian Letters editor Nigel Willmott and me. It’s a rather good listen, I think. Peter Tatchell keeps calling me ‘rude’. As if.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Polar Explorer Dwayne Fields

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UK Politics

One For The Ladies

18 Apr 2013 at 16:19

At the Norfolk Show 30 year ago. Thirty years! God I feel old

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What the Papers Say - Margaret Thatcher Edition

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Media

Why Is TV News So Obsessed With America?

18 Apr 2013 at 10:04

The Boston bombing was of course a big news story. But if it had occurred in Jakarta or Seoul, would it have even been reported at all? Similarly, if a fertiliser plant in Malaysia, rather than Texas, had blown up, would it have rated a mention on the BBC or Sky? Our news broadcasters are so obsessed with America that any minor incident involving a shooting or stabbing in a school merits blanket 24/7 coverage. Did you know that there was a major earthquake in Pakistan on Wednesday killing 24? What about the even bigger quake in Iran on Tuesday. Or the 24 Afghans who died in an attack on Tuesday? When was the last time you heard a news story about South America that wasn’t about President Kirchner and the Falklands? These stories should be covered properly by the BBC but they’re not. If you want good, all-encompassing world news you have to go to Al Jazeera English. Try it.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special

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