Books

LISTEN: Half an Hour With Michael Dobbs

17 Jul 2015 at 09:49

Every week I now do a political books podcast for Politicos.co.uk. You can download on iTunes, Soundcloud or Sticher. I’ll also always post them on here from now on. This week I talk to Michael Dobbs for half an hour about all sorts of things, including HOUSE OF CARDS as well as a wealth of other creative projects that are in the pipeline. Lord Dobbs provides insight into the current environment in the House of Lords, while also listing the three books he is planning to take on his much-needed holiday.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Kate Adie

Iain talks to Kate Adie about her new book on women in the First World War.

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Video

WATCH: Interview with Zac Goldsmith

16 Jul 2015 at 10:27

Earlier this week I interviewed Zac Goldmsith about his London mayoral ambitions. It was a very revealing interview in which Zac refused point blank to apologise to Sir Howard Davies for his remarks on the conduct of the Airports Commission and said for the first time he wouldn’t stand in a by-election if the Heathrow decision goes against him. He also talked about being thrown out of Eton and made clear some differences with Boris Johnson.

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Video: Iain & Yasmin Alibhai Brown cross-examine Douglas Murray

18 Doughty Street Crosstalk: It gets rather angry...

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 29: When a Caller Says Jews Should Get Over the Holocaust

15 Jul 2015 at 21:39

It’s not often I shout at a caller or stun them into silence, but that is what happened tonight on LBC. I was conducting a phone-in about the 94 year old Auschwitz guard who was sentenced to four years in prison today in a court in the German town of Lueneburg. I started off by interviewing holocaust survivor Ivor Perl, whose parents and sisters were murdered iN Auschwitz. Ivor and his brother managed to survive. He testified in the court hearing. Here is my interview with him, which set the scene for what followed.

Towards the end of the hour I took a call from Tom in Chelsea who reckoned the jailing of Oskar Groenig was unjustified. He then went on to suggest that jews should just get over the holocaust. I saw red…

I don’t lose my rag very often. I think radio presenters who do that more or less every day do it as an act and just do it to provoke. If I do it people sit up and take notice because it’s very unlike me. I’m usually quite calm, even when discussing quite controversial subjects.

Anyway, I’d be interested in whether I should have remained calm here too!

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to John Bird & Judith O'Reilly

John Bird discusses his book THE NECESSITY OF POVERTY and 'Wife in the North' Judith O'Reilly talks about A YEAR OF DOING GOOD.

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Books

Keith Simpson MP's Summer Reading List

14 Jul 2015 at 22:08

By Keith Simpson MP

After the excitement/trauma of the General Election colleagues have begun to settle down to Parliamentary, and in some cases ministerial life. The summer recess beckons and the thought of beaches, gardens, restaurants and wine bars. A time to recharge the little grey cells and to relax reading escapist fiction.

Following the publishing success of Fifty Shades of Grey there is a rumour that Iain Dale of Biteback publishing is considering two parliamentary versions, both based upon real people and incidents – Fifty Shades of Red by a Peeress and Fifty Shades of Green by a new female MP.

But many delight in reading something more serious, and, as usual, I have drawn up a selection of recently published books, mainly political, historical with a dash of war and conflict. Several of the books mentioned will not be published until late August/September and will provide sustenance for those sentenced to attend the Party Conference Season.

The media frequently criticise Parliamentarians for having little in the way of serious intellectual capacity or skills at writing beyond Party press releases, but even they should recognise that a number of our colleagues have written serious books on history and politics – they include Tristram Hunt, Chris Bryant, Nick Thomas Symonds, Chris Skidmore, Kwasi Kwarteng, Julian Lewis, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Damian Collins.

This has been a bumper year for interesting books published on history, politics and war. Michael Bloch’s biography of Jeremy Thorpe (Little, Brown £25) reveals how this talented politician led a double life of risk that amazingly never brought him down until well into his leadership. Bloch has widened his scope looking at an array of politicians who were gay or he assumes were gay – some rather far fetched – in Closet Queens: Some 20th Century Politicians (Little, Brown £25).

William Waldegrave’s family were established members of the political class, and he, as a One Nation Tory, served as an adviser and then a minister under Thatcher and Major. A Different Kind of Weather – A Memoir (Constable £20) is a rather rueful and reflective volume of a politician who helped to draft the policy which would become the Poll Tax and was a casualty of the Scott Inquiry.

Mention the name Wedgwood Benn and most people think of Tony Benn, politician and minister and enfant terrible of the Labour Party in the last half of the twentieth century. But his father, William, later 1st Viscount Stansgate, was a formidable politician and minister in his own right as a Liberal MP from 1906 until 1927 and then as a Labour MP. He served on active service in World War One and as a minister in Attlee’s government. Alun Wyburn-Powell has written a competent biography in Political Wings – William Wedgewood Benn, First Viscount Stansgate (Pen & Sword £33).

Clementine Churchill was the long serving, if not long suffering, wife of Winston whom she adored as did he her. To her fell the task of managing houses, family and budgets, as well as supporting him, and at times, saving him from his own enthusiasms. Sonia Purnell First Lady The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill (Aurum Press £25) is a good biography although at times over eggs the intimate personal details.

The outstanding political biography of 2014 was Charles Moore Margaret Thatcher The Authorised Biography Volume One: Not For Turning. This is to be a triple deck biography and on the 8th October the second volume, Margaret Thatcher Everything She Wants will be published by Allen Lane at £30 with a third and final volume in 2017.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP for Spelthorne, has yet to catch the selector’s eye for ministerial preferment, but has not sat and pined but been an active author with books such as Ghosts of Empire Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World and War and Gold A Five Hundred Year History of Empires, Adventure and Debt. Now he has turned his attention to a crucial period in Margaret Thatcher’s premiership when she was challenged on every front. Thatcher’s Trial: Six Months That Defined a Leader (Bloomsbury Publishing £20) will be published on the 20th September.

John Freeman was a war hero, a Labour politician, journalist, ambassador and pioneering TV interviewer who preferred the shadows to the limelight. Hugh Purcell has written a fascinating biography of a multi-talented man in A Very Private Celebrity The Nine Lives of John Freeman (The Robson Press £25). Recently the BBC has released on DVD his seminal series of TV interviews, “Face to Face” in which he calmly and persistently drew out of their comfort zones such celebrities as Evelyn Waugh, Edith Sitwell, Martin Luther King and Adam Faith.

Michael Jago has written a competent biography of Clement Attlee and now turns his attention to Rab Butler The Best Prime Minister Britain Never Had? (Biteback £25) published on the 20th October. The last serious biography of Rab was written by Anthony Howard in 1987. Rab came from the Tory political establishment, was a Chamberlain appeaser, responsible for the 1944 Education Act, helped to revive Conservative One Nation Toryism after 1945, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary but was outmanoeuvred for the leadership and premiership by Macmillan.

Two books are published this autumn on David Cameron’s premiership. Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon’s Cameron at 10 (William Collins £20, 10 September) claims to be a definitive account of his premiership based on hundreds of interviews and personal access. Seldon has a proven track record writing about British premiers. Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakshott have written a form of political biography without significant access. Call Me Dave The Unauthorised biography of David Cameron (Biteback £20, 5 October) will be sardonic and at times critical.

UKIP appeared to be the political phenomenon of recent UK politics with successes at the European elections, council elections and by-elections following defecting Tory MPs. But at the General Election they gained significant votes but failed to make a Parliamentary breakthrough. Owen Bennett followed Farage around during the election and his conversations and observations formed the basis for Following Farage: On the Trail of the People’s Army (Biteback £12.99). A more academic analysis is to be found in Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics (Oxford University Press £16.99, 1 September)

Norman Baker, former Lib Dem minister and a casualty of the General Election is publishing a memoir of his beliefs, successes and failures in Against the Grain (Biteback £20, 18 September). If they can be bothered, Therese May and Patrick McLoughlin, two of his Tory ministerial bosses, might look for their names in the index.

Election campaign diaries read after the event can be like drinking flat champagne. Nick Robinson, Political Editor of BBC TV, has written one of the better ones in Election Notebook The Inside Story of the Battle Over Britain’s Future And My Personal Battle (Bantam Press £20), made more poignant by his diagnosis, treatment and battle with cancer.

Early copies of the Times Guide to the House of Commons command serious money second hand, and even reprints of the pre 1945 ones published by Iain Dale are highly collectable. Why? Because they contain details of the results in individual constituencies and brief profiles of candidates and in later editions, essays covering everything from the media to regional variations. Candidates, journalists, academics and political analysts await with interest The Times Guide to the House of Commons 2015 (Times Books £60), especially the chapter analysing polling before the election. Be prepared – this Guide provides more candid information about the lives of MPs.

To many, the Privy Council is an arcane relic of past Royal and political history. An advisory council which today has seen most of its powers devolved, but it still a valued honour for politicians, with Cabinet Ministers and most ministers of state automatically becoming a Privy Councillor and entitled to be a Right Honourable. An anecdotal history has been written by David Rogers By Royal Appointment, Tales from the Privy Council – the unknown arm of government (Biteback £25).

The Duke of Wellington has been the subject of dozens of biographies, not least by military historians. But he was more than a successful general, and his political interests and his ministerial and Prime Ministerial role were crucial after Waterloo. Rory Muir has written a massive “two decker” biography attempting to put Wellington’s life into a wider context and a revisionist account of his service as Prime Minster. Wellington The Path to Victory 1769-1814 (Yale £30) was published a year ago and now Wellington Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace 1814-1852 (Yale £30) considers his self promotion of his reputation and his diplomatic and political life.

Ever since visiting Shanghai and seeing the Bund I have been fascinated by the relationship between the Chinese and the foreign interlopers who came to trade, establish treaty ports and to proselytise Christianity and in some cases to colonise in the period 1842-1943. Robert Neild has written a gazetteer of some of the two hundred and fifty treaty ports that the British, Europeans, Russians, Americans and Japanese established at various times. The “unequal treaties” still rankle with the Chinese today but some of the architecture remains and is still used. China’s Foreign Places The Foreign Presence in China in the Treaty Port Era (Hong Kong University Press £46) is a fascinating account of a relationship which was more than one sided exploitation.

With tensions between Russia and NATO and the EU over the Ukraine and the Baltic States a good introduction to the complex history is Anna Reid Borderland A Journey Through the History of the Ukraine, now updated in a paperback (Weidenfield & Nicolson £12).

Ferdinand Mount, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, journalist and author has written a book on his family – and David Cameron’s links with India. Through the lives of family members in the nineteenth century he has documented their service and ambitions in the old East India Company and later the Crown. It is a discursive book and covers many aspects of British India. The Tears of the Rajas Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 (Simon&Schuster) £25 makes for grim reading and perhaps a counter point would be the books of William Dalrymple.

Robin Prior, better known for several scholarly books on the First World War, has turned his attention to the summer of 1940 which is already a well researched period. But When Britain Saved the West The Story of 1940 (Yale University Press £20) combines the high politics with the personal uning diaries, official reports and the Home Security Files.

The Second World War had a major impact on rural Britain and the countryside – airfields, camps and military installations built after compulsory purchase, communities evicted, evacuees and refugees and prisoners of war and the need to produce more food. Our Land At War A Portrait of Rural Britain 1939-45 (William Collins £20) by Duff Hart-Davis is a marvellous account of this turbulent period and might provide some useful reading for Liz Truss, the Secretary of State responsible for our countryside.

The old German aristocracy, despite losing in some cases their families, their homes and their fortunes, have managed, in many cases to survive two World Wars. Hitler was quite prepared to use them for unofficial diplomacy, particularly with their British equivalents to whom they were often related. He had an exaggerated view of the influence of these people, but Karina Urbach in Go Betweens for Hitler (Oxford University Press £20) shows how Hitler used such aristocrats as the Duke of Coburg, grandson of Queen Victoria.

Anthony Beevor is a very successful military historian who has written about battles and campaigns through original archival sources and has given us new interpretations and analysis. Colleagues will be familiar with his Stalingrad and Berlin. In Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking £25) he addresses a familiar story but through a combination of examining the commanders on both sides as well as ordinary soldiers gives a new perspective to a familiar story, whether it is the outrageous egos of Montgomery and Patton or the fact that the Allies, as well as the Germans, shot POWs.

Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightment. The voice of Nazi Germany who chose to commit suicide with his family in the Berlin Bunker – his wife murdered his children. Goebbels kept a voluminous diary which has been transcribed and was his view of the Nazi World Order and his place in it as he chose to interpret it for posterity. Peter Longerich who has written a biography of Himmler, has now written a massive biography Goebbels (Bodley Head £30) in which he concludes that Goebbels had less influence on Hitler than he or many historians have claimed.

As a timely corrective to all the commemorations and histories of the First World War on the Western Front is Dominic Lieven’s Towards the Flame Empire, War and End of Tsarist Russia (Allen Lane £25). Lieven challenges many of our perceptions about the origins of the war and the importance of the Eastern Front. A book of immense scholarship and engaging readability.

Stalin, like Hitler has been the subject of numerous biographies, including some of the best by Robert Service and Stephen Kotkin. For those who want to understand Stalin the man and the dictator based upon his own archives and those of the Central Committee then Stalin A New Biography of a Dictator (Yale University Press £25) by Oleg V Khlevniuk is a must. The author has had almost complete access to the archives despite a clampdown by Russian authorities under Putin. Khlevniuk demolishes many myths, but shows how Stalin acquired and exercised ruthless power and was probably responsible for the imprisonment and execution of a million Soviet citizens a year. Putin is fascinated by Stalin, who has been steadily rehabilitated.

Rosemary Sullivan is an author of books on culture and the biographer of Elizabeth Smart. It takes the skills of a good biographer to write about Stalin’s Daughter The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyera (Fourth Estate £25) With access to KGB, CIA and Soviet government archives, as well as Svetlana’s daughter, Rosemary Sullivan has written a sensitive biography about Stalin’s daughter who, after his death, had to come to terms with his brutality, not least to her own family. In 1967 she defected to the USA where ultimately she died in poverty. How do the children of mass murderers come to terms with such a parent?

What do George Osborne and Gordon Brown have in common, apart from both being “Imperial” Chancellors? Their admiration for the American biographer Robert Caro, now aged 79, whose monumental multi-volume biography of LBJ is still to be completed. His first major book in 1974 was the 1,246 page biography of The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, now published in the UK by The Bodley Head at £35. Robert Moses was not a politician but New York City’s master planner who ruthlessly exercised power to demolish and rebuild the City and marginalise ethnic minorities. This biography, as the subsequent volumes on LBJ, are based on an incredible amount of detailed research and in depth interviews with hundreds of people who knew or worked with Moses. Caro is fascinated by those who acquire and exercise power, and although I suspect that George Osborne has read the original American edition, he will happily re-read this British edition and recommend it to young thrusters on the Conservative, Labour and SNP benches. A biography to be seen carrying in the House of Commons.

Writing of the ruthless acquisition and exercise of power naturally leads to Frank McLynn Genghis Khan The Man Who Conquered the World (Bodley Head £25) The author as an historian has ranged widely previously over subjects ranging from Marcus Aurelius to Villa and Zapata. Genghis Khan was born on the Mongolian Steppe and his life straddled the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Ruthlessness, an iron discipline, real leadership and the use of terror (genocide) on a vast scale saw him demolish the old Chinese empire before subjugating Central Asia and Persia. His legacy is still debated in successor countries including China and Iran.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century geopolitics was all the rage amongst certain academics and governments but taken to an ideological extreme under the Nazis, understandably got a bad name. But the geographical and environmental position and context of nation states is crucial for their political and economic security. Tim Marshall, journalist, writer and broadcaster, best known for his reporting of foreign affairs and security, has written a timely reminder of the importance of geopolitics in Prisoners of Geography Ten Maps That Tell Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics (Elliott & Thompson £16.99) A good bluffer’s guide for the members of the newly elected Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees.

Given the current political instability and conflict in the Middle East and the Mediterranean the historic perspective is useful. Noel Malcolm Agents of Empire Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth Century Mediterranean World (Allen Lane £30) is a masterful study of the conflict between the Christian states of Western Europe on the defensive against a Muslim superpower. There was widespread conflict and piracy, but also complex relationships across the religious and dynastic divides.

There is a danger that in Britain we look upon the contribution of India in two World Wars in a nostalgic way and from a British perspective. But the reality was more complex and Yasmin Khan demonstrates this in her masterly study The Raj at War A People’s History of India’s Second World War (The Bodley Head £25). In military terms the old Indian Army made a massive contribution to the British war effort – but the heroes in 1946 were the former members of the Indian National Army recruited by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. India was divided on religious, caste and regional grounds and the war accelerated the demand for independence with the Bengal famine being a particular horror and seemed to epitomise British, and particularly Churchillian indifference.

At a more personal level the Indian journalist Raghu Karnad has reconstructed the military service and battle experience of a grandfather and two great uncles in Farthest Field an Indian Story of the Second World War (William Collins £18.99).

The old Imperial Austrian Army has been caricatured as a joke by some historians, summarised by Tulleyrand’s dismissive aside that the Habsburg Army had “an unfortunate taste for being beaten”. But as Richard Bassett shows in For God and Kaiser The Imperial Austrian Army (Yale University Press £25) its cohesion depended in the Hapsburg monarchy and an intricate balance between the ethnic recruits of the Empire. It may have been beaten on numerous occasions but it was rebuilt, reformed and staggered on until broken during the First World War.

Christina Lamb is a distinguished journalist specialising in foreign affairs and author of several books. She has intimate knowledge of Pakistan and Afghanistan and has watched with incredulity how the West managed to miscalculate in its interventions in the region. Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World (William Collins £25) is based upon her own experience and conversations with decision makers in many countries. Her conclusions are gloomy about how the ignorance and failure of the West has resulted in the spread of terrorism throughout the Islamic World.

Max Hastings, distinguished military historian, and author of many books on the Second World War, has turned his attention to a much written about subject. In The Secret War Spies, Codes and Guerrillas (William Collins £30, 10th September) he examines espionage and intelligence on a global basis, bringing together American, British, German, Japanese and Russian histories.

In an age of email intercepts and drone strikes many assume that the role of the traditional spy or agent has passed. Stephen Grey disagrees and in The New Spymasters Inside Espionage from the Cold War to Global Terror (Viking £20) argues that despite the advances in electronic espionage and counter espionage the human source is still crucial.

Gordon Corera is the BBC’s security correspondent and in his Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies (Weidenfield & Nicholson £20) he shows how the code-breaking of the Second World War led to the birth of modern electronic espionage in the Cold War and then to the War against terrorists and now cyber warfare. Information isn’t knowledge and the need to counter terrorism and state and industrial espionage has major implications for privacy and civil liberties.

Graffiti is as old as man, and many people associate it with the political and personal graffiti entombed in the ruins of Pompeii or with fond memories of messages and drawings left on school desks or loo walls. Leaving your mark was something that throughout history prisoners etched in their cells. Matthew Champion is an expert on medieval English church graffiti and is based at the University of East Anglia and lives in my constituency. In Medieval Graffiti The Lost Voices of England’s Churches (Ebury £12.99) the author explains how all sorts of people from masons, architects, pilgrims and worshippers graffitied medieval churches. Based mainly on churches in East Anglia, and especially my very own Norfolk, Matthew Champion has written a fascinating book which is a cultural and social history of the period. Well worth including in the holiday travel bag and a must read for Dominic Grieve, aficionado of round tower churches, Caroline Spelman, Second Church Commissioner and Ann Treneman, who haunts church cemeteries.

The Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale debates the findings of the Leveson Report

Thor Halvorssen and Professor Steven Barnett join Iain Dale to discuss the fallout from Leveson.

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Music

Concert Review: Roxette at the O2

14 Jul 2015 at 08:26

So, how to get from Leicester Square to the O2 to get there in time for the start of Roxette’s first concert in London for several years. My LBC show finished at 8, at two minutes past we were out of the door heading to the car park. At 11 minutes past we were heading eastwards and believe it or not, by 8.45 we were in our seats having only missed ‘Sleeping in Your Car’ and ‘The Big L’, which I don’t particularly like anyway.

Roxette are one of those bands virtually everyone has heard of, but the cool people think are a bit naff. They’ve been around since the mid 1980s and have had some huge hits, which even the cool people hum along to. And the hits were all played last night. Well, most of them.

It wasn’t the longest of concerts – it was all done by 10.15, but there was a reason for that. Roxette’s lead singer is Marie Fredriksson. Back in 2002 she underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumour. It’s been a long way back for the peroxide blonde 56 year old, and there were times when it was thought she wouldn’t make it. Her rehabilitation lasted some years, but then she was back, and it was as if she hadn’t been away. Her voice has lost nothing, and although she is clearly physically frail, and sat on a stool for the whole evening, even having to be accompanied from the stage and then back for the encore, she put in an amazing performance which lacked nothing in terms of oomph or passion.

This was their only UK performance, which remains something of a mystery considering they sold out the O2 and did three concerts in Australia.

There was an immediate rapport with the audience who didn’t take long to get on their feet. ‘How do you do’ certainly got them going and it was pretty much a party atmosphere all the way from there. Roxette are a lot ‘rockier’ than they’re given credit for, and they almost went a little but heavy metal for a couple of songs, but of course it’s the ballads which most people associate them with. The first ballad they performed was the evocative ‘Spending my Time’ and then there was a beautiful acoustic version of ‘Watercolours in the Rain’ where Marie came into her own and her voice was brimming with emotion. Of course ‘It Must Have Been Love’, was a particular highlight and my own personal favourite ‘Listen to Your Heart’ was beautifully performed as the first of a two song encore.

Other highlights were there more recent hit ‘She’s Got Nothing On (But the Radio) and the heavy metal-esque version of ‘Joyride’ (preceded by a Brian May like performance of ‘God Save the Queen’ from the lead guitarist) and the medley of two of my least favourite Roxette songs ‘Dressed for Success’ and ‘Dangerous’ were particularly memorable.

Per Gessle, the less celebrated half of the duo, certainly entertained the crowd throughout with some well-judged banter. You never know how much of this is scripted, but it felt natural. Per writes most of the songs and is an accomplished solo performer in his own right. If you haven’t got any of his work, buy his greatest hits double album. As a vocalist he isn’t in the same league as Marie, but last night he really put in a shift and was clearly enjoying himself.

The only song they played which didn’t really hit the mark was ‘The Heart Shaped Sea’, which I couldn’t see the point of as it’s one of their least memorable. There were so many others they could have played instead. But this led on to ‘Fading Like a Flower’ which was clearly an audience favourite. As with most of the songs, everyone belted out the words.
Looking round the audience there were few people there under thirty or over 60. It was a concert enjoyed very much by people like me – children of the 1980s. Judging by the people sat around us it was a bit of a gay audience too!

I don’t go to many concerts but there have been two developments since I last went to a major one. The number of people who sit there with their iPhones filming more or less the whole thing is something to behold. They’re only concentrating on what they’re doing rather than enjoying the concert. Also, I got rather fed up with the constant flow of people walking up and down the stairs next to my seat. When the crowd was on its feet I suppose it didn’t matter, but people would just stop and stand right next to me or in front of me, without a thought for the fact that it disturbed people’s view. I could have got very annoyed, but for once controlled myself!

I left at 10.15 and was home in Tunbridge Wells by 10.50. I highly recommend the valet parking system!

All in all a fabulous evening.

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Video: Iain Reports on the Tories' Project Umubano in Rwanda

18 Doughty Street

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Feeling Dirty About Fox Hunting & Ann Widdecombe

10 Jul 2015 at 14:10

Half way through George Osborne’s budget speech I began to wonder what all the fuss was all about. Most of the measures that he had announced had either been leaked or he had announced in his Andrew Marr interview. I should have had more faith in the political abilities of the chancellor. In the end this turned out to be a bit of a landmark budget. My only worry is that the National Living Wage bit of it is a bit oversold. It isn’t the so-called Living Wage, it’s a much higher Minimum Wage, and although it was a good short term PR wheeze to call it the Living Wage, in the long term it might have been better not to. But it will have a massive effect on many people and raise their standard of living hugely. It’s the equivalent of a 6% pay rise for the next four years. £9 an hour equates to an annual salary of nearly £19k. Of course it also means that there will be unscrupulous employers who try to avoid paying it, so the government really does need to beef up enforcement. It is a scandal that so few people have been taken to court for not paying the existing minimum wage, when we all know there are loads of companies that don’t.

One thing which has passed by with little comment is the minute rise in the 40p tax threshold. We were told that the threshold would rise to £50k by 2020. All I can say is that there is a bloody long way to go. The pathetic rise of £115 to £43,000 didn’t even cover inflation, so in real terms, people earning above that level are worse off. It also means that in the chancellor’s five remaining budgets he’s got to cover £7,000. Good luck with that.
*
Don’t you think the Italian Prime Minister Mario Renzi looks a bit like Nick Griffin?
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Last Saturday I drove to Finchley to chair the Conservative Way Forward hustings. CWF has become quite a campaigning force under the chairmanship of Donal Blaney and directorship of Paul Abbott, former Chief of Staff to Grant Shapps. In the morning around 100 CWF members gathered to deliver thousands of leaflets for local MP Mike Freer. They then gathered in a sauna-like basement of a local hostelry to hear candidates for London mayor set out their stalls. In advance, Syed Kamall had told the organisers he wouldn’t be attending due to Ramadan. I couldn’t quite work this out as I thought Ramadan only had implications for the time that you ate. Clearly not. I’ve since spoken to Syed and he has explained that while you can do ‘short burst’ things, because your body is not at its optimum doing something like a hustings in a hot room would be unwise. He asked the organisers to move the date but they wouldn’t.

When I arrived at the hustings I was then told that Ivan Massow had pulled out as well and was being empty chaired because of it. One of his campaign team protested to me about the empty chairing but I have to say it hardly surprised me that he failed to show. If the reason he gave was true, fair enough, but the organisers had their doubts. In addition,
Sol Campbell had withdrawn earlier in the week, as he realised after his car crash of an LBC interview he wasn’t quite ready. At least he had the politeness to do it properly. So we were left with two candidates – Stephen Greenhalgh and Andrew Boff. At the last minute a Bromley councillor, Simon Fawthrop, put his name forward so we invited him onto the platform too. The place was like a sauna, the mics didn’t work and the fans were loud. Apart from all that, everything was hunky dory! Of the three candidates I thought Stephen Greenhalgh, Boris’s Deputy Mayor in charge of policing was the most coherent and impressive. He had a clear plan, was passionate and spoke well. Andrew Boff has always been a great public speaker and had some radical ideas too, but on the day I thought Stephen edged the debate. He’s not someone I know well, but I was impressed. As for Simon Fawthrop, well, let’s be kind and say he survived to fight another day, but mayoral material he is not.
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It’s outrageous that CCHQ will shortlist the declared candidates down to two or possibly three. Why shouldn’t Londoners have a much wider choice? If the candidates are credible, why not put them all through? Labour did just that, and they are giving people six to choose from. We all know Zac will be one of the two or three and quite right too, but I fail to see any reason for excluding a Conservative MEP, the Deputy Mayor for Policing, the leader of the Conservatives on the GLA or the leader of Westminster City Council. If any of them are excluded by CCHQ we then have to ask why they are good enough to hold their current positions, I’d have thought. Perhaps CCHQ should bear that in mind.
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It’s my birthday next week. Just sayin’.
*
So we’re going to spend the next week talking about fox hunting. Not Greece. But fox hunting. Only in this country… On Thursday MPs will be given a free vote on changing the law, not to allow free for all fox hunting, but to amend the law slightly to make it easier to use more hounds. I come from a farming background but have always been rather ambivalent towards fox hunting after the local hunt used to think it was quite acceptable to ride through my father’s crops, and indeed our back garden, without a second thought for the damage they were doing. I can remember as a ten year old telling them exactly what I thought of their behaviour. The first question I was asked in the North Norfolk candidate selection was on fox hunting. I didn’t exactly lie, but I didn’t tell the whole truth either. It ran something like this: “You are a close friend of Ann Widdecombe, do you share her views on fox hunting.” I replied to the effect of: “Just because I am friends with someone doesn’t mean I necessarily share their view on anything, and there are rather a lot of things Miss Widdecombe and I disagree about.” A classic politician’s answer. It was totally true but on the other hand didn’t tell the whole truth. I felt slightly grubby, but needs must and all that. In eighteen months I managed to restrict my attendance of the local hunt to a single occasion.

This issue is the only one I have ever felt the need to caveat my real views on, and I’ve always hated myself for it. It’s not that I am against killing foxes, I just don’t like the way posh people on horses do it – and yes, I know, it’s not just posh people who take part. I’ve shot foxes myself before, so I’m not some tree hugging animal rights activist, and I fully accept the need for the fox population to be controlled. But to subject an animal to death like that, where it is ripped apart by voracious hounds, surely belongs to our bygone history, not 2015.
*
On Monday I am going to the O2 to see Roxette in concert. And I am not ashamed to say so, either. I just listen to my heart, as I join the joyride.
*

Also on Monday I will have the first broadcast interview with Zac Goldsmith on why he’s running for mayor of London. So do tune into LBC from 5-5.30pm.

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Iain Dale talks to Ed Miliband

The Labour leader gives his longest broadcast interview.

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 28: Should You Ever Disagree With a Fellow Presenter On Air?

9 Jul 2015 at 21:36

Earlier today my LBC colleague James O’Brien discussed the Tube strike on his morning show. He launched an impassioned defence of the strikers and an attack on employers. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, so I thought I’d take him to task on my Drivetime show. He are the two pieces of audio…

Here’s the text, which includes a couple of paras I cut in the live version as we were running over time…

Oh dear James, where do I start? Let’s start from the premise that not all employers get up in the morning thinking ‘how can I exploit my workforce today for maximum advantage’. The different between James O’Brien and me is that so far as I am aware, he’s never run a business, never employed anyone, never created wealth. I have. I’ve started or run seven businesses over the years and I treat people who work for me as colleagues not peasants who I can exploit. I’ve probably employed more than 400 people over the years and I’m confident enough to say that not a single one of them would think they have been treated badly by me or any company I have run.

I don’t pretend that London Underground have behaved perfectly in this dispute, as my interview with their director Nick Brown demonstrated yesterday, but nor are they the ogres that Aslef and the RMT try to pretend. The fact is LU have let the transport unions get away with blue murder over the years. They have caved in time after time after they’ve been held to ransom. Perhaps this dispute shows they are determined that this won’t happen in the future. If so. Good.

This dispute isn’t about an annual pay rise. It isn’t about that old favourite of the unions, health and safety. It’s about so-called work life balance. Well let’s look, shall we, at the work life balance of a London underground worker. Tube drivers work an average of 36 hours a week for a starting salary of close on £50,000, rising to £60,000 over 5 years, and with 43 days holiday. So plenty of time for a so-called work life balance and the money to pay for it too.

Contrast this with a police officer or a firefighter who work more than 5 hours a week with a starting salary of £19,000 a year and 22-28 days off. Or a nurse. Or a teacher. I could go on. Well good on the tube drivers. I don’t begrudge them a penny of it. Well done to their unions for negotiating it.

Of course not all London underground workers are so well paid. Station staff get around £30000 with supervisors earning around £40,000. Some might say their jobs were far more challenging than pushing a lever to drive a semi automated train.

This dispute is all about the luddite attitude of the RMT and ASLEF. They want to throw a spanner in the works of the night tube which is the biggest development on the Underground for years. And it’s not as if London Underground have said that its workers will not gain from this innovation. There will be hundreds of new jobs – more potential union members, you might think. And they will get a 2% pay hike and a two and a half grand one off bonus.

And yes, James O’Brien, an employer is indeed entitled to alter the time that you work. And they’re under no obligation to offer any extra recompense, especially if it doesn’t involve working extra hours. In this case LU have offered recompense in the form of one off bonus payments, and look what thanks they’ve got for it. Ask a police officer, or a nurse if they have any sympathy for the bleatings we have heard from the transport unions. All they are being asked to do is on three or four weeks a year to alter their shift patterns and to work three or four weekends a year. Is that really something that is so outrageous?

I was asked to present Sunday mornings on LBC a few years ago. And I did it for eighteen months. Did I welcome the fact that it would ruin my weekends? No I didn’t. Did I go on strike? No I didn’t. And this was every weekend, not just six or seven times a year. I did it because it was a reasonable request from the company that pays me well to do my job. Just like LU pay tube drivers well to do their job. And just like they have made a perfectly reasonable request.

James O’Brien says that tube drivers are suffering. Give me a break. He says that we’ve been reduced to craven, forelock tugging peasants. What utter utter bunkum. And patronising bunkum at that.

These aren’t downtrodden workers scratching around for a living. They aren’t migrants who come to this country and are exploited by a gangmaster at two quid an hour. These are people on double the average wage in this country. The only people who are suffering are the travelling public whose taxes and fares pay those salaries and who find themselves massively inconvenienced today.

I’m not opposed to all strikes. I had great sympathy with the firefighters, for example, for their fight to protect the pensions they thought they had signed up for. But that’s totally different to this. James reckons that employers nowadays have more control over our lives than at any point since the Second World War. Again, an easy soundbite which some will lap up, but it is of course simplistic rubbish. We have equal pay, the 48 hour week, the minimum wage, minimum holiday entitlement, maternity pay, paternity pay, parental leave. None of these things were available in 1974 let alone 1945.

Yes there are rogue employers, just as there are rogue employees. Yes there are greedy employers who pay themselves far too much. But we’ve got to a state in our society where anyone who runs a business, takes a risk, makes a profit is seen by some in our society as a symptom of what’s wrong with this country rayher than something to celebrate. It should be the reverse.

When employers get things wrong, we shouldn’t be afraid to say so but we shouldn’t get it into our heads that the first thing they do when they get out of bed in the morning is to think ‘how can I shaft my workforce today’. Should we James?

The response to this on twitter and on the phones was massive. Even George Galloway got involved, accusing my of attacking a colleague. No, it wasn’t an attack, it was a disagreement. I have a very high regard for James, as he knows, but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with him if I think he’s wrong. I did it recently with Nick Ferrari when I didn’t agree with something I heard him say on the Mediterranean migrant issue. I see absolutely no problem with doing so. On a talk radio station healthy debate is the very essence of what we do. Why shouldn’t presenters disagree and indulge in a bit of creative tension. Of course we all have egos. We all like to think we’re right, but we all ought to be big enough to take it when a colleague holds different views. James O’Brien is a big man and can take anything I ever throw at him. And you know what? He’s very welcome to throw it back.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Hosts a Phone in Dealing With Grief

A month after his mother died, Iain asks why we find bereavement so difficult.

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WATCH: Charles Clarke Relives 7/7

7 Jul 2015 at 18:03

From my LBC show today.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Peter Snow

Just a bit of fun! Peter Snow talks about his new book on the burning down of the White House.

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Personal

My Personal Memory of 7/7

7 Jul 2015 at 08:00

I don’t know if you remember where you were on the morning of the 7th July 2005 when you heard the news of the terrorist bombings in London. It seems a lot longer ago than ten years to be honest. And yet it also seems closer. I remember virtually everything about that day.

I was sitting at my desk in the House of Commons (for the uninitiated, I was working for David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary and Tory leadership candidate as his chief of staff) and a colleague popped his head round the door to say there was something on the radio about a big bang in a tube station. Shortly afterwards Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson from the Daily Telegraph arrived to do a feature interview with David. Gradually news started coming in that there were several incidents. I kept interrupting his interview with news. Once we worked out it was a terror attack, I rang home and rang my parents to reassure them I was OK. I began to get calls from friends.

My work colleague began to get hysterical about her son, who she feared might have been on one of the trains. She rang his school and he had not arrived. As the morning wore on, and she couldn’t make contact with him, even I began to fear the worst. But I had to make a decision. I was trying to coordinate our response and ensure the office ran smoothly, yet my colleague (and very good friend) was becoming hysterical. Did I try to soothe her or did I do my job? I’m slightly ashamed to say I chose the latter and ‘delegated’ the former. Hard bastard, I thought to myself. Her son rang to say he was OK shortly afterwards.

None of us knew what it all meant. The thought ran through my mind that if this was a repeat of 9-11, our office wasn’t exactly the best place to be. It was located almost directly under Big Ben. But you just get on with your job. David Davis was the coolest man in London. If ever I doubted his leadership qualities, they were on full display that day. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester would confirm that. I think they were rather impressed at the way he swung into action. We convened a Shadow Cobra meeting with Michael Howard and other members of the Shadow Home Affairs team. Several calls came in from the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, who was keen to brief David on Privy Council terms about what was going on. He told David he would be making a statement to the Commons, so we all swung into action to prepare David’s response. I seem to remember that Nick Herbert and Paul Goodman were heavily involved, but in the end most of the words were David’s own. They had to be.

David then went down to the chamber to respond to Charles Clarke’s statement in the House of Commons. We were glued to the TV. He caught the mood of the House and gave a speech which even his enemies had to admit was striking.

The next day, I was walking along the Embankment to work with the sound of helicopters and Police sirens ringing through the air. I remember thinking to myself: “This is not the London I love.” I felt as if I was walking along a street in an alien city. I admit that a tear rolled down my face. Would life ever be the same?

Well, life did return to normal for most of us. But for the families of the people who died that day, normal would never exist again.

I got to know one of the victims who survived quite well. I won’t name her here as I know she has moved on in her life. But she spent several years trying to come to terms with what had happened and campaigned for justice for the families of those who died and for the people who were so badly injured. She insisted the 7/7 inquiry was conducted properly and that the correct lessons were learned.

Well have those lessons been learned? There will be a lot of introspection today, not least throughout the day on LBC. The fact is that since July 2005 we haven’t had a major terror attack in London. Perhaps the security services learned some valuable lessons we will never know the details of. Certainly London Underground and the Metropolitan Police will have learned lessons too. Hopefully the right ones.

This time last year some vile idiots defaced the 7/7 Memorial. It showed us once again what evil people there are in our midst. We know that one day there will be another terrorist outrage in our capital city. But the terrorists can never win if we defy them. And defy them we must.

On LBC Drive this afternoon we will have interviews with Tony Blair, Charles Clarke, David Davis, Commander Mark Rowley and a half hour documentary by Tessa Jowell, who played a leading role in the aftermath of 7/7 looking after the interests of victims’ families. Do tune in.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to horror writer James Herbert

James Herbert talks about his latest book ASH and his career as Britain's leading horror writer.

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Personal

Restaurant Review: Shepherd's of Westminster

3 Jul 2015 at 19:15

When I first came to Westminster in the mid 1980s there was a restaurant in Marsham Street called ‘Lockets’. As a lowly researcher, it was always a treat to be taken there. At some point it was sold to Michael Caine and it became Shepherds. It then closed down a couple of years ago after having tested its patrons patience with extortionate prices for average fayre served by invariably rude waiting staff. So when I heard that my old friend Lionel Zetter had bought the lease and was reopening it I did wonder if it was the wisest investment he could make. Apparently 80% of restaurants fail within six months. Anyway, on Tuesday I went for a meal for the first time. I actually felt really guilty for not having been before, but because of the timing of my radio show I can’t really do long lunches any more. Anyway, this week I’ve been doing the breakfast show, so long lunches every day. Way hay!

Shepherd’s always had a reputation for being the politico’s favourite restaurant and it hasn’t changed a bit. On the table to the left of us was a Prime Minister’s former chief of staff. On the right of us was a Tory MP lunching with a top lobbyist (who is also a former Tory MP). Lord Ashcroft was there too. The décor is very understated, which is exactly how it should be. There are no over the top pictures or pieces of memorabilia. The seats are made of green leather and the tables are divided by some tasteful dark wood panelling. The service is excellent with the waiting staff only interrupting you when they need to without constant questions about how much you’re enjoying your meal. They are also very knowledgeable about the menu and quite bantery when it’s appropriate.

The menu itself, on first impressions, isn’t that extensive, with about ten starters and then main courses to choose from. But in a way it’s good that it doesn’t offer too much choice. There is something for everyone and it’s a mix of traditional and modern cooking. We skipped the starter (my excuse is I was lunching a LibDem) and headed straight for the main course, and we both plumped for the Shepherd’s Pie. I have to say, it was fabulous. For dessert I chose the Eton Tidy and my lunch companion went for the Apple Crumble. Again, superb. I don’t drink, but my lunch partner downed two or three glasses of red (well, poor love needed it given the LibDem election performance) and the bill came to just over £70. Now I reckon that’s pretty good value for money. I can’t actually think of anything to complain about. The general manager even spotted I had left my bag in the bar and came over with a cloakroom ticket. Little touches like that mean a lot.

So do try it out. I can virtually guarantee that you’ll love it and return again and again. It’s my new lunchtime hangout. Or at least it would be if I was ever able to do lunches properly again.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of you in Finchley on Saturday when I’ll be hosting the hustings for some of the declared London mayoral candidates. Should be fun.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Ed Miliband

Iain talks to the Labour leader at the end of his 2012 conference.

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