UK Politics

Is Jeremy Corbyn a Reincarnation?

4 Nov 2017 at 14:31

Some friends of mine have just returned from a holiday in the Pyranees. They visited a prehistoric cave system, with stunning cave paintings inside. It was near Grotte de Niaux, south of Toulouse at the start of the Pyrenees before Andorra. They were looking at an exhibition and spotted these pictures. Look at the likeness of the man on the right to Jeremy Corbyn! He is only identified as M. Prevot. I wonder if Jezza has some French blood in him!

Spooky!

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Iain interviews Michele Collins

Michele Collins talks about her autobiography.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: When Someone Sexually Harassed Me (Spoiler - It Wasn't An MP)

3 Nov 2017 at 13:34

There I was, minding my own business, when suddenly this man approached me. He stood in front of me and without so much as a by your leave, stuck his hand right down my trousers. Now, this happened a long time ago, and before you ask, no it wasn’t an MP. At least I don’t think it was. No, it happened in a gay bar called BRIEF ENCOUNTER in St Martin’s Lane. It’s no longer there. This was my first visit to an establishment of that nature. I was petrified. Would I be recognised? What if someone spread the word that I was, well, gay? It was 1990, after all. This bar was on two levels. On street level it was jam packed with drinkers, virtually all male. Downstairs it was darker and more of a pickup joint. Lots of furtive looks were exchanged. I just stood there, sipping on my vodka and orange, mildly fascinated by what was going on. And then it happened. I suppose it was a novel alternative to asking “do you come here often?”

Was I shocked? Undoubtedly. Did I feel violated? Well, mildly, I suppose, but I had placed myself in an environment where I suppose this sort of thing was almost par for the course. All I remember is removing the hand and saying (rather hilariously) “I don’t think so”. Had this happened in a work environment I would have no doubt felt differently and been completely horrified. Had it happened during the two and a half years I worked in Parliament it might have scarred me in ways I cannot now comprehend.

When I first worked as a researcher (OK, more of a glorified secretary) in the Commons back in 1985 to 1987 I was very naïve. I worked in the next office to Caroline Edmondson, who has hit the headlines this week with her allegations about Mark Garnier. At that point, I had girlfriends. I had a relationship with a Commons Secretary. I genuinely cared for her, but in the end, it was all a front. I knew I was gay but hadn’t ever acted on it. And didn’t do so until I was 28. And if that chance encounter hadn’t happened, I might well have become one of those pitiful men who get married and have children while knowing all along that their real sexual interest lies elsewhere. And believe me, there are a lot of them about.

So, what’s the point of this anecdote? I suppose it is to say that we all react in a very different way to forms of sexual harassment. For some, a mild touch on the knee is an outrageous breach of their personal space and can be something that’s deeply upsetting. For others they can brush it off without a second thought and just get on with their lives. Neither reaction is right or wrong. It just proves that we all have different reactions and deal with things differently.

The problem is that there are some men (and it’s usually men, it has to be said, although I do know of situations where women are the transgressors) who believe that if you approach ten women and signal that you’re after sex, one in ten will agree. If you have the skin of a rhino and can deal with rejection, you probably regard a one in ten hit rate as worth the risk.
I don’t believe men who work in parliament and are any more dangerous in this regard than men in any other workplace. What I do believe is that they are more likely to get away with it and face few consequences for their actions because the personnel systems aren’t in place to deal with such behaviour. No one wants to create a workplace where a man fears asking a woman out for fear of being accused of harassment, but we also can’t tolerate a work environment where women feel they might as well not bother reporting incidents of workplace harassment because it will be swept under the carpet.


On Monday night I was on the phone to a cabinet minister when my phone pinged. A friend had sent me the full unredacted spreadsheet to which Labour supporters have now attached the hashtag #TorySleaze36. It made for some strange reading. It certainly had some surprises on it, but there were quite a few names listed who for the life of me I couldn’t see had done anything wrong. Justin Tomlinson, for example, was listed as dating his researcher. Wow. What a scandal. Not. There were quite a few others who were no doubt furious to see themselves listed. But there are plenty of others who are in for a very difficult few days. There are even one or two who, if the allegations are made public and they have no answers, could be forced out of parliament altogether. The newspapers are becoming more daring by the day and have started to name quite a few of the 36, even if they only print their pictures and a very mild version of the allegations against them. Their problem is that very few of these allegations involve anything that’s illegal – they’re the sort of allegations which emerged in the 1990s after John Major’s ‘Back to Basics’ speech, and now the newspapers have the opportunity to print them, even if it’s only in a redacted form. Naturally some of the more enthusiastic Labour supporters on social media seem to think this sort of thing only happens in the Tory Party. It happens in all parties and in all walks of life. The allegations of rape, made by Labour activist Bex Bailey and the antics of Labour MP Jared O’Mara rather give the lie to that. Oh, and the cabinet minister I was talking to? I rang him back to tell him he didn’t feature on the list. There was no audible sigh of relief.
*
The Bank of England seem to be acting as the Provisional Wing of the Remain campaign. Their latest intervention predicts a loss of 75,000 jobs in financial services if there is no Brexit deal. It’s being so cheerful as keeps ‘em going. Still, at least they didn’t go as far as the deluded head of the London Stock Exchange, Xavier Rolet who reckoned 200,000 jobs would go. FACT: JP Morgan have announced that instead of the 4,000 jobs they threatened to move to Paris, fewer than 1,000 would now be created there. Same with UPS. Not 1,000. 250. And these aren’t jobs that will necessarily move. They’re creating new offices with new positions. The Bank of England report wasn’t actually all bad news. Tucked away were some paragraphs outlining the opportunities that Brexit offers. Strangely, these got hardly any coverage because the media is predominantly interested in reporting apocalyptic bad news rather than anything which points to any optimism about Brexit.


Most political resignations are intrinsically sad. Whatever the circumstances they are a tragedy for the person who’s resigning. One moment you’re one of the most important people in the country. The next, you’re, well, someone who used to be someone. I first met Michael Fallon in March 1983. I worked on his by-election campaign in Darlington. I was still at university and it was the first important election I had worked on. I’ve never been a close friend of his but have always felt a certain bond with him because of Darlington. I always thought he should have been promoted way before he was and I think he’s been a good minister wherever he has served. As I write this only a few hours after his resignation, I’m still not quite clear why he’s gone. Surely not just due to touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee fifteen years ago. Whatever the reasons I hope that he doesn’t wallow in the sadness of what’s happened and that his personal journey over the next few months isn’t too difficult. Politicians are as human as the rest of us and at times like this we would do well to remember that.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig discusses her new book HEROINES & HARRIDANS

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Overblown Reputation of Mark Carney, Why John Simpson Has Broken BBC Impartiality Rules & Feeling Sorry for Jared O'Mara

27 Oct 2017 at 15:49

John Simpson has never been one to shy away from his own sense of self-importance. After all, he single-handedly took Baghdad, I seem to remember. On Tuesday he decided he was a big enough name to totally ignore his employer’s guidelines and took to Twitter to denounce Brexit. He wrote: “MP wants details of anti-Brexit univ teachers. Decent folk deported on technicalities. Daily hate in press. Doesn’t feel like my country now.” Well in “my country” a respected BBC news journalist would have dreamt of (and would have known the consequences of) editorialising like this. He is the BBC’s World Affairs Editor. It says so on his Twitter profile, so it’s not really possible for Simpson to explain this away as just a personal account. His job is to report the news around the world, not give his personal opinions on it. He knows that and it’s almost as if he’d challenging the BBC to discipline him, which he could not doubt put forward as further proof that this is not “my country” any longer. And if we deconstruct what he says, yes, Chris Heaton-Harris’s letter was oddly worded to say the least and I still can’t work out what he hoped to achieve by it, but I suspect it was written by a 21 year-old researcher who didn’t quite understand what he/she was supposed to be doing. Simpson talks about decent folk being deported on technicalities. Really? Where are the details? Don’t you think we’d have read about them in the press? Yes, some letters were mistakenly send by the Home Office to 106 people, but Brandon Lewis, the Immigration Minister has explained that and apologised to the people concerned. I know of no one who has been deported. He then talks about the ’daily hate in the press’ as if hate in the press is something that has only occurred since 23 June 2016. It will be interesting to see how the BBC respond to this flagrant breach of their impartiality rules, or whether they’ll take the view of ‘move along, nothing to see’. What a pity the series W1A series has finished. They could have got a couple of episodes worth of material from this.
*
One of my listeners described Mark Carney on Wednesday as an “unreliable boyfriend”. Another described him as a “tease”. I think he omitted the word ‘prick’ deliberately. Since his appointment he has barely got anything right. Virtually every one of his predictions has been way out. Last week I was left scratching my head when he declared that an interest rate rise was imminent. He has one of nine votes on the Monetary Policy Committee. He didn’t even have all the latest economic data available to make that judgement. So why did he do it? He loses no opportunity to talk the economy down and predict doom and gloom after Brexit. Carney’s term was supposed to end next year but I gather he’s extended it by a year. He’s been a disaster and been far too political. We need shot of him.
*

Talking of central bank governors, I suspect Mr Draghi of the ECB is going to be Mr Unpopular soon. We’re constantly told that we have a weak growth rate and we’ve fallen behind the Eurozone countries. Factually, that is true, even despite this quarter’s better than expected growth figure of 0.4%. But the Eurozone economies are only doing better due to the 60 billion Euros every month that the ECB is pumping into their economies. That, I hear, is about to come to a shuddering stop. When it does, it’s highly likely that not only with Eurozone growth figures start to fall, but inflation will catch hold. We currently have a higher inflation rate than those countries. In part it’s due to the lower value of the Pound (although that’s gradually changing), but could it be that the QE chickens are now coming home to roost?
*
Jared O’Mara’s political career seems over before it has really started. He is one of only two MPs yet to make his maiden speech, and I suspect that will now be quite some time in coming. The internet has brought down MPs before, but his defenestration at the hands of Guido Fawkes has been on quite a different scale. Every day there are fresh revelations about his rather colourful comments on various message boards. He’s getting a free pass from some on the left on the basis that they were written many years ago. Hang on a cotton pickin’ moment. He wasn’t 13 or 15, he was in his twenties. And some of the more lurid were written when he was 28. Even so, I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for him. He clearly didn’t expect to win his seat in June, and nor did Labour, otherwise they might have actually interviewed him rather than just appointed him as the candidate in Sheffield Hallam. But even if they had done so, none of this would have emerged at the time, so a lot of cant is being talked about selection processes. When a snap election is called so early in a Parliament all parties will end up selecting candidates who in other circumstances wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Given some of the other incidents reported about Jared O’Mara’s behaviour, one can’t help but wonder if he has broader issues that he needs to deal with. He’s rightly being traduced for his comments and previously held views and it can’t be easy for him at the moment. I hope the Labour Party is looking after him, because anyone caught in the headlines of a national feeding frenzy is in a very vulnerable position.

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LBC Book Club: Best of 2012 (Part 2)

Bruno Tonioli, Sue Townsend, Clare Balding and Joan Rivers talk about their recently published books.

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CNNTalk: Has the Spanish Government Overreacted to Catalan Independence?

23 Oct 2017 at 17:38

From today CNN Talk is going twice a week. Today we spent half an hour discussing the constitutional crisis in Catalonia. Enjoy!

You can watch us on CNN International (Sky Channel 506) every Monday & Friday at noon, or on CNNI Facebook page.

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Video: Iain appears with Bucks Fizz in a Making Your Mind Up Video

A get out the vote video with a funny ending :)

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Wotcha!

20 Oct 2017 at 13:34

If there is to be a reshuffle before the budget, expect it to happen next Monday. I’m not saying there will definitely be one next week, but if the Chancellor is to feature in it, surely it couldn’t happen within a month of the budget. Again, I’m not saying the Chancellor will feature in it, but surely any new Chancellor would need to have a month before the budget to read him/herself into the job. Downing Street is staying tight-lipped about any possible reshuffle and quite right too. I know for a fact that at the end of last week no decision had been made one way or the other on whether it would happen now, or be put off. If the PM emerges from the EU summit with any sort of victory, she’d be in a good place to carry out as extensive a reshuffle as she’d like, but let’s face it, the odds on the EU saying anything positive to help her are not great.
Back to the fortunes of Philip Hammond. There’s no doubt that he had a pretty awful week last week. It was almost as if he was deliberately trying to wind up Brexiteers with his message of gloom and doom and dismissal of proper preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario. Clearly someone had a word and by the end of last week Hammond was backtracking like the Lord Chancellor at the State Opening of Parliament. And then he undid it all with his ‘enemies’ comment. It may have been massively overinterpreted by the media, but it was further proof that we have a Chancellor who’s not especially good at politics. It’s often said that Theresa May is one disaster away from being toppled, but the question is: do we have a Chancellor who is one move away from being sacked?
*
On Monday the papers were full of two further policy wheezes by the Chancellor, both ostensibly designed to persuade young people that the Tories hadn’t forgotten them. The first was clearly briefed to George Osborne over lunch last week and appeared on the front page of Monday’s Evening Standard. Apparently young people are going to be getting a cut in stamp duty. Given that stamp duty is a form of licensed robbery, few would disagree with a cut, but all it will do is add to house price inflation, which rather defeats the object. The second idea is to cut pension tax relief for older workers and cut national insurance for the under 30s. Has Philip Hammond learned nothing from the election campaign? You don’t help younger people by penalising older people. All the polls show that younger people react very badly against such policies, not to mention older Conservative voters. Perhaps it was just a bit of policy kite flying. Let’s hope so.
*

I do apologise if I have been somewhat omnipresent on your TV screens lately. It won’t happen again. Well, probably not.
*
Talking of being on TV, last Friday night I was a guest on ITV’s new current affairs show, the very unimaginatively named ‘After the News’. It’s on, well, after the New at Ten’ and hosted on alternate nights by LBC’s Nick Ferrari and 5Live’s Emma Barnett. It’s a very simple format – two guests from opposing standpoints plus a look at the next day’s papers. Someone described it as ‘Newsnight’ without the reports or interviews, which was probably meant to be unkind, but there is something in that. It’s certainly not an innovative format, but its beauty is its simplicity. It’s beating ‘Newsnight’ in audience numbers, but it does have the advantage of inheriting a sizeable audience from ‘News at Ten’. The test for ITV will be whether to extend its initial five week run. It’s about time ITV went back to providing more for its viewers who are interested in politics and current affairs.
*

Talking of ITV current affairs shows, ‘Peston on Sunday’ is about the only proper political programme on the channel. Peston gets good guests but it’s a very clunky format, as he has to keep wandering from ‘Croissant corner’ to his big desk interviews. And if he introduces the programme one more time with the word ‘Wotcha’, I’ll want to deck him. On what planet does a presenter of a political interview programme think it appropriate do that? Peston has a book out soon called ‘WTF’. There’s a pattern developing here… I’m interviewing him about it at the beginning of November so I think I’ll ask him about it!

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Jeffrey Archer (again)

Iain interviews Lord Archer about his latest novel 'Best Kept Secret'.

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UK Politics

Sunday Telegraph Column: Would a Reshuffle Solve Theresa May's Problems? (Answer: Probably Not)

15 Oct 2017 at 15:53

This is the full text of the article which appeared in today’s Sunday Telegraph

Reshuffle fever is gripping Westminster, which is not unusual when a government looks as if it’s in trouble. However, a reshuffle rarely solves anything. There has only been one reshuffle in the last fifteen years which has been heralded as a success and you have to go back to the halcyon days of Tony Blair to find it.

One former cabinet minister told me this week: “A third of the cabinet is brilliant but out of control, a third are plodders and a third are useless and aren’t up to it.” Even if the Prime Minister conducts a wide-ranging shuffling and ejected the most ‘useless’ third of her cabinet, her government will still face the same problems as it does now – divisions over Brexit, no parliamentary majority and a faltering domestic agenda.

Move Boris, sack the chancellor by all means, but chief whip Gavin Williamson knows that it’s not just the ministers who are sacked that nurse grievances, it’s all those who weren’t promoted as well. Like the PM, Williamson hates reshuffles, and that’s why it’s by no means certain there will be one. If there is, the chief whip himself could find that he ends up running a department.

When I interviewed Theresa May in July she was adamant that “no minister is unsackable”, however senior – so adamant that she said it twice. Would she dare sack the chancellor? “He’d do well to find a seconder for his leadership campaign,” says one Tory MP, who believes Philip Hammond has few supporters on the Tory benches.

The problem with sacking Philip Hammond is the timing of the budget. It would have to be done in the next two weeks. Some are saying that it might be time to properly ‘uncork the Gauke’ and promote David Gauke to take over. He spent years as Treasury minister, is liked and is a safe pair of hands on the media. Theresa May needs an ally at the Treasury, not someone to lock horns with. The downside is he’s another Remainer

But what to do about Boris? There is a school of thought developing that the Foreign Secretary wouldn’t be averse to becoming party chairman. He wouldn’t be on the taxpayers’ payroll so would be free to (maybe) return to writing for this newspaper and take up various other sinecures. He could schlepp up and down the country building up potential leadership campaign support and subliminally encourage constituency associations to persuade their MPs to support him when the time comes.

The cabinet ministers thought to be most at risk are Liz Truss, Patrick McLoughlin, Andrea Leadsom and Baroness Evans, the totally anonymous Leader of the House of Lords. Former EU commissioner Jonathan Hill could replace her or could it be that George Young might make yet another comeback to steer the Brexit Bill through the Lords? Serious people for serious times.

Having declined a position in her initial government, Dominic Raab accepted a Minister of State role in June and is heavily tipped for promotion. Former Employment Minister Esther McVey, former chief whip Mark Harper and Immigration minister Brandon Lewis are three other probable promotions.

If Boris Johnson refuses to be party chairman, Brandon Lewis is likely to get the job. McVey at least has the advantage of having been a Brexiteer, unlike so many of the current Ministers of State. And therein lies a huge problem for the Prime Minister. Indeed, it’s a rather depressing experience to flick through the list of ministers of state and conclude that it’s impossible to imagine more than a select few serving at cabinet level.

Any new entrants to the ministerial ranks are likely to come from the 2010 and 2015 intakes. Kwasi Kwarteng is due a promotion, but expect Victoria Atkins and Victoria Prentis from the left of the party to join the government, along with Tom Tugendhat, James Cleverly, Nus Ghani, Johnny Mercer, Lucy Frazer and Rishi Sunak. I’m hearing that serious consideration is being given to bringing Jacob Rees-Mogg into the tent, if only to shut him up.

If Theresa May really wanted to make a statement that youth and diversity are what the party needs, she could give very rapid promotions to two of the 2017 intake – Kemi Badenoch and Bim Afolami, both of whom made superb maiden speeches.

Some still think that the biggest reshuffle of all is still on the cards – shuffling Theresa May out of Number 10. It won’t happen. Why? Because the image of a second tearful female prime minister being bundled out of Number 10 by a series of men in grey suits would be too awful for the Tories to contemplate. Who was it again who claimed they were seen as the ‘nasty party’? That very phrase could be Theresa May’s saviour.

You can read the published version HERE

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Iain Dale interviews LBC legend Brian Hayes

On LBC's 40th birthday

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Interviewing the PM, Reshuffle Speculation & Corbyn's Momentum

13 Oct 2017 at 11:43

I think enough has been written over the last forty-eight hours about my phone-in with Theresa May on LBC. But here goes anyway. Firstly, all credit to her for doing it. She’s the first prime minister since Tony Blair to do a radio phone-in outside an election period. These things always carry a slight risk for a politician because they can never be sure they will be won’t be tripped up by a member of the public. Interviewers can be tame beasts compared to Jill in Sidcup. Ask Nick Clegg. The main reason for the timing was the publication of the government’s Racial Disparity Audit. It’s clearly something Theresa May feels very strongly about. If you recall she talked about this issue on the steps of Downing Street when she became prime minister. We took several calls on this and spent a third of the time on the subject. The audit is just that – an audit, and at times it makes for some dark reading, but if the problem isn’t properly diagnosed how one earth can anyone come up with some long-term solutions? I thought she dealt with most of the other questions from callers very well, including a Conservative who told her the only way of defeating Jeremy Corbyn was for her to stand down. Not an easy one for any politician to navigate. But it was on Brexit where the headlines emerged from. An EU national phoned in and then I asked her the same question I’d asked Jeremy Hunt a week earlier: If there was a new referendum now, how would she vote? You’ll have read about this elsewhere. Some people think I shouldn’t have asked her such a question – I must have known I wouldn’t get a straight answer. Others seem to think it was the most brilliant question an interviewer has ever asked. It wasn’t. I honestly thought she would follow Jeremy Hunt’s lead and say that knowing what she knows now, she would vote for Brexit. Well, I suppose one positive has emerged from it – now one can ever accuse me of being a Tory patsy interviewer ever again.
Interestingly, the media furore which ensued over this wasn’t really shared by our listeners or on social media. They were largely praising the PM for having the guts to do the phone-in and even if they didn’t agree with everything she said, she had their respect, especially after the week she had endured. She should do a lot more of this sort of thing.
*
Of course after the ‘have you changed your mind on Brexit’ question, it’s now open season on all the Remainers in the cabinet to be challenged. Damian Green was served up on Newsnight and he tackled it head on and said he didn’t resile from his Remain support one iota. Karen Bradley was skewered by Piers Morgan who asked her eight times if she’d now support Brexit. She, like the PM, trotted out the ‘I don’t answer hypothetical questions’ line, and wasn’t any more convincing. Later on Wednesday Liz Truss went on the Daily Politics to declare that she was now an enthusiastic Brexiteer, having previously been one of the cabinet’s chief Remain cheerleaders. She said when the facts change, you change your mind. Yup, I’m sure Theresa May will have loved that. Could that hasten her departure from the cabinet in a reshuffle? Stranger things have happened.
*

Talking of reshuffles, the papers last weekend were full of reshuffle speculation. We all have our theories on who should be ditched and who should be promoted, but I wonder whether it will happen at all. Some observers believe it will happen in the week following the EU summit next weekend. I won’t speculate on names here for the moment, but there is only any point in a reshuffle if it actually changes the political weather. Few reshuffles ever do. Surely the main aim of a reshuffle now would be to signal a generational change. Even if the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary retain their jobs, there need to be at least four cabinet departures, together with a whole raft from the Minister of State and junior ranks. Theresa May will inevitably make a lot more new enemies but the truth is that if she is going to be the first PM in a long time to plan her succession properly, she needs to bring on younger MPs who she will tip for greatness.
*
It’s quite noticeable that Jeremy Corbyn has got a bit of a spring in his step at the moment. He’s far more relaxed and fluent on the rare occasions he does live media interviews and he seems more polished at the Despatch Box. Maybe it’s just that he appears more comfortable in his own skin. I imagine a large part of it is because the election campaign gave a real boost to his self confidence. In the end, politicians are just like the rest of us. If we’re constantly told we’re shit by everyone then we may come to believe it. The ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ phenomenon must have given a renewed sense of self belief and it’s coming over to the public. You don’t find too many Conservatives who underestimate Corbyn any longer. Luckily there is time for Tory High Command to work out a new way of dealing with him, because so far none of their strategies have worked.

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LBC 97.3 Phone in on Children with Downs Syndrome

Iain spends an hour asking how parents cope with Downs Syndrome children. Prepare to be a little emotional...

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ICYMI: Watch My Theresa May Phone-in In Full

11 Oct 2017 at 00:16

This is the phone-in/interview that has made the front pages of the FT, Times, Guardian, Telegraph and City AM today.

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LBC 97.3: Iain takes James Purnell to Task

James Purnell is the former cabinet minister and now the Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC. He is very uncomfortable talking about his £295,000 salary (more than twice what Maria Miller gets as Culture Secretary) and is unable to tell us how much the BBC’s move to Salford cost. Well, at that salary you wouldn’t expect him to be a details man, would you?

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Diary

ConHome Diary: A Strange Wednesday in Manchester

6 Oct 2017 at 12:00

It’s just gone midnight on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Normally I write this column on a Thursday morning, but given the day that’s just been gone, I thought I’d put pen to paper now rather than wait until the morning. It’s been one of the oddest days in party conference history. I got up in Manchester imagining quite a calm day, starting with a brisk walk to the conference centre from the rather lovely Malmaison Hotel where LBC had booked us for the conference. Imagine my surprise when I got there on Saturday night to walk into the room to find there was no bed. Except there was, but in the second room. I had been upgraded to a suite. Perhaps it was meant for Nick Ferrari. Oh well, he’ll never know. If you’ve ever stayed in a Malmaison you’ll know what I mean when I say that the décor of the bedrooms are how I imagine a brothel’s bedroom would look. Lots of dark purples and slightly erotic paintings. You get the picture. Anyway, I digress.

Going back to Monday, imagine my surprise to get a call from the Evening Standard at about 10am asking me to write the next day’s Op-Ed column on the state of the Tory Party and the conference. And there was me thinking George Osborne had ignored my talents for so long. I scratched my head. Given they wanted the first draft by 7pm that evening, I couldn’t work out when I would get a chance to write it, given the timing of my LBC show. We settled on a compromise. I’d deliver it at 7.30 the next morning on pain of death (and never being asked to write a column again). Now believe it or not, I don’t particularly enjoy writing, and I have a massive inferiority complex about it. I know I can’t write like Boris or Michael Gove and as soon as I press SEND I always imagine the article will be sent back with a message saying “nice try, now write it properly.” It’s never actually happened, but I still think it will. I wonder if other columnists think like this, or is it just me with a chip on my writing shoulder. I can’t help preferring oral… (ahem).

Anyway, one bit of the article caused a bit of a stir. I wrote:

“If the Tories want to win again – and listening to some of the Cabinet you could be forgiven for wondering if they do – they need to stop the schoolboy games. I was told by one broadcaster who has interviewed the prime minister in recent weeks that he received several texts from cabinet ministers suggesting lines of questioning. And they weren’t meant to be helpful to Theresa May. What utter shits.”

Well on Wednesday things took a turn for the worse. I ambled up to the Convention centre and did a turn on the Daily Politics previewing Theresa May’s speech, then, went over to CNN to broadcast a special edition of CNN Talk with Ayesha Hazirika and Liam Halligan. The three of us normally get on, but this was our sparkiest edition yet. They played a bit of the speech then we started debating whether Britain was still the power in the world it once was. All of a sudden I could tell that something was wrong in the hall because I couldn’t hear the Prime Minister’s voice in the background. A couple of minutes later the so-called comedian – or ‘twat’ as I call him – was being shown the door right behind our broadcasting point. Talk about drama.

I then noticed that Theresa had gulped a glass of water and it seemed to be dribbling down her chin. This was not going well.

It was only once I got back to the LBC stand and watched the rest of the speech live that I realised just how bad her cough had become. But persevere she did, and in the end her nightmare was over.

I was supposed to interview Amber Rudd in a pre-record for my Drivetime show, but I decided to be a team player and suggested she went on live with my colleague Shelagh Fogarty. Much as I’d have liked the interview for myself, it was the right thing to do.

I then had to skidaddle to LBC’s Manchester studio to do my show from there, as the LBC stand was being dismantled. It felt very lonely and I longed to be back in our London studio where my producers could more easily guide me through the show. Interestingly our listeners were far more interested in talking about the energy cap and the housing announcement than talking about twattish comedians and bad coughs.

In the meantime, Newsnight had asked me to go on a panel with Margot James and Times columnist Jenni Russell. I calculated I could just about get there if the train to Euston was on time. It was scheduled to get in at 22.10. I was due on screen at 22.40. I got a text from the producer saying she was tracking the train on an App (whatever next) and it was running ten minutes late. Eeek. Indeed, the train got in at twenty past ten but it was 10.25 by the time I found the car the BBC had booked for me. “Put you foot down, mate,” I pleaded. It was 10.34 by the time I walked through the door of New Broadcasting House. I started to walk through the security door when someone said that I had to put my rucksack and small suitcase through the security thing. “I’m on air in six minutes,” I said. It was to no avail. In the end I sat down on the set with two minutes to spare. Not the ideal preparation for a panel discussion which I hadn’t really thought too much about what I would say. In the end it turned out to be a really good discussion and I think I made all the point’s I’d have wanted to had I actually thought about it properly.

As I sit here at the desk of my Premier Inn hotel room in Euston (yes, when I pay for it myself I do like to economise… but Premier Inn beds are so fabulous I even bought one myself!) I reflect on what Theresa May must be thinking as she puts her head down on the pillow tonight. I’m so glad she has Philip there with her. He will have known what to say and what not to say to her.

You find out a lot about a politician when they face adversity. Where most of us might have recoiled or stepped back when confronted by the P45 twat, she stood resolute and even made a joke of it. When Freddie the Frog first appeared she had a good nine pages to go. Yes, it was a painful watch at times, but she persevered and wasn’t going to let it beat her.

If any Conservative MP is so flaky as to think that a cough ought to deprive Theresa May of the leadership it says a lot more about them than it does about her. I’m told an ex Cameron Cabinet Minister is trying to persuade colleagues to write to Graham Brady urging a vote of no-confidence. How pathetically self-indulging. Then what? What on earth would the European Commission make of this? Our negotiating position would then be weaker than it already is. If I hear one more squeak out of the Foreign Secretary which could be interpreted as a move on Theresa May, it would be final proof that he wouldn’t be fit to lead the Conservative Party. He’s bloody lucky to still be in his job. As is his deputy, Alan Duncan, for his crass comments in Chicago.

Theresa May must have the self confidence to embrace what has happened today. The fact that she tweeted a picture of her red box with Strepsils and medicine beside a copy of her speech, and the word coughs shows she’s doing just that.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said Winston Churchill. Out of threat springs opportunity. It’s now up to Theresa May to turn this unfortunate day into a positive for her.

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UK Politics

Evening Standard Column: Tories must stop navel-gazing and take the fight to Labour

5 Oct 2017 at 22:51

I wrote this article on Monday evening for publication as the main ‘Op-Ed’ article in the Evening Standard on Tuesday.

So, there I was, sitting between Theresa May and Andrew Marr on Sunday morning, waiting for Marr to open his show. I was there to do the paper review with Polly Toynbee. Theresa May faced an altogether more challenging task – surviving a half hour grilling. The opening titles started. Marr looked at the camera. “The papers say she’s a broken woman and she has to stand and fight or surrender office to her critics,” he said, thereby setting the tone for the whole Tory conference. And then he followed up witheringly. “Happy birthday, Prime Minister.” Hashtag awkward. I didn’t know where to look.

At party conferences journalists tend to act in concert. They become a herd, looking to confirm a narrative that they have developed between themselves. Perish the thought they should talk to actual conference goers. That would never do.

The narrative at this year’s Conservative conference is that Theresa May is in deep trouble, Boris Johnson is unsackable (but deserves to be, nevertheless) and Jacob Rees-Mogg is an interesting little diversion.

The truth is somewhat different.

It’s true that there’s little excitement at this conference. The atmosphere, if such a thing can be defined. is decidedly muted. The conference hall is sometimes half empty, but that’s because Conservative conferences tend to be rather tedious nowadays, with little meaningful debate from the floor. I can’t remember the last time I actually went into the conference hall.

This event in Manchester is not a conference, it’s a rally. The trouble is that many of the senior politicians addressing the party faithful are too boring to knock a rhetorical skin off a rice pudding, let alone galvanise a genuine standing ovation – Ruth Davidson, excepted, naturally.

This conference should be an opportunity for the Tories to demonstrate they know how to defeat Labour and take the fight to Jeremy Corbyn. Instead it runs the risk of becoming a giant exercise in naval gazing and superfluous leadership speculation.

If the Tories want to win again – and listening to some of the Cabinet you could be forgiven for wondering if they do – they need to stop the schoolboy games. I was told by one broadcaster who has interviewed the prime minister in recent weeks that he received several texts from cabinet ministers suggesting lines of questioning. And they weren’t meant to be helpful to Theresa May. What utter shits.

The correct answer to the question: ‘Do you want Theresa May to lead the Conservatives into the next election?’ is ‘yes’ if you’re a Cabinet minister. If Michael Gove can say the word without hesitation or deviation, why couldn’t Sajid Javid? Instead he protested that his interview had overrun.

Unlike some of her more shifty colleagues, Theresa May is, above all, loyal to her party. She knows the carnage that would be wrought if she did what she must surely want to do, and sack those who continue to brief against her and drop poison into the ears of very receptive journalists.

Some senior Conservative ministers seem to have a collective death wish. They learn nothing from political history, which tells us that divided parties do not win elections.

The Prime Minister is going nowhere. She may not be at ‘peak May’ at the moment, but she knows the Tories need a leadership election like a hole in the head. She’s lucky that there is no King or Queen over the water who could be confident of ousting her. She’s also lucky that Conservative donors are still largely supportive. Theresa May apparently made a rousing speech to the party’s National Convention on Sunday, and several who were there have told me that if she performs like that tomorrow, when she stands before her party to close the conference, she’ll be OK.

It’s time for the Tories to stop licking the wounds inflicted by the election. No amount of naval gazing will help them. There are four and a half years to go until the next election has to be held. That’s plenty of time for them to regroup and take the fight to Labour.

The hubris displayed by Labour in Brighton last week may come back to bite them. They think they’ve already won the next election. Theresa May experienced a very sudden decline in her fortunes at the election. Four years are a long time in politics. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to Jeremy Corbyn at some point?

The voluntary party needs to be reformed from top to bottom. A new party pressure group, the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, was launched yesterday. It needs to succeed. The days of the great and the good running the upper echelons need to be banished forever. The party needs a new chairman – someone who can both enthuse the activists, who has ideas about how to recruit new supporters, not just members, and someone who has the organisational and campaigning skills to revitalise the party’s headquarters. And also someone who can totally revamp the party’s conference and give it a sense of purpose. Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis is that man.

But it’s not all about turning around the party’s fortunes, it’s also about taking the philosophical and ideological fight to Labour. Theresa May started that process last week with a long overdue speech defending capitalism and free markets. Philip Hammond followed suit yesterday. In many ways the battles of the 1970s and 1980s are going to have to be refought. It’s Socialism v Freedom: The Sequel. Just when you thought it was safe…

Margaret Thatcher thought she had vanquished socialism. She regarded Tony Blair as her greatest creation, but all politics is indeed cyclical. The question now is this: Can Theresa May articulate the same kind of defences of freedom, free markets and capitalism that Margaret Thatcher did to such great effect? Her speech tomorrow needs to provide an answer to that question.

The original article was published here.

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