Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 50: When Is It Acceptable to Brand a Caller a "Fool and an Idiot"?

12 Sep 2016 at 20:31

This is hilarious. Ron loves Assad. He loves Putin. He thinks I am a Zionist because I apparently support funding the people (ISIS) who, er, would love to kill all Zionists. It’s not often I tell a caller they are a fool, but in Ron’s case, I made an exception.

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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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Diary

ConHome Diary: Do Some Lives Matter More Than Others?

9 Sep 2016 at 13:31

In the next few weeks we’ll get the results of the UKIP and Labour leadership elections and the SNP’s deputy leadership election. Labour and the SNP have both experienced booming membership growth, but there the similarity seems to end. Labour is languishing at 27% in the latest opinion poll, while the SNP have double that level of support a 54%, which is the highest rating for any political party in Europe I am reliably informed. Labour is tearing itself apart and debating just how left the party can go, while the main topic of conversation in the SNP deputy leadership election – which will undoubtedly be won by their Westminster leader Angus Robertson – seems to be the powers the deputy leader should have in deciding the maximum or minimum size of an SNP branch. Strange, I’d have thought that was more up the LibDems’ street.
*
South Eastern Railway is obviously trying to compete with Southern in order to claim the title of Britain’s most hapless train operator. My journey home from to Tonbridge on Wednesday was a case in point. We drew out of Charing Cross, only to remain on the bridge over the Thames for thirty minutes. And that was thirty minutes without explanation. No announcement from the guard or the train driver at all. I tweeted my displeasure to @Se_railway who later replied that due to the delay the train would terminate at Tonbridge rather than Tunbridge Wells. It didn’t affect me, but if I had been going on to Tunbridge Wells I’d have been furious. Needless to say that announcement wasn’t made until the train actually arrived at Tonbridge. What brilliant customer service. I’m tempted to say it should be privatised, and therein lies the problem. Train companies, like banks, display all the faults and incompetences that we used to complain about in the nationalised industries.
*

Just for the record, I haven’t spoken to David Davis since his supposed ‘slapping down’ by Number Ten. If I were him I’d be fairly phlegmatic about it. He won’t have enjoyed the headlines, but in actual fact, if you look at what he said it is very similar to what Theresa May has been saying. In many ways he was stating the bleeding obvious to say that it was “improbable” that we’d remain in the Single Market. How could we, if the EU continues to insist on freedom of movement of labour? The phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is crystal clear. It means exiting all aspects of the EU, including the Single Market. Some people try to pretend that the Single Market is a separate entity to the EU itself. Total fiction. It’s an integral part of it. The countries that aren’t in the EU but are members of it, like Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, are all potential members. And frankly, quite how you can compare their economies with ours is anyone’s guess. Whatever trade agreement we come to with the EU it will be based on our requirements and the fact that we are the fifth largest economy in the world and our imports from the EU are rather more vital to the EU than our exports to the EU are to us. We are in a very strong bargaining position and no doubt Theresa May and David Davis will use that to our advantage. The PM says she is not going to give a running commentary on all this but the media will no doubt demand that she does. She’s in a cleft stick because Parliament has every right to question ministers on progress in these areas but on the other hand they are going to have to play the straightest of bats for fear of giving away too much detail about our negotiating position.
*
So the Conservatives are to go back to the future on grammar schools. Opinion is split on whether they are bastions of social mobility or rather divisive institutions which condemn the less able to failure at the age of eleven. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what a school is called. What I do care about though is that we shouldn’t consign a whole generation of children onto an educational scrapheap at such a young age. Having said that we also need to find ways of letting the tallest poppies grown as tall as they can. If comprehensive schools aren’t doing that them we need to find ways of enabling them to do so. To create schools for academically clever kids, and separate schools for the less academically abled is surely not the way forward. We already have an educational split in this country between private and state education. Why on earth would we try to create another one?
*

Just imagine the outcry if someone created an organisation called WHITE LIVES MATTER. And it’s perfectly possible given that white working class youths are now the most underprivileged in both our education system and society in general. They underperform their BME counterparts in many parts of the country by a country mile. It’s why they have forsaken the Labour Party for UKIP in many parts of the north. I say this because I am very disturbed the creation of a group calling themselves BLACK LIVES MATTER UK. They have been formed on the back of the BLM movement in the US which seeks to highlight the disgusting number of black people shot by police or who die in police custody. The UK group seem to be saying we face a similar situation in this country. We just don’t. If you look at the number of black or Asian people who die at the hands of the police in this country it is very small. Indeed, in 2016 so far 29 people have died in police custody – two of them black. The proportions are similar, or even lower, for each of the last five years. BLACK LIVES MATTER UK are trying to create division where there is none and fuel the racial divide. And this week we saw the ludicrous spectacle of nine protesters invading the London City Airport runway to protest about how aircraft emissions disproportionately affect black people. The irony that the nine protesters were all white was clearly lost on them. The lesson here is that ALL LIVES MATTER, black, white, brown or yellow.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Michael Dobbs

Iain talks to Michael Dobbs about his latest novel and much more besides.

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Video

WATCH: A Frankly Excellent Interview with Ed Balls!

6 Sep 2016 at 20:38

Earlier this evening I interviewed Ed Balls for twenty minutes about his new book SPEAKING OUT: LESSONS IN LIFE & POLITICS. I had just finished doing one of my more ‘robust’ interview with the Vice Chairwoman of Momentum, so perhaps that wasn’t the best preparation to have a dignified conversation about a book, but I was really pleased with how it went. Indeed, I think it was one of the best interviews I have done recently, even if I say so myself. There’s a lot more to Ed Balls than his public image as a bit of a political bruiser, and I hope that comes across in this interview.

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Interview with Sir Nicholas Soames on Winston Churchill

25 minutes with Nick Soames talking about his grandfather

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Video

WATCH: Iain Tells Newsnight Why Keith Vaz Should Quit

6 Sep 2016 at 13:46

This was a discussion I had on Newsnight last night about the Keith Vaz scandal. Ian Dunt from politicos.co.uk was my fellow guest. I explained why I thought Keith Vaz has to stand down as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Ian disagreed. Emily Maitlis asked the questions and had some lovely shoes.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Tom Bower

Tom Bower discusses his biography of Simon Cowell and his other books.

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Labour Politics

Keith Vaz And Why He Must Quit the Home Affairs Select Committee For Good

5 Sep 2016 at 11:07

On Saturday afternoon, for want of anything better to do, I watched a film called SOFT LAD. It is about a 22 year old lad called David who has an affair with his brother in law, Jules, played by Billy off Coronation Street. David then seeks to break off the relationship when he meets someone his own age, Sam. When David and Sam decide to go serious, Sam wants them to stop using protection and have a monogamous relationship. They both have an HIV test, but it turns out David is HIV positive. He’s only ever slept with Jules and Sam so he knows that it must be his brother in law who has infected him. To cut a long story short, it turns out Jules has also infected his wife.

Little did I know that only a matter of hours later life would imitate art when a married Labour MP would be accused of having unprotected sex. OK, that’s where the analogy ends, because so far as I know Keith Vaz has not had an affair with his brother in law. I’ll come onto the political fallout in a moment, but let’s consider the personal fallout first.

I read a book once called THE MARRYING KIND. I had conducted a phone in on marriages which fall apart when the wife discovers the husband is gay. I could hardly believe the number of calls I got and afterwards was sent this book by Charles Neal. He had interviewed lots of gay or bi men who were married. Believe me, there’s a lot of it about. I suspect that had I been born ten years earlier, I too could have been one of them. Keith Vaz is six years older than me.

Married men, and indeed politicians, have always taken risks to satisfy their sexual urges. In the 1960s and 1970s they would meet men in public toilets. In the 1990s they might visit a gay sauna, miles from where they lived. Nowadays dating apps like Grindr make casual sex with anonymous men all too easy. Gradually the stigma of paying for sex has also gradually dissipated. And when you have an ego the size of Keith Vaz’s, you think you are untouchable and can get away with anything.

The trauma experienced by Mrs Vaz over the last 48 hours can only be imagined. Perhaps she knew of his proclivities, perhaps she didn’t. It’s astonishing how many women acknowledge their partner’s hidden sexuality and deal with it. Sometimes the coping mechanism is to ignore it and not speak about it. Sometimes it is to confront it and accept it. The most horrifying part of this for Mrs Vaz will be the realisation that by having unprotected sex, her husband had put her at risk too. That’s something pretty difficult for a wife, or their children, to forgive. A one night stand can be forgiven. Even an affair can be forgiven. But that? Difficult.

I have long since ceased judging people for what they do in bed. Everyone has a weakness in their sexual makeup and the ones who judge most harshly are usually the ones with something pretty dark in their own private lives. So in theory I don’t want to judge Keith Vaz, at least not from a moralistic point of view. It’s up to him what he does with his private parts, and if he pays someone to help him, so what? As long as it’s all consensual, who are we – if we are not his immediate family – to condemn him?

But, I’m afraid condemn him we must, not just because he is a politician. I have long given up any thought that politicians can be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of us. They are human beings, with all the flaws of their fellow human beings. But when you go into politics and you hold positions of office, you know that you have to be whiter than white in terms of conflicts of interest and hypocrisy. Nowadays you can get away with the odd sexual misdemeanour, but corruption and hypocrisy remain [rightly] unforgiven by the general public.

When you are the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee you are judged by higher standards than a normal backbench MP. You deal with crime enforcement. You deal with drug policy. You deal with prostitution laws. You deal with immigration. Any Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman who thinks he can get away with offering to procure class A drugs (even if they are not for himself) for his rent boys, and pays them through his diabetes charity, is either delusional or just thrives on living on the edge.

Keith Vaz, like anyone else, has a right to a private life. What he does not have is the right to escape public scrutiny into conflicts of interest or rank, outright hypocrisy. This is not a ‘private matter’ as Jeremy Corbyn seems to believe. If Keith Vaz were not chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, perhaps it might be. But he is. So it isn’t.

If he does not voluntarily resign his post as chairman of the Select Committee – not just stand down temporarily – then the Committee members must force him to and withdraw their confidence in him.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special

This was Iain Dale's nomination for Speech Radio Programme of the Year in the MIND media awards 2012

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Diary

ConHome Diary: I've Had a LibDem Sympathy Shag

2 Sep 2016 at 14:12

I don’t quite know how I am going to write this in a way which won’t cause confusion, but here goes anyway. There was a LibDem Minister in the coalition government. Let’s call him Sean. That’s not his real name, although I do know his real name. Sean, lucky boy, had his own private ministerial toilet, conveniently (geddit?) located just off his rather nice ministerial office. Sean made good use of this convenience (oops, I did it again). Before a meeting which departmental officials he’d pop in for a quick number two. How do I know this, you may ask? Well, let’s put it this way – and I hope you’re not eating when you read this – when officials walked into his office they were met with a rather pungent aroma. Often. As a consequence, even some time after this particular minister was reshuffled out of this particular department, civil servants there do not refer to ‘doing a number two’, they say they’re just popping to ‘do a Sean’. Or, rather, not Sean…
*
What is Theresa May’s gain is LBC Radio’s loss. This week it was announced that my colleague Tom Swarbrick was to leave the station and become Number Ten’s Head of Broadcasting. Tom is one of the most talented broadcasters around and it must have been a difficult decision to give up a glittering career in the media to go into the maelstrom of politics. His job inevitably involves saying ‘no’ an awful lot and we appear to have a prime minister who, quite rightly, isn’t going to go down the path of doing daily media interviews. I’ve always thought that an interview with a prime minister ought to offer a sense of occasion. We don’t need the prime minister to comment on every celebrity death or on the minutiae of government operations. That may be inconvenient for interviewers like me, but I suspect it will lead to better government. The trouble with not giving lots of interviews, and I suspect her cabinet colleagues may follow her lead to an extent, broadcasters have hours to fill, so if government minister don’t do interviews on stations like mine or the 24 hour new channels, we will find other ways of filling the time. And that may not always be what the politicians might like. As an illustration of this, it’s incredibly difficult to get interviews with senior members of the Labour Party, and especially the leader. So therefore we are forced to look outside the upper echelons of the party and interview people who aren’t necessarily friendly to the leadership. We then get accused of being ‘anti Corbyn’ when we are nothing of the sort. But I’m also not going to give the Corbynistas a free ride if they won’t come on and defend themselves and their beliefs.
*

The appeal of the Labour Party to the electorate was summed up in this tweet, retweeted by several Labour MPs. “Does anyone really think the public will put Corbyn in charge of our military, John McDonnell in charge of the nation’s finances and Diane Abbott in charge of the NHS?” Another tweet summed up their internal problems… “A tennis club decides to go on a recruitment drive to double its membership. They succeed in doing so by recruiting 101 new members. They then vote to turn it into a netball club.” That’s exactly what’s happened to the Labour Party and no one can do anything about it whatsoever. Let this be a warning to the Conservatives!
*
This week I’ve been presenting LBC’s breakfast show. Nick Ferrari must have the constitution of an ox, and given that he rarely takes any time off, my admiration grows for him by the day. I just don’t know how he does it. I’ve had to stay in a hotel all week as there’s no way I could drive in from Kent to get to the studio by 6am. Well, I could, but I’d probably kill myself in the process. Although the programme finishes at 10am you’d think that would give me a free day to do what I want. But as you know, I also have a publishing company to run. Yesterday one of my colleagues at Biteback found me at my desk fast asleep. I bet that never happens to Nick Ferrari.
*

This week I’m starting to compile my annual power lists of the top 100 people on the right and left of British politics. But I started yesterday with the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, bless them. Compiling it with my panel of four LibDem enthusiasts felt like indulging in the political equivalent of a ‘sympathy shag’. Whatever that is .
*

I have to say I have immensely enjoyed ‘Virgingate’. Jeremy Corbyn has only got himself to blame for the situation he’s got himself into. Or should I say ‘spun’ himself into. For a man who promised us straight talking, honest politics, it’s been a bit of a boo boo. His disciples really believe he is a different kind of politician. His antics on the Virgin train show he is no different from any other politician who wants to use a situation to their advantage. He described the train as ‘ram-packed’. It was nothing of the sort, as he well knew as he had walked through most of the train. But now it is Virgin Trains who are coming under fire for releasing the CCTV pictures – apparently they may have breached some sort of data privacy law. What a mad country we have become if a company cannot release pictures which prove its critics are being economical with the truth.
*
I don’t know how many of you will have heard my appearance on Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ programme last weekend, but I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quite a right wing audience, which made a nice change, and they clearly had no time for Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is a man who clearly polarises opinion. He has his devoted disciples (well, he would, wouldn’t he, given that his initials are JC?) who believe that he is incredibly popular throughout the country. When you point out his actually popularity ratings in the polls and that he is the most unpopular opposition leader since time began, they refuse to accept the validity of any poll. They’ll probably refuse to accept the next general election result as well.
*

We know now that Jeremy Corbyn has a very short fuse. There have been too many examples of it for it to be a coincidence. When my LBC colleague Charlotte Wright tried to grab a word with him one morning on the pavement outside his house he was incredibly rude and aggressive to her. This week Sky’s Darren McCaffery had the temerity to ask a question about the train incident at the launch of his health policy. Corbyn snapped at him that it was a health press conference and he wanted a question on health. Darren replied that he was asking the questions and he’d ask what he damn well liked. If looks could have killed. It came across terribly on TV and Corbyn looked like a bully. The mask is slipping.
*
Have you noticed that diehard ‘Remainers’ have started referring to the EU Referendum as an ‘advisory referendum’? They cling to the belief that Parliament could still go against the views of the British people and scupper Brexit. Either that or there should be a second referendum. Will these people never learn? It seems they cannot accept that Brexit supporters actually have brains which are functional. They think they know best and the people are peasants. Constitutionally I suppose they have a point in that strictly speaking Parliament doesn’t have the follow the will of the people, but it would be a pretty brave prime minister who agreed to ignore the people. Indeed, it would fracture trust in politicians even more than it is at present. Probably irreparably. Brexit must mean Brexit. It must mean the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act and it must mean that Article 50 is triggered at some point during 2017. And the latter does not need parliamentary approval. It’s a matter for the prime minister, as the courts will no doubt rule in October.
*

So Nicolas Sarkozy is back. What an unpleasant little shit he is. His presidential campaign seems to be entirely based on winning back voters from Marine Le Pen’s Fronte National. This week he wrote an article about how France mustn’t be seduced in going down the route of promoting multiculturalism like Britain has. Tell you what, I think most people would rather live in a tolerant, liberal country like Britain which by and large has very good race relations, rather than a country which sends armed police onto a beach to ask a muslim lady to take off her burkini. And Sarkozy would go much further in demonising and alienating France’s massive muslim population. I hope he gets his just desserts.

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Iain Sheds a Tear Listening to Joyce in Erith

Joyce tells Iain about the loss of a child.

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 49: When the 14th Most Influential Doctor in the Country Won't Answer a Simple Question

2 Sep 2016 at 11:54

This morning I interviewed Dr Hamed Khan, who sits on the Council of the British Medical Association. It didn’t start well, when he wouldn’t answer a simple question and descended from there. Dr Khan describes himself on his Twitter Feed as the 14th most influential GP in the country. Given that fact I think I had every right to ask him the questions I did, and press him in the manner I did. I don’t specialise in confrontational interviews but from time to time it’s the only way to expose wooliness and downright deception. If someone won’t answer a simple, straight question on my show, then they can be prepared to be taken apart. This isn’t the first time I have had to conduct an interview in this manner with Dr Khan, but I hope it will be the last.

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Video: Iain discusses his A List failure on Newsnight in May 2006

BBC 2 Newsnight

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LibDem Politics

Extortion by the Liberal Democrats

22 Aug 2016 at 11:04

Since the election I’ve always felt a bit sorry for the LibDems. They didn’t actually deserve to lose 49 of their MPs, to only be left with eight. OK, I did take a little vicarious pleasure in the electoral demise of one or two of their number, I admit. However, I do think a third (or in their case fourth) party is necessary in our political system. They performed a role, which whatever its frustrations was, at times, valuable.

Since their electoral demise you’d think they’d be happy to get any sort of attention. Yes, but at a price it seems. They’ve now hit on the novel idea of charging publishers to do booksignings at their party conference. Pay them £500 and they will graciously allow your authors to sign their books. An interesting form of licensed extortion. So this is how it will work – a publisher will give the conference bookshop 55-60% discount on the cover price of the book and then have to pay £500 on top. Given all the other costs involved in the publishing process, unless a booksigning results in unexpectedly massive sales then the publisher will almost certainly make a loss. Given that I ran the bookshop at the LibDem conference for five years I know that if you sell 20 copies at a booksigning you’re doing well. Of all the different party members, I can tell you that LibDems are the most illiterate. They’re not bookbuyers. A book that would sell 100 copies at a Labour conference would sell 30 at the LibDems – and that was in the days when their conference actually mattered. So this particular publisher has told them what they can do with their demands for £500. No doubt other bigger, richer publishers will bow down and pay over the money. Well, shame on them.
Mind you, the LibDems do have an eye for a bargain. I well remember the beardy LibDem delegate who asked for a discount on a 50p postcard. He was told in no uncertain terms to go back to his constituency and … well, you can guess the rest.

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Tom Swarbrick's News That Nearly Was

From my LBC Sunday show. Prepare to laugh.

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TV/Film/Theatre

My Edinburgh Fringe Diary

19 Aug 2016 at 10:00

I’ve spent this week at the Edinburgh Festival. Last year virtually everything I saw was a comedy or had some political tinge to it. Several of my friends said I should spread my wings this year and go to some plays too. So I booked to see the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’! Oh dear. A truly dreadful experience.

Rather better was a one-off performance by David Benson reprising his Kenneth Williams one man play, which he first performed twenty years ago. Close your eyes and you could truly believe you were in the company of Kenneth Williams. Apart from the occasions when he lapsed into Frankie Howerd. Nay, nay and thrice nay!

I then went to see Guardian columnist Viv Groskop do a stand-up routine in a very bijou little venue. Her show was called ‘How to be more Margo’, ostensibly a celebration of the middle classes. My enjoyment was somewhat hindered by the middle-aged couple in front of me who spent the entire hour shaking their heads and tutting. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but what they got was clearly not it. The constant sneering at anyone who voted for Brexit got a bit wearisome and not really very funny, but I suppose it proved you can take the Girl to Edinburgh, but you can’t take the girl out of The Guardian. Viv had some good lines, though, my favourite being a Waitrose supermarket tannoy announcement: “Would the owner of the Red Astra in the car park, please remove it and take it to Asda where it belongs.” A genuine Lol moment.

Show of the week so far has been ‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of the Game Shows’. Starring Matt Tedford as the Magster, this followed on from his hugely successful ‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho’. His great ability in writing that was to enable to it appeal to people who idolise Lady T and to people who loathe her. Quite a feat. In this new musical extravaganza Maggie becomes a Saturday night game show host, having grown exasperated at the state of Saturday night TV. It’s rather more pointedly anti Thatcher than its previous incarnation. But still very enjoyable. Tedford is joined by two other cast members who play a variety of characters from Bruce Forsyth and Cilla Black to Owen Jones and Angela Merkel. It really is a laugh a minute performance, some of it improvised, and at the end there was a deserved standing ovation, something that doesn’t happen very often in Edinburgh.

Thursday began with a double dose of Matt Forde. First off it was an hour of fast paced political standup. It was very good and very funny stuff. Even when he has slightly weak material he escapes from it through his brilliant mimicry. His David Cameron impression is the best I have ever heard and he even has Boris off to a tee. A lot of the act concerned Brexit, and like Viv Groskop yesterday, and Ayesha Hazirika later, his entire act consisted of barbed comments about racist Leave voters. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. And probably never will. They all look at life through their soft, liberal lens without ever really venturing beyond the limits of the M25. That’s fine, it’s good for a comedy act, but all three of them demonstrate a total lack of comprehension as to what is happening in the country.

Matt Forde’s second hour was an In Conversation with Tory MP Tim Loughton. I did wonder (sorry Tim) if he was a big enough name to fill the venue but I needn’t have feared. It was sold out. Tim was brilliant and extremely funny. He has just become the second most popular Tory in Scotland. Matt Forde does monthly interviews on stage with London and he adopts the very conversational approach, with humour, which tends to get the best out of interviewees. Tim was hilariously indiscreet on occasion. OK, on lots of occasions.

Next up was comedian Andrew Doyle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. I’d been recommended to go and see him by a friend of his who is one of my authors. He was incredibly funny and had the audience in stitches with his mix of morose musings about his failures in life and also picking on various members of the audience. I escaped his wrath as I sat at the back. I always admire comedians like him who are brilliant at improvising. He too had a pop at Leave voters. He asked how many of the audience had voted Leave. Out of around 150 people only two of us put our hands up. It’s bizarre that comedians think that only right on lefties attend their events. OK, insulting an audience can sometimes work, but you have to be very clever to get away with it. I suspect there were more than a smattering of people who didn’t like it – not just from Andrew but all the other myriad of right on Guardianistas who headline the Edinburgh scene. I had hoped to get along to see Geoff Norcott, one of the very few right wing comedians in the UK, but my schedule wouldn’t allow.

So, from Andrew Doyle I moved on to a show called ‘The Gayest Show You’ve Ever Seen’. Well, in some ways I suppose seeing as it was hosted by a 26 year old wearing a pink T shirt and high heels, it was. The audience, shall we say, was not very numerous. Rather bizarrely the men sat on one side and the sat on the other side of the aisle. Apart from me. The show consisted of a ramble through our host’s coming out and series of sexual disasters. I’m sure he had a script, but judging from the number of ‘ers’ and ‘ums’ it was difficult to discern how rigid it was. As opposed to stiff. Nay, nay and thrice nay! If I was giving this show stars, it would struggle for a three. I didn’t not enjoy it, it was just a tad disappointing.

The evening finished with former Labour SPAD and stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazirika with her show ‘Tales From the Pink Bus’. She was genuinely laugh out loud funny, regaling her audience (which included Kezia Dugdale and Ian Murray MP) with a torrent of anecdotes from her time working for Gordon Brown (who she outed as a complete sexist), Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband. We learned a lot about Harriet Harman’s sense of humour and Ed Miliband’s moments of the Black Dog. We also learned that he was worried he was a badger. You had to be there, I guess.

Thursday was a little less hectic, mainly because I cancelled watching a Simon & Garfunkel tribute act in the evening in favour of catching West Ham’s Europa League match with Astra Giurgiu. And what a terrible decision that turned out to be. Anyway, the whole day was bookended with West Ham because I started the day at the unearthly hour of 11.30 by watching a play called ‘Irons’. It’s about three West Ham fans and is set at three away matches. It explores the kind of friendships that working class men form through football, the bonds and emotional ties that ensue. The whole set is made up of three chairs, the seats that Dean, Jason and Ash sit in. The dialogue is littered with football chants and the kind of humour that you hear at games every week. It shows the macho side of football friendships and the aggression that can be experienced at away games, and I imagine virtually every football fan, whether you’re a Hammer or not, would relate to the interplay between the three characters. At one point Ash announces he’s going into hospital for ten days, but doesn’t reveal why, prompting a lot of speculation including from Dean, who jokes that he’s going in for a ‘dick enlargement’, and given that Ash never uses it, Dean can’t understand why. It’s difficult to write a review of this play and not reveal the plot twist, but seeing as it’s in the publicity for the play I think I can reveal it here. Ash becomes Ashleigh, a transgender woman. The other two, when Ashleigh attends her first match as a woman, are horrified when they eventually realise who she is. They launch into all the stereotypes and reckon that she can no longer be a friend. The interplay between the three of them is at times horrifying, at times poignant and at times funny. I’ll admit to the odd tear running down my cheek. The play ends with the three being reconciled after West Ham fail to win the Premier League by a single point from Manchester City. Just like their dreams, they face and die. I have no hesitation in naming this play as my ‘show of the week’. You don’t have to be a West Ham fan to enjoy it, you don’t even need to be a football fan. The other interesting thing was that I had assumed that all three actors must be West Ham supporters, given the way they did all he chants and West Ham banter. I spoke to the cast afterwards and in fact only one of them is a West Ham supporter. One of the others supports, horror of horrors, Spurs, while the other is a QPR season ticket holder and has a QPR tattoo on his arm! If you’re in Edinburgh next week, go and see it. It’s on that the Greenside on Infirmary Street every day at 11.25. Five starts from me.

The other two shows on Thursday were a tad of a disappointment. Arthur Smith’s one man show on mindlessness was, well, a bit tired. I’ve always liked Smith and his lugubrious manner, but somehow the material in this show wasn’t quite right. Yes, we laughed, yes there were indeed quite a few funny jokes, but you just got the feeling he was going through the motions. Later on Alistair McGowan was better, but again I felt some of his material was a bit weak. He lost his rag with an audience member at one point when the light from their mobile phone irritated him. There’s no doubt many of his impressions were excellent, one of the best being Andy Murray. He steered away from politics and Brexit, which was a blessed relief given what I’ve written above about some of the other shows that was a bit of a blessing. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the hour, but at various points the eyelids were shutting and he didn’t hold my attention in the way that Andrew Doyle or Matt Forde did.

So that was it. All in all I don’t think I enjoyed the fringe as much as I did last year, but that may be because last year was my first proper visit. Perhaps every two years is the way to do Edinburgh, which is what many of the artists do.

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Video: Iain takes part in Newsnight Industrial Relations Feature

BBC Newsnight with Nicholas Jones

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Pantheon of PMs, Any Questions & Trumpageddon

13 Aug 2016 at 14:51

I’ve always thought all months should be like August. Most political journalists take the whole month off and politicians are largely absent from Westminster. And yet somehow the country manages to struggle on. Indeed, it struggles on very nicely thank you. It’s a bit like the time recently when Belgium had nine months without a government. The economy thrived and all was well in the world.
*
Someone asked me the other day where I thought David Cameron sits in the pantheon on Great British Prime Ministers. It’s not an easy question to answer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one best answered in about fifty years’ time, when we can best judge the effects of Brexit. However, there’s part of me that thinks that even if it goes really well, it’s not exactly down to Cameron. OK, he called the referendum, but he certainly didn’t get the response he wanted. He nearly lost Scotland too. Overall, though, I think he was a better than average prime minister. He clearly fitted the job well, although he sometimes did and said things that weren’t exactly prime ministerial. I think he can look back and cite many achievements on the economy and in domestic policy with a lot of pride. Foreign policy was a lot more mixed, especially in the middle east. He will say he was thwarted by Parliament over Syria, which is true, but the handling of the vote and his methods of persuasion were perhaps not ideal. Libya has turned out to be a mixed blessing. I’d still say our intervention there was correct and that the fact that the Libyans have made a hash of the aftermath isn’t exactly down to us. They asked us to stay out and we did. So, here’s my list of post war prime ministers…

1. Margaret Thatcher
2. Clement Attlee
3. Tony Blair
4. Harold Macmillan
5. Harold Wilson
6. David Cameron
7. John Major
8. Gordon Brown
9. James Callaghan
10. Sir Winston Churchill
11. Edward Heath
12. Sir Alec Douglas Home
13. Sir Anthony Eden

I’ve tried to judge them just as prime ministers, rather than take into consideration their party backgrounds. I think the first three were transformational prime ministers. They changed the political weather in a way the others failed to. Harold Macmillan was very much ‘steady as she goes’, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but he failed to make the changes in industrial policy that were needed. Perhaps he is too high on that list, but there’s no doubt that he did very well to elongate Conservative rule in that period to 13 years. Churchill features on the low side because I’ve only judged him on his 1951-55 administration. But he was still a better leader than Edward Heath, who will always be remembered for two things – the three-day week and taking us into the Common Market. Many regard the latter as his crowning achievement. It was not. The people had no say at the time and felt they were misled. Looking back, Europe has been an open sore for both the Tory Party itself and the country at large, and that is down to Edward Heath. I am sure many of you will disagree!
*
Next Friday I’m on Any Questions. It’s a programme I’ve been on five or six times and have never not enjoyed it. In some ways it’s quite terrifying as you always fear a question coming to which you have no answer whatsoever. I’ve always reckoned the secret to doing well on it is to crack a joke in the warm up question and get the audience laughing. Do that and the nerves disappear and it sends a message to the audience that they are going to have a good time. Normally in August they have panels that are not very political, but this year it’s obviously a little different. Chuka Umunna, James Brokenshire and Laurie Penny are the other three panellists. So, me and Laurie Penny. What could possibly go wrong?
*

I’ve been on holiday for a week now, with another ten days to go. I find it incredibly difficult to switch off from work on holiday. I put an ‘Out of Office’ on my emails, but I may as well not bother. A few years ago when I went to Crete for a week I only looked at email in the morning and in the evening. But if I’m not abroad, there’s no difference to my normal routine really, so the laptop is on all day. The only change to my routine, and the main way I try to switch off, is to binge on box sets. This holiday I’ve polished off Series 5 of ‘Homeland’ and Series 5 of ‘Covert Affairs’. Whether I’ll quite manage the latest series of ‘House of Cards’ before I fly up to Edinburgh on Monday is doubtful. I have actually ventured out of the house to take the dogs to the beach, but quite honestly the best way I recharge my batteries is to do nothing but read and watch DVDs. However, tomorrow I am doing a barbeque for a dozen friends. My partner is very much against the idea on the basis that they will all get food poisoning. If Gareth Williamson, the chief whip is reading this, he shouldn’t be too worried. Only one of the guests is an MP. And it isn’t Norman Lamb.
*
So on Monday I fly to Edinburgh from Norwich International Airport. Really. Norwich Airport is the only one I have ever been to where they charge you £10 to leave the airport. Normal for Norfolk. It’s my second visit to the Festival. I had such a good time there last year that I’ve decided to return. I’m there for three and a half days and have booked into 17, yes 17, shows. They range from ‘Trumpageddon’ to ‘Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Game Shows’. I’m looking forward to seeing Ayesha Hazirika’s new standup show, as well as ‘The Whinging Pom’s Guide to Oz. Matt Forde is doing an In Conversation show with Tim Loughton and I’ll be finding out ‘The Gayest Thing You’ve Ever Seen’. I’ll report back next week.

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Mosad Tells Iain His Views on Gay Marriage & Gets More than He Bargained For

Oh dear.

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