Diary

The Self Indulgence of Some Tory MPs

29 May 2016 at 16:50

All political parties go through spasms, but the Conservative Party seems to suffer from them more than most. It is about to have another one.

It was inevitable that the EU Referendum campaign would divide the party. With 143 Tory MPs defying their leader and supporting Brexit, divisions don’t come much bigger than that. Even so, it was possible to think that both sides could respect that the other had deeply held views. It was possible to think that there could have been a calm debate, lacking in personal insults. OK, maybe it wasn’t.

Instead, Project Fear from both sides has meant that the personal insults from each side have increased as the weeks have dragged on. I won’t bother to list the insults here as I am sure we can all recall them.

But today it’s reached a different level. MPs Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries have called for David Cameron to be overthrown whatever the result of the referendum. Yes, you read that right. The political titans Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries think they know better than the people who voted for David Cameron last May. The irony is that Nadine Dorries actually voted for David Cameron to be Tory leader back in 2005. Indeed, most of the more swivel-eyed Eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches did the same, believing that his Eurosceptic credentials were greater than those of David Davis. They always did have such impeccable judgement.

These two MPs are wallowing in their own self-indulgence in the full knowledge that saying something like this will guarantee them acres of media coverage. Nadine even shared with us that she’s already sent a letter to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee. She was, however, rather coy about its contents. How funny is that?

Iain Duncan Smith is surely right when he says that everyone should concern themselves with campaigning in the referendum rather than trying to undermine the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country. Any sensible politician should be able to deflect speculation about post-referendum leadership issues. It’s hardly rocket science.

What these two MPs have done is totally undermine the Vote Leave campaign by deflecting discussion onto David Cameron’s (or Boris Johnson’s) future. That’s what will be on tomorrow’s newspaper front pages and what will headline the Today Programme. They’ve given every media outlet an excuse to ignore the issue of the day for the Leave campaign and instead indulge in leadership speculation. Well done guys!

I suppose at least Bridgen and Dorries have the bollocks to say all this on the record, unlike the anonymous Tory MP who is quoted in today’s Sunday Times…

“I don’t want to stab the Prime Minister in the back. I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face. You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for Osborne.”

Certifiably insane. Did that MP get off on appearing important to Tim Shipman? Why would you give the media that kind of ammunition if you had any semblance of a brain?

Priti Patel’s comments about some people being “too rich” to care about immigration were also unwise in the extreme. She didn’t name Cameron and Osborne and will no doubt deny she had them in mind, but it’s quite clear to anyone what she meant. And she’s no backbencher, she attends Cabinet. For now.

This referendum is a once in a lifetime event. There are many people for Eurosceptics to blame if it all goes wrong and Remain win by a narrow majority. The leaders of the Leave campaign may be blamed for many strategic mistakes and decisions – not least the decision not to unite with Grassroots Out – but those who indulge in post referendum leadership fantasy will also have blood on their hands and won’t easily be forgiven by many of their colleagues.

On June 24th the leadership issue ought to be quite settled. If Remain win, Cameron wins and stays. If Leave win, Cameron will resign. Yes, there will be deep wounds to heal in either scenario, but if the Prime Minister is on the winning side it is difficult to think the electorate would understand a leadership spill (as the Australian’s delightfully call it).

Having said that, there is part of me that thinks that Cameron’s way out of this may be to do a John Major and put himself up for re-election by his parliamentary party. If he did, I have little doubt he’d win with a bigger majority than John Major had.

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Personal

The Ups And Downs of Life

29 May 2016 at 14:30

In December last year I wrote about the Greatest Experiences of My Life, which you can read HERE. It was a rather nice article to write. Anyway, life is all about ups and downs, so I thought it only right to write about things that haven’t been so great in my life. I suspect there are a few things here that most people will be able to relate to. So, in no particular order, here are some of the Worst Experiences of My Life…

Mum’s death
I don’t think anyone gets over the death of a parent. My Mum died four years ago and life has never been the same. I so miss phoning her after I go on Sky News. She’d always tell me I’d been brilliant, even when I hadn’t, because she genuinely thought I was! She gave me everything and without her I would be nothing. I still tear up more or less every time I think of her. I know how proud of me she was, but I know I often let her down.

Failing Physics
When I was at school it was always intended I would follow my Dad into farming. To do that I needed to go to agricultural college, and therefore needed to do some Science ‘O’ Levels. Big mistake. I got a D in Biology, but Physics proved to be my nemisis. I just couldn’t understand anything. And I mean anything. I even had extra lessons with my teacher Mr Fitton. I ended up with a U – ungraded. And that was being generous. Whenever I passed Mr Fitton in the corridor after that he’d just look at me, shake his head and walk on. Apparently I was his only failure in 20 years of teaching.

Brighton seafront
I think most people know what happened there. It was September 2013 and I was accompanying Damian McBride to a TV appointment. A protester kept getting in the TV shot. I intervened to pull him away. We fell over. His Jack Russell bit him. Later that day, while I was broadcasting, the Police came for me and I ended up with a Police caution for assault even though, unlike the protester I hadn’t thrown a punch or even kicked out. Nevertheless, I’m officially an idiot.

Losing North Norfolk
I was so proud to have been selected to fight the 2005 election in North Norfolk. I genuinely thought I could win it, even though I was warned what I was up against. I know I fought a textbook campaign and couldn’t have done more, but I knew in the February, three months before the election, I was going to lose. I spent an afternoon canvassing in the coastal village of Overstrand – a village which should have been strong Tory territory. Every house I knocked on said they really wanted to vote for me but that nice Norman Lamb was such a good MP. Game over. On the night I lost by 10,000 votes. I expected to lose, but the margin was a total shock.

Failing to be selected in Bracknell & East Surrey
After the disaster of losing in 2005 I decided to have one more go at trying to be an MP. I took two years out of selections when I started Total Politics as I didn’t feel I could do that and be a candidate. However, in mid 2009 I applied for a few seats. Bracknell was the one I felt ideally suited to and I really felt I could do it. I was up against 6 others in the final, which was an open primary. I made a good speech and answered questions well. But when it got down to three I felt I wouldn’t make it. The safe option was a local GP, Philip Lee, and the risky option was Rory Stewart. I was somewhere in the middle. I was gutted to miss out. I only had one more chance – East Surrey, which is very near where I live in Tunbridge Wells. I was expected to win, or come close. In the end I came last of 6 as I made a disastrous speech. And that was it. I made the decision there and then that I wouldn’t be trying again, and after the 2010 election came off the Tory candidates list. It’s a decision I thought I might come to regret. But I haven’t.

Being diagnosed with diabetes
During the 2005 general election campaign I joined Keith Simpson in Aylsham Marketplace one Saturday morning. They had a mobile diabetes diagnosis unit there, so Keith and I were tested. My blood sugars were very high. I didn’t think a lot about it as I had just eaten a burger. Two years later I diagnosed myself. I had numbness in my legs and I was constantly thirsty, and would have to get up every night to have a pee. My GP confirmed it. And I’ve struggled with it ever since.

Car crash on my 20th birthday
I was driving with my sisters to a local pub to celebrate my birthday in my orange Ford Cortina Mk III. I approached a bend and found a white transit van on my side of the road. It was in the days before compulsory seatbelts. I hit it head on at 50 mph. How we weren’t all killed I just don’t know. One of my sisters was screaming, mainly because her front teeth had been knocked out when the front of her head collided with the back of my other sister’s head. I had gripped the steering wheel so tight it was totally mangled. I ran to a local house to call 999. I was in total control until my father arrived on the scene, when I broke down completely. Once the ambulance had taken my sisters away he led me to his car and then made me drive. It was the best thing he could have done.

Being sacked from Waterfront
In 1990 I started a transport based lobbying company with a former boss. It went well, but in 1996 we had a big falling out. I won’t go into the details, except to say that he now admits I was in the right. I made up my mind to leave, but had to get my ducks in a row first. I did just that and then went on holiday to the US for two weeks. I had decided to resign the day after I got back, but he beat me to it. A letter effectively sacking me was already waiting for me. It led to six months of unemployment while I put together a business plan to start Politico’s.

Not being able to sell my Walthamstow flat
I bought a two bedroom flat in Walthamstow in 1988, mainly because I felt if I didn’t get on the housing ladder then it would be too late. I paid £58k for it, with a £54k mortgage. Those were the days! Unfortunately the mortgage company failed to pick up that it suffered from subsidence. I tried to repeatedly sell it, but at the survey stage all the buyers pulled out. I moved out after 6 years but it took another four to sell it – for, yes, you guessed it, £58k. I must be the only person never to have made money out of property in the 1980s/1990s. I looked on Zoopla the other day and they valued the same flat at £274,000.

Having my car stolen
This happened in Walthamstow. It was a company car – a Ford Orion Ghia something or other. It was incredibly fast and had a little computer. I walked out of my door one morning and it had gone. Disappeared. I had a lot of trouble with cars living there, with people smashing the windows or keying the car. It was one of the reasons I decided I had to move.

Ingrowing hair
I woke up one morning and there was a lump, the size of half a tennis ball, just bellow my tummy button. And it hurt. I couldn’t put trousers on. I had to put trakkie bottoms on and wandered round to the doctors surgery in the next door road. They refused to let me see a doctor as i wasn’t registered there and hadn’t got an appointment. In the end I had to effectively flash at them. They sent me to A&E and it turned out to be an ingrowing hair which had gone septic. They stuck a syringe in it and drained it of gunk. Yuk. Very painful.

Pitchfork through my foot
I was seven years old and was helping my Dad spread hay around one of the cattleyards using a pitchfork. Somehow I contrived to stick it right through my big toe. Right through. I wasn’t sure whether I should pull it out. I suppose I must have done. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother bathing it. I don’t remember crying or going to hospital, but I suppose I must have done.

Being Stalked
When I had my blog I ended up being harrassed and stalked by someone who shall remain nameless for these purposes. One evening he phoned me 40 times. He threatened to come round to my house. He denies to this day he stalked or harrassed me, but I know how I felt at the time and to me it was stalking.

Having to sack people
Telling someone they no longer have a job is a terrible thing to have to do. I have had to do it five or six times in my life and it never gets easier. Once I actually even shed a tear while doing it. However much you tell yourself you’re doing the right thing, it’s always traumatic and you always question your decision.

Gio dieing
In 1997 John and I got a lovely Jack Russell puppy called Gio from Battersea Dogs Home. He meant the world to us. But in 2008 his health took a turn for the worse. He wasn’t able to exercise much because he had broken two of his leg joints and wasn’t allowed to run, so he had bulked up. One night he had a stroke by the back door. I knew something was wrong when a friend of mine collected me from the station rather than John. “It’s Gio,” he said. When I got home he was still by the back door, eyes open, but expressionless. We comforted him as much as we could but when the vet came we both knew what had to be done. It’s one of the few times in my life when I have genuinely howled. The grief we both felt was unbearable.

Gio being run over
Talking of Gio, I remember the time I took him for a walk round the local park and as we emerged from the park I was day dreaming and I suddenly heard a car approaching. I looked round and Gio was quite a few steps behind me on his extendable lead. It happened in slow motion. I screamed his name but I heard a thump. Gio then emerged from the other side of the car and sat down holding his paw up, which was bloodied. I scooped him up and ran home. We took him to the vet and luckily he hadn’t been badly injured – just his foot. I was a wreck.

Seeing Eleanor for the last time
Eleanor was my Godmother. She wasn’t my mother’s blood sister, but she might as well have been. She was an integral part of our childhood and we loved her dearly. She suddenly got cancer and my sister told me I needed to visit her in hospital to say goodbye. We all spent two hours with her telling her how much we loved her and how wondeful she had been to us. She kept whispering to us not to get upset. She had come to terms with her imminent death. I remember kissing her goodbye, then turning back at the door to look at her one last time, and then going back to kiss her again. She was a very remarkable woman.

Coming out to my family
Anyone who’s been through this knows how hard it can be. For me it was even worse. I was 40. Everyone said that they would know and it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Suffice to say it did. I just wish I had had the courage to do it in my teens or twenties, but things were so different in those days. And that’s as much detail as you’re going to get!

Being on the Irish HIGNFY
What could possibly go wrong. It was around 2007 and I got invited to Dublin to appear on a rough equivalent of ‘Have I Got News For You’. An English Tory blogger against four Irish comedians with a live theatre audience. What could possibly go wrong? I found out I wasn’t as funny as I thought I was.

Presenting LBC’s Olympic Opening ceremony show
What should have been the highlight of my broadcasting career so far, became a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Our vantage point was supposedly overlooking the Olympic Park. Well, if you walked along the end of the balcony and craned your neck you could just about see the Olympic Stadium. Just as I was about to go on air the line went down. The newsreader talked into packages which weren’t there. The opening bed music didn’t fire. But the show had to go on. It started to rain. We had a Gazebo but it leaked. Onto my head. Down my back. While I was live on air. Jo Phillips was my co-broadcaster. She and I got a cab home afterwards and sat in silence for most of the journey. Until I warned the cab driver (Addison Lee, since you ask) that he needed to slow down as there was a roundabout up ahead. He turned round and called me a “motherfucking cunt”. Nice. I got him fired the next day.

Going across the channel in a force 9 gale
It was April 1977 and we were heading to Germany on a school exchange trip. We got the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. As the voyage continued, the wind got worse and so did the waves. Virtually everyone was heaving. We didn’t have cabins, so I decided that it was probably best to lie down on the floor by a row of seats. Big mistake. After a few minutes I heard the sound of someone about to throw up. They did. And it landed within an inch of my head. Well that set me off. I’ve never been a good sailor since.

Smeargate
It was 2009 and Carol Thatcher had used the word ‘golliwog’ on the One Show. I went on the Today Programme and tried to explain that people of her generation might use that word without meaning to be racist. I thought I’d done quite well. Derek Draper, who had just started the Labour List blog then took me to task and said I must be racist too. Unbeknown to me this smear was dreamt up in Downing Street by Damian McBride and Draper. A few weeks later, after an FOI request, the truth came out and McBride resigned. There was a happy ending, though. Damian wrote me a letter of apology and I ended up publishing his book, POWER TRIP. It became the biggest selling book pubished by Biteback.

Being bullied at school
I was always taller than other boys and you’d have thought that would protect me from bullies. But I never liked physical confrontation and so would allow myself to be bullied. At primary school it was Robin Brice. At secondary school it was Michael Owen. No, not that one. It was pretty tame stuff, but it was horrible at the time.

Jane Grey
Jane Grey was in my German class at secondary school. She was a bit of a loner and very academic. A lot of the kids enjoyed taking the mickey out of her. I remember one day someone posted up the details of a mixed doubles tennis tournament. I looked to see who I was paired with and it was Jane Grey. Ever one to play to the crowd I shrieked: “Oh, no look who I’ve got, Jane Grey!” Guess who was standing behind me. I was mortified.

David Steel
In 1986 I was working for Conservative MP for Norwich North, Patrick Thompson. We had a business group who paid £35 a year to attend a lunch at the House of Commons with a government minister speaking. I had done amarketing leaflet to encourage other business to join the group. Unfortunately I used the phrase “with direct access to government ministers”. One Tuesday David Steel, leader of the Liberals, rang Patrick to tell him he would be raising this leaflet with Margaret Thatcher in PMQs that afternoon. He immediately went to see Mrs T. He told her what had happened. “I see,” she said. “Don’t worry about it Patrick. I’ll deal with that little twerp”. She meant Steel, not me. And indeed she did.

Shaking hands with the IRA
I was standing outside the Tv studios at 4 Millbank when I encountered a PR agent I knew called Wendy Bailey. We chatted for a moment, then said intriduced me to the man she was with. “Do you know Patrick?” she asked. “No I don’t,” I said and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.” It was only a minute later after I had left them that I realised I had just shaken hands with the Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee. I felt as if I need a shower. I texted Wendy to tell her exactly what I thought of what had just happened.

Archbishop of Cunterbury
It was March 2013. It was my first day presenting LBC Drive. The Archbishop of Canterbury was my big name interview on my first programme but it had to be a prerecord. that day he had been reported as being highly critical of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. As I walked into the studio the first thing he said, without even saying ‘hello’, was “No questions on welfare reform”. I was rather taken aback. No politician had ever laid down any preconditions. When I came to introduce the item, I said… “Earlier today, I met the Archbishop of Camterbury…”. Well, that was what I was supposed to say. I actually said, live on air, “Earlier today, I met the Archbishop of Cunterbury…”. I genuinely thought no one had noticed. It made page 4 of the next day’s Daily Telegraph. Served him right though, for being a bit of a c…. naughty archbishop.

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UK Politics

Why Have I Already Received my Postal Vote?

28 May 2016 at 12:24

So, the day after purdah kicks in I receive my postal vote ballot paper. I’m not normally one for conspiracy theories, but I smell a rat. In a general election you get the ballot paper a maximum of two weeks in advance, I believe. So why is it different in the referendum?

Cynics might suggest that it’s due to Project Fear at its maximum impact. Now that Purdah has started the government is prevented from launching any more Project Fear initiatives.

As I say, I don’t normally go in for conspiracy theories, but I’d love to know the real reason for ballot papers being sent out 28 days before polling day, especially when voter registration doesn’t close for another 11 days.

Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

UPDATE: The Electoral Commission have set out the timetable HERE. They say postal vote ballot papers were always planned to go out from 27 May.

A respondent on Twitter says they have done it earlier because there are no candidate nominations.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: A Good War for Andrea Leadsom & Do I Mix With the Wrong People?

27 May 2016 at 15:42

As you can imagine, as a radio presenter I do like to keep an eye on the opposition, so it was with more than a passing interest when I read this tweet from BBC Radio London’s Drivetime reporter Anna O’Neill.


Radio London has a budget several times that of LBC, so I’m told, yet its audience is a fraction of ours. Their entire weekly audience for all their shows added together is less than my show on its own. Looking at their tweet you can see why. Perhaps it’s due to the “unique way the BBC is funded”. So while we talked about Brexit, Putin and Syria, the BBC were discussing ‘bedwetting’. Public service broadcasting at its best.
*
The very same day we took a call from a lady called Marianne who works for B&Q and had attended the event in Eastleigh where the Chancellor and the PM turned up the volume on Project Fear. She met the Chancellor afterwards and had a selfie taken with him. The result of their conversation? She decided to vote Leave. Have a listen. It’s quite entertaining!

*

On Monday night I flew up to Edinburgh from London City Airport to do an interview the next morning. I left Leicester Square after my show at 7pm. By 7.45 I was through security at City Airport having a bite to eat. That’s why I love that airport, in as much as one can actually love an airport. I’ve never had a bad experience there. On the return journey we landed at 12.20. I was in a cab by 12.30. But, ssshhh. Don’t tell anyone, otherwise everyone will be travelling from there.
*
It’s very easy to look at the EU Referendum campaign and say who’s ‘had a bad war’. It’s less easy to discern who has emerged with any credit. On the Leave side I’d point to Andrea Leadsom who has represented her cause on the media with understated assurance and impressed everyone with her calmness under fire. In a campaign where female politicians have struggled to make their voices heard, she has, in my opinion, become something of a star. She’s also avoided too much ‘blue on blue’ action and manages to make her points without making it personal. Indeed, I don’t recall her making any overt criticisms of the PM. It’s something some of her more well-known colleagues might do well to emulate. The broken pieces of the Conservative Party have to be put back together again when all this is over, and too many politicians on the Leave side have made the mistake of turning all this into a personal vendetta against David Cameron. It is certainly true that his ramping up of Project Fear and the misuse of the government machine has been provocative, but sometimes people should think before they launch the next insulting attack. Sometimes you just have to rise above it.
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Last night I was looking at a football website and clicked on a video. Before the video started up came a government advert encouraging people to register to vote in the EU Referendum. Nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s what you’d expect. However, what followed left me openmouthed. “Register to vote, or it could cost you up to £4300 if we leave the EU”. On what planet is that an appropriate thing for a taxpayer-funded advert to say? I have no objection at all to a voter registration campaign, but when it gets to the point that it becomes government inspired propaganda, questions need to be asked.
*
So the Prime Minister refuses to debate any of his opponents during the EU Referendum debate. His former ideas guru Steve Hilton has criticised him for that and he’s right to do so. Instead he will do Q&A sessions on the BBC and, next Thursday, with Sky News. The following night – Friday – Michael Gove will do the same for the Leave campaign. The PM has already won that particular encounter because frankly, who watches Sky News on a Friday night? He should have followed the PM on the Thursday night but no doubt Downing Street vetoed it. Frit. The Leave campaign should have refused to play ball.
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The latest EU Referendum polling from Lord Ashcroft makes for fascinating reading . It shows the Leave vote hardening. So far in the polls, the Remain side have been shown slightly ahead. I may mix with the wrong people, but virtually everyone I know who is not directly involved in politics or the media is intending to vote Leave. Maybe I mix with the wrong people, but I really wonder whether the pollsters are yet again getting everything completely wrong. In many ways, no poll can get this binary referendum right because no one really knows what the turnout will be. The conventional wisdom is that the lower the turnout it, the more likely Leave is to win. Possibly, but in the end it depends on which side gets its vote out best. And that’s where Leave has an advantage, because people who want to vote for change often have something of the zealot about them. It’s far easier to persuade them to turn out to vote on a wet Thursday, than it is to persuade people to turn out for the status quo. At least, that’s the theory.
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So the Leave campaign is going to spend the last month of the campaign ramping up the arguments about immigration. Because that kind of approach worked so well for Zac Goldsmith, didn’t it? #facepalm.
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When I was doing the Sky News paper review on Wednesday I was regaled with how Brussels regulation dictate that they have to go to an advert break on the dot of the half hour, and that Brussels also dictates the length of their advert breaks. I’ve never heard this applying to radio, but why on earth should Brussels have any role in telling UK broadcasters when they must break for adverts, or the length of the break? It’s just this sort of regulation that gives the EU a bad name.

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WATCH: Jacqui Smith & I Debate the EU Referendum

26 May 2016 at 12:58

Jacqui Smith and I debate the EU Referendum on Sky News.

hattip to @liarpoliticians

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 44: What to Put In And What to Leave Out

20 May 2016 at 21:29

This week, in case you hadn’t heard (!), I won Radio of the Presenter of the Year at the 2016 Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards. This is the entry compiled by my producers Jagruti Dave and Matt Harris. John Suchet, Frank Skinner, Christian O’Connell and Boogie & Dingo were my fellow nominees.

A lot of effort goes into compiling these award entries. The difficulty is deciding what to put in and what to leave out. As you will see, this entry features callers, interviews and presenting big setpiece events like Election Night.

We also entered two other categories, but weren’t shortlisted in either. I can’t remember their exact titles, but I think one was for One Off Special Event, or words to that effect. We entered the Labour Leadership Hustings Debate which I hosted in July.

We also entered our Britain Decides programme on election night, which I co-hosted with Shelagh Fogarty. I thought this was out strongest entry, but clearly the judges begged to differ!

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Interviewing the PM, Winning an Award & the Coming Reshuffle

20 May 2016 at 13:19

So there I am, at the Roundhouse in Camden, shortlisted for Radio Presenter of the Year, thinking that I haven’t got a hope in hell of winning. I was up against Frank Skinner, Christian O’Connell, John Suchet and the unlikely sounding duo of Boogie & Dingo. Nope me, neither.

I won this award in 2013 – so I thought there was no way lightning could strike twice. But it did. You could have knocked me down with a feather. It’s easy to become blasé about awards, but winning one judged by your peers is something I am incredibly proud of. I’m not a trained broadcaster, interviewer or journalist, and I am sure that this sometimes shows, but I absolutely love what I do, and I hope that it shows. Four to seven pm on weekdays on LBC, since you ask. All over the country on digital radio, and FM in London!

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I write this article a few hours ahead of a sitdown interview with David Cameron. As a professional broadcaster (OK, semi-professional, if you prefer), such an opportunity is obviously something to look forward to. It doesn’t get much bigger than this for someone like me.

But I’m only too well aware that unless I conduct an aggressive, shouty interview I’ll be accused of giving my “Tory mate” a soft ride. It doesn’t really matter what I ask, or what the response is: some people only accept that you have conducted a proper interview with a politician if you accuse them of murdering their firstborn. OK, I exaggerate, but I am sure you can see my point. I have a more relaxed, chatty style. I reckon you get more out of people if you conduct a conversation with them, rather than an interrogation.

The trouble is that that approach works much better if you have a reasonable amount of time with the interviewee. I wanted 20 minutes. They’ve offered 10-12. I’ll probably be able to wangle 15. I’ll just ignore the person who keeps doing a wind-up sign. It’s amazing for how long you can pretend that you haven’t seen something. I’m a past master at that one. Anyway, by the time you read this, the interview will have been long gone. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it was brilliant!!!

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There’s increasing speculation about a post referendum reshuffle. For the purposes of this piece let’s assume a Remain win. How on earth does David Cameron bring the party together? All the talk at the moment is about how angry the he is with Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt for their supposed flagrant disloyalty. John Whittingdale is said to have irritated Downing Street, too, along with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.

But however irritated the Prime Minister may be, June 24th has to be seen as Year Zero. Any feuds which currently exist must be extinguished if the party is to come together. Chris Grayling is apparently back in Cameron’s good books for not going off the leash too much, and is tipped by commentators to retain his cabinet post.

I’m sure Michael Gove will be retained, hopefully in his current position, where he’s doing a brilliant job getting to grips with the criminal justice system. Boris, I guess, must be brought in to the full Cabinet, although there is still five weeks to go for him to talk himself out of a job. I’d have though DCLG was the most likely destination for him, but nothing would surprise me. OK, I take that back. Foreign Secretary would surprise me.

The Prime Minister doesn’t like sacking people and I don’t believe that there will be a huge clearout. I think Justine Greening is at risk, along with Theresa Villiers (who I think has done a very good job in Northern Ireland) and Whittingdale.

The latter two are on the right, and many on that side of the party would be very irritated to lose them from the cabinet unless they were replaced by people of similar views. I’m wondering if Liam Fox might be brought back in from the cold…stranger things have happened.

- – – – – – – – – -

You know a government is running out of ideas when a bill on driverless cars is one of the more noteworthy legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech. Most of the legislation will inspire nothing more than a yawn from most people.

Apart, that is, from Michael Gove’s Prisons & Courts Bill. The Justice Secretary’s approach to prison reform is hugely refreshing. He absolute understands the need for rehabilitation to take on far greater importance than it does now. I hope he remains Justice Secretary for a very long time so he can oversee proper reforms.

It is ridiculous that at a time when recorded crime is at a 30 year low, we have a prison population that is at an all-time high. We need to think creatively about what to do about this, and learn from the experiences of other countries. Some of Gove’s ideas will be very hard for the right of the party to swallow, but in the end we have to answer a vital question: why can’t we punish people who commit crimes but aren’t a danger to society in ways other than sending them to prison?

Let’s put people in prison who pose a danger to the rest of us, and let’s make their sentences longer. But we ought to be able to find different ways of punishing less serious offenders. Short prison sentences only work if they can perform a ‘short, sharp shock’ type of deterrent.

We don’t do Gulags in this country, so it’s unlikely that a three month sojourn in a Category C prison will achieve much at all. The cost to the taxpayer of sending someone to prison for a short time far outweighs any benefit to society. I’m sure plenty of you will accuse me of being a wet lettuce liberal on prison reform, and you’d be right.

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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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Diary

ConHome Diary: Tories Must Heed the Sadiq Warning & Farage Would Outperform Boris & Gove in Debates

13 May 2016 at 13:11

What a pity Vote Leave are getting their knickers in a twist with ITV over the fact that ITV have asked Nigel Farage to be on the same programme as David Cameron, rather than one of the big beasts of Vote Leave. It’s symptomatic of the splintering of the OUT side of the argument. They accuse ITV of failing to “consult” them. With respect, broadcasters can invite whoever they like, and as long as there is balance it’s fine. It’s not as if Nigel Farage isn’t a good media performer or doesn’t know the arguments. In fact, I’d say he’s a far better performer in debates than either Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would necessarily be.
*
I took the day off work so I could go to see my beloved West Ham at Upton Park for the last time. It was an extremely emotional night, which I’ve written about at length on my West Ham blog HERE. Driving home I switched on talkSport [ssssh, don’t tell my LBC boss] to listen to a football phone-in and bask in the glory of a tremendous performance in which West Ham beat Man United 3-2. Instead, all the talk was about the hooliganism before the match in which bottles were thrown at the Manchester United bus. I don’t blame talkSport for that at all, but the whole incident took the edge of what was otherwise a perfect night. I hope the full force of the law is used against those responsible. In the end, we can all blame terrible policing, Wayne Rooney for provoking fans with wanker signs or a multitude of other things. But the truth is, this was down to the actions of malicious idiots. I hope they’re identified and that the book is thrown at them. These scenes were beamed around the world and it was a dreadful reminder of how things used to be. In 25 years of having a West Ham season ticket I have never witnessed any act of hooliganism at the ground. I didn’t witness this one as I was already in the ground when it happened, but even so, it has besmirched the good name of the club I support.
*

Last week’s local elections seem a long time ago now. I have much enjoyed the way Corbynistas have tried to spin the results as rather good for Labour. Their latest bit of spin, which both Ken Baker and Alastair Campbell would have been proud of is to point out that Labour won 47% of the seats contested, compared to 41% by Tony Blair in his first year as Labour leader, and 46% by David Cameron in his first year. Good try, but omits to take account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of these seats were fought in urban areas. Most rural councils didn’t have elections this year. So not quite as good as they liked to portray. Sure, they didn’t lose 150 seats, as Rallings & Thrasher, not CCHQ, had predicted, but they still lost seats, lost being the key word here. No opposition serious about winning a general election should be losing seats in mid-term council elections. And for the government to lose only 46 seats is a minor miracle.

But the party which has most to smile about in these local elections was the Liberal Democrats, who gained 50 or so seats. I have always said that I think the LibDems have a major opportunity in the next three years and this was the start of what could be a serious revival for them. They could again become the repository of the dustbin vote. They need to rebuild their activist base and local government elections are where that starts.

UKIP will be disappointed to only gain 20 seats, but they now have more than 500 councillors, which is a real achievement.
*
The emphatic nature of Sadiq Khan’s victory is a warning to the Conservative Party in many ways. Turnout in this election was at an all time high and you have to ask yourself why this was, especially when it was expected to be at an all time low. The high turnout led to a 57-43 victory for Said Khan. I do think the nature of the Goldsmith campaign enabled Sadiq Khan’s ground operation to build a siege mentality and it was easier to persuade their supporters to go out and vote. I heard an anecdote from a Labour MP who knocked on the door of a woman of Somali heritage. Not only did she then go and vote, she knocked on the doors of a dozen of her neighbours to do persuade them to do so too.

Knowing Zac Goldsmith as I do, and knowing one or two of his campaign managers as I do, they will be hurting a lot. The narrative is that Sadiq Khan won because of the negative nature of the Goldsmith campaign. That may have been a factor, but it doesn’t explain and 14 point difference. It went far deeper than that. I’m not sure this election was ever winnable for Zac Golsmith. If you actually look at the figures, Boris Johnson outperformed the Conservative vote in 2008 and 2012 by quite a few per centage points. Zac’s per centage was the same as the Tory GLA performance. Similarly in Ken Livingstone’s two victories he also way outperformed the Labour vote. I also think I am right in saying that Zac got more votes than Boris in 2012. It’s little consolation to anyone on the Zac team. But in the end organisation counts, and Sadiq Khan had a brilliant ground operation. It’s how he won the Labour selection and it’s how he won such an emphatic victory. There are lessons to be learned there for London Conservatives.
*
Ruth Davidson, eh? What a star. A question. Is it possible to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party and not be a Member of Parliament? I seem to remember another Scot did just that, back in 1963… Just a thought.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Duke Safo

Duke Safo explains why he has turned to the internet to raise funds to pay for his mother's funeral.

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TV/Film/Theatre

TV Review: Peston on Sunday

8 May 2016 at 10:47

I’m told that only a couple of months ago, ITV executives were pulling their hair out over Peston on Sunday. No one seemed to have the faintest idea what the programme should be, let along its contents. The only certain thing was that Peston on Sunday was its name and the star would be Robert Peston. The offer of a live Sunday morning programme was the one thing which made Peston realise that ITV were willing to bet the bank on luring him from the BBC. Who in their right mind would turn that down?

For ITV to re-enter the Sunday morning current affairs arena is a big thing, and a very welcome development. Those of us who grew up with Brian Walden and Jonathan Dimbleby remember their very different approach to interviewing senior politicians – very different to anything available on the BBC. The key to their success was the time they devoted to interviewing one politician, and only one politician. In today’s political interviewing world, ten minutes is considered a long interview. I love doing 20 or 30 minute interviews, but I rarely get to do them nowadays because a drivetime radio show inevitably has to be quite fast paced and newsy. There’s a lot of pressure to get a “news line” out of a politician, even if you’re talking to them for only five minutes, but often you need to warm them up, lull them into a conversational mode before you deliver your killer question. So I was glad to see Robert Peston devoting a long time (around 15 minutes) to his headline interview with George Osborne.

The set is bright and breezy – maybe a bit too Good Morning Britain, but then again the show is probably based in the same studio. I like the different vantage points and it isn’t too awkward when Peston walks between them. The set did have the faint whiff of a cookery programme studio which led one wag on Twitter to suggest the show should be renamed ‘Pesto on Sunday’.

I also like the fact that he has two guests who are with him throughout the hour. They’re not there to review the papers, but to comment on what happens on the programme. The combination of Alastair Campbell and Esther McVey worked well too. It’ll be interesting to see whether they continue to use people who have been active in politics, rather than just the punditerati who have no experience of getting their political hands dirty.

Allegra Stratton was there to provide a bit of social media input, although whether in a show like this we really need to know what Kenny in Dumfries thinks is arguable. But she was very good at setting things in context and was a natural in front of ‘screeny’.

The only thing that didn’t work was the ‘book club’ slot. As someone who welcomes more airtime for books (for obvious reasons!) I thought it had far too little time devoted to it, and it was a rather strange book to start off with. Peston himself looked as if he couldn’t move on quickly enough.

The Louis Theroux interview worked well, even if Robert Peston failed to follow up any questions which didn’t really elicit a full answer. I felt we could have learned far more about his relationship with Jimmy Savile, for example. But it felt totally at home within the format of this show, compared to Marr, where the artsy interviews sometimes jar with the more political content. Theroux is also not the kind of typical lefty-liberal luvvie which seem to infest the Andrew Marr Show. It will be interesting to see which guests fill this slot in the weeks ahead. Less Emma Thompson, more Bear Grylls, maybe.

From an OfCom compliance point of view, this show had three guests who were REMAINERS and not a single LEAVE voice. Next week Jeremy Corbyn is the main guest, also a REMAIN supporter (sort of). If I were media monitoring for Vote Leave I might have something to say about this apparent lack of balance. Or is it one rule for radio and another for TV?

Robert Peston started off the programme by admitting he was nervous. He shouldn’t have been. He emerged from the programme having shown a human side and much more fluid and fluent than his critics may have expected. His autocue reading was flawless and there weren’t as many of his word-elongations or pauses that we’re so used to in his reporting. As someone who interview people on a daily basis, I certainly recognised a few moments when he clearly couldn’t think of what to ask next, but each time he recovered almost immediately. He bonded with each of his interviewees and his conversational style put them at their ease very quickly. This conversational style got some good lines from Osborne, who gave the most relaxed interview I’ve ever seen him deliver. I don’t think politicians will ever get an Andrew Neil style interrogation, but there are not many interviewers who are capable of that style of interviewer. The worst thing Peston could do is change his naturally relaxed and conversational manner. One minor point, though. I wasn’t sure it really worked to split the interview with the Chancellor before and after a commercial break. If it doesn’t interrupt an interview’s natural flow, maybe that can work, but the last thing you want in a big set-piece interview is to worry about having to go to a commercial break. In radio, I have flexibility on that. I’m not sure that network TV has the same degree of latitude.

Is there room for a fourth political show on a Sunday morning? I absolutely think there is. Marr, Murnaghan and the Sunday Politics are all very different in their different ways. And so is Peston on Sunday. You do have to wonder if there are enough big names to share around on a Sunday morning, though. I do fear that after an initial burst of big names, Peston might struggle to get a stellar name every single week. Murnaghan, given in mind its very small audience, has always punched above its weight in attracting big names and they will certainly need to up their game if they aren’t to lose viewers to Peston.

So, all in all a really good start for Robert Peston. I’ll certainly be watching. The big question is, though. Will I watch it live, or Sky Plus it in preference to Murnaghan? In the end, it will depend on who has the biggest and most newsworthy guests. Put it this way, I’m not sure I’d want to be Murnaghan guest-getter. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Just think of that email from John Ryley on a Monday morning asking why you only managed Lucy Powell, when Peston had Donald Trump…

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Michael Winner

From the LBC Book Club on 20 December 2010, Michael Winner spends an hour talking to Iain about his life and relationships with the rich and famous.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Dangers of TTIP, Gove Pillow Talk & How We Have 'Misunderestimated' The Donald

6 May 2016 at 13:43

If I were Dominic Cummings (and there’s a thought) I’d be deploying the acronym TTIP as a major part of the LEAVE campaign. The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership is a very boring sounding free trade agreement between the US and the EU. From what I know about it, it scares the shit out of me. I have always suspected it was a bad thing, but now we have the proof. If it were just a free trade agreement everyone would support it, but it goes far beyond the realms of free trade. Until this week we only suspected what its contents were. Its drafting was so secret that the European Commission banned any knowledge of the negotiations. Anyone who revealed the contents were threatened with criminal proceedings. This week a draft of the agreement was leaked to Greenpeace and it makes for pretty horrifying reading. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments. For example, if the British government introduce an environmental tax on fracking which affects the profit of a US mining company, they can sue for loss of profits. Totally outrageous. It also forces public sector organisations like the NHS to effectively open up all their services to privatisation. Now that may be a good idea, but it is our government that should decide to do this, not TTIP. US manufactured GM food products will be forced on EU countries who currently ban them. I could go on. It’s an issue which even many Europhiles are uncomfortable with. In essence it’s an affront to democracy. There is some debate about wether national governments have a veto over its final draft. Some say it is subject to Qualified Majority Voting. In my opinion it’s so important there should be a referendum on it in each of the 28 countries.
On Wednesday I interviewed TTIP enthusiast Mike Gapes MP and War on Want’s John Hillary. You might be interested in listening to the discussion.

*
All anyone seems to want to talk to me about nowadays is who I think will be the next Tory leader. Whenever anyone asks the question I inwardly sigh. It’s an impossible question to answer in any meaningful way, mainly because there isn’t actually a vacancy. If there is one on June 24th then it’s clear that Boris Johnson will be in the driving seat. The niggling doubt in his mind, though, is that he might not be able to convince enough of his fellow MPs to vote for him to reach the final two. Like Theresa May he has very few devoted followers and acolytes. Off the top of my head James Cleverly, Ben Wallace and Nadine Dorries are the only three MPs who I have heard being Boris enthusiasts. I am sure there are others, but would they number more than a dozen? But if he gets into the final two, I suspect party members would give him a bigger majority than David Cameron achieved (66-33) against David Davis. The task for people like me is to identify who the outsider candidates might be. Sajid Javid was a good bet up until the moment he inexplicably declared himself to be a supporter of REMAIN. Greater love hath a Cabinet Minister than he lay down his career for beliefs he doth not possess. It’s a funny old world. Nicky Morgan has made clear she wants to stand, but the policy of forced academisation has done her no good among a range of Tory backbenchers. Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt are four leading female contenders. Indeed, it’s possible there may be more female candidates than male. Anna Soubry has impressed me of late, with some very deft handling of the steel crisis, but would Tory MPs vote for the woman who is possibly the most vocal advocate of Europhilia? My money remains on Michael Gove, who last week topped the ConHome next leader poll. Michael protests he isn’t qualified for the job and wouldn’t want it. Funnily enough I have never heard Mrs Gove back him up on that one. Someone should place a recording device under their respective pillows. I suspect the results would be very revealing. [Get your minds out of the gutter please].
*

So Donald Trump has more or less secured the Republican nomination. Shows how much I know. Can the Republican Party unite around him? Judging from the comments of many Republican commentator and strategists it is doubtful. Most of my republican supporting friends will be holding their noses and voting for Hillary. However, that might not be enough to stop Donald Trump. If he can appeal to people who haven’t voted for years and really burnish his anti-establishment credentials, he could still do it. I wonder whether we in this country have fallen for the same trick that we fell for when many people (not including me, I should say) thought that no way could the Americans vote for that stupid George Bush. We constantly misunderestimated George W Bush and I suspect that we (me included) are now repeating the trick with The Donald.

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Video: Iain interviews Brooks Newmark MP

18 Doughty Street: The Class of 2005

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