Diary

ConHome Diary: In Defence of Boris & What Will the Local Elections Bring For Jezza?

14 Apr 2017 at 14:33

Boris Johnson has copped a lot of flak this week, unfairly so in my opinion. The media, and indeed some of his colleagues, have been waiting for him to commit a diplomatic howler ever since he was appointed Foreign Secretary back in mid-July. I was certainly not a founder member of the Boris fan club, but one thing I do know is that he has a habit of outperforming people’s expectations. He did so as London mayor and I suspect he will do so in his current job. So far, he hasn’t put much of a foot wrong. I hear from Foreign Office sources that he reads his briefs, has much more of a command of detail than they had imagined and that he performs well with his counterparts in other countries. He has undoubtedly been marginalised in the Brexit negotiations but in his appearances in the House of Commons he has shown a mastery of his brief and has hardly put a foot wrong.
To criticise him for the fact that Germany and Italy vetoed his proposals on sanctions against Russia says more about them than it does Boris. I’m not a great fan of sanctions as they are often the political equivalent of virtue signalling, but in this case it was a perfectly sensible proposal.
*
I’m a great hoarder. I hate throwing things away. I cannot abide the thought of getting rid of books, but as I get older I know that at some point I’m going to have to. I’ve run out of bookcase space in the house and my partner certainly wouldn’t entertain the thought of building any more. I’ve always had this hankering to buy a Victorian rectory with a ready-made library, but I’m not sure that is ever going to happen. In my bedroom I’ve now got four columns of books stacked on the floor – all unread – which look as if they could topple over at any point. Probably in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for Harriet Harman to fall on top of me…
*

In four weeks’ time we’ll be raking over the consequences of the local election results. Try as I might I can’t see how they can be anything other than bad news for Jeremy Corbyn, and that’s not me looking at things through blue tinted spectacles. All the signs are that Labour will lose heavily in Scotland. They’re on a 14% vote share there and it’s difficult to see them gaining control of any councils, let alone have a net gain in seats. There are 32 unitary councils in Scotland (with 1,223 councillors) and 22 in Wales (which have 1,264 councillors). In Scotland three quarters of the councils are under No Overall Control. Only 4 are controlled by Labour. The SNP is expected to make huge gains and increase the number of councils they control, and the number of councillors. The Tories will expect to increase their councillors too. Given the electoral system used, it’s difficult to guess by how many.
In England, there are 27 county councils up for election. These seats were last fought in 2013, which was a good year for Labour. Even traditionally Tory councils like Norfolk went to No Overall Control or Labour. Norfolk this year should see a Tory resurgence. Labour will spin that they’ve never done well in county council elections, but to lose seats in a mid-term Tory government is nothing other than a disaster. It’s expected they could lose more than 100 seats. I expect the Conservatives to remain broadly where they are or even to gain a few seats, with the LibDems doing the same. UKIP is defending 140 seats. Given their recent troubles I wonder if they might lose a high proportion of them.
There is also the Gorton by-election and some mayoral contests taking place on the same day.
*
The week after the local elections will be critical for Jeremy Corbyn. If the results are as I think they may well be, he’s going to come under huge pressure to step down and let someone else have a go. Labour MPs know another coup won’t succeed so it will all be up to Jezza. In the last there have been at least two occasions when he’s wanted to quit, but John McDonnell and Seumas Milne have put some lead into his pencil and he agreed to stay. Some commentators think things may be different this time. Wishful thinking I’d say. There is no way Corbyn will be allowed to quit until after September’s conference, because that’s when the left expects to get its leadership election rule changes through.
*

Former UKIP leader Diane James seems to think that someone owes her a seat in Parliament. She says she would only “accept” a Tory seat if it was a safe one. Seeing as she isn’t actually a Tory party member, I’d say she was whistling in the wind. She really doesn’t know how Conservative selections work, does she?

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Hitler, Hitler, Hitler

7 Apr 2017 at 13:23

Helen Szamuely, who died this week, wasn’t famous, but she should have been. She was a Brexiteer years before the word Eurosceptic was even invented. Her work in the broader Eurosceptic movement was vital to making the case for leaving the European Union. I first met her when I was running Politico’s. She loved to come in and shoot the breeze and discuss the latest ups and downs in the Westminster world. She loathed elected politicians and viewed them as a hindrance. Her perspective on the EU came from her own background, which she rarely spoke about. Born in Moscow and the daughter of an intellectual, she moved to this country as a child. Her English was faultless but there was always a trace of an accent. Freedom was her watchword, and it was the prism through which she saw everything. Her writing on Eastern Europe and Russia was incisive and ground-breaking, yet somehow she was never recognised for her work. Helen was a difficult character in some ways. Difficult to work with, she was an individualist who was certainly prone to the odd flounce. She succeeded me as editor of the Conservative History Journal but it has to be said that she and I had rather different interpretations of the word ‘deadline’! I shall miss her infectious laugh and cheeky nature. She loved a good gossip and although I hadn’t seen her much in recent years it was always good to catch up when we ran into each other. Peter North knew her far better than me and has written this marvellous tribute HERE [add link http://peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/helen-szamuely.html ]. My thoughts go to her daughter Katharine, who was devoted to Helen, who in turn was so proud of her offspring. I know it’s a cliché, but Helen will be greatly missed by all who knew her. And if the Eurosceptic movement awarded honours for contribution to the cause, Helen ought to be awarded a retrospective peerage.
*
Labour’s latest vote catching policy is to propose that all primary school children should get free school meals. It’s one of those motherhood and apple pie policies that is quite difficult to argue against. It is likely to cost £1.2 billion and will, according to the Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, be funded by putting VAT onto private school fees. This policy was last proposed by Labour in the 1983 Labour manifesto, the most left wing in its history. I have no idea how many people who send a child to a private school is a Labour voter, but this policy ought to reduce that number to close to zero. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the type of people who send their kids to private schools. Yes, rich people do. But there are thousands of normal people who do so too, who scrimp and save in order to give their children the best education possible. Putting VAT on school fees will add between £2k and £6k to their bills. It may be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.
*

I’ve done quite a bit of coverage on my radio show this week of the Prime Minister’s trip to the Middle East, especially to Saudi Arabia. On Monday I interviewed a documentary maker called James Jones. He has made a film called ‘SAUDI ARABIA UNCOVERED’. I hadn’t seen it when I interviewed him but I watched it on Youtube on the train home that night. I so wish Theresa May had been able to watch it before she set foot in Riyadh. It’s certainly an eye-opener, especially about the way women are treated in the Kingdom. Have a watch. You’ll be horrified and tell all your friends about it.
*
I suspect Michael Howard has spent the week metaphorically kicking himself. Not known for his loose lips approach to interviews, he appeared to suggest that if Spain didn’t back off Gibraltar Theresa May might well decide to go to war, in the same way that Margaret Thatcher had over the Falklands. Well, that’s what his words were interpreted as saying. What he was trying to do was point out that May has the same level of resolve as Thatcher. I suspect as the words came out of his mouth he was thinking to himself “Hmmm, maybe I could have phrased that better…”. We’ve all done it. He may not be a member of the government, but as a former party leader his words are obviously taken very seriously. The reaction was totally over the top, but that’s the media world we live in. Misspeak in a live interview and repent at your leisure.
*

Not easy being a West Ham fan at the moment… A bit like being a Shadow Cabinet member…
*
I’ve known Ken Livingstone for many years. We agree on very little but I’ve always liked him, always enjoyed talking to him. He was a good colleague on LBC for many years. But he really has gone off the rails on anti-semitism. It’s as if he can’t help himself. Why is no one advising him to stop doing interviews which inevitably make things worse? Why didn’t Labour’s disciplinary panel make it a condition of his rather to lenient suspension that he mustn’t do any more interviews on the subject? Unfortunately Ken has developed a form of Tourettes on this issue and he simply cannot resist mentioning the word Hitler. In a 13 minute interview with me on Wednesday afternoon he mentioned Hitler twelve times. I know, because I could see people on Twitter counting the mentions as the interview progressed. Not a good place to be.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special

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Why I've Said Yes to Hosting the Morning Show on Radio X

1 Apr 2017 at 09:52

This wasn’t supposed to be announced until Monday but Radio Today seem to have got hold of it, so I thought I’d share some news with you.

As you know, I’ve been hosting LBC’s Drivetime Show for four years now. LBC is part of Global Radio, which owns several massive music radio stations including Capital, Heart, Smooth, Classic, and Radio X. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at music radio and now the opportunity has presented itself, well, I just couldn’t say no.

From a week on Monday I’ll be taking over the mid-morning show on Radio X, replacing Vernon Kay. Don’t worry, it finishes at 1, so I’ll still have time to prepare for my LBC show!

Global Radio’s Richard Park said, announcing the move: “Iain has been with Global for seven years now and we feel he needs a new challenge. Vernon has left big shoes to fill, but we feel Iain’s eclectic musical tastes will draw the listeners in and they’ll soon get used to his political links between the tunes. I’m sure the handover from Chris Moyles will become appointment to listen radio.”

I might not know my Arctic Monkeys from my elbow, but, given the times we live in, the controller of Radio X, Matt Deverson, has clearly decided it’s about time his audience got a mix of music and current affairs. In fact, it’s a naked attempt to steal listeners from James O’Brien. I mean, who wouldn’t switch to me on Radio X playing the latest from Sparks mixed with a comment on Jeremy Corbyn’s new rather natty tracksuit?

Now, just as Chris Moyles has Dominic Byne, Pippa Taylor and Dave Masterman as his studio crew, I’m in the process of putting my own team together in order to ensure we get the right sound for Radio X. So far I’ve recruited Timmy Mallet, H from Steps and Kay Burley. If that isn’t a winning team, I don’t know what is.

On my first show Matt’s kindly agreed to suspend the Radio X playlist so listeners can get to know my own musical tastes. So in the first hour I’ll be lining up these rather excellent tunes…

Listen to your Heart by Roxette
Forever Young by Alphaville
Just Drive by Alistair Griffin
An Enya megamix
and Miss You Nights by Cliff Richard

In the second hour we’ll be taking calls on Brexit interspersed with sixty years of Eurovision hits.

In the final hour, to ensure the success of my first show, I’m delighted that Theresa May will be joining me for sixty minutes of chat and commentary on the songs of Meat Loaf.

And should there be any listeners left by 1pm, normal service on Radio X will resume with Dan O’Connell.

It’s gonna be epic!

UPDATE: For the record, this was an April Fool. I can’t believe the number of people who tweeted their congratulations. Gullible is the word which springs to mind!

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Amber & Boris, Sayeeda & Douglas & Keir Starmer's Mirror

31 Mar 2017 at 13:15

Listening to the BBC coverage of triggering Article 50 you’d think we were entering a period of national mourning. It started with the Today programme who relished interviewing anyone who had anything negative to say – and believe me, most of their carefully chosen guests did. In the section I listened to they did indeed have one pro Leave business guest. She was given all of two minutes to make her case. The five or six Remainers were left to witter on with hardly a challenge from the presenters. We’re going to have two years of this. The die is cast. Article 50 has been triggered; there is no going back, despite what some Remainers might cling onto. I had hoped that there would be a realisation from the likes of Nick Clegg and Hilary Benn that the thing to do now is unite behind Brexit and make the best of it. I suppose it was always a forlorn hope. Nick Clegg seems to have cast himself as ‘Remainer in Chief’ and has declared that the ‘phoney war is now over’ and Brexiteers must be held to account ‘for their false promises’. If he wishes to go to war with the British people over the way they voted, that’s up to him. We should admire people who stick to their principles, but we shouldn’t have any truck with politicians who fight the battles of the last war. Everyone’s attentions should now be directed to how we make a success of Brexit, or if you are of a less optimistic persuasion, make the best of a bad job.
*
It says a lot about the state of the British media that on the day before Article 50 was triggered all we could talk about were the respective legs of the PM and the Scottish First Minister. Who’d have thighed it.
*

I wonder when Kier Starmer looks himself in the mirror – and with that gelled hair, he must do so quite often – does he see the reflection of John Moore staring back at him?
*
A lot has been written about the rise in inflation in the last few weeks. Those who know nothing about economics appear to attribute it all to Brexit and the fall in the Pound. The truth is somewhat simpler. Since Brexit the price of oil has risen 60%, and that has now begun to come through in the inflation figures. If the rise in inflation was all down to Brexit the inflation rate would be far higher. In fact, it’s only 0.1% higher than Germany’s rate, and on a par with most of the rest of the main EU economies.
*

Alex Salmond is a genial cover. I host him every Wednesday afternoon for a half hour phone-in on LBC. He and Nicola Sturgeon are adamant that Scotland should have its own deal, given that Scotland voted 62-38 to Remain. I am sure Alex Salmond is sincere in that and genuinely believes the case he is making. Of course, I am sure that if Dumphries & Galloway or The Borders vote in a second Independence Referendum vote to remain in the UK he’d also allow them their own special deal to stay in the UK. And pigs might fly.
*
There were two new books out this week which may be of interest to ConHome readers. Sayeeda Warsi has written a book called THE ENEMY WITHIN, which is apparently how some people described her when she was a minister in the Cameron government. It’s certainly not a kiss and tell account of her time in government, instead it’s a thoughtful tome about the place of muslims in Britain today. It’s incredibly well researched (and heavily footnoted) and I hope it gets a much wider readership than just among muslims who are interested to read about the views of Britain’s first muslim cabinet minister. It deserves to. Douglas Carswell has also written a weighty tome called REBEL. It’s a call to arms to overthrow what he calls the Oligarchs and political interests that control our society. A powerful polemic, it ought to have a readership across the political spectrum. It’s certainly not a right-wing treatise; indeed, at times you think you’re reading the words of someone on the far left. Some of his recipes for dealing with out of control capitalism could emanate from the pen of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, if Corbyn has any sense he will read this book and adopt a lot of its conclusions. But as I say, the key phrase there is ‘if he has any sense’. No doubt he and his little helper Seumas Milne couldn’t bring themselves to read a single word of a book they would regard as being written by someone on the extreme right. And therein lies their problem. Carswell is far more in tune with the views of the ordinary Brit than they ever will be.
*

I like interviewing Amber Rudd, although I don’t do it that often. On Wednesday she was on my show talking about triggering Article 50. I asked her if she thought that people on both sides should moderate their language and stop the insults. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘they should’. I immediately retorted, ‘Well that’s enough about you and Boris.’ She giggled and said, ‘Well I rather let myself in for that one, didn’t I?’ Good on her. It’s a pity that more politicians don’t react in the same way rather than go all hoity toity.

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LBC97.3 Iain Talks to Peter Hitchens & Myles Dyer about Occupy London

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UK Politics

When Will Someone Hold Highways England to Account?

25 Mar 2017 at 12:56

Back in the 1990s the Major government embarked on a much heralded programme of hiving off government responsibilities into stand alone and stand apart agencies. The idea was to keep politics out of these agencies. Fears were expressed that they would become politically unaccountable and a law unto themselves. Twenty years on it looks like those fears have been realised.

Take the Highways Agency, which of course nominally comes under the remit of the Department of Transport. Ever since its inception in 1994 it has been riddled with incompetent managers, few visible leaders and a lack of strategy for the nation’s trunk road and motorway network. It has a multi-billion pound budget. Its transformation in 2015 from an agency into a government owned company, Highways England, seems to have made little difference. Like Transport for London its only goal in life seems to make it more difficult for the car driver. TFL clearly have a policy of introducing policies designed to encourage all drivers not to drive in central London, yet they don’t have the balls to admit it. How else can you explain the appalling situation along The Embankment and Upper Thames Street, or the fact that you now cannot turn left from the Embankment onto Westminster Bridge, leading to more congestion on Parliament Square as you now have to go around Parliament Square to come back onto Westminster Bridge. And to top it all, there’s now going to be a year of disruption on the bridge as separate cycle lanes are introduced. I digress, but Highways England seems to be determined to follow suit. How else can you explain the rank incompetence of closing the M3 out of London on random nights with little or no warning until you happen to get within a mile of the section that is closed off. And then you try to follow the diversion only to find out that it is so badly signed that you end up exactly where you started.

On Thursday night I drove from London to Norwich. Well, at least I tried to. Normally it takes me around two and a half hours. On Thursday it took the best part of four hours. Firstly, the overhead gantries on the M11 informed me that Junction 9 was closed. That’s the A11 junction. OK, I thought, I’ll go on to Duxford and take the A505 back onto the M11. I followed the diversion until it tried to make me head back south on the M11. Luckily I was born and brought up in that area so I knew that was ridiculous and found my way through Great Abington back onto the A11. Job done, I thought. I was wrong. On the A14 at Newmarket the gantries informed me that there was no access to the A11 north and the signs said “Find an Alternative Route”. So helpful of them. They put up those signs in the full knowledge that there isn’t an alternative route to Norwich unless you head 30 miles or so down the A14 and go via Ipswich.

When I got to the A11 turnoff I was pleased to see it was, in fact, open. I shouldn’t have been so pleased because a few miles on, at Red Lodge, the road was indeed closed and we were all diverted back heading for Newmarket. So in the end I had no alternative but to head to Ipswich and drive up the A140.

Now I totally understand that roads need repairing, but the default policy of the Highways Agency seems to be close them off completely rather than install traffic lights and leave one lane open. And they do it with little notice. I follow HighwaysEast on Twitter but I had seen no information about these roadworks. When I sent them a tweet asking them why not they said it was because they don’t tweet about roadworks, they only tweet about ongoing incidents. That’s the public sector for you. No idea about customer relations whatsoever.



We have reached a stage in this country where car drivers have become a persecuted minority in this country. When a government agency like the Highways Agency considers it more important to install yet more speed cameras in places where they are not needed rather than prioritise the efficiency of the road network you know you have a body that is ploughing its own furrow with little reference to its supposed political masters. This is exemplified by the fact that its senior management very rarely ever do interviews. There is no way to publicly hold them to account for their actions. They’re not even really accountable to Parliament, except, rather nominally, through government ministers.

This is why I always reject the very lazy, but populist, argument that we should take politics out of the NHS. The budget of the NHS makes the Highways Agency look rather irrelevant. But to suggest that the NHS shouldn’t be politically accountable would be to send the NHS down the route that the Highways Agency took.

It is high time the government took Highways England back under the control of ministers in Marsham Street.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Terror in Westminster & Dreaming About Tim Shipman

24 Mar 2017 at 13:36

Steve Uncles is a name you probably won’t be familiar with. He has been a leading light in the English Democrats for a number of years, particularly in the south east, and has stood in a number of elections, including for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner and in the European Elections. He appeared on the late-lamented 18 Doughty Street several times and I always found him an amiable cove. Last week he was sentenced at Maidstone Court to 7 months in prison. His crime? To submit bogus election papers for elections in Kent in 2013. He put in papers for candidates called Rachel Stevens (who was lead singer for S Club 7) and Anna Cleves and other real people who had never agreed to stand. I do not diminish the importance of the crime, but seven months in prison? Really? What on earth is the point of sending someone to prison for that kind of offence? This is why our prisons are so full. Surely to God there are other ways of punishing people? OK, in all probability he’ll only serve three months, but what possible good can come of sending him to prison? No one can use the argument, well, he won’t do it again if he’s in prison, will he? Yet another example of how our sentencing guidelines need massive reform.
*
‘Prime Suspect 1973’. Not exactly ‘Life on Mars’, is it?
*

Presenting a radio show when a terror incident has just happened is like walking a tightrope. One word out of place and you could lose your job. And so it was that on Wednesday afternoon Shelagh Fogarty and I negotiated our way through the appalling events that took place just outside the Palace of Westminster. To be fair, we quickly had quite a few details almost from the start. That’s something unusual in these cases. Several times I have had to do a three hour radio broadcast of rolling news when we knew very few details at all. Keeping an audience engaged in those circumstances is one of the most difficult things you have to cope with as a live broadcaster. I remember when flight MH17 went down in Ukraine. Those were the only details we had. Speculate too much and it’s inappropriate. Say too little and repeat ad nauseum and you lose your audience. It’s in these situations, though, when a station like LBC comes into its own. We don’t have zillions of reporters, but we do have an increasing number of listeners who are only too willing to tell us what they have seen. It was heartbreaking to find out that the police officer guarding the mother of parliaments had lost his battle for life. The pictures of Tobias Ellwood administering CPR to the police officer will stay with me for a long while. Two heroes of our time.
*
Some people never know when to quit. Well, Jacqui Smith and I have quit the Sky News paper review. Hold the front page! I hear you say. For us both it was quite wrench as we have, we think, developed quite a good on-screen rapport, but sometimes you just have to do what you think is right, and we figured our time was rapidly coming to an end. Sky seem to want to shake up the people who are guests on their paper reviews and we could see the writing on the wall. Apparently there’s a new broom who thinks their viewers want to see more Corbynistas and Americans, and fewer Westminster and media insiders. Well, it’s a point of view, I suppose. One thing I have learned in observing and participating in these paper reviews is that you shouldn’t go on them if you have no personality and very little to say. Some of their more recent recruits appear afraid to articulate a coherent opinion on anything and stay firmly rooted to the fence. I’ll leave you to judge whether that makes better TV than the kind of good humoured, and yes, spiky, banter Jacqui and I indulge in. But I make no complaint. It’s Sky’s prerogative to change their guest personnel whenever they want to. I’ve enjoyed doing these paper reviews for 17 years but all good things come to an end. I know both Jacqui and I are going to miss Anna Botting, who I continue to regard as one of the great stars of British news TV. And what’s more, she’s as nice in person as she appears on screen.
*

I had a very strange dream the other night. It featured Tim Shipman (Sunday Times Political Editor) and I fighting off Chinese spies. What can it all mean?
*
I finish writing this diary on Thursday morning. I’ve just read Paul Waugh’s HuffPo morning email and I am not ashamed to say it moved me to tears. Journalism in this country gets a pounding sometimes but yesterday we saw it at its best – reporting the facts and sticking to them. Refusing the indulge in the mindless speculation perpetrated by the likes of Arron Banks and others on Twitter. We also saw the very best of the British people. People rushing to help their fellow citizens. An MP rushing towards danger in order to help the fallen policeman. I could go on. But there are five families grieving this morning. I cannot imagine what they are going through, and yes, I include the family of the terrorist attacker in that. How on earth can they come to terms with what he did? But most of all we think of the family of PC Keith Palmer. In their pain and grief, I hope will come to know that a whole nation is grieving with them for a man who will be remembered as a true British hero.

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Video: Iain & Yasmin Alibhai Brown cross-examine Mark Oaten

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Why Jacqui Smith and I Are Saying Good Bye to the Sky News Paper Review

22 Mar 2017 at 14:13

h/t to @Liarpoliticians for the video clip.

Last night on Sky News Jacqui Smith and I announced we were doing our last paper review. (CLIP above). Several of you have been in touch with both of us to ask why.

I started doing paper reviews on Sky around 17 years ago. Jacqui is a comparative ‘newbie’ having been doing them for around six years. I’ve had various on screen partners – first Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, then Zoe Williams and, for the last five or six years, Jacqui Smith. We usually do every other Wednesday night. Not too long ago we were told we had the highest ratings of any pairing (including Pierce & Maguire! and suggestions were made that we might like to do it every week. Given that I live in Tunbridge Wells, and not London, and Jacqui lives in Worcestershire we declined that offer as we have to stay the night in London or get home really late.

Late last year our bookings seemed to get a little lighter. Fair enough, we thought, as long as we’re getting one a month, that’s fine. However, last night’s was the first booking since early December, and the next one they offered us was in mid-May. Apparently, a new broom in senior management has decreed that there should be more Corbynistas and Americans on their paper reviews. Neither of us have any argument with that whatsoever. We’ve had a very good run and enjoyed it. We both love Anna Botting and it’s a shame we won’t be appearing with her again, but we both feel that it doesn’t really work for us if we’re only on once every other month with no certainty. On-screen partnerships don’t work when you have to spend a bit of time getting into the groove again. So we both came to the conclusion it was best for us to call it a day.

Broadcasting to a ‘grateful’ nation is a real privilege – no one has a divine right to go on doing it forever. We pulled the plug, not Sky, even though I have to say Sky’s actions hastened the decision. But we make absolutely no complaint. As we said in the clip above, we’ve been very grateful for the opportunity and we leave with only fond memories.

Anna Botting is one of Britain’s finest news broadcasters. She can turn her hand to anything, as you’ll see later this evening, when she hosts the News at Ten live from Mosul. She has an infectious personality and is one of the best things on Sky News. It was nice to do our final show with Steve Dixon, as he was one of the first presenters I ever did a paper review with – back in the days when I would be nervous as a kitten!

Jacqui and I have become firm friends as a result of doing the Sky press preview and we’re continuing our relationship by editing a two volume set of biographies of female MPs together, ‘The Honourable Ladies’, which will be published late next year. However, I’m sure we’d both like to continue our on-screen relationship, so if the editor of THIS MORNING is listening….

So thank you, Anna, thank you Sky. And thank you Jacqui! It’s been great fun!

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines talks about his new book AN ENGLISH AFFAIR and the impact of the Profumo scandal on British society.

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Personal

I'll Mourn His Victims, But No, I Won't Mourn Martin McGuinness

21 Mar 2017 at 09:11

Inam Bashir and John Jeffries. Two names you’ve probably never heard of. I knew their faces but not their names. They worked in a newsagents by South Quay DLR station on the Isle of Dogs. Each morning I’d call in to their little kiosk to buy my morning newspapers on the way to work. On 9 February 1996 I decided to drive to work in London’s Victoria so I didn’t see them that morning. I wouldn’t see them ever again.

At one minute past seven that same evening I was driving back to my flat just off Westferry Circus. I was driving past the Tower of London when I heard a muffled boom. I had no idea what it meant until I reached the underground roundabout at the top of the Isle of Dogs. Sirens were going. Police were everywhere. As I emerged into the daylight, only yards from my flat in Cascades – the building Prince Charles referred to as a ‘monstrous carbunkle’ – everything was being cordoned off. I wound down my window and shouted to a policeman: “What’s going on?”. He replied with one word: “Bomb”.

I managed to get into my building only seconds before the cordon came down.

I never saw Inam or John again. They were killed by the blast. Innocent men, no doubt with loving families. Killed. For what? Killed by IRA cowards. On the orders of IRA cowards. I have no idea whether Martin McGuinness gave the orders for that bomb to be planted. In a way it doesn’t really matter. We know that he approved and ordered dozens of other terror atrocities and clearly did nothing to prevent this one.

Yes, I hear all the blather today about how vital he was to the peace process, and in many ways he was. He adapted to government in a way no one could have predicted. I acknowledge all that.

But no, I won’t indulge in all the kind words being uttered about him today, often by the very same people who rejoiced in Margaret Thatcher’s passing.


I don’t mourn his passing. How could I when all I can do today is remember Inam Bashir and John Jeffries.

PS The man convicted of planting the bomb was released after only two years under Good Friday Agreement.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna talks about his new book HYPNOTIC GASTRIC BAND, and about hypnosis.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Week That Was + Questions for Lord Feldman

17 Mar 2017 at 13:27

Well that was quite a week, wasn’t it? I still don’t understand why the government abandoned its plans to trigger Article 50 on Tuesday. Yes, Nicola Sturgeon stole the show on Monday with her referendum announcement, but I fail to see why that should have thrown the government into panic. EU leaders had clearly been led to expect it on Tuesday and had even arranged press conferences. Putting off the triggering of Article 50 is surely an embarrassment to the government. Nicola Sturgeon has her SNP Spring conference at the weekend. Does the government really think she will be any less vitriolic about the prime minister now than she would have been if Article 50 had been triggered? I think not. Would it change the vote in the Scottish Parliament next Tuesday when the Scottish Government will seek to trigger a Section 30 Order? Of course not. In addition, given the sudden change, it will now be impossible for the actual negotiations to start much before June, as there is no date for an EU special summit before May. Had Article 50 been triggered on Tuesday, a summit could have been held on 6 April. It had already been planned. Because of the EU 60th anniversary celebrations the weekend after next, Article 50 cannot now be triggered until March 27th. Shame.
*
Calling a referendum is a big risk for Nicola Sturgeon. Lose and she will have to resign. Alex Salmond set the precedent on that one. It will also be a big test for Theresa May. I felt she has no choice but to authorise the referendum – it was, after all in the SNP manifesto – but she surprised most people yesterday when she said it would not happen until after the Brexit negotiations have been complete. She has right on her side, but it will go down like a cup of cold sick with the SNP and independence supporters. Frankly, if Nicola Sturgeon had any sense, she would also delay a referendum until 2021 or 2022 at the earliest. If Brexit looks like it’s going to be the disaster she has predicted, she’d probably easily win the poll. So it’s high stakes for both Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May. If either of them loses, they’d have no alternative but to resign. Come back Alex Salmond, come in Boris?
*

Wednesday ought to have been a total humiliation for Philip Hammond, and to a lesser extent Theresa May. But they can always count on Jeremy Corbyn to come to the rescue. Twenty minutes before PMQs a letter was released to Tory MPs from the Chancellor announcing a total reversal of the position on National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed. Corbyn – never the most nimble of politicians – had the opportunity to smash the ball into the back of the net. Instead he tapped it high into the stands, with a performance that even left of centre commentators described as his worst ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but Theresa May swatted him away as if he were a fly. Instead of being ritually humiliated the Hammond made a virtue out of having listened to protests and acting accordingly. And judging by the response on social media and my LBC show, it worked.
*
I don’t like the smell from East Thanet. I can’t predict where the case will end up, but if it does end up in court I wonder if the right people will actually end up in the dock. The police and CPS have little clue how elections work and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they charge the wrong people. And believe me, they will charge several. They’re on a mission and on the face of it there is a certainly a case to argue about some of the decisions that were made. But does anyone seriously believe that the local candidate or agent were in any way responsible for the national support that they clearly got for their campaigns? They would have had no say in it whatsoever. And when filling in their election expenses returns, there seems to be email evidence that shows that CCHQ told them the costs involved in the support they received would come under the national campaign. And that’s what all the legal arguments will no doubt centre on. Some of the MPs involved are friends of mine. Some of the people mentioned from CCHQ are friends of mine. In the end, though, shouldn’t the buck stop with the man who chaired the party, was head of compliance and presumably gave the orders? Step forward Lord Feldman. I like Andrew Feldman, but this is what happens when a Prime Minister appoints his BFF to a role he was completely unsuited to. He’d never fought an election, he knew little of the history of the party or the way elections work. Grant Shapps certainly did, but of course he left his post as co-chairman in May 2015. He might now look back and be rather grateful for that, even though it must have hurt at the time. The man I most feel sorry for who has been fingered by the Electoral Commission is Simon Day. It’s usually the deputy heads they go after, isn’t it? And think on this. Having read the Electoral Commission report, it is clear that Andrew Feldman was never interviewed, despite the fact he was responsible for compliance and signed off the party’s national election expenses. I think we deserve to know why he wasn’t even spoken to. Over to you, Michael Crick.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Sir Nicholas Barrington

Iain talks to Sir Nicholas Barrington about his book on his time in the Foreign Office.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Ready to Serve, The Honourable Ladies & the Wonders of Octopus

3 Mar 2017 at 13:06

On Wednesday evening I chaired a session at the Jewish Book Festival at King’s Place, which is also home to the Guardian. The guest was Malcolm Rifkind who was there to talk about his memoirs. POWER & PRAGMATISM, which I published last summer. I was delighted that they had to move the event to the big theatre due to the fact that 250 people had bought tickets. They were a really engaged audience and asked really good questions. I think they were surprised at how funny Malcolm was. To me, he is one of the great political speakers of our times, yet he’s never really got the credit he deserves for his ability to make brilliant speeches with no notes, on whatever subject he’s speaking on. I remember when he was Transport Secretary I watch him make a speech in the Commons on some very technical aspect of transport policy, which most ministers would have read out word for word. Not once did he look down at his notes and proceeded to make the house laugh – which isn’t easy when you’re talking about ports privatisation or some such policy.
*
Over the past two weeks or so I have done something I should have done years ago and switched my energy provider. I switched to a new entrant to the market called ‘Octopus Energy’. They predict I will save more than £850 over a year. Part me thinks, well, I’ll believe that when I see it, but I am very impressed with them so far. I tweeted I had done this and within an hour both the chief executive and their main twitter feed had replied and said they hoped I would be pleased with their service. You’d never get that from Npower or EDF, would you?
*

So it seems it’s now impossible for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 at the European Summit next week, given that the House of Lords has passed an amendment which will now ping back to the House of Commons. Mid March is now the most likely date for Article 50 to be triggered. It’s immaterial now whether the Lords should have done this, they have, so we need to see what happens next. Assuming the Commons ‘pongs’ the amendment back, you have to assume the Lords will back down. In the unlikely event that they don’t, and the ping-pong continues I suppose it’s possible that the end of March deadline could be missed. This seemed to be recognised in Theresa May’s remarks at PMQs when she said she ‘planned’ to trigger Article 50 by the end of March and used the phrase ‘It is my intention to…’. That’s a bit different to saying ‘I will’. Nuance maybe, but possibly significant. I keep being told that the March 31 deadline was chosen because if it is done after that, the Lisbon Treaty says the only way we would then be allowed to leave I if 14 members of the Council of Ministers voted to allow us to. I have yet been able to discover if this is an urban myth or not. Those that say this would happen have so far been able to give me any proof. Can anyone here do any better? And if this all goes terribly wrong and we end up in a 1910 situation, would Theresa May then be forced to create 100 new peers? Lord Dale of Ashdon in the county of Essex has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?! Haha.
*
The speech that Donald Trump gave to Congress this week is the one he should have given at his inauguration. Although there were lots of things I disagreed with in it but it was almost statesmanlike in its delivery. Perhaps he should use autocue a little more often. One thing though. He promised to create an Office to Support the Victims of Crime by Immigrants. At least that’s what I thought he said. And indeed he did. The proof is HERE [ADD LINK http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-speech-voice-immigrants-crimes-list-agency-donald-joint-address-congress-a7604836.html ]. Jawdropping.
*

I’ve got a new book project on the go. Jacqui Smith and I are going to co-edit a two volume set of books marking the 100th anniversary of the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. Since then 456 women have been elected. In the present day House of Commons there are 455 male MPs, which just goes to show how the chamber is still very male dominated. The first volume will contain biographies of the 168 women elected between 1918 and 1996. The second one will contain profiles of the 288 female MPs elected since 1997. It’s a massive project and we are now contacting potential authors for the various biographical profiles. And they will also be women too. The books have a very Ronseal title – ‘The Honourable Ladies’.

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Iain interviews Fern Britton

Fern Britton talks about mental illness and excessive homework

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