I've Reason to Know What a Good & Thorough Journalist Michael Wolff Is

6 Jan 2018 at 12:17

Now, dear reader, bear with. This blogpost is really about Michael Wolff, but it takes a little time before we get to him…

Back in June 2004, when I was Conservative candidate in North Norfolk I remember telling my good friend Keith Simpson, MP for the neighbouring constituency, that Boris Johnson was coming to North Norfolk to do a fundraiser for me. He chuckled and asked if I had a backup plan and suggested that Boris might not know which station to go to to get to Norwich. Sure enough, at a quarter to nine on the morning of the visit the phone rings at my house in Swanton Abbott. “Boris here, now look here old boy, it is King’s Cross isn’t it?” As he was supposed to be on the 9am train from Liverpool Street this was not a promising start to my day. I remained as calm as I could while inwardly cursing and suggested he got a train from Kings Cross to King’s Lynn. “Ok, no probs,” he said. Five minutes later the phone rings again. “No luck old bean, no train till 9.45, gets in at 11.30”. At 11.30 we were due in Stody for an interview on North Norfolk Radio. Aha. More cursing. Silently, naturellement. Thinking quickly I dialled up the trains website and found a 9am train to Peterborough. “Excellent,” trills Boris.

Three minutes later the phone goes again. “Damn and blast,” says Boris, “we missed it”. Luckily there was another one 5 minutes later. Which left me with the small problem of how to get to Peterborough from Swanton Abbott in 15 minutes. I might be a fast driver but I’m not that fast. In the end Boris got a taxi from Peterborough and I picked him up on a rather nasty industrial estate in Wisbech. We arrived at North Norfolk Radio 15 minutes late. Then on to Langham Glass where Boris made a pig. Next stop Pinewoods Leisure Centre for Boris to speak at a Conservative fundraiser. We auctioned a glass pig signed (or rather etched) by Boris. Some farmers gave him an excellnt briefing on sugar beet and everyone seemed happy. Except for me. I was supposed to have him safely delivered in Great Yarmouth where he was speaking for their PPC, Mark Fox, by 4pm. At 3.20 we still hadn’t left.

Then came the journey from hell. We got stuck behind every lorry and tractor in Norfolk and eventually got there at about 4.30. So having driven about 150 miles and been driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown I made my way home to Swanton Abbott looking forward to a trip to Sainsbury’s. Back to reality after a day on Planet Boris. What a superstar he is!

Now accompanying Boris on that day was Vanity Fair journalist Michael Wolff. He was writing a lengthy profile of Boris for the magazine, having spotted him as a rising star in the Tory Party. Quite what he made of Boris’s characteristic travel chaos I do not know. What I do know, though, is that I spent the best part of four or five hours with him that day, chatting to him about his job, British politics and Boris. I observed how he would question Boris, I would earwig his conversations with my party workers when he wanted to get their views on the great man. I spent quite some time talking to Wolff myself and found that he had that irritating knack of asking you all the questions you’d rather not be asked. That’s the mark of an excellent journalist.

Over the course of the next few weeks I received several calls from Michael Wolff (pic right). He wanted to check details. He wanted to read out paragraphs of his profile to see what I thought of them. Had he really ‘got’ Boris? Had he made any mistakes? Like many forensic journalists, I didn’t find Wolff especially likeable. He wasn’t there to be liked, though. He was there to do a job, and to my mind the entire experience showed me what a great journalist he is. I’ve since followed his work in Vanity Fair, GQ and The Guardian. Never once have I found his work anything but highly readable and very informative.

The attempts by the Trump White House to trash his reputation is understandable, but it won’t wash. I’ve written this piece to illustrate the professionalism Michael Wolff showed on the only occasions I have met him or talked to him.

You can read Wolff’s profile of Boris in Vanity Fair HERE.


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CNNTalk: How Seriously Should We Take the Allegations in Michael Wolff's Book?

5 Jan 2018 at 14:46

A dramatic moment on CNN Talk today when Michael Wolff’s book FIRE & FURY was delivered live on set!



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale deals with an Anti-American caller

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ConHome Diary: How I Know Ann Widdecombe Snores & How I Became a Victim of Crime

5 Jan 2018 at 13:38

If I had a pound for every time Ann Widdecombe has said in my presence that she’s never, ever, EVAH appear on Celebrity Big Brother, then I’d certainly have more money than the undoubtedly large fee which persuaded her to do it this year!
Between 2001 and 2010 our theatre show, A NIGHT WITH ANN WIDDECOMBE (arf, arf), toured more than 100 provincial theatres and part of it was her talking about her various TV show experiences. She did Celebrity Fit Club and a couple of other reality TV shows which I now can’t recall, but she was usually asked by an audience member if she’d do Strictly or Big Brother. She said she’d love to do Strictly, but not while she was an MP, but nothing could persuade her to go into the Big Brother house. Well, this year something did. In the opening episode, she said it was the fact that it was an all-women cast that persuaded her. I’m surprised her nose didn’t start growing long, as anyone who knows her knows that Ann is far happier in the company of men than women.
On Thursday night’s episode Ann admitted she snores, and wondered how other housemates would react to it. Rachel Johnson has already said she has a phobia of snoring, so that could be interesting! Seeing as Ann has mentioned it herself, I think I can reveal I have personal experience of Ann’s snoring. [Stop it at the back!]. When we’d drive to theatres all round the country she’d inevitably fall asleep in the passenger seat. Gradually her head would loll, back, her mouth would open and out would come some startling snoring noises. I could turn the music up as loud as I liked, but it had no effect. Even a dose of Meatload had no effect. The eruptions would continue. The only think that quelled them was a quick poke to her side. It did make me laugh, though! When she eventually woke up she’d always say: “I hope I didn’t snore”… “Absolutely not,” I replied…
I suspect Ann will surprise herself by the relationships she forms, unless she decides not to play the game and keep herself to herself. However, I’d be very surprised if she hits it off with former Coronation Street actress Amanda Barrie. There could be trouble ahead.
On Wednesday morning my new mobile phone was snatched out of my hand by a moped. I’d only had the wretched thing for six days. It happened so quickly it took a few seconds for my brain to compute what had happened. At first you feel a fool, then you feel angry. It was only when someone told me I’d been lucky I hadn’t had acid chucked at my face that I started to realise how serious it could have been. I have no hope of the perpetrators being apprehended or getting the phone back, although I suppose stranger things have happened.
I tweeted about the experience, of course, but certainly lived to regret it. The abuse I got was quite unbelievable. You’d have thought the natural human reaction would have been to react by sympathising or empathising. Some people did, but others took the view that I deserved it and it took me out of my “Norfolk bubble”. “Funniest thing I have read all day” said a black cab driver. Blocked. I mean, what kind of person reacts like that? Twitter is in many ways a fantastic invention, but boy does it bring out the worst in human nature.

Well Toby Young has had an interesting week, hasn’t he? I don’t know him well, but no one can doubt his commitment to improving educational standards. His achievements in setting up four free schools cannot be questioned, but he’s always been a figure the left love to hate. His appointment to the board of the Office for Students has caused massive offence to the likes of Owen Jones. Apparently it’s a disgrace for anyone on he right to be appointed to any public body and shows how biased “this Tory government” is. This conveniently ignores the fact that the new chair of the Office for Students is Sir Michael Barber, a Blairite if ever there was one. His critics also ignore the fact that he applied for the post – and was presumably interviewed for it.
Toby’s big problem is some of the things he’s tweeted in the past. There but for the grace of God… etc etc. If a 16 year old Kent youth crime commissioner is forced to resign over some unfortunate tweets she had made as a 13 year old is forced to resign, then some will say the same should apply in this case.
This is all part of a left-right culture war. The left – actually, I mean the hard left – are organising in a way we haven’t seen since the 1980s. The right will need to do the same. Wagons will need to be circled, defences dug. At the moment the broad right is a mess. If Toby Young is forced out, just watch who they will come for next. He certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The big story of this year, in my view, is going to be North Korea. I genuinely feat that there will be a military conflict between North Korea and the United States. The year hasn’t got off to a good start. Trump’s tweet about the size of his nuclear button was so childish as to almost be beyond belief. Wars break out when leaders indulge in hyped up rhetoric and when misunderstandings develop into something far worse. There is huge scope for this here. The one positive development was Kim Jong Un’s decision to reopen the hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul. Trump, meanwhile, went further off the rails later on the same day of the nuclear button tweet. He issued a statement in response to a story that Steve Bannon had told author Michael Wolff that the Trump campaign’s meeting with the Russians verged on the ‘treasonous’. Trump let rip, questioning Bannon’s sanity and denying he had ever been a person of influence. It’s worth reading the statement in full as it is testament to the fact that Trump is totally out of control and ignores any advice he is given to tone down his rhetoric. He may not listen to his political and media advisers, but let’s hope he listens to his Generals when they advise him not to press the nuclear button and take out North Korea.



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Video: Iain Interviews Football Commentator Barry Davies About His Life

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My New Year's Resolutions for 2018

31 Dec 2017 at 20:22

I didn’t do any new year’s resolutions last year so I thought I would do so for 2018. I wonder how many I will achieve.

1. To be consistently under 16 stone by the end of the year. I’m 16 1/2 at the moment and have been for some time.
2. To say ‘no’ more often, and not feel guilty about it.
3. Start writing a book. I have no idea what about, though.
4. Get to 1 million listeners a week for my LBC show.
5. Ignore the Twitter trolls and stop being wound up by them.
6. Visit Rome for the first time since 1980!
7. Travel outside Europe.
8. Do more writing for newspapers and magazines.
9. Restart my blog, by committing to write at least one piece a day when the new site is launched in January.
10. Socialise more with friends who I feel I have neglected in recent years.

If you’re reading this at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018, a very happy new year to everyone.



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Iain Dale talks to the Fleet Street Fox

Susan Boniface, aka The Fleet Street Fox, joins Iain to discuss her life as a blogger, tweeter and tabloid hack.

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UK Politics

My Predictions for 2018

31 Dec 2017 at 09:00

I don’t know why, but last year I didn’t do any predictions for 2017, which was probably just as well, as I doubt any of them would have come true. Here are my predictive offerings for 2018.

1. There won’t be a general election in 2018.
2. Theresa May will still be Prime Minister on 31 December 2018.
3. The US and North Korea will engage in military action against each other this year.
4. Michel Barnier is sidelined by Jean Claude Juncker in the Brexit negotiations.
5. ITV commissions a further series of ‘After the News’.
6. Theresa May will conduct a reshuffle before the end of January, which will involve either Boris Johnson or Philip Hammond (or both) moving jobs.
7. Donald Trump will lose control of both Houses of Congress in the November midterm elections.
8. England will reach at least the semi-finals of the World Cup.
9. George Galloway is allowed to rejoin the Labour Party.
10. Russia Today loses its OfCom operating licence and is forced to shut down in the UK. Russia shuts down BBC transmissions in Russia in retaliation.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to David Leigh

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WATCH: CNN Talk Review of the Year

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The CNN Talk crew take a look back on the big stories of 2017.



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My Top 200 Tweeters of 2017

17 Dec 2017 at 11:15

Each new year I compile a list of people whose tweets I have most enjoyed during the previous 12 months. I follow about 2600 people on Twitter, which is far too many to be honest, but I whenever I try to cull the number I end up giving up because it’s so difficult. Anyway, these are the ones who have entertained, informed, educated, annoyed and, most of all, made me laugh most this year. It’s not meant to be a list of best Twitter feeds on the internet – it’s just the ones I particularly enjoy. I usually do a top 100 but I have found it impossible to cull to 100, so this year I’ve expanded the list to 150. I’ve also added 50 news feeds on Twitter which I follow.

If I follow you but you’re not on the list, don’t feel bad. There’s always next year! The fact that I follow you means I find you interesting! So, in no particular order…


@MrTCHarris – Former Labour MP, Telegraph columnist
@MatthewSyed – Times Journalist
@PickardJE – Jim Pickard, FT political journalist
@BenGlaze – Mirror political reporter
@AsaBenn – Brexit Commissioning Editor, The Telegraph
@ChrisDeerin – Journalist, Scottish Daily Mail
@ShippersUnbound – Political Editor, Sunday Times
@ZoesqWilliams – Columnist, the Guardian
@JohnRentoul – Columnist, Independent on Sunday
@Y_Alibhai – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The ‘I’ Newspaper
@GrantTucker – My former PA & Diary Reporter for The Times
@DavidWooding – Political Editor, Sun on Sunday
@SamCoatesTimes – Deputy Political Editor, The Times
@OwenJones84 – Guardian columnist
@DAaronovitch – Columnist – The Times
@LiamHalligan – Columnist, The Telegraph (NEW)
@PMDFoster – Europe Correspondent, The Telegraph (NEW)
@ChristopherHope – Chief Political Correspondent (NEW)
@DanBloom1 – Political reporter, The Mirror (NEW)
@MK1969 – Matt Kelly, Editor, The New European (NEW)
@Steve_Hawkes – Deputy Political Editor, The Sun (NEW)
@TNewtondunn – Political Editor, The Sun (NEW)
@MattChorley – Editor, Times Red Box (NEW)
@IainMartin1 – Times columnist & Editor, ReactionLife (NEW)
@MrHarryCole – Political Correspondent, The Sun (NEW)


@RobBurl – Rob Burley, Editor, Andrew Marr Show
@AFNeil – BBC presenter
@PiersMorgan – Presenter, GMB
@MichaelLCrick – Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News
@KayBurley – Sky News presenter
@BethRigby – Political Correspondent, Sky News
@Susannareid100 – Presenter, GMB
@AdamBoulton – Sky News presenter
@FaisalIslam – Political Editor, Sky News
@DMcCaffreySKY – Ireland correspondent, Sky News
@AlStewITN – Presenter, ITN
@AmolRajan – Media Editor, BBC (NEW)
@Jess Brammar – Acting Editor, Newsnight (NEW)
@Maitlis – Emily Maitlis, Presenter, Newsnight (NEW)
@SkyNewsNiall – Naill Paterson, Sky News (NEW)
@HattMarris84 – My ex producer on LBC, Producer, Newsnight
@BBCLauraK – BBC Political Editor
@EmmaBarnett – Radio & TV presenter


@StephenKB – Stephen Bush, New Statesman
@PaulWaugh – Editor, Huffington Post UK
@FleetStreetFox – Susie Boniface
@GuidoFawkes – Editor in Chief, Guido Fawkes blog
@Dizzy_Thinks – Phil Hendren
@Montie – Editor,
@OwenJBennett – HuffPo political correspondent
@MarkDiStef – Media & Politics reporter, Buzzfeed (NEW)
@Jack_Blanchard – Editor, Politico London Playbook (NEW)
@JimWaterson – Political Editor, Buzzfeed UK (NEW)
@DarrenGrimes_ – Deputy Editor, Brexit Central (NEW)
@Isaby – Jonathan Isaby, Brexit Central (NEW)


@JamesCleverly – Conservative MP (NEW)
@Jacob_Rees_Mogg – Conservative MP (NEW)
@BimAfolami – Conservative MP (NEW)
@Anna_Soubry – Conservative MP
@MichaelGove – Conservative MP
@ArronBanks – Chairman,
@HeidiAllen75 – Conservative MP
@JessPhillips – Labour MP
@Suzanne Evans1 – Deputy Chairman, UKIP
@LordAshcroft – Businessman & philanthropist
@Jacqui_Smith1 – Former Labour Home Secretary
@Andrew_Kennedy – Conservative Party Agent in Kent
@NadineDorriesMP – Conservative MP
@NichStarling – Former LibDem leader on Broadland District Council
@Edwina_Currie – Former Conservative MP
@ThereseCoffey – Conservative MP
@Tracey_Crouch – Conservative MP
@LiarPoliticians – Anti politics tweeter
@NSoames – Conservative MP (NEW)
@RuthDavidsonMSP – Leader, Scottish Conservatives
@CampbellClaret – Alastair Campbell
@CraigOliver100 – Former No 10 Head of Comms (NEW)
@AyeshaHazarika – Political commentator & Comedian (NEW)
@MattZarb – Former Head of Press for Jeremy Corbyn (NEW)
@NickTimothy – Former No 10 Chief of Staff (NEW)
@JReynoldsMP – Labour MP (NEW)
@NickdeBois – Former Conservative MP (NEW)
@Sarah_Hayward – Former Labour Leader, Camden Council (NEW)
@DavidMills73 – Former Labour SPAD & TV producer (NEW)

RADIO (32)

@TobyTarrant – Radio X presenter (NEW)
@Pipskin – Radio X producer, the Chris Moyles show (NEW)
@StephenNolan – 5 Live presenter
@ShelaghFogarty – LBC presenter
@JaneGarvey1 – Presenter, Woman’s Hour, Radio 4
@JuliaHB1 – Former afternoon presenter, LBC
@FiFiGlover – Listening Project, Radio 4
@RobinLustig – Former Presenter, The World Tonight, Radio 4
@StanCollymore – Radio host
@TheJeremyVine – Presenter, Radio 2
@NewsChambers – Richard Chambers, Newstalk, Dublin (NEW)
@NickyAACampbell – 5 Live presenter
@Tweeter_Anita – Presenter, Any Answers, Radio 4
@DuncanBarkes – Late show presenter, BBC London
@JohnMyersTeam – Radio guru
@DavidLloydRadio – Radio guru
@PaulEaston – Radio consultant
@IainLee – Radio presenter, talkRadio
@TheoUsherwood – Political Editor, LBC
@Jags_dave – Jagruti Dave, My Drivetime producer, LBC
@Vicky_Gardiner – Victoria Gardiner, My Drivetime producer, LBC
@EleanorWalshy – LBC producer
@JamesCridland – Radio commentator
@Matt – Matt Deegan, Radio guru (NEW)
@Sherls – Online editor, LBC
@B1Lou – Louise Birt, Managing Editor, BBC Radio Essex
@EdwardAdoo – BBC Radio presenter (NEW)
@ChrisGolds – LBC London News drivetime presenter (NEW)
@SimonMarksFSN – Head of Feature Story News, Washington (NEW)
@ChrisMasonBBC – Political Reporter, BBC (NEW)
@IanCollinsUK – LBC presenter (NEW)
@JamesRea – LBC Managing Editor (NEW)

SPORT (10)

@HenryWinter – Football journalist, The Times
@LeeClayton_ – Sports editor, Daily Mail
@ClareBalding – BBC & BT Sport presenter
@JimmyBullard – Ex footballer
@BoringMilner – Spoof James Milner account
@Trevor8Sinclair – Ex West Ham winger
@ArchieRT1 – German football journalist
@MyWHUFC – Nigel Kahn, West Ham fan
@WestHamFootball – Sean Whetstone, West Ham fan
@SamInkersoleTM – Football journalist, The Mirror


@TFLN – Texts from last night
@_YouHadOneJob1 – Comedy account poking fun at people who fail at the one job they had to do
@RoyCropperNot – Spoof Roy Cropper sayings
@AwkwardGrindr – Cringeworthy moments from Grindr
@2010LeeHurst – Comedian
@GeoffNorcott – Comedian (NEW)
@Maomentum_ – Momentum parody


@PaulwrBlanchard – PRconsultant & Presenter, Media Masters podcast
@Lance Forman – Purveyor of the finest smoked salmon
@WMaryBeard – Classics academic & author
@AdamLake – Public Affairs Specialist
@Brit_Battleaxe – Christine Hamilton
@JamesWharton – Author of OUT IN THE ARMY
@GylesB1 – Gyles Brandreth
@Bishmanchester – David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
@StirringTrouble – Aleksander Nekrassov
@MarkFoxNews – Mark Fox, BSA (NEW)
@LouisXMichael – From Gogglebox (NEW)
@TheGayChrist (NEW)
@AlistairGriffin – Singer/Songwriter
@Martinradio – LBC listener
@Amazing Nature – Nature is Amazing
@Reporterboy – Giles Dilnot


@PA – Press Association
@LBC – LBC Radio
@LBC Breaking – Breaking news from LBC
@ParlyApp – News from Parliament


@CNNI – CNN International
@AJEnglish – Al Jazeera English
@Tagesschau – ARD News (Germany)
@ABCNews – ABC Australia
@SMH – Sydney Morning Herald
@NewstalkFM – Dublin
@NewstalkZB – New Zealand



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

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

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ConHome Diary: Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down

15 Dec 2017 at 14:16

It’s difficult to know what the consequences of Wednesday evening’s government defeat in the Commons will be. It certainly undermines Theresa May as she goes into the next stage of negotiations and probably means that an agreement needs to be reached a little earlier than before in order to allow time for all the parliamentary processes to be conducted. The European Commission will be licking their lips. Guy Verhofstadt’s glee on twitter was barf-inducing. However, these things are rarely as significant as they appear in the immediate aftermath.
The whole process proves what I said on the Andrew Marr Show was right. “OMG, you called the PM a weeble,” texted a friend in Number Ten. And it’s true I did. It was meant as a compliment! Those of you of a middle-aged vintage will recall the 1970s children’s toy which was promoted in an advert by a little ditty which went “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Let’s face it, even her most loyal supporter would admit that the Prime Minister has had her odd wobbly moment since April. But no one has yet managed to floor her. She may wobble but she always comes back to surprise her critics. Her resilience is astounding. Last Friday, she was again mistress of all she surveyed, having managed to get the DUP and her cabinet onside. She pulled victory from last Monday’s jaw of defeat. But as ever, this week has been a long time in politics and she headed off to Brussels yesterday knowing that her EU colleagues would again consider her to be in a weaker position than the last time they saw her.
The eleven Conservative rebels will be very conscious of what they did on Wednesday night and won’t be allowed to forget it. I’d like to think that all eleven of them did what they did for the best of reasons. They say they did it to ‘take back control’ and promote the interests of Parliament against the executive. I’m all in favour of the Executive losing some of its grip on the law-making process and ordinarily I’d support any move to do that. However, the suspicion remains that this was less about the interests of parliament, more about an underhand means of trying to scupper Brexit. Hardline Brexiteers will certainly accuse the ‘eleven’ of that. I guess we’ll never know the truth.

Another measure the government seem keen on is to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. This is parliamentary madness. I presume in the end this will come to a Commons vote at some point and I just can’t see turkeys voting for Christmas. However, if they do they must do it on the condition that the government reduces the number of ministers, something they have so far refused to commit to. If you get rid of 8.3% of MPs, surely you ought to be obliged to reduce the number of ministers by the same percentage, otherwise the Executive is able to tighten its grip on the parliamentary process. If it happened, there would be eight fewer ministers. The question is: would anyone notice?
Steve Baker really does have a fine head of hair, doesn’t he? Not that I am at all jealous. Never let it be said.

As you read this I’ll be in Brussels for the EU summit. We’re doing CNN Talk (on CNN International at noon) from the Commission building and then I’ll be doing my LBC show from there. It’s my first visit to Brussels since the early 1990s, when I thought it would be a good idea to go and see what it was like. I remember attending a meeting of the European Parliament’s transport committee and having all my anti-EU prejudices confirmed. It was total chaos. You had lobbyists sitting in amongst the MPs and chatting to them as the committee proceedings went on. I remember coming back to London and hoping beyond hope that my work wouldn’t take me to Brussels ever again. Well, I’ve lasted 27 years, and hopefully this visit will be my second and last. I’m sure Brussels feels the same.
Last Saturday I wrote an article in the ‘I’ Newspaper about the declining art of political interviewing. You can read it “HERE”: ]. It seems to have caused quite a stir with several journalists getting in touch to ask what I thought of their interviewing style! I deliberately didn’t name many names, apart from praising Andrew Neil, who I regard as the best interviewer in the world of political broadcast journalism. Jeremy Paxman was none too pleased and got in touch to say he had never said he had in his mind while interviewing a politician the phrase “why is this bastard lying to me?” He said he was quoting someone else.


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Video: Iain & Derek Draper on Question Time Extra (Part 1)

BBC News 24, October 12 2007

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Keith Simpson's Christmas Reading List

12 Dec 2017 at 15:09

By Keith Simpson MP

Over the past few weeks as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill grinds its way slowly through the Chamber of the House of Commons it has been noticeable that many MPs take refuge in the library to read and to sleep. This litany will continue for many, many months.

Christmas is a time to catch up on reading and to spot purchases for family and friends. Once again this is a personal list of books, mainly politics, history and war – the latter a good antidote for Brexit.

David Laws was a Liberal Democrat minister in the Coalition government and has already published a well received book Coalition. Now he has edited his diaries which give a perceptive and amusing account of life as a minister – Coalition Diaries 2012-2015 (Biteback).

Bernard Donoughue was head of the policy unit in No 10 under both Wilson and Callaghan and a decade ago published two volumes of diaries. Under Blair in the Lords he served as a junior MAFF minister for two years and his Westminster Diary Volumes 1 and 2 show not only his old Labour sympathies but his love of the arts and the turf.

It has taken Gordon Brown seven years to write his memoirs which attempt to explain his political ambition but sit oddly with all the other accounts of his emotional instability as Chancellor and Prime Minister – Gordon Brown My Life, Our Times (Bodley Head).

The Times has been publishing guides to the House of Commons since the 1880s and they have expanded beyond a statistical listing of candidates and constituencies. The Times Guide to the House of Commons 2017 is rather thin fare and at an outrageous price.

The General Election is now months ago, and we have seen several books written which combine gossip and facts to explain what happened. Tim Ross and Tom McTague Betting The House The Inside Story of the 2017 Election (Biteback) does just that.

Tim Shipman had already established his journalistic reputation with All Out War The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class. Now he has written a further volume Fall Out A Year of Political Mayhem (William Collins) which makes for depressing reading for the political establishment. Shipman has increased his book sales by not providing an index so ambitious people have to buy it.

Oliver Letwin is a national treasure and like David Willetts a serious thinker and political practitioner. In the Coalition government he was Cameron’s “odd job man” and general fixer. Letwin hasn’t written a traditional biography; but he mixes his political experience with narrating the challenges faced in Hearts and Minds The Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present (Biteback).

Robert Peston is a marmite journalist and can annoy many people but he is a stimulating journalist and for those wanting to stretch the little grey cells then WTF (Hodder and Stoughton) is for them.

This autumn we have seen two books published on Churchill and the crisis of May 1940. The most substantial and readable is by the author Nicholas Shakespeare Six Minutes in May How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister (Harvill Secker). Shakespeare goes back to original sources and is very critical of Churchill and the Norway Campaign.

Coinciding with the film of the same title is the screen writer Anthony McCarten’s Darkest Hour How Churchill Brought Us Back from the Brink (Penguin) in which he proposes that Churchill did not rule out some form of Peace agreement with Hitler; but only after the defeat of an invasion.

Churchill‘s political career barely survived the Gallipoli Campaign and was one of the factors which made people reluctant to support him in May 1940. Barry Gough has written a fascinating study Churchill and Fisher: Titans at the Admiralty (Seaforth Publishing) which shows that Fisher was close to being deranged.

David Cannadine has written some superbly stimulating books on British history and his Victorious Century The United Kingdom 1800-1906 (Allen Lane) ranks with the best.

A provocative and rather tendentious analysis is offered by the Labour MP Chris Bryant Entitled A Critical History of the British Aristocracy (Doubleday) which at times has touches of Monty Python about the script.

David Kynaston has written a multi-volume history of the Bank of England and he has now edited the volumes and compressed them into one massive item Till Times Last Sand A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013 (Bloomsbury).

Recently we have seen two members of May’s Cabinet resigning and there could be more at a later date. In Fighters and Quitters Great Political Resignations (Biteback). Theo Barcley writes an overview of modern political resignations from those who jumped to those who were pushed.

Chris Skidmore, a Cabinet Office Minister, is a well-respected historian of the fifteenth century and has now brought together the archival and archaeological research into Richard III Brother, Protector, King (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Based upon limited archival and literary sources Miranda Kaufmann has written a fascinating study of a number of Black Tudors The Untold Story (One World). There was prejudice but in a different way and we underestimate the widespread movements of people across Europe and Africa.

Ulysses S Grant’s reputation has swung from Civil War criticism and then adulation to the same a century later. His time as President has come in for a lot of criticism but Charles W Calhoun has attempted to write a judicious account of The Presidency of Ulysses S Grant in the excellent series published by the University Press of Kansas.

Images of British troops and civilians in the Second World War frequently refer to the importance of a cup of tea. The cultural, commercial and historical aspects is well covered in Erika Rappaport A Thirst for Empire How Tea Shaped the World (Princeton University Press).

One for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. In 1932-33 nearly four million Ukrainians died of a starvation due to Stalin’s policy. Anne Applebaum has written extensively on Stalin‘s Russia and in Red Famine Stalin’s War on Ukraine (Allen Lane) documents the politics and the immense human suffering. Not a book one suspects that is on V Putin’s reading list.

Thomas Weber wrote a fascinating book on Hitler’s First World War experiences and his soldiering in the List Regiment. Now he documents Hitler’s radical right wing politics and early days in the tiny Nazi Party in Becoming Hitler The Making of a Nazi (OUP).

The massive three or four volume Victorian biographies are rarely seen these days but Stephen Kotkin is past his half way mark in the first two volumes of a massive life and times biography of Stalin. The first volume was published last year and now we can read Stalin Waiting for Hitler 1928-1946 (Allen Lane).

Simon Heffer is an independently minded Conservative journalist and commentator and author of several fine books. He has written an excellent book on the British experience of the late nineteenth century The Age of Decadence Britain 1880-1914 (Random House).

In the Second World War Gibraltar was very vulnerable to Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s’ Germany. It was a crucial fortress and listening post and much of its population was evacuated to Britain. Nicholas Rankin examines this in Defending the Rock How Gibraltar Defeated Hitler (Faber & Faber).

It could be argued that the Second World War was the BBC’s finest hour – it informed and entertained the Empire and was a crucial link with the population of the occupied territories. Edward Stourton is a well respected BBC journalist and has written an informative and wonderfully entertaining book in Auntie’s War The BBC During the Second World War (Doubleday).

Christopher Mallaby is an old style British mandarin whose memoir Living the Cold War Memoirs of a British Diplomat (Amberley Publishing) are of a different world but well written, incisive and amusing. Another diplomat of that era is Patrick R H Wright and he has used his diaries in Behind Diplomatic Lines Relations With Ministers (Biteback).

Michael Burleigh is both an historian and journalist and much of his latter work is meant to be provocative and to make one think. In The Best of Times, The Worst of Times A History of Now (Macmillan) he ranges across contemporary politics and conflict.

Nicky Morgan, former Cameron Cabinet minister “let go” by Mrs May, Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and leading Remainer. A former Education minister she feels strongly about the subject which she writes about in Taught Not Caught Educating for the 20th Century Character (John Catt Educational).

Despite great political experience and a fine mind David Willetts never made it to the Cabinet. A pamphleteer and author he is struck by the need to redefine the role and structure of our universities, not least Oxford and Cambridge, and his thoughts are laid out in A University Education (OUP)).

The impact and role of the internet and social media is the great game danger today, and David Patrikarakos in War in 140 Characters How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century (Basic Books ) isn’t Karl von Clausewitz but jolly stimulating.

Despite maintaining limited British military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan the conflicts that lasted a decade are almost forgotten history. But it is important to look back on the decisions made and the mistakes perpetuated and this is what Theo Farrel does in Unwinnable Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (Bodley Head).

Lawrence Freedman has been a distinguished historian of conflict and adviser to government, not least to Tony Blair. In The Future of War A History (Allen Lane) he attempts to bring together his writing and thoughts which is a useful bluffer’s guide but offers little for the future.

Niall Fergusson is a formidable historian whose research and thinking is both stimulating and provocative. One doesn’t have to be totally convinced of his arguments not to admire The Square and the Tower Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power (Allen Lane).

A book based on editing and recycling previous volumes, James Owen’s The Times Great Letters A Century of Notable Correspondence (Times Books) is a good standby for long Brexit debates.

For those of us who, despite the temptations of Amazon still love to browse in secondhand bookshops then Shaun Bythell The Diary of a Bookseller (Profile Books) is a must. He is the owner of a second hand bookshop in Wigtown and his diary entries cover the usual list of eccentric, annoying, delightful and bloody awful browsers.

I have always loved the cynical Vichy Police officer, Captain Renault, played by Claude Rains in the film Casablanca – “round up the usual suspects” could be the motto of the whips. For those who want to read about the making and aftermath then We’ll Always Have Casablanca The Life, Legend and After Life of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie (Faber & Faber) is a must for Boxing Day.

The doyen of the Press Gallery and Parliamentary Sketch Writers must be the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts. Acerbic and amusing his Patronising Bastards How the Elites Betrayed Britain (Constable) will delight Brexiteers and enrage Remainers.

Finally, a wonderful stocking filler for the Labour PLP is the tongue in cheek The Unofficial Jeremy Corbyn Annual 2018 (Portico). Happy memories of the Beano and the Eagle!



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Political Interviewing: It Shouldn't Be About Confrontation & Newslines - We're Shortchanging the Public

10 Dec 2017 at 17:34

This is an article I wrote for the Saturday edition of the ‘i’ newspaper on Saturday. It was published HERE.

‘It’s all about you, isn’t it?’ wrote the rather angry listener who texted my LBC radio show. ‘How dare you question the Prime Minister like that!’ How dare I, indeed. And there was me thinking that I was doing my job.

Back in early October, Theresa May came to my studio to take calls from our listeners. It was her first interview after THAT speech. She was doing rather well until I asked the Prime Minister if she would now vote Leave if there were another referendum. She failed to give me an answer, so I pushed her.

And then pushed her again. And again.

Each time I did it politely, with no sense of haranguing. That part of the interview was analysed on virtually every political and news show in the country over the next 48 hours. Piers Morgan reckoned it was the best question anyone had ever asked any politician this year. Stroke my ego as it might, it did leave me thinking a lot about the state of political interviewing in this country.

Back in the 1980s prime ministers only ever gave four or five set piece interviews a year. They had a sense of occasion about them, and they each lasted between 30 minutes and an hour. The advent of twenty-four hour news channels changed all that. Tony Blair and David Cameron would be interviewed on radio or television virtually every day. The provision of news on the internet changed things even more. Ninety second clips are de rigueur and news producers assume their audiences have the attention span of a flea.

All this has fed into a ‘gotcha’ narrative where news organisations feel that if they haven’t skewered a politician in an interview, the interviewer has somehow failed. If there isn’t a ‘news line’ from an interview, what was the point of it? interviewing is not a contact sport, or at least it shouldn’t be. The idea that interviews should primarily be about eliciting information to educate and inform the viewer/listener is for the birds nowadays.

Yes, of course it’s about holding politicians to account, but to go into every interview and intend to score points, as so many interviewers (or their producers) seem to want to do, is to short-change the listener.

Nick Ferrari has a reputation as a dogged interviewer, but many of his most newsworthy interviews have come when he has allowed the politician to commit hara-kari, as Diane Abbott knows only too well. LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty has a unique talent of appearing to question in a softly-softly manner, but boy oh boy, if she feels she’s being played, watch her bare her teeth. And that’s how it should be.

Compare that to one famous interviewer told me recently, when he was about to interview a senior politician: “I’m going to give them the most aggressive interview they’ve ever had”. ‘Really?’ I thought. ‘Is that really the best way to go into an interview?’

It illustrated for me the different way we approach political interviews nowadays. I suppose it reflects Jeremy Paxman’s famous approach where before he would interview anyone he’d think to himself “why is this bastard lying to me?” I don’t believe that shouting at someone is likely to elicit anything meaningful from them. They just shut up shop and repeat political mantras.

Too many interviewers think it’s all about them. Social media has encouraged a cult of media personality. It seems that some interviewers want to be heroes in their own echo chamber. The reaction to my Theresa May interview was an interesting case-study. It certainly stroked my ego but it underlined to me my theory that a conversational approach works far better than a confrontational one.

I mourn the apparent death of the long-form political interview. I know from experience that if you interview a politician for three or four minutes you won’t get anything interesting out of them. They have two points they want to make and they will make them regardless of the question you ask.

If you interview a politician for more than ten minutes, eventually they run out of their pre-prepared lines and they are then forced to say something more interesting. David Frost was a master of this. Fern Britton got more out of Tony Blair in an hour-long interview than any of the ‘star’ political interviewers had managed in fifteen years. Nick Ferrari’s hour with Ed Miliband in the 2015 election was the best interview of the campaign.

Last week ITV announced three new hour-long interview programmes, albeit online only. I detect a growing, if niche, appetite for longer form interviews. Come back Robin Day, Brian Walden or Jonathan Dimbleby. These three interviewers were brilliant exponents of the genre. In today’s world, Andrew Neil is a master of it.

If it were my decision, I would make him the new editor and chief presenter of a revamped Newsnight. That won’t happen, of course.

What I’ve Been…

I’m a huge Gogglebox addict so I’ve been reading the DIARY OF TWO NOBODIES by Giles and Mary, the slightly quirky middle-aged couple who live in a cottage in Wiltshire. They really are as charming and odd as they appear on screen. I’m also reading is Tim Shipman’s FALL OUT. It is the sequel to ALL OUT WAR and covers the Brexit talks and the general election. It’s undoubtedly one of the political books of the year. I wish I had published it.

I’ve started a new weekly podcast with Jacqui Smith called FOR THE MANY, which is 45 minutes of political banter. We were inspired by excellent and hugely gossipy FORTUNATELY podcast by Jane Garvey and Fi Glover. I’ve also started listening to podcasts in the car on journeys to Norfolk, and have become rather addicted to the CHRIS MOYLES SHOW weekly podcast. Laugh out loud funny.

Listening to
I’ve turned into a massive radio geek since being on LBC and love discovering new shows and stations. My most recent discovery is HEART 80s, which does what it says on the tin. TOBY TARRANT’s early breakfast show on Radio X is a show I only get to listen to for the last half an hour, but it’s got that crucial quality in a radio show – you don’t want to switch off in case you miss something.

I rarely watch live TV nowadays. Netflix has become my new TV home and I can’t wait for the second series of THE CROWN. DESIGNATED SURVIVOR and SHOOTER have been my two most recent binges – both have an echo of ‘24’, which I still miss. I used to be a SKY NEWS addict, but increasingly find myself watching AL JAZEERA ENGLISH and CNN.



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