Last week I did an interview with Justine Greening for her podcast, Fit for Purpose, which you can listen to here.
They've transcribed some of it. Enjoy!
Iain Dale Podcast
Political commentator, broadcaster, author and podcaster Iain Dale talks to us about doing his dream job, feeling out of place in the world of politics and the best piece of advice he’s ever been given.
Q// Are you doing your dream job?
A// I am doing my dream job. When you work for a commercial station (LBC), you constantly get asked whether you would rather work for the BBC. I always say no because I couldn’t do what I do on the BBC - I do three hours with no script whatsoever, I’m the editor of my own programme so I decide what we’re going to do along with my producers and we don’t very often disagree on anything.
I get to interview famous people, I get to speak to ordinary people to really test the mood of the nation and I absolutely love it. I love doing breaking news stories, that’s when the adrenaline really flows - back in January when the Capitol Hill riots happened I covered that live from my bedroom. It was a broadcasting challenge, I didn’t have all of the studio information to go with, I had Twitter to look at and Sky News and I had to have my wits about me. There is no better adrenaline than covering a live breaking news story.
My other dream job would have been Secretary of State for Transport. If I’d gone into Parliament that would have been the job that I was really trying to get because there are some Cabinet jobs where you can talk a lot but you can’t really change a lot. DCMS, for example, is something that I’d quite enjoy but what can you actually change as Culture minister? Whereas transport every decision you make, or most decisions, will make an impact on somebody for good or ill. I was the transport lobbyist for a time in the 1990s, so it’s an area that I know a little bit about and I would love to have done that.
Q// Has it ever made you feel like an outsider in politics because you didn’t go to Oxbridge?
A// I went to a comprehensive school, I went to the University of East Anglia and even in my 30s and 40s, there was still something that made me feel slightly inferior to those that had gone to public school and Oxbridge. I can remember being in a group - it was George Osborne, David Cameron, Nick Boles and Ed Vaizey - and I kind of felt like a fish out of water. I can’t really describe it but there was some sort of barrier there, I think if you’ve been to public schools and Oxbridge you have an inner confidence which others don’t. There’s something that they do at public school which gives people an outward air of superiority.
It was only when I got to about 50 when that disappeared and it’s not there anymore. I think it’s partly doing the radio show that has helped me do that because I literally have to talk about things that I have very little interest in or knowledge of, and I have to talk authoritatively about them. When I used to do ‘Any Questions?’ I would do a lot of preparation, I would write little cue cards for myself about possible topics but after each one I used to think that I didn’t really need to do that. And now, I just go in and do it, I don’t do a lot of preparation. I’ve worked out that I can talk about more or less anything without making a fool of myself.
It goes back to imposter syndrome. I remember the first day I was working in the House of Commons in 1984, I was walking through the central lobby and I saw former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and former President Ford walking together along the corridor and I did think to myself, what’s a boy from Essex doing in a place like this? And that feeling has never quite gone away.
Your background can determine your outcome and I think the education system in particular has got to try and deal with that in some way. I’ve got no magic solutions but somehow kids from working class backgrounds, poorer backgrounds, need to be given that inner confidence that those who come from better backgrounds seem to automatically have.
Q// Which three people would you like to have dinner with (dead or alive)?
A// I would choose Richard Nixon because I think he had the most interesting life and he was a very complex character. I’ve read all of his books and for anybody interested in politics, I recommend you read ‘In the arena’ - it’s all about what motivates people to get into politics and basically it says that you have to be in the arena to make a difference. I remember when I read that it had a really profound effect on me.
Gyles Brandreth would be one because if the conversation ever sagged he would be able to step in and keep everyone entertained. He was one of my heroes in many ways, he got me into radio to an extent - in about 1999 he always used to ask me on his Sunday afternoon arts and culture show on LBC. That was the first show where I ever did any radio presentation because he used to have a feature called stairway to heaven and it was a bit like desert island discs, it was all about the things you would miss if you died. So I had the idea of turning the tables on him and I did it one week.
My third one would be Dame Judi Dench because again she’s had such a fascinating life. I haven’t ever seen her in a film or a television programme where I’ve thought that wasn’t a very good performance - everything she’s done has been magnificent. My sister met her on holiday in the Carribean once and she just said that she was the most amazing person to talk to, exactly how she seems when you see her getting interviewed.
Q// What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A// The best piece of advice if I’ve ever received is from Louise Birt, who now runs BBC Radio Essex but was deputy managing editor of LBC at the time. This was back in 2012 I was presenting the Sunday morning show and I have quite a soporific voice and they kept saying to me that I have to add pace. You get all this advice from people and you think you hired me with this voice, I can’t change my voice. She would at the start of every show, at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, to try and get me to be a bit more pacey and lively, she would scream into the microphone behind the glass and that used to make me laugh and off I would go.
Q// What’s one book you think that everyone should read?
A// If I had to say just one I would say Animal Farm. That politicised me in a way back in my early school days and I instantly got what it was all about. I wouldn’t say it instantly turned me into a Conservative but the discussions we had about it in the classroom were quite deep for that kind of age group I remember.