A year ago I was co-presenting the Radio 5 Live Sunday Service programme which – completely flummoxed the Sports Minister Richard Caborn. This week, I was at it again with Peter Mandelson, who I was interviewing for my new Planet Politics programme on Oneword Digital Radio.
Now it has to be said that my interviewing style is more Des O’Connor than Jeremy Paxman but this approach often gets more results. Perfectly innocently I asked Mandelson what he would say to Tony Blair if the PM invited him to replace Stephen Byers in a reshuffle. To be honest I expected to get the usual pat answer. But Peter was in reflective mood and answered perfectly honestly. “I would be very surprised since he has already told me he won’t be doing that, but after I had got over me amazement I would try and find some way of responding and I think I would say, ‘Look I’m not sure it’s a great idea. Obviously at the end of the day it’s up to you – you’re Prime Minister. I’ve tended to agree with you in the past that as a politician who has not been given the fairest wind by the press, who’s been on the firing line and has been well and truly fired at, I’m not sure I would want to go back in that position and if I did want to go back into it, because I suppose love being a Minister and I love being in government – it’s what I feel professionally, in terms of my vocation I was put on earth to do and to be–whether it would a good idea for you and for the government’. So all those questions would spring to mind”
While this was going on, the next guest on the programme was listening avidly. Another scoop for the Mail on Sunday’s Simon Walters, who spun it for all it was worth in last week’s paper. And the rest of the sheep in the lobby followed suit. Sure, it was a good story, but it’s a shame the political commentators have all fallen in line too. Even Anthony Howard couldn’t bring himself to point out that this is the first time in recent political history that a politician has been honest enough to admit ‘Yes I do want to be a Minister – it’s what I think I’m good at’. Instead of coming out with the expected waffly answer Mandelson spoke from the heart. If the press are to castigate politicians like him for being honest and speaking their minds, is it any wonder that they retreat into their shells? There is surely something inherently wrong with politics when a Minister like Stephen Byers can get away with misleading Parliament time after time and keep his job, yet Peter Mandelson is denied a return to government despite being exonerated of any wrong-doing at all by an independent enquiry.
So Iain Duncan Smith was born George Smith. Big deal. Apparently Iain is his second name, although on his birth certificate it is spelled Ian. The Tories will do anything to suck up to the Scots. Iain is the Scottish spelling – and I should know! Duncan is his third Christian name rather than part of his surname and mystery surrounds when Smith became Duncan Smith, with no hyphenation. Maybe he took my mother’s advice. When I was eighteen she helpfully suggested that I should hyphenate my middle and surnames as it would “help me get on in life”. Iain Campbell-Dale. Hmmm. I wonder where I would be now if I had taken her advice? Leader of the Tory Party perhaps…
Any suggestion that the Nation State is dead and buried should be ignored. Just look at the voting in last week’s Eurovision Song Contest. Aficionados of this great event know that Greece and Cyprus will always give each other the maximum ‘douze points’ and that neither will receive any votes from nor give any to Turkey. But this year they were all at it. All the Scandinavian countries scratched each other’s backs with high votes, while astonishingly the Balkan countries followed suit by awarding each other 10 or 12 points. Nowadays all the voting is done by the general public in telephone votes rather than by juries of the great and the good, and it’s great to see all the traditional enmities and friendships rubber-stamped by the people. Personally, I always find the German voting the most amusing – they seem to believe that by giving the UK and Israel a stream of ‘douze points’ everything will be OK. Only the French and the Irish seem to be lacking in neighbourly feelings – towards the UK, at any rate. As far as I know, they have never given us 12 points in the competition’s 47 year history. I can’t think why.
I think Channel 4 have missed a trick. They should have used the two week Spring parliamentary recess to record a special political Big Brother. After all, the participants could hardly be more revolting than the dirty dozen currently inhabiting the Big Brother House. Or could they? Just imagine the shenanigans instead if we could have Stephen Byers, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Clare Short, Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, Norman Tebbit, Norman Baker, Robin Cook, Christine Hamilton, Peter Tatchell and Helen Brinton. I know who my money would be on for the first bonk…
Just what is it with Mo Mowlam? She seems to have developed an insatiable desire to shock. I interviewed her the other day and having arrived twenty minutes late she marched into the studio to greet the assembled guests and producers with the touching words: “Hello, you wankers”. We all tittered, as was no doubt expected of us. She then sat down and, instead of providing a few words for the sound check, she leaned forward and belched into the microphone. How very amusing. Her book, which purports to be a serious study of the Northern Ireland peace process is full of four letter outbursts which, after a while, leave the reader feeling rather irritated. But most irritating of all is her constant reference to N. Ireland rather than Northern Ireland. What a pity Hodder & Stoughton, having paid her more than £350,000 for this book, felt it unnecessary to employ an editor who would tell Mo just what to do with such idiosyncrasies – and in language she would no doubt appreciate.
Iain Dale is the owner of Politico’s Bookstore and presents Planet Politics on Oneword Radio on Saturday at 5.30pm.