Iain Dale: Starmer is right to appoint one of Blair’s former advisers. But if other MPs can’t see that, Labour are doomed forever.

25 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

The RT-watching conspiracy theory creating nutters have been in full flow this week. The fact that journalists were on board HMS defender means, according to them, that the Royal Navy deliberately provoked the Russians into firing warning shots and dropping bombs in the path of the ship to warn it to keep out of Russian waters.

It never ceases to amaze me how and why these disgusting individuals always take the side of any country – usually Russia – which gives a totally different version of events to our own. There’s a word for people like them.

On one of our Cross Question shows we invited Rivkah Brown from Novara Media onto the panel. She started asserting that the Americans see Britain as a sad little country that they no longer take any notice of, and Biden had made that clear at the G7 in Cornwall.

It was total bollocks of course and he never said any such thing, or even intimated it. At that point I’m afraid I lost my presenter impartiality and asked: “Where do you get this rubbish from?”

Of course whenever you ask them to justify themselves and provide some evidence they can never do so, so all she did was splutter. Why is it that the Left still don’t comprehend that it’s attitudes like this that help them continue to lose elections. The British people don’t like it and never will.

– – – – – – – – –

The appointment of Matthew Doyle as Sir Keir Starmer’s new Director of Communications has sent the Left into apoplexy. Why? Because he’s close to Tony Blair. Yes, the man who led Labour to three election victories.

The word Blair is considered a total anathema to anyone further left that Jess Phillips – i.e. most of the Labour Party. They cannot see any good that he did in 10 years as Prime Minister. And again, until they decide to revise that opinion they will keep on losing.

The trouble is, a weak opposition and a weak Labour Party – and that’s what we have at the moment – enable the Government to get away with things that ordinarily they shouldn’t.

I’ve described the current cabinet as the weakest in my lifetime, with very few transformational figures sitting round the cabinet table. But look down the list of Labour Shadow Cabinet members and it’s even worse.

Most of them are barely names in their own households, let alone known among voters. How many of them are capable of developing the kind of sensible but radical policy agenda that they will need to put to the electorate in less than two years time – yes, I mean May 2023.

Very few. It’s all rather depressing.

– – – – – – – – –

And then we come to the Liberal Democrats who are understandably triumphant in the wake of their victory in the Chesham & Amersham by-election. Wouldn’t you be, if you were part of the “yellow peril”?

I’ll admit, like most of the punditerati class I didn’t see it coming. It’s a long time since the Lib Dems won this type of by-election, and they did it very skilfully, even without the guidance of Lord Rennard.

They concentrated on two issues – HS2 and planning laws – and did them to death in their literature on the doorstep. And it worked for them, even though they were campaigning against policies they actually support. No change there then.

One swallow does not a summer make, though. They got one per cent in the Hartlepool by-election and I doubt they’ll do an awful lot better in Batley & Spen. The long-term consequences of this by-election, if there is one, will be to entrench the view among Lib Dem strategists that they should regard the Tories as their prime enemy or competition, and squeeze the Labour vote in southern, eastern and south western constituencies.

But they need to do it in a way which doesn’t frighten off moderate Tories who, for whatever reason, have tired of Boris Johnson.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve been writing this column for a decade or more now. That amounts to more than 500 diaries. I’m sorry to say that this week’s column will be my last. All good things come to an end, and I think now is the time to end it.

It’s my decision to do so, and I am also giving up my weekly media review column on Reaction. Why? Well, I’ve just signed a contract for another book and I have to deliver the manuscript by January 31 2022, and frankly there are only so many hours in the day. I need to commit much more time to the book and this frees up two mornings a week.

It’s important for me to be open about that because I don’t want anyone to think there’s been any falling out. ConHome is a brilliant site, led by the excellent Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace. I’d like to thank Paul in particular for allowing me to write the column for so long and for being so supportive. And I’d like to thank you all for reading my words each week. I know that from time to time, I’ve tested your patience.

I’ve said to Paul I’ll happily contribute the occasional column or chair conference events, and I’d like to continue to support the work of ConHome where I can.

So as someone once said, that’s it. The end. Goodbye.

Iain Dale: Very little shocks me. But Cummings’ text message reveal was truly disgusting and morally bankrupt.

18 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Negotiating a deal with the DUP and Sinn Féin can’t be anyone’s idea of a dream job, but Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary has enabled it to happen in record time. I’ve no idea how he did it, given the personalities involved, but however it happened, it surely has to be welcomed by everyone across the political spectrum, both in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Let’s hope it lasts.

However, with the resignation of Edwin Poots as leader of the DUP after only three weeks last night, it’s entirely possible that the new First Minister, Paul Givan – an ally of Poots – might feel duty bound to fall on his sword too. My instinct is that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is likely to be the next DUP leader and he’s on record saying that he thinks the same person should hold both posts.

The elections to Stormont next year are certainly going to be interesting. Between now and then the whole sorry situation with the Northern Ireland Protocol has to be sorted. Surely a piece of cake for a man who negotiated a power sharing agreement! Sorry, Brandon.

– – – – – – – – –

Anyone who has worked in politics will have some fairly fruity exchanges in historic texts on their mobile phone. I certainly have built up a whole library over the years, although it has to be said mine tend to be in emails rather than texts. My former colleagues at Biteback would regularly suggest we published a volume of my “special emails”. I well remember one to Michael Winner, where I basically told him never to speak to any of my staff again, after he called our young female PR assistant a “c***” on the phone.

One suspects he would have got on well with Dominic Cummings. Very little shocks me, but to reveal text exchanges with the Prime Minister like he has is truly disgusting. Morally it’s bankrupt, ethically it stinks. You can argue a public interest point all you like, but it is still wrong. If ministers can’t communicate confidentially with their advisers, how can they possibly do their jobs properly?

In the end, if Cummings thought the Prime Minister was so useless, why did he stay in his job? I’m sure there are many valid things Cummings has to say, but actions like this undermines any remaining credibility he enjoys. Mind you, he undermined himself earlier this week when he informed us we would have to pay to his Substack account (or should that be Shelfstack?) if we wanted the full unvarnished details of his thoughts on this, that and everything. Again, morally bankrupt.

– – – – – – – – –

From a PR and organisational viewpoint the G7 was an unalloyed success. The pictures that emerged from it were simply outstanding. Whoever had the idea to hold the summit in Cornwall, and whoever did the “advance” work deserves a medal at the very least. The backdrops to virtually every event were breathtaking, and will have done the Cornish tourism industry a huge amount of good in the medium term.

Substantively, I’m not sure the summit achieved a huge amount behind the things which had been agreed in advance. The media were desperate to ramp up a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and Macron did his best to help them, but it never really materialised. Joe Biden showed he was the adult in the room by not playing ball, and avoided playing up to his voters of Irish descent in the US.

The Irish lobby in Congress is something to behold and you have to filter anything the American government says on Ireland through that prism. The Irish embassy in Washington DC is one of the most powerful influences on US administrations of both colours. Rhetoric on Ireland on Capitol Hill doesn’t always match the reality of the US government’s position.

– – – – – – – – –

The issue of vaccines in care homes is one that has gradually risen in prominence up the news agenda, and rightly so. I cannot for the life of me understand how a care professional would not take a vaccine which by definition reduces the risk for the people they care for of getting Covid or dying from it.

Vaccines can never be 100 per cent effective, so no one can ever be completely protected. In a phone-in on Wednesday I spoke to a care home owner in Bournemouth who said that 60 per cent of her staff hadn’t had the vaccine and she wasn’t remotely bothered. Astonishing. She said proper PPE was far more important and it wasn’t up to her to persuade her staff to take a vaccine, it was up to the Government.

I’m afraid she got the rough edge of my tongue. For me it comes down to something very simple. If I had a close relative in a care home, I would not want them being cared for by someone who hadn’t been vaccinated. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. And for that reason I support mandatory vaccinations for care home workers.

Iain Dale: Cummings. Why bother giving seven hours of testimony – only to not provide supporting evidence?

11 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

This is nothing new, I suppose, but the last 48 hours have not been pleasant in the Twittersphere. In fact, it’s become so unpleasant I am seriously considering stepping back from this increasingly ugly form of social media.

Trouble is, it’s very difficult for me to do that given it’s my prime marketing medium for all the things I do, whether it’s advertising what’s on my radio show, promoting my writing, books and other activities. Sometimes it can be a wonderful thing, but oftentimes it is just a sewer, where vicious, nasty people spew their bile and vitriol no doubt getting a hard on along the way. They’re virtually all men.

On Tuesday I had the temerity to tweet praise for Gareth Southgate’s “Dear England” letter. In my opinion he articulated better than anyone has for a long time what it means to be English and how we demonstrate our patriotism.

And then the abuse started. Apparently it was all a justification for the England players supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Utter rubbish. He and they have made clear that they support equality and fairness for everyone, and that they support the slogan Black Lives Matter, not the political organisation. Surely everyone can support that? Apparently not.

I have repeatedly made clear that I would never take the knee to support a Marxist organisation which supports the destruction of the police, closing prisons and dismantling capitalism. But I am quite happy to make clear that I support equality for all people, whether they are white, black or anything else. Surely any reasonable person would?

Oh no, not on Twitter. I’m a shill, a sellout, obeying my paymasters, not a proper conservative, woke and worse. Far worse. Did I support the England players giving the Nazi salute to Hitler in 1936? Do I think England should make a political statement and withdraw from the Qatar world cup in 2022 because of Qatar’s policy on homosexuality? Yes, I’m sure these trolls care deeply about gay equality. Not.

Over 24 hours I lost 200 Twitter followers and had to block around 50 others, many of them racist. Not all, but many. And this is the level of public discourse we are supposed to get used to, is it? Where people comment on a letter they most probably haven’t even read. Where they just believe what other people say it says. And then they launch violent attacks on those who support the sentiments in the letter without even attempting to understand any nuance. Well, I’ve had enough.

The trouble is, until I retire from political commentary and broadcasting, I’m tied into it and have to suck it up. Boo hoo, many of you will think. You’ve made your bed, you lie in it… Fair enough. No one forces me to do the jobs I do, and most of the time I love it. I’ve never experienced problems with my mental health, but I have a real sense that my mental health is now being affected by it all. I don’t expect any sympathy at all, and I know the solution is in my own hands. It doesn’t make it any easier, though.

– – – – – – – – –

I suppose we have always known that Dominic Cummings is a strange cove. Why would anyone spend seven hours giving evidence to a select committee, make all sorts of serious allegations, say he had the paperwork to back them up and he would provide it to the committee, and then fail to do so. The only conclusion to draw from that is that much of his evidence was fantasy and he can’t back it up with documentary evidence. It’s a very good way to undermine your own credibility and reputation, isn’t it?

– – – – – – – – –

Michael McManus has become a bit of a polymath. I first knew him in the late 1990s when he was working for Sir Edward Heath, and they came to Politico’s to do a book signing.

I was nervous as a kitten as I had heard that the former PM could be rather difficult. In fact, he was charm personified and the conversation flowed very well. Michael then wrote a rather good biography of Jo Grimond, the former Liberal leader, and contributed to the Blue Book series I published on future Conservative policy, which Ed Vaizey was editing.

Michael stood for Parliament in 2001 in Watford but was unsuccessful and since then he has come close to getting a number of safe seats, but never quite got the lucky break. He told me in an episode of my All Talk podcast which will be published next Wednesday that he’s now come off the candidates list. It’s a shame as he would have made a good MP.

Over the last few years he has turned his hand to being a playwright. His latest play is called MAGGIE AND TED and has a two night run at the Garrick Theatre in London on June 28 and 29. It’s all about the relationship between the two former Prime Ministers, and from what he told me on the podcast, it is going to be well worth going to.

Putting on a play in a London theatre is a costly business, especially in the pandemic, and I’d encourage anyone who’s got one of those evenings spare to book a ticket and support an up and coming political playwright, and a thoroughly nice man. And a fellow Hammer. Book tickets here.

Iain Dale: The Education Recovery Plan. Williamson has very little capital to expend. Will it be Marcus Rashford to the rescue?

4 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I must admit I did have a little chuckle when I saw that Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds had managed to get married without any member of Her Majesty’s Fourth Estate finding out about it. It just shows that it is possible, just about, to keep a secret in today’s gossip-filled society.

Naturally, though, some people couldn’t quite bring themselves to congratulate the happy couple on their day of joy. Plenty of commentators decided to indulge in a bit of Talleyrand-esque “what did they mean by that” speculation. Leading the charge was my good friend Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who Tweeted this:

I scratch my head and wonder to myself how an intelligent person could come up with a conspiracy theory like that. If Johnson really wanted to distract from anything, wouldn’t he have had an all guns blazing type of wedding, with peals of bells ringing out, TV cameras present and naked dwarves wearing nipple tassels at the reception? And while he’s at it, get a blind trust to pay for it. Now that really would be a distraction.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve experienced a lot of Twitter pile-ons in my time, but this week has been something to behold. Now I generally make it a rule never to intervene in the burgeoning debate about self-gendering and trans rights. Mainly because no good ever comes of it.

On Monday I broke that rule and tweeted something which I thought was quite balanced.

What I had failed to comprehend is that you can as nuanced as you like and still fail in a quest to be balanced. The wrath of Hades immediately descended on me. The Tweet attracted more than 1,100 replies, with both sides of the argument professing to be outraged.

Next up was Darren Grimes who I invited on to my Cross Question panel on Tuesday evening. You’d have thought I’d invited the devil himself. We cover all sorts of subjects in the hour long programme, just like Question Time or Any Questions. I’ve always found Darren to be one the most articulate exponents of the arguments for Brexit, and the fact that he comes from a working-class background in the North East gives him a different perspective on all sorts of levelling up debates.

But the North London polenta-eating intelligentsia can’t cope with a North East accent challenging their preconceptions of what they think is best for the hoi-polloi. This was typified by a Matt cartoon in The Telegraph this week which should a Labour canvasser at a council house door holding a clipboard and asking: “So who are you racist fascists going to vote for then?”

The argument quickly descended from “Well you shouldn’t have him on, he’s not a virologist” (note: Paul Mason, Chris Green and Caroline Flint, the other panellists, aren’t either, but they escaped that one) to “You clearly want to sleep with him” and then ultimately “You just feel sorry for him because he’s got a small penis.”

Well, that’s a winning argument if ever I heard one. And they say people on the right are the nasty ones.

I’ll continue to invite who I damn well like onto my show, and hang the consequences. Just imagine what they’ll say when I invite David Starkey back on *opens contacts book*.

– – – – – – – – –

Yet another unforced error from the Government, this time over the Education Recovery Plan.

So far we haven’t had an intervention from Marcus Rashford, the Shadow Education Secretary, but it can surely be only a matter of time before he shames the Government into yet another u-turn.

It should never have been this way. If you appoint an expert to be your adviser and then he finds out you’re only taking 10 per cent of his advice, don’t be surprised if he then quits in high dudgeon. And that’s exactly what Sir Kevan Collins did on Wednesday.

It followed the Chancellor, backed by the Prime Minister, saying that schools could only have £1.5 billion to fund the Education Recovery plan. The IFS worked out that it amounts to £50 per pupil. Risible, compared to the Netherlands spending £2,200 per pupil or the US £1,600.

And the thought that just by adding an extra half an hour onto the end of the school day would do the trick is ridiculous. It seems that Collins was supported in his case by Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary. The trouble is that Williamson has very little capital to expend so the Chancellor found it quite easy to swat him away. Rishi Sunak may well come to regret that. Over to you, Rashford.

Iain Dale: Cummings is behaving like a woman or man scorned. But you can’t dismiss all that he says.

28 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Thousands of people died needlessly. That’s the main allegation Dominic Cummings made in his seven hours of evidence to the health and science select committees.

But boy oh boy did he go further than that. So far Downing Street has remained relatively calm and rejected most of what Cummings has said, as indeed did Matt Hancock in the Commons yesterday morning. Many people may think Cummings is behaving like a woman or man scorned, and they’d probably be right.

But you can’t dismiss all that he says and wave it away as the ranting of a bitter former employee. There can surely be no doubt that there are serious questions for many people to answer, not least the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and former Cabinet Secretary.

The picture Cummings painted was one of chaos at the centre of government. He said neither he nor the PM were qualified to do their respective jobs and it was a miracle they were both in Downing Street.

I do have a question though. Given Cummings was regarded as Deputy Prime Minister by most people – the most influential man in Number 10, the man with the ear of the Prime Minister, how credible is his “nothing to do with me guv” line?

He was there. He was present. Boris Johnson relied on him, yet he maintains that his warnings were ignored. Yes, he did admit failures on his own part, he apologised again for his visit to Barnard Castle, but the vitriol poured on Hancock in particular had to be seen to be believed. He accused him of lying to the Cabinet, lying to parliament and said he and Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, had tried to persuade the PM to sack his health secretary.

Do I think this is all very damaging to the Government? Yes I do. Do I think it damages Johnson? Yes I do. Do I think it will have any effect on his or his party’s opinion poll ratings? I’m not sure I do. Does the Cummings evidence mean we’re more informed about what happened over care homes, PPE, and lockdowns? Yes, it does. And it also argues for the inquiry to start maybe earlier than is currently intended.

Sometimes these set piece evidence sessions get a huge build up in advance and then on the day it’s a bit of a let-down. Not on Wednesday. This was the most extraordinary select committee evidence session I have witnessed in 40 years of watching them. And that’s saying something.

– – – – – – – – –

How times change. Twelve months ago most journalists and commentators were labelling Cummings a complete liar over his trip to Barnard Castle. They were calling on Johnson to sack him. Now they are hanging on Cummings’ every word, as if his truth is the gospel truth. And it’s clear why. Because they see his evidence to the select committee as a way to initiate the process of bringing down a Prime Minister.

Now it may well be that history will record yesterday as the day which marked the beginning of the end for Johnson, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that when the next batch of opinion polls are published, the Teflon reputation which the PM enjoys won’t have been dented too much, if at all.

I may be wrong, but that’s how it feels to me. Why do I think this? Well, I call it the LBC listener test. When Britain is angry about something, people tend to call into LBC in their droves to get it off their chests.

That didn’t really happen on Wednesday night. Apart from the usual suspects, who phone in every day no matter what we are talking about, the phone lines didn’t really hum. Yes, we had quite enough callers to fill the show, and then some, but were my colleagues in the gallery rushed off their feet? No. They were on the night of Barnard Castle, though…

Having said that, Gaby Hinsliff of The Observer Tweeted yesterday that she’d got the builders in and when they arrived, they were talking about Cummings. She didn’t say whether it was in a good way, or whether they were saying how dare he attack Johnson!

– – – – – – – – –

One thing is sure – that any reshuffle is unlikely to come before the summer recess. If anything, Hancock’s position has been shored up after Wednesday’s events. Even if he is moved, it would have to be to an equivalently ranked position, like education, for example.

If there is a reshuffle it will surely either be held in late July or early September. There were rumours last week that the reshuffle was to be held this Wednesday to deflect attention away from the Cummings evidence. I can’t really believe that was ever a serious suggestion, because it would have undoubtedly backfired. It would have deserved to.

– – – – – – – – –

I first met David Amess back in the mid 1980s when I was working in Parliament and he had just been elected as MP for Basildon in the 1983 landslide. It was a different time. A couple of weeks ago I spent an hour talking to him about his life and career in politics. I think ConHome readers will enjoy it.

Iain Dale: The student said men are physically stronger than women. Now she’s been referred to the Student Disciplinary Board.

21 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

On Wednesday, Ryan Stephenson was selected as the Conservative candidate in Batley & Spen. The way some Tories are carring on, it’s already in the bag.

This is dangerous talk. Hartlepool is not Batley & Spen. Not all northern constituencies are the same. Indeed, this used to be a Conservative seat, with Elizabeth Peacock representing it from 1983 to 1997.

Since then, it’s been fairly solidly Labour, although at the last election the majority was reduced to 3,525. That year, an independent candidate, Paul Halloran, polled more than 6,400 votes, the majority of which seem to have come from Labour, if you compare the 2019 result with that of 2017.

Will Halloran stand again? I’ve had a look at his Facebook page, and he’s certainly strongly hinting that he might. However, if Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, gets the Labour nomination – the party is selecting on Sunday – that might put him off.

Labour seem to have learned their lesson from the disastrous imposition of their candidate in Hartlepool from a shortlist of one. This time, the local party will have a selection of candidates to choose from.

Everyone is assuming that Leadbeater is a shoo-in, but one should always remember that local candidates, though often seen as a real advantage by commentators, usually have local enemies. And local Labour Parties are usually a hotbed of plotting and chicanery.

Finally, it appears that George Galloway will be throwing his Fedora into the ring. He will try to win the substantial Muslim vote, which would normally be expected to row in behind Labour. The result of this by-election could well depend on how successful Galloway is.

For that and many other reasons, this by-election is likely to become the most well covered by the media for many years: indeed, this site carried a report from Andrew Gimson yesterday. Put your seatbelts on and hold tight.

– – – – – – – – –

The other by-election on the horizon is Chesham & Amersham, on June 17th. The Conservative candidate, selected a fortnight ago, Peter Fleet, has a majority of more than 16,000 to defend.

On the fact of it, the seat doesn’t look like the place where political earthquakes take place, but stranger things have happened. I was listening to the LibDem podcast this week (so you don’t have to), and they certainly have their dander up and think they can win it.

They base this on the fact that the seat had a 55 per cent Remain vote (or at least did in 2016). I’m not sure how relevant this is any longer. I mean, ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ worked for them so well in 2019. The vaccine rollout has certainly converted many people to the Brexit cause as well.

But complacency is the enemy of victory, and Conservative strategists should certain not rest on their laurels.

– – – – – – – – – –

Yet another example of the world going completely mad. A student at Abertay University, Dundee has been referred to the Student Disciplinary Board because in a seminar on Gender, she had the temerity to state that men are physically stronger than women.

This is obviously a thought crime and, in true Orwellian style, she must be banished to the Student Disciplinary Board for correctional training. And they say there is no need for a Free Speech Bill (Universities) Bill…

– – – – – – – – – –

Looks like the West Ham Variant will be hitting Europe in August… Come on You Irons!

– – – – – – – – – –

For the last three and a half years, I have hosted an hour-long panel show called Cross Question on a Wednesday evening on LBC. It’s similar in format to Any Questions or Question Time  with the main difference being the questions come from our callers.

We had to pause it during lockdown, because we couldn’t have four guests in the studio. But, since the beginning of March, we’ve had them all on a giant Zoom wall, and it’s worked rather well.

I deliberately keep the tone light and discourage too many heated confrontations. If people talk over each other on Zoom it sounds far worse than it does if they’re physically present. What I have found is that this engenders an atmosphere of positivity, with panellists agreeing with each other surprisingly often.

As well as big name politicians and commentators we’ve also used the show to try to discover new talent too. This week, we had Ndidi Okezie, chief executive of UK Youth on. She was an absolute revelation, with original things to say on every subject we covered. And we covered a lot of ground.

The show has been so successful that from next week we’re going to be doing it three times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), live from our new studio in Westminster.

On Monday, we have a very tasty first panel with Diane Abbott, Sarah Vine, Polly Toynbee and Brandon Lewis. Our challenge is to keep up the quality of the guests, given that we’ll have three programmes to fill every week. And the great things is, as well as listening people are able to watch via the Global Player or Youtube. That’s modern radio for you!

Iain Dale: Until Labour stops telling voters they’re wrong, racist, or stupid, it will continue to decline

14 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I rarely do a lot of preparation for an interview. Sometimes, the more preparation you do, the worse an interview is. Some interviewers war game every interview they do. I don’t. I find such an approach stultifying. It often just leads to you writing down a list of questions, and then asking them in the order they’re written down in.

My best interviews are invariably ones where I don’t have a single piece of paper in front of me. Yes, it’s risky. Freewheeling always is. But at the age of 58 and three quarters, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. However, there are exceptions to this rule and last night (as you read this) I will have interviewed the Israel Ambassador to London, Tzipi Hovotely, and conducted a phone-in.

I defy anyone to pretend they have a 100 per cent understanding of the Israel/Palestine situation, and everything that has led to the current unrest. So I am writing this column a little earlier than usual on Thursday morning to give me a little more time to read up on the situation.

I don’t call it preparation: I call it avoiding making a tit of yourself, and getting a key fact wrong. I don’t and won’t hide the fact that I am a supporter of Israel but, boy, does it make it hard for its advocates sometimes.

And this is one of them. I was slightly surprised when the Ambassador agreed to take calls from listeners, but delighted at the same time. As a presenter, I know it’s the calls from listeners that can often be far more difficult to handle than the questions from a professional interviewer.

If you missed the hour last night, you can catch up with it on the Global Player or the LBC Youtube Channel. And, next week, we’ll repeat the experience with the Palestinian Ambassador, Husam Zomlot. However balanced you try to be on this subject, though, there will always be people who accuse you of being biased and ignoring one viewpoint or the other. Such is life in the modern social media world.

– – – – – – – – – –

In my weekly email newsletter on Sunday I wrote:

“You can tell an awful lot about a politician by how they react to an election defeat. This week we learned that Sir Keir Starmer is neither a lucky general or is cool under fire.

His interview on Friday afternoon was a textbook classic of how not to react. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn’t seem to comprehend the scale of what had happened.

He promised to take “full responsibility” himself. Twenty four hours later, we learned he had sacked Angela Rayner, the chair of the Labour Party and its campaign co-ordinator.

Given Labour’s problems seem to be a lack of ability to reach out to northern working class voter, it didn’t really seem a good idea to sack a norrthern working class woman.”

– – – – – – – – – –

The week hasn’t exactly improved for the man whose name is now invariably preceded by the word ‘beleaguered’. I find it genuinely perplexing to understand what has happened to Sir Keir since Christmas. During hhis first nine months as Labour leader, he established a positive reputation, and many Conservatives thought that at last they faced an opposition leader that the electorate could imagine as an alternative Prime Minister.

Since then, it’s all gone to pot. And last week’s elections demonstrated how, if not why. Labour had the odd positive result but, overall, they were a disaster. To lose the Hartlepool by-election by a country mile, to lose the West Midlands Mayoralty by a large margin, to come a bad third in Scotland and to lose 322 local council seats was quite the hattrick.

Again, there was little understanding in the Labour Party as to why it had happened. Judging from the lame reshuffle ,Starmer then conducted it was all Valerie Vaz’s fault.

The comment of a defeated northern Labour council leader sums up Labour’s problem. He said: “I hope the electorate don’t live to regret what they’ve done.” Effectively he was saying: it’s not us, it’s you. Too many people in the Labour Party think the electorate must be stupid and thick to vote the way they do. “We know what’s best for you,” they think subliminally.

Grace Blakely, the Tribune columnist, is a living example of this phenomenon – middle/upper middle class intellectuals who think they know how best to improve the life of the peasants – and woe betide those peasants if they don’t take notice of them.

What we are experiencing is another form of ‘peasants’ revolt’: ordinary people are telling their previous lords and masters that they are quite capable of judging things for themselves, thank you very much. They don’t need to be told they’re wrong, racist, or stupid. And until the Labour Party understands that, it will continue to decline in electoral popularity.

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The slow rise of the Greens is something most of the media has largely ignored. They gained a good clutch of council seats and an extra seat on the London Assembly. They have beaten the Liberal Democrats to be the third party in many of the major contests.

If I were the LibDems and Labour I’d be worried about this, since the Greens are becoming the home of the ‘plague on all your houses’ vote, as well as those who are disillusioned with Labour and the LibDems.

However, they also gained quite a number of seats from the Conservatives. So electoral strategists in all parties would do well to monitor the Greens locally.

If they ever started to build the kind of grassroots local networks that the LibDems did during the 1980s and 1990s, they could become a much bigger electoral threat than they currently are. Expect them to double the number of candidates they field in local council elections next year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if within five years they had got more councillors across the country than the LibDems.

Iain Dale: Perhaps one day I’ll get involved in an election again. In the meantime, here are my predictions for Super Thursday’s results…

7 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

This is the first time for some years that I haven’t been able to host a live election night show on LBC. Because of Covid, many local authorities decided they wouldn’t count overnight. And since I don’t have a show on Friday or at the weekends, I feel as if I’m being silenced!

Like most of you, I suspect, I love elections. I well remember my first election day back in 1983 in Norwich. I was designated to be a teller and work in the Committee Room. I’ve always loved lists and can remember the thrill of crossing off all the people who had voted on the electoral roll boards.

Sitting outside the polling station was great fun, and was probably the thing I loved doing most. I enjoyed the banter with the tellers from the other parties and with people who were voting. The winks, the furtive smiles. Or growls. I’d have happily done it all day.

And then I remember when I was a candidate in various local elections, and then a general election, touring the polling stations and talking to the election officials. This was quite a challenge in North Norfolk in 2005, where there were, if I recall correctly, more than 100 polling stations.

Still, it kept me out of mischief on polling day, and took my mind off the disaster I knew was ahead of me at the count! The last time I was involved in an election day as a party activist was in 2009. I can hardly believe it was so long ago. Since then I’ve always been on the radio, or preparing for an overnight show. But I’ll always remember the thrill I got out of being involved. And who knows, one day I may be again.

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Second preferences are a weird thing. You’re voting for a candidate or a party you really don’t want to win, but they’re the least-worst option. By definition it’s a negative vote. In the PCC election I’m afraid I just could bring myself to tick a box at all.

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“You’ve broken the law, Iain,” said a Twitter follower. He had heard my For the Many podcast in which I revealed how I had voted (by post) in the local elections, both in Norfolk and Kent. “You can’t vote twice,” he maintained.

Luckily I know my electoral law better than he did. If you have properties in two different council areas you are, indeed, entitled to cast your vote in each of them in local elections. However, that does not apply in general elections. I patiently explained this to him.

His reply was amusing. “So you’re telling me I’ve missed out on voting twice for the 17 years I’ve had a second home?” Yup, I said. “Bugger,” he replied.

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So here are my predictions for the results of the various elections…

Scotland: SNP to get a majority of seats. Conservatives remain the main opposition. Greens gain an extra one or two MSPs. Alex Salmond is elected with one or two others.

Wales: Conservatives add seats, but Labour remains largest party. Plaid gain a few seats. Lib Dems disappear completely. Mark Drakeford to lose his seat.

London: Sadiq Khan walks it. Shaun Bailey gets 25-30 per cent of first preferences. Greens get around 10 per cent.

West Midlands: Andy Street wins.

Hartlepool by-election: Conservatives to take it.

English County & District Councils: Lib Dems do better in these than any of the other elections. Labour lose seats, Conservatives gains. Greens add to their seat count too. Minor parties squeezed.

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Jacqui Smith and I will be recording an Election Special For the Many podcast for release on Monday morning, analysing all the results.

Whatever they bring, there is bound to be a new bout of reshuffle speculation. However, if the results turn out as I predict above, if I were the PM I’d be tempted to leave any reshuffle until a bit later in the year – either before the summer recess or in the autumn.

The same is not true for Keir Starmer, though. Having had an impressive first eight months as leader of the Labour Party, 2021 has so far proved to be disastrous.

To be fair, it’s not all down to him, as few of his shadow cabinet have managed to cut through at all. Anneliese Dodds is copping a lot of criticism, but to be fair to her, she’s not alone in failing to make much of a mark. The consensus among pundits is he needs to bring Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn into his top team. But what if they don’t wish to return?

Cooper seems to enjoy chairing her select committee and Benn may well feel he’s done his bit. Do a search among other Labour MPs who have a bit of experience, and they’re pretty thin on the ground. Starmer’s position at the moment is far from enviable.

Iain Dale: The Electorial Commission’s inquiry could put Johnson in a big pickle. But he’s escaped from other pickles…

30 Apr

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

“The net is closing in around Boris,” was the Whatsapp message from a Liberal Democrat friend of mine, following the announcement of the Electoral Commission (EC) inquiry into the Prime Minister’s flat refurbishment travails.

My first reaction was to think, “wishful thinking, mate”, but as Steven Swinford, The Times political editor, has pointed out, the remit of the EC is very broad indeed and it can issue an investigation notice requiring “any person” to provide information including emails, Whatsapp messages, text messages and documents. Eek.

Tom Newton Dunn reckons that given the EC investigation will centre on possible undeclared donations in the Tory party, this could put Amanda Milling and Ben Elliot, the co-chairmen, “in their crosshairs.” He says if wrongdoing is found their positions are “untenable.”

I would beg to differ. I have been critical of Milling’s performance as party chairman in the past, but in this case I think her hands are clean. I am given to understand that she has very little to do with donors. That’s all down to Elliot. And the situation is very clear. If the Conservative Party paid the bill of £58,000 initially, and that sum wasn’t declared, then not only is Elliot in deep doo-doo, so is the Prime Minister.

But it’s not just the EC inquiry which could prove problematic, at the very least, for the Prime Minister; it’s also Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lord Geidt, the new independent advisor on the Ministerial Code, who will also determine Johnson’s fate. If the EC finds against the Conservative Party and the PM and find that rules of declaration have been broken, and if it is found the Ministerial Code has also been broken, he will be in a very big pickle indeed.

Any other minister would be expected to resign. But the Prime Minister has escaped from other pickles in his adult life, and who would bet that he won’t come through this too. The question Conservative MPs are going to have to ask themselves is this. Should he?

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I am a client, in a very small way, of the company formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen. This week it announced that henceforth it would be known as Abrdn. You couldn’t make it up. What is it supposed to mean? Aberdeen? In which case, spell it out in full. It could also be pronounced as ‘A burden’.

How on earth did this get through all the different management levels to be approved by the company’s board. If it had come to me I’d have laughed it out of court. It makes we wonder if they can be so crass and incompetent in renaming their company, how incompetent are they in investing my money.

I’m not yet on the verge of withdrawing my custom from Abrdn, but I am this week withdrawing my custom from the bank I’ve been with for more than 40 years. Every communication I have now with Lloyds Bank is a trial. I almost feel physically sick before I ring them because I know I’m going to be passed from pillar to about seven different posts, and that’s before I fail their impossible security questions.

I’ve had enough. So I have opened an account with a smaller bank where I can actually talk to a real person who does their best to help. Yes, you still have to fill in a lot of forms to get the different accounts up and running, but I’m convinced it will be worth it in the end.

I did it with my energy supplier and it’s been a dream dealing with Octopus Energy rather than EDF. And that was a lot simpler than I feared it might be. We should constantly remind ourselves that we the customer are always the kings. Or queens. We don’t have to put up with shoddy service. The power lies in our hands.

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Quite what the DUP thinks it is going to achieve in toppling Arlene Foster is anyone’s guess. If she is forced out, and it looks like she will be, she will inevitably be replaced by a much more hardline politician. It might be that whoever this is takes a much more hardline stance with Sinn Fein, and it might be that Sinn Fein says it can’t work with the new leader. Then the whole house of cards comes tumbling down again.

I’m not predicting this will happen, but it must be a fear. Michelle O’Neill and Foster may not be bosom buddies, or be able to replicate the matiness of the so-called Chuckle Brothers, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, but they have formed a business like and effective partnership over the past year. What a shame it would be to throw all that away.

Iain Dale: Why was Johnson so bothered about the football? Two words. “Oliver” and “Dowden”.

23 Apr

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

The reaction of the Government to the proposed creation of the European Super League was interesting on a number of fronts.

Boris Johnson is not known for his love of the beautiful game, and no one seems to know if he even supports a club. So why was he so quick out of the traps in publicly condemning it? Two words. “Oliver” and “Dowden”.

Being Culture Secretary is often a bit of a thankless task. You can make worthy speeches, but actually making meaningful changes is often quite difficult in this Cabinet job. It has its compensations, I suppose – lots of invites to cultural and sporting events, but it’s usually regarded as a stepping stone to better things. Most culture secretaries are fairly short lived in the post, lasting less than two years on average.

Dowden has slowly established himself as not only a safe pair of hands, but someone with a good political nose. He quickly realised that the formation of the ESL would be a massive threat to the structure of our national sport, and made sure the Prime Minister was on board with the need for some fairly strong language condemning the move, and threatening governmental action if it were to go ahead.

It was an issue which united politicians on all sides of the Commons, and all sides of football. Fans, players, pundits and administrators were all singing from the same hymn sheet. When Arsenal and Tottenham fans are saying the same thing, and being nice to each other, you know something is very wrong.

Some might suggest that a free market supporting Conservative government has no business interfering with private sector businesses, acting in their own interests. Purists might see something in that argument, but in the real world, practical politics comes into play. It was clearly an anti-competitive move by the 12 clubs, and would have undoubtedly ended up in the courts.

Within 48 hours the whole things had collapsed with Andrea Agnelli blaming Johnson. Apparently, the ESL would have threatened Brexit. Err, OK….

I think its collapse was probably inevitable but with the UK government threatening a legislative bomb, players confronting their boards and fan protests starting to proliferate, the writing on the wall was there for all to see.

Dowden saw a political opportunity and took it. And it’s something that many football fans will remember.

Expect him to get a promotion in the next reshuffle.

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Eve Collishaw is someone you won’t have heard of unless you follow Norwich politics very closely. I first met her on the campaign trail in Norwich North in the 1983 general election. She has stood in every local election in the city more or less every year ever since. In the mid noughties she finally achieved her aim and won seats on Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council, serving for seven and 12 years respectively. She even became the 100th Lord Mayor of the City in 2010.

Eve was a dedicated Conservative and without her, at times, the whole Conservative organisation in Norwich South might have collapsed. She gave her time, money and much of her life to the Conservative cause. She died yesterday at the age of 76.

We became very good friends, so much so that I got to hear of rumours that we must be having an affair. Hardly! She was one of life’s characters. She could at times be a difficult friend being very outspoken and at times abrasive. But she would always be there in times of difficulty and she was by my side throughout my ill-fated campaign in North Norfolk in 2005.

Around ten years ago we had a bit of a falling out, and have not been in touch much since, apart from the odd email. When I was told about her death on Wednesday, I reflected on that, and felt incredibly guilty. That sense of guilt was even more intense when I was told that she would still listen to my radio show and devour my books and speak fondly of me to others. I’m so sorry I never got to say goodbye.