Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
On Wednesday I got the chance to interview James Comey, former FBI Director, for thirty minutes. He’s got a new book out called Saving Justice and was doing the rounds of UK broadcasters.
I was a bit hacked off to have to sign a non-disclosure agreement which prevented us from broadcasting it on that evening’s show, but when I saw he was on Newsnight I understood why. They always insist on going first. Emily Maitlis interviewed him for ten minutes and, although it was all interesting stuff, I compared it to what I had got out of him in thirty minutes and decided it was yet another example of where the long-form interview wins out.
Mind you, it wasn’t plain sailing. I’m working from home at the moment, so we did it on Zoom, but as a fail safe also recorded it on an audio system called iPDTL.
However, when Comey came online I could hear myself back in my ears two second later, and everything he said came through twice. I was already quite nervous and a bit daunted by interviewing Comey, having read his first book A Higher Loyalty.
I also had had very little time to do any preparation, so I was well and truly flying by the seat of my pants. But experience tells me that the less preparation I do for an interview, the better the interview is. I had no list of questions, or even a list of topics. And that works for me. It doesn’t for everyone.
It turned out to be, I thought, an absolutely gripping conversation, for that’s what I wanted it to be – a conversation. And there were about a zillion newslines that came out of it. Anyway, you can judge for yourself and download it now on the Iain Dale Book Club podcast, should you so wish.
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It’s difficult to think of a political leader who has left office in such a state of disgrace as Donald Trump. And he has 100 per cent brought it upon himself. He still inspires massive loyalty and devotion from his MAGA fan club, but to most of those who have observed him closely over the last few years, this Wagnerian denouement was almost inevitable.
While I disagree with him being no-platformed on most forms of social media, the ban on Twitter has diminished him almost beyond recognition. Anything good he did, whatever achievements he may have had (and contrary to a widely held popular view, there were more than a few, especially in the field of foreign policy) have been relegated to a footnote in all his political obituaries. The narcissist has shattered his own mirror.
The inauguration of Joe Biden will not end the great divides that have been exacerbated over the last four years. The impeachment hearings will further entrench that divide. And if Trump is indeed found guilty in a Senate trial (which I doubt), then it won’t just be a divide, it will be a chasm. Biden has neither the imagination, nor the energy, to heal his tearful nation. It will take more than four years of steady as she goes to achieve that.
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Partly because of the nature of the modern-day publishing industry and partly because today’s politicians don’t seem to be prolific writers in the way that politicians used to be, we don’t see too many political memoirs come onto the market nowadays. Perhaps it’s also because we have so few politicians who might merit writing a memoir, you might think, should you be of a more cynical persuasion.
Over Christmas I read the memoirs of Tim Sainsbury, former mid-ranking minister in the Thatcher government and MP from Hove from 1973 to 1997. The book is self-deprecatingly titled Among the Supporting Cast. In many ways it harked back to the days when even the most junior minister would write a memoir when they left politics.
It takes a lot for me not to enjoy a political memoir, but this book achieved it. As I sit here writing this column, I can’t think of a single interesting anecdote or conclusion from the book to regale you with.
The next memoir on my list to read is a new book Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster by David Amess, the Southend MP. He was famously the MP for Basildon but switched to safer climes when his boundary changes affected his seat adversely. I first knew him when he was first elected in 1983, and there aren’t many MPs from that massive intake left in the Commons.
He’s never achieved ministerial office for reasons I have never quite been able to fathom. He’s been part of the poor bloody infantry for 38 years and has witnessed all the tumult over nearly four decades. I can’t imagine he has it in him to write a boring book, but I’ll let you know when I’ve finished reading it!