Iain Dale: The Prime Minister. He gets knocked down. But he gets up again.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Number Ten, it seems, has recognised that withdrawing the whip from 21 Conservative MPs and preventing them from standing as Tory candidates at the next election might just have been a teency-weency bit over the top. A bit of rowing back has gone on this week, and the MPs in question have received a letter telling them that they can either reapply for the whip or, if they think they have been treated unfairly, appeal to a panel.

Time will tell how many will avail themselves of the offer. There will be some who will refuse and revel in their martyrdom, but others who will want to return to the tribe. I suspect, however, that the conditions imposed on them will mean that most may well refuse. If this is a genuine offer by Downing Street and the Chief Whip, then the 21 need to be treated sensitively rather than presented with the equivalent of signing a total surrender document.

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Having had a five week long political honeymoon, the last ten days have seen the Prime Minister experience the political equivalent of five rounds in the ring with Anthony Joshua. He’s been pummelled onto the floor by losing six votes Commons – but hasn’t been knocked out, despite being punched in the guts by his brother Jo.

And that’s the blow that hurt the most. I’m told that the Prime Minister was reduced to tears by this as he immediately realised the implications. Forget the political effect, it was the immediate realisation that his relationship with his brother would never be quite the same again. He was knocked for six.

This may explain his shambolic performance in front of the police cadets in Wakefield, where he gave a speech which was almost incomprehensible. And that’s being kind. On a human level, I think that many people will have a lot of sympathy for him. In some ways, this was far worse than what Ed Miliband did to his brother by standing against him in 2010. This was a dagger – straight to the heart.

One thing our Prime Minister finds very difficult to cope with is people who either don’t like him or who misunderstand his motives. It’s very human in many ways, and I warm to him because of it, but in politics it’s a weakness.

It may make him a less empathetic human being, but perhaps Johnson needs to grow a suit of human body armour. As Prime Minister, it’s impossible to be liked by everyone, and you can’t avoid the fact that your political enemies will come for you when they scent blood. And, boy, have they scented blood in the last ten days.

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Last Friday, I chaired the Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner selection hustings in Norwich. The last time I had attended a meeting at the Mercure Hotel (formerly the Hotel Norwich) on the Norwich inner ring road was in April 1987, for the adoption meeting of the then Norwich North MP, Patrick Thompson, at the start of the general election campaign.

The room hadn’t changed a bit.  There were a lot of people there I knew from my North Norfolk campaign in 2005 and the age profile of the audience was very different to that I experienced during the leadership hustings. Yes, there was a scattering of young faces, but not a single person who wasn’t white.

Norwich itself has become a much more diverse city in recent years, and that needs to be reflected in the membership of local political parties. There was four finalists for the PCC job, all of whom were in their 60s (I think). Three men and one woman.

I gave each of them quite a grilling and all of them stood up to it quite well, even if I suspect none of them had ever experienced anything like it. The eventual winner (on the first ballot) was Giles Orpen-Smellie, a former diplomat with the gift of the gab. He provided the best answer to the final question I put to each of the four candidates: “I think PCCs are a complete waste of money and should be abolished. Tell me why I’m wrong.”

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I think enough has been said and written about my appearance on the BBC’s Question Time show last week. However, I was very aware that when I next hosted an LBC Cross Question show on Wednesday, I’d be under quite a bit of scrutiny. Could I maintain control over the panellists on my show – David Starkey, Andrew Adonis, Christine Jardine and Mark Harper – in a way that Fiona Bruce had often failed to do on hers the week before?

Would I allow one panellist to dominate in the way that Emily Thornberry was allowed to? Well, you can listen for yourself on the Cross Question podcast or view it on the LBC Youtube channel.

To be honest the hour was, in my opinion, exactly what a debate should be about. Apart from Starkey calling Theresa May “a hag” (which I made him apologise for), it was conducted with utter respect, without fake rows and I think the listeners learned a lot. But while I think I maintained control I think I failed to stop Starkey dominating. But then again, I defy any presenter to do any better than I did!

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Iain Dale: Bracknell, Broadland, Tunbridge Wells, Conservative candidacies and my future. A statement.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

I have to admit to feeling very torn over the whip being withdrawn from 21 Conservative MPs over their rebellion this week.

On the one hand, they all knew the consequences of what they were doing. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t had due warning that the vote was considered a vote of confidence. So the Prime Minister and Chief Whip were quite within their rights to withdraw the whip from them, thereby preventing all of the 21 from standing as a Conservative candidate in any immediate election.

And yet, and yet.  I feel a profound sense unease at this move, just as I did in 1992 when John Major did the same thing to the Maastricht rebels. They were seen by many, albeit unfairly – and especially in the media – as the mad, the bad and the sad.

The current rebels are people of immense stature and, although they differ from me on our views of Brexit, I regard each and every one of them as a proper Conservative. Whatever the proprieties are of withdrawing the whip, sometimes in politics you have to be pragmatic. You need to think how ordinary voters will view these things. It’s a long-established political fact that the electorate hates divided parties.

Part of the problem here is that some people seem to have drunk their own kool-aid. I’ve said before that I think the first month of Boris Johnson’s premiership was a success. He picked the Conservative Party up off the floor, provided a clear direction of travel and exuded some much needed positivity and optimism.

But with success comes the danger of hubris. No politician or adviser is without fallibility and I’m afraid there are one or two people in Downing Street who seem to think they are beyond questioning. The events this week have shown how wrong they are.

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A lot has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to accede to the Prime Minister’s request for a general election, so I won’t add to it much here except to say this: surely the best way to avoid a No Deal Brexit, if that is really his aim, would be for him to become Prime Minister – and the only way that can happen is for him to win a general election? Then he can make sure it doesn’t happen. But there’s the rub. Labour knows it’s very unlikely that he could win it. Democracy, eh?

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Back in 2009 I was in the final of the Bracknell selection. There were seven of us taking part – an unusually large number. I really felt I had a good chance, although I knew that the local GP, Phillip Lee, was always going to be the favourite.

On the day of the open primary, one by one those seven candidates fell by the wayside. It was a bit like X Factor. I got down to the final three, against Lee and Stewart. At that point, I realised the game was probably up. If they wanted to play safe, they’d go for Philip. If they wanted to take a risk, they’d go for Rory – and I fell somewhere between the two.

My rationale was that they wouldn’t want a compromise candidate; they’d want the real thing. I was right. I won’t pretend I wasn’t gutted, because I was. Bracknell was the perfect constituency for me, I thought, and I felt a connection.

Scroll forward ten years and Bracknell are about to select a new candidate. On Tuesday I interviewed the Chairman of Bracknell Conservatives to get his reaction to Lee’s defection. He was very gentlemanly, and resisted the opportunity to stick the knife in, but it’s clear that this move has been coming for some time. Lee’s done quite a bit of public agonising over the last year so the reaction, rather than surprise, was a bit of shoulder-shrugging.

The point is: Lee is no more a Liberal Democrat than I am. His views on Brexit may partially coincide with theirs, but on virtually everything else he’s a true blue Tory. I wonder how comfortable he will feel with them. No more comfortable than Chuka Ummuna, I imagine.

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So far this week, I’ve been linked with standing in Bracknell, Broadland and Tunbridge Wells – given that in addition to Philip Lee’s defection, my good friend Keith Simpson has announced he’s standing down in Broadland, where I have a house, and Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells (where I live) has had the whip removed.

Were I 47, I might be tempted, but I’m not. I’m 57, and I very much enjoy my current life. Yes, there’s a part of me that thinks in this dire situation that all good (wo)men and true should come to the aid of the country, but in the end, self-knowledge is a wonderful thing. And I am far better equipped to resist temptation at 57 than I was when I was younger.

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I can only imagine the agonies that Jo Johnson has been through in making his decision to resign as a minister and quit as an MP. There will be obvious comparisons with the Miliband brothers, I suppose. It is rumoured that Jo didn’t inform his brother what he was intending to do. On the face of it, you’d have to say that appears incredibly ruthless, if correct. Families, eh?

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Iain Dale: Were the Prime Minister to pull the plug on HS2, would he call time on Heathrow expansion too?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

I have very mixed feelings about HS2. I am usually all in favour of visionary transport infrastructure projects. I rather liked the idea of the Boris Island Airport, and still regret that he didn’t make it part of his leadership campaign. I also think high speed rail is a good thing.

However, I still don’t think the business case for HS2 has really ever been properly made.  Capacity is clearly an issue on parts of the West Coast main line, but it seems to be the Manchester trains which suffer, rather than the Birmingham ones.

The Prime Minister is clearly minded to cancel the whole project, and hopes that the review announced this week will give him political cover. Quite how he will explain the waste of upwards of £7.2 billion I don’t know, but presumably the saving of a further £80 billion will be used to show how other parts of our transport system could be improved.

Of course, if HS2 is cancelled, one would quite reasonably wonder whether the third runway at Heathrow might be next on the list for a prime ministerial cull.

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A new Kantar poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trailing on 28 per cent and the Brexit Party on only five per cent. The Liberal Democrats were constant on 15 per cent.

So, a 14 per cent lead for Johnson. Is this a “Boris bounce”? None of the other polls have shown a lead anything like this big, so everyone should treat with a huge degree of scepticism. But since it is widely believed that there will be a general election by the end of November, this is not a bad place to start from.

But as ever, a Conservative election success surely relies on us leaving the EU on October 31st. If we don’t, quite a few of those per centage points will be shaved off by Nigel Farage.

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Talking of Farage, he has made clear that, if the Prime Minister signs up to any form of deal with the EU, the Brexit Party will stand candidates against every Conservative candidate up and down the country. The only way to avoid that would be for us to leave on 31 October with no deal.

That outcome seems ever more likely as each day and each exchange of letters with Donald Tusk takes place. But as with Farage, I have a feeling in my water that the prospect of a last-minute deal hasn’t entirely disappeared. Yet.

The purists may hate it, but in the end, we have surely to remain of the view that a good deal is better than no deal. The trouble is that few can see what would actually constitute a good deal from the UK viewpoint. We can all see what a bad deal looks like, of course. But how we get from that to a good deal is anyone’s guess. –

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The ‘N’ key to my laptop has come ustuck. Makes me thik a ew computer may be i order. I could stick it o agai , I suppose. But where’s the fu i that?

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This is my first and only week’s holiday of the year. I’m spending it in Norfolk doing nothing at all – apart from writing this, and two other columns.

And watching box sets. I’ve finished Designated Survivor on Netflix and have now started the Korean version. I’m quite used to watching programmes with subtitles, but normally I can pick up a few words of the language. Not Korean. It’s almost impossible to follow.

I’m also reading Andrew Roberts’ brilliant thousand page biography of Winston Churchill. I always find these doorstops of books incredibly intimidating, mainly because I normally only read before I go to sleep, and therefore only manage three pages a night. So I’m pleased I’m already on page 200. Right, time for another chapter…

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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

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Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

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The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

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The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

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On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

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Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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Iain Dale: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Cummings?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said that “every Prime Minister needs a Willie”. She was right – but every Prime Minister also needs a lighting rod, someone who is able to soak up much of the criticism that would ordinarily be directed at the Prime Minister himself.

Margaret Thatcher had Norman Tebbit, Major had Chris Patten, Tony Blair had Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, Gordon Brown had Damian McBride (until it all went wrong) and David Cameron had Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton.

Theresa May didn’t really have anyone. I suppose Damian Green fulfilled that role for a time but, after he left, there was no one. Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb were often targets of criticism, but not in the same way as the others I have mentioned. Their roles were very different.

Dominic Cummings is clearly taking on the former mantle for Boris Johnson. He’s the bete noire of lefties everywhere and the media is really building him up into a voodoo doll figure for people to stick their pins in. I don’t know Cummings, although I’ve been aware of him ever since David Davis intervened to try to prevent Iain Duncan Smith sacking him from his Conservative Central Office role back in 2003.

I don’t think we’ve ever met, although I did make a vain attempt to try to persuade him to write a book after the referendum. Instead, he wrote several massively long and entertaining blog articles about the experience.

There’s no doubt that he engenders huge loyalty from people who work for him. He’s one of those unpredictable, quixotic characters who the media love to write lengthy profiles about without ever really getting to the core of who he is and what he’s about. He’s a bit like the royal family used to be, in that he is brilliant at cultivating an aura of mystique, though in this case with a slight whiff of menace.

He has a great strength which few have commented on so far. Mandelson and Campbell always wanted to be feared and respected in equal measure. Neither could understand why some people, especially on their own side, intensely disliked them. Cummings couldn’t give a toss. He couldn’t care less whether he’s liked, feared or respected. He’s got a job to do and will get on with it – and sod the consequences if anyone’s nose is put out of joint.

Cummings is a brilliant strategist, but he’ll need to be at the top of his game over the next three months. Labour will move heaven and earth to oust him. There are plenty of Tories who loathe and despise him, and who will happily feed any destructive morsels to an eagerly receptive press.

He is worldly-wise enough to know they’re coming for him. I hope Johnson is able to resist any pressures to get rid, of him, because his track record of standing by advisers in a bit of media trouble is not, shall we say, exemplary.

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I’ve spent this week hosting shows at the Edinburgh Festival. One or two of my interlocutors have been busy ‘committing news’, as Ruth Davidson puts it.

My interview with Nicola Sturgeon got a lot of headlines because she was out of her normal zone and came across as a warm, entertaining human being, capable of laughing at herself. People hadn’t seen that side to her before, I think think.

With John McDonnell it was somewhat different. For someone with very hard left views, he is very skilled at coming across as the voice of sweet reason in interviews. This time, the mask slipped somewhat in his threats to imprison Conservative MPs for supporting austerity. “Under what law would you do that?” I asked. “I’ll have to invent one,” he said. I assumed he was joking, but the look on his face gave some people a different impression.

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It’s been ten days since I saw anything on television. The student accommodation I’m staying I doesn’t have one. OK, I’ve got my laptop but, generally, I’m completely out of touch with what’s going on in the world.

In other words, I’m probably in line with the majority of the country which generally gets on with their lives without worrying too much about what’s going on in the world of politics and current affairs.

I didn’t even know about the Whaley Bridge reservoir issue until two days after it had happened. Same with the El Paso and Dayton shootings. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve weaned myself off watching Sky News, or at least having it on in the background. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Sorry, Kay.

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