Personal

From Fat Chozzer to Finally Getting Under 16 Stone

18 Aug 2018 at 11:06

Until I was 13 I was as thin as a rake. Then I got a terrible bout of food poisoning on a school trip to Russia, the effects of which lasted for six months. Since then I only have to look at a Smartie and I put on a pound. I also have quite a big frame (all that bale carting in my teenage years) and a long body, so even if I put weight on, I can carry it better than most. In my twenties I ranged from 14-15 stone. I remember when I lived in Germany I weighed 92kg. But in my thirties and forties my weight continually went up and I think I peaked at around 19 stone at the turn of the century. There’s a pic from a Labour conference with Mo Mowlam (where she squeezed my butt cheeks… but that’s another story) where I look like a right fat chozzer (that’s an Essex expression).

I got my weight down to 17 and a half stone but for a long time found it difficult to get below that. However, in the last couple of years it’s been between 16’3 and 16’7. So when I went to Spain a week ago, that’s what I was – 16’3. Today, astonishingly, for the first time in 25 years I am under 100kg at 15st 10.

Admittedly for the first two days I was away I felt rather ill and lost my appetite almost completely, but even so, losing half a stone in a week is going some. I even feel thin. My face is thin. I reckon I’ve lost 2 inches off my waist and could fit into 34 trousers with a squeeze for the first time since about 1990.

There’s no doubt about it that I have been eating better and less for some time now. I haven’t eaten any chocolate or sweets for six weeks. So the question is, can I or should I lose any more? I know there’s a point where people who lose too much weight start to look ill, wizened and old. Being a vain bastard I have no wish to look either of those!

It’s taken a long time to see the figures 1 and 5 on the scales rather than 6 or 7, but I don’t think I’ll go so far as wanting to see a 1 and a 4. I suspect that would be going a little too far.

At least my doctor will be pleased when I go for my next diabetes checkup!

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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Barbara Taylor Bradford

Best selling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford discusses her new book SECRETS FROM THE PAST

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Diary

ConHome Diary: When the Rain in Spain...

17 Aug 2018 at 13:15

I’m in Spain on holiday this week. Like many people who are obsessed by news, it’s difficult to switch off completely. I’d love to leave my phone and laptop at home but there’s always that fear of missing something. So far I’ve spent most of my time so far reading, sunbathing, having a dip in the pool and, yes, checking Twitter from time to time. Yesterday I drove down to the coast to visit an old LBC colleague who’s moved out here. The change in temperature was rather welcome. Here in Iznajar, 60 miles or so north of Malaga it’s well over forty degrees for most of the day. I genuinely love hot weather but this was too much on Monday. It was bad enough contracting a sore throat and a headache on the first day here without even further energy being sapped out of me. I did wonder what I had done to deserve it. My hosts think it was the fact that I am completely exhausted and have taken too much on over the last few months, and my body was kicking back. I suspect they might have a point.
*
Spanish civil servants can be even more pernickety that British ones. Their state owned utilities don’t brook any argument. Don’t pay you water bill after one reminder and they’ll cut you off with no warning at all. Fiddle your water supply and not only will they cut you off, they’ll never reconnect you either. Furthermore, they’ll tell your electricity supplier and they’ll cut you off too for good measure. One British expat had that happen ten years ago and to this day they haven’t managed to get reconnected. It’s certainly discouraged anyone else from trying it. Speed cameras here are ten to the dozen. It’s even easier to tot up 12 points than in Britain. But woe betide you if you do. What happens then is if you go over 12, they come and confiscate your car! At least, that’s what I’ve been told. They have a slightly more lax attitude to EU regulations they don’t like. Well, when I say lax, they just ignore them. A friend of our hosts used to run a slaughterhouse in the UK so when he was over here he went to visit a Spanish one. You really don’t want to know what he reported back. Suffice to say you’d never eat a piece of Spanish meat ever again. Loads of British butchers’ shops closed down because they couldn’t afford to meet EU hygiene regulations. In Spain, they ignore them. You drive by a butcher’s and they have slabs of meet on display, not in display fridges, but on wooden slabs in the open sun. And if ever any inspector made the bad decision to take them to task, I suspect they’d be drive out of town.
*

My friend, who we’re staying with, was a Conservative Party agent back in the 1980s and early 1990s. So she’s fairly switched on politically and follows the news. I was in the pool just now and she pipes up: “So what would be the effect of a no deal Brexit then?” What I really wanted to say was: “I’ve come here to get away from those conversations. Nice weather isn’t it?” But of course I didn’t.
*
I didn’t read the comments under my article last week. I was told they were mostly written by loons and Kippers who just cannot brook any thought that anyone can have a different point of view to them, and how dare I suggest that Boris’s burqa remarks were entirely premeditated. It’s the same mindset that seems to have decided that Party Chairman Brandon Lewis is now public enemy number one. He was described as Theresa May’s “henchman” and the instigator of a plot to expel Boris from the party. What a load of hogwash. The Party received more than 100 referrals for Boris to be questioned by the party’s conduct committee. The decision to open an investigation was, as I understand it, down to the party’s compliance rules and there was no choice to be had. I’m not sure that the party chairman would even have the power to step in and put a stop to it, and if he had, how would that have looked to the outside world? Some people need to calm the *
* down.
*
I come back from Spain today and am spending the rest of my holiday at the Edinburgh Festival and in Norfolk. If you’re in Edinburgh on Sunday, so come along to see me be interviewed by the Reverend Richard Coles in his show called CONFESSIONS. It’s on at the Pleasance at 5pm. God knws what sordid confessions he’ll drag out of me.

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Video: Iain & Sally Bercow on the Politics Show

BBC 1 Politics Show with James Landale

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Radio

Gillian Reynolds Reviews the 'For the Many' podcast

12 Aug 2018 at 22:05

Gillian Reynolds is the doyen of radio reviewers. She was recently headhunted from the Telegraph by the Sunday Times. That’s quite something given she’s in her early eighties. It’s every radio host’s ambition to get a glowing review from Gillian. Some years ago she said on Radio 4’s Media Show that she found my voice ‘whiny’. Hpwever, a month ago she wrote this in her column…

The third [plaudit] goes to LBC’s Iain Dale for his remarkable interview with David Davis following the Brexit secretary’s resignation. Dale once worked for Davis, knows him well, clearly admires him. Hard questions, coded answers.

Today she reviewed the podcast I do with Jacqui Smith each week…

Podcast of the week: For the Many
A weekly LBC add-on, back numbers available. The right-wing pundit, publisher and LBC phone-in host Iain Dale is teamed with former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith to talk through the issues of the week. The first few editions weren’t impressive, mostly because she deferred to him. But steadily they’ve found their balance, developing a tone that’s refreshingly frank and smartly wide-ranging. I’m now a regular. Last week’s menu included the latest Rajars, Dale’s imminent on-air replacement by Eddie Mair (she finds Mair “arch”, he admires Jane Garvey, Fi Glover and Ritula Shah; neither rates John Humphrys) and the perplexing state of the Labour Party. Good stuff.

I have to say I never noticed Jacqui ever deferring to me! Also, I certainly don’t recall saying I don’t rate John Humphrys. On his day he is a fantastic presenter, although I do find some of his interviews a bit meandering at the moment.

Anyway, I hope we get some new listeners as a result of this review. You can find us on iTunes, Google podcasts and all other podcast platforms. A new episode is uploaded every Sunday night or Monday morning.

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Iain interviews Baroness Trumpington

Jean Trumpington talks about her autobioigraphy

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Shame of Jeremy Corbyn & Why Tommy Robinson Is No Alt-Right Hero

3 Aug 2018 at 13:36

When you’re in a political hole, it’s generally best to stop digging. Yet Jeremy Corbyn keeps buying new shovels. Nothing can get him out of the hole he has dug for himself on anti-semitism. Every day, it seems, there is a new revelation which demonstrates his attitude to the subject. And still there are some of his diehard supporters who continue to believe that there’s nothing to see and we should just move along. The fact that there are dozens to Labour MPs who are horrified by what is happening means little to Corbyn’s true believers. They are blind to any apparent failing their hero has and instead think that those who call Corbyn out should be expelled from the party. There’s no way back for Corbyn from this sorry debacle. He’s shown himself to be weak, indecisive and the opposite of a leader. Margaret Hodge believes Corbyn to actually be anti-semitic himself. I do not. But I do believe he tolerates anti-semitism and has no real comprehension of what the word even means. His hatred of the state of Israel trumps everything. It’s also more proof of the hold Seumas Milne has over him. You just have to read his rantings in The Guardian over the years to understand where he’s coming from on the subject. He clearly drafted Corbyn’s non-apology on Wednesday, which memorably couldn’t even utter the word Israel. Instead, it was called ‘Israel/Palestine’. Criticism of Israel does not mean automatically that someone is anti-semitic, but in context it often does.

Many Corbyn supporters accuse the media of launching a witchhunt against Corbyn. Just by covering the story we are ‘smearing him’. It’s apparently a non-story. They say we should be covering Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. When that story broke I did a phone-in on it. If you remember, the self-appointed Muslim Council of Britain alleged there was widespread Islamaphobia in the Tory Party. But they could only produce nine examples. I have a lot of muslim listeners so I decided to test it out. I did an hour-long phone-in and asked muslims to phone into the programme if they could cite any examples. Not one could. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but in the two months since then, if it was indeed widespread, you’d think we’d have had a drip drip of examples. Unless of course the media wouldn’t print or broadcast them. Don’t make me laugh. I don’t doubt there are Islamophobes in the the Tory Party. They exist in all political parties and across society. It’s an issue which needs to be addressed. But let’s not try to conflate a small problem in one party with an endemic problem in another. There are thousands of cases of anti-semitism which have been reported to Labour Party HQ and hundreds that have been reported in the media. And yet there are still people, like NEC member Peter Willsman who say they have never seen an example on it. And this man sits on the Labour Party’s National Executive. Not only that, but he sits on their disciplinary panel. Has he been asleep during their meetings?
*
My heart aches for Zimbabwe. I’ve never been there, but it’s clear it is the most amazing country which has been completely ruined by Mugabe and his acolytes. Its GDP per person is now only $2300, lower than that of Yemen. Only 6% of adults are in full time formal work. Its currency is worthless. I could go on. When Mugabe was toppled there was a real hope that things would change. I spoke to a lot of Zimbabwean ex pats on my radio show and many of them said that if the new regime proved things would change they would go back to help rebuild their proud nation. The truth is that little has changed. Emmerson Mnangagwa – known as The Crocodile – has tried to put a new sheen on the Zanu PF government and declared to the outside world that the country is ‘open for business’, but in reality things haven’t really changed at all. We saw that in the election on Monday. It’s clear there was widespread electoral fraud and ballot stuffing. In one town, with a population of 28,000 people, 35,000 ballot papers were counted. Zanu PF won all the seats in Matabeleland, the very area where Mnangagwa is alleged to have led the slaughter of 20,000 people in the 1980s. It hardly seems likely that they would have voted for him. Meanwhile, it has to be asked what on earth the EU election observers were doing. Their only comment so far has been to regret the delay in announcing the result. What a waste of space they have been.
*

On Wednesday an Appeal Court Judge unwittingly made Tommy Robinson a hero. He was freed on bail over a technicality. His supporters, who had been accusing the judicial establishment of a plot to lock up their hero, rather had the wind taken out of their sails when the judicial system actually worked as it should. They rather ignored that he hadn’t been found not guilty. A retrial will be held shortly. But make no mistake, a new far right hero has been born. The wretched Steve Bannon sees Robinson as someone who can lead a new so-called Alt-Right movement in this country. Ignore the fact that Robinson is a thuggish criminal and an Islamophobic bully, Bannon sees him as articulate, with an eye for catching the media’s attention, who can galvanise people. He’s right in that judgement, and I suspect there will be a lot of American money flowing into the Robinson coffers. His supporters are true believers. They worship at the altar of Tommy and see him as their true saviour. The trouble is that UKIP and its current leadership are going along with this. Gerard Batten is obsessed by Islam to the exclusion of virtually everything else. He’s made UKIP an irrelevance in the Brexit debate, but instead has gone out of his way to defend Tommy Robinson. He’s leading UKIP down a very dangerous path. The only way this can be reversed is if Nigel Farage returns to the political fray. I’m not sure he wants to, but many people are urging him to take up the cudgels again. Time will tell if he’s up for it.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Stan Collymore about Cyberbullying

Former England player Stan Collymore explains what it is like to be bullied on Twitter.

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Video

WATCH: Interview With Triggernometry

29 Jul 2018 at 21:05

This is an interview I did recently for the triggernometry podcast and Youtube channel. It’s 70 minutes long and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The interviewers are two comedians, Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster. We talk about my career, the power of radio, the NHS, immigration, Brexit, and have a few laughs along the way.

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Martin from Horsham Lays Into the PM

Martin has an epic rant about the way the Tories fought the election. Hilarious stuff

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Diary

ConHome Diary: I Don't Think Spicey Spicer Liked Me

27 Jul 2018 at 13:59

Back at the start of the year I bought the UK Commonwealth rights for Sean Spicer’s book on his time working for Donald Trump. It was quite a coup for Biteback at the time. My boss at LBC was very keen I should get him to do an interview on the station – and if possible exclusively. I had a policy of not interviewing Biteback authors with new books because of the obvious conflict of interest, but seeing as I left Biteback at the end of May, I saw no conflict of interest in interviewing him now. It didn’t go well. I’d seen his interviews on Newsnight and Good Morning Britain and it was clear that he was a man who didn’t like answering questions. Rather than concentrate on questions he’d already tried his best to avoid answering I thought I’d try a different tack. It all started to go pear shaped when I pressed him on whether he thought it was right for Vladimir Putin to be invited to the White House. He kept saying, “Well the White House position is….” I said I wasn’t interested in what the White House position was, I wanted to know what his position was. What was his own opinion? And it went downhill from there. In the end he’d decided he’d had enough and terminated the interview. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guest do that before.

The trouble is, he expected the whole interview to be about his book, and in America it probably would have been. American interviewers are uber-deferential, even to former Trump aides. Here, it’s different. Yes, we’ll talk about the book, but we also want to talk about some contemporary news issues. Hey ho. I recently took Richard Madeley to task for terminating an interview with Gavin Williamson and said I thought he had failed as an interviewer. There’s part of me that thinks I failed in this interview because he ended up walking out, but in the end if a guest wants to be an utter dick, there’s little I as an interviewer can do about it.

The point of Sean Spicer doing these book promo interviews is to sell more books. I doubt very much whether his interviews on GMB, Newsnight and with me helped sell a single extra book. That’s not Kate Garraway’s fault. It’s not Emily Maitliss’s fault. It’s not my fault.

It’s the sort of thing that makes a publisher tear their hair out. Given I have no hair, you now know why.
*
Well done to Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes for his recent new recruits. To lose two of your key members of staff in Ross Kempsall and Alex Wickham at the same time must have been a bit of a blow but he’s just announced (via an Amol Rajan scoop!) that Hugh Bennett and Tom Harwood will be starting soon. Hugh has been working for Jonathan Isaby at Brexit Central while Tom Harwood has created a strong online presence during his studies at university. I wish them well.

Talking of the word ‘scoop’, the word has been completely devalued of late. To me, a scoop implies the publication of a major news story that no one else knows about. Watergate was a scoop. The Cambridge Analytica story was a scoop. The Keith Vaz rent boy story was a scoop. This week, the political editor of the Yorkshire Post tweeted “SCOOP: Transport Secretary delayed on train for an hour.” Whichever way you try to interpret that tweet, it may be many things, but it is not a scoop.
*
At one point last week Chief Whip Julian Smith looked to be in danger of losing his position over ‘Pairgate’. But like the Prime Minister, he’s survived until the summer recess, and is safe in his position. For now. But to many of his flock of Tory MPs his credibility is shredded. If whips lose the trust of MPs they are finished. I’d almost guarantee that at the next available opportunity Smith will be reshuffled into a Minister of State position and be replaced. Who should succeed him? I’d say it needs to be someone with a bit of experience and who’s popular among the parliamentary party, but also has a bit of steel. Step forward Mark Harper. Just a thought.
*

Mamma Mia 2? Forget it. Such a disappointment, given the brilliance of the original. However, if you’ve never seen The Greatest Showman, do yourself a favour and buy the DVD. Best film I’ve seen in years, and with the most amazing soundtrack.

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Video: Iain speaks to the BBC College of Journalism about his media work

BBC College of Journalism, 10 May 2011

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Video

WATCH: My #Awks Interview With Sean Spicer (Watch to the End - He Terminates the Interview)

25 Jul 2018 at 20:45

Well that was a bit weird. Earlier in the year I signed up Sean Spicer’s book for Biteback. Given I’m not longer at Biteback I felt free to interview him about the book with no conflict of interest, and secured the only UK radio interview. He did interviews with Newsnight and Good Morning Britain on Monday and Tuesday. I watched them both and knew that he was going to be a tricky interviewee, and so it turned out.

He just wouldn’t answer questions, which is a bit awkward when he’s trying to convince people to buy his book. As the interview wore on, although I couldn’t see him (he was in New York) he became a little bit tetchy and clearly didn’t like my line of questioning. He even rolled his eyes at one point.

In the end, he terminated the interview, which I have to say has never happened to me before – at least if it has I don’t recall. It seems he objected to being asked questions that weren’t directly relevant to the book. I know US media can be incredibly deferential in interviews. Well, that’s not how it works here. Yes, of course I asked him about the book, but he should have expected other topical questions.

Anyway, have a watch. It’s a bit #awks at times, but there you go. I’m no sure it will have added to the book sales…

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LBC 97.3: Interview with Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman tells Iain Boris Johnson is too lazy to be Prime Minister, and he reacts to his expulsion from the Conservative Party.

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Books

Keith Simpson's Summer Reading List Recommendations

16 Jul 2018 at 15:51

By Keith Simpson MP

What a contrast between the Commons and Lords. MPs have been grumbling about the paucity of legislation and votes and the Lords the very opposite. We endure a Parliament that is totally and utterly dominated by Brexit and the divisions and rivalries that ensue.

The summer holidays will be a welcome break as colleagues flee to far parts of the world to relax, recharge their little grey cells and perhaps undertake a little reading.

As usual this reading list is merely a personal, friendly guide of books published over the last year on politics, history and war.

Mrs Simpson has suggested that colleagues would prefer fiction to relax and the last thing they wanted were “heavy” books as I proposed. I look forward to reading her “chic list” next year.

Some of us will recall reading Norman Gash’s short biography of Lord Liverpool. Much caricatured as a reactionary Tory Prime Minister, he has been due for a new appraisal and this can be found in William Anthony Hay Lord Liverpool A Political Life (Boydell Press).

Lloyd George is our forgotten wartime Prime Minister, overshadowed in the Second World War by his former junior, Winston Churchill. There are many biographies of Lloyd George, but Richard Wilkinson has written a good introduction which attempts to create a balance between conflicting opinions in Lloyd George Statesman or Scoundrel (I.B. Tauris).

In Fighters and Quitters Great Political Resignations (Biteback), Theo Barclay looks at several modern ministers who had to resign from Stonehouse to Huhne and their attempts to retain office.

Not necessarily in the premier league of political books, nevertheless David Cohen has made a reasonable stab at re-examining the relationship between Churchill and Attlee that has been covered in many other books – Churchill & Attlee (Biteback).

The South African leader Jan Smuts went from Boer guerrilla leader to sitting in Churchill’s War Cabinet. This is examined by Richard Steyn in Churchill’s Confidant: Jan Smuts, Enemy to Lifelong Friend (Robinson).

Probably one of the best political books, published this year is Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton Punch and Judy Politics An Insider’s Guide to Prime Minister’s Questions (Biteback). Well researched, well written, a must for every MP and hack.
Andrew Gimson has provided a series of amusing and telling books on politics and his Gimson’s Prime Ministers Brief Lives from Walpole to May (Square Peg) is an amusing bluffer’s guide.

Our former colleague, the Labour MP and journalist Tom Harris has written a powerful and emotional account of the happenings in Ten Years In The Death of the Labour Party (Biteback).

In contrast another view is taken by Francis Beckett and Mark Seddon in Jeremy Corbyn and the Strange Rebirth of Labour England (Biteback)

Accounts of Margaret Thatcher are usually gleaned from the memoirs of politicians and journalists. Caroline Slocock was a civil servant, not a Conservative and a feminist who became a junior Private Secretary at No 10 under Thatcher. Despite everything she grew to admire Thatcher, and although her account drifts into her own views People Like Us Margaret Thatcher and Me (Biteback) is well worth a read.

A wonderfully gossipy but insightful account of the Thatcher years in the late 1980s is provided by a senior foreign office mandarin based upon his diaries – Patrick R H Wright Behind Diplomatic Lines Relations with Ministers (Biteback).

For many conservatives the “Queen across the Border” who they look to for leadership but at present is unavailable is the feisty and opinionated Ruth Davidson and Andrew Liddle has written a useful biography in Ruth Davidson And the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories (Biteback).

Iain Dale, the political pundit, broadcaster and former managing director of Biteback Publishing has teamed up with Jacqui Smith, former MP and Home Secretary, to edit two volumes of every female MP ever elected to the House of Commons Volume One The Honourable Ladies Profiles of Women MPs 1918-1997 (Biteback) contains biographies of 168 female MPs. A good browsing book for those attending Party Conferences.

The border lands between England and Scotland were wild and brutal before James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Marches, or the debatable land have received much historical and literary attention and this year have been looked at in two books. Rory Stewart, Justice Minister and writer has written a personal account walking over much of what is his constituency and a tribute to his elderly father in The Marches Border Walks with My Father (Vintage) and Graham Robb does a more traditional account in The Debatable Land The Lost World Between Scotland and England (Picador).

Diarmaid MacCulloch has written extensively on Tudor history, religion and politics and in the autumn we look forward to his Thomas Cromwell A Life (Allen Lane) which will appeal to all those parliamentarians obsessed by the power and influence of the civil service.

Lady Antonia Fraser is well known as a prodigious authoress and now as a sprightly lady in her eighties has written a well researched and readable book The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Amongst my parliamentarian colleagues there are old Etonians who write books – Kwarsi Kwarteng, Rory Stewart and Jesse Norman. Jesse Norman is very much at the philosophical end of the spectrum and published some time ago a biography of Edward Burke. Now he has written a revisionist biography of Adam Smith What He Thought and Why it Matters (Allen Lane) a must for the SNP.

James Pope-Hennessy was something of an upmarket hack writer who was murdered at home. He wrote the authorised biography of Queen Mary which was well received on publication. He kept notes on many of the interviews he carried out with Royal relatives, courtiers and friends and Hugo Vickers has edited them in The Quest for Queen Mary (Zuleika).

Edward VIII abdicated as king because he was determined to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Edward loved America from his youth and Americans were fascinated by him as Ted Powell shows in King Edward VIII: An American Life (OUP).

Christopher Andrew is a Cambridge historian who has dedicated his academic life to the study of intelligence. Inducted into the Security Service he wrote the authorised history. He has become convinced that those who operate within the intelligence and security agencies are ignorant of the history of intelligence. In The Secret World A History of Intelligence (Allen Lane) he attempts to correct that and shows how intelligence organisations have flourished and declined. At nine hundred and sixty pages this may be something for the kindle version.

It would be easy for the modern reader to conclude that women had no place in the world of early modern espionage, but Nadine Akkerman through extensive archival research demonstrates the role of women spies and agents. Her study Invisible Agents Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain (OUP) makes for a fascinating read.

In Enemies Within Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain (William Collins) Richard Davenport-Hines examines the extensive recruitment of spies and agents by the Soviet Union and how Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross, Maclean and Philby were used and the sheer extent of their activities.

Gill Bennett worked for the FCO and is the author of the excellent book Churchill’s Man of Mystery Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2009). Now she has written The Zinoviev Letter The Conspiracy that Never Dies (OUP) and how it became a symbol of dirty tricks and humiliated the first Labour government in 1924.

Donald Maclean was a star diplomat, and establishment insider and had access to diplomatic and military secrets in the 1930s and 1940s. He was also a Russian spy, driven by passionately held beliefs, whose betrayal and defection to Moscow with Guy Burgess shocked the establishment. Roland Philipps has written an excellent study in A Spy Named Orphan The Enigma of Donald Maclean (Bodley Head).

The old Soviet Union infiltrated hundreds of young men and women in to Western universities to acquire intelligence – such “sleepers” are still active today working for Putin’s Russia. Svetlana Lokhova looks in detail at the role of Stanislav Shumovsky who in 1931 enrolled as a student at the US MIT and helped to acquire the secrets of the Manhattan Project. Well worth a read is her The Spy Who Changed History The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Won the Race for America’s Top Secrets (William Collins).

During the Second World War there were a minority of British people, former members of the BUF and Nazi sympathisers, who hoped for a German victory. In Agent Jack The True Story of M15s Secret Nazi Hunter (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) the journalist Robert Hutton looks at the role of one rather quiet but resourceful M15 agent at the heart of Operation Fifth Column.

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre has made a speciality of writing excellent books on spying and also Special Forces. In The Spy and the Traitor The Great Espionage Story of the Cold War (Viking) he shows how SIS recruited a senior KGB officer and were able to smuggle him out of the Soviet Union in 1985.

As the UK’s political and military power has been reduced since 1945 much has been made of our niche intelligence resources and the excellence of our Special Forces. Such covert action is examined by Rory Cormac in Disrupt and Deny Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy (OUP).

The question of how far a state should authorise its agents to go in seeking and using secret intelligence is one of the big unresolved issues of public policy for democracies today. This is examined in Principled Spying The Ethics of Secret Intelligence (OUP) by David Omand, former senior mandarin and director of GCHQ and Intelligence expert Mark Phythean.

Accounts of postwar Britain have been dominated by a theme of political, educational and industrial decline. Correlli Barnett’s books in the 1970s and 1980s lambasted trades unions and employers and became must reads for government ministers. Now David Edgerton’s The Rise and Fall of the British Nation A Twentieth Century History (Allen Lane) is a revisionist examination of the thesis of decline and provides a stimulating and alternative account.

Peter Heather published a serious book several years ago on The Fall of the Roman Empire which mainly covered the Western Empire. Now he has completed his study in Rome Resurgent War and Empire in the Age of Justinian (OUP).

Ron Chernow is a veteran American historian and biographer, and has achieved fame and fortune through the adaptation of his biography of Alexander Hamilton as a hit musical. His Grant (Head of Zeus) is a readable and magisterial biography of the General US Grant and his time in office as President. A warts and all book which leaves the reader admiring Grant as a soldier, politician and very humane man.

Translated from the German Pandora’s Box A History of the First World War (Harvard U.P) by Jörn Leonhard is a magisterial history of the war away from the usual Anglocentric accounts.

For much of the war on the Western Front 1914-1918 the British Army faced the Bavarians. Fortuitous for historians as most of the Prussian military archives were destroyed in bombing and fighting in 1945. A senior member of the Bavarian Royal Family held senior command appointments and Jonathan Boff has exploited the archives in Haig’s Enemy Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front (OUP).

The distinguished historian of Nazi Germany is Robert Gellately and his The Oxford Illustrated History of the Third Reich (OUP) draws heavily on recent research and challenges many old assumptions.

The study of slavery and Britain’s role in exploiting and then abolishing it has received much attention. In time for the Party Conferences is Christopher Petley White Fury A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution (OUP).

For those seeking a short, authorative and readable book on Ireland then look no further than John Gibney A Short History of Ireland 1500-2000 (Yale UP)

Understanding the Middle East in today’s context requires knowledge of its history and the role of the British, French, Russians and Americans during the Second World War. Reading Ashley Jackson Persian Gulf Command A History of the Second World War in Iran and Iraq (Yale UP) meets that requirement.

Jonathan Fenby is a journalist and historian and in Crucible Thirteen Months that Forged our World (Simon&Schuster) he writes a gripping account of the crucial year of 1947 and 1948.

The Bolshevik imprisonment of the Romanov Royal Family and attempts to negotiate their release is well worn historical subject. But Helen Rappaport in The Race to Save the Romanovs The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue Russia’s Imperial Family (Hutchinson) uses new evidence and offers new explanations.

Our old Liberal opponent Paddy Ashdown has written several good books on military operations during the Second World War. In time for the Party Conferences he has now written Nein! Standing Up to Hitler 1933-1945 (William Collins)

The distinguished military historian Anthony Beevor, author of books on Stalingrad and Berlin has now turned his pen to Arnhem The Battle for the Bridges (Viking) and B Montgomery and B Horrocks are firmly in the dock. He uses with special effect Dutch archives to show how they paid the price for Allied failure.

Your reviewer indulges himself in his fascination with Franklin D Roosevelt with two new books which look at important aspects of his policy. Sebastian Edwards American Default The Untold Story of FDR, the Supreme Court and the Battle Over Gold (Princeton UP) and Susan Dunn A Blueprint for War FDR and the Hundred Days that Mobilized America (Yale UP).

The Year 1983 saw the USA and the Soviet Union nearly coming to war and how miscalculation and paranoia dominated Soviet political and military thinking. This is ably covered by Taylor Downing 1983 The World at the Brink (Little Brown).

For the real political anorak and those colleagues who have yet to get a life apart from Brexit then look no further than Robert Saunders Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain (CUP) which is the very best account of the earlier referendum.

The great Israeli political survivor is Bibi, the current Prime Minister and supplicant to Donald Trump. Anshel Pfeffer has written the best account to his rise and fall and rise in Bibi The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu (C. Hurst & Co).

Three books have been published on the experience of the British suffragettes which are a good read. Jane Robinson Hearts and Minds The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote (Doubleday); Fern Riddell shows the more violent side of the movement in Death in Ten Minutes Kitty Marion : Activist, Arsonist, Suffragette (Hodder & Stoughton) and Patricia Fara shows the role of women in war time service in A Lab of One’s Own Science and Suffrage in the First World War (OUP).

Leon Werth was a Jewish writer who left Paris in 1940 and hid out in a village in the Jura Mountains. His account of life during the war is in Deposition A Secret Diary of Life in Vichy France (POUP).

John Julius Norwich, the son of Duff Cooper and Diana Cooper has been a prolific writer, and shortly before he died he published France A History from Gaul to De Gaulle (John Murray) which is a personal, anecdotal but a wonderful read.

Without doubt the biography of the year must be Julius Jackson A Certain Idea of France The Life of Charles de Gaulle (Allen Lane). A stimulating read with a balanced assessment which delves into the contrary character of Charles de Gaulle.

Jackson shows that the spirit of de Gaulle still pervades France and has been an influence on President Macron, the man who broke the old party system. Sophie Pedder has written a sympathetic biography Revolution Française Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation (Bloomsbury Continuum).

Rupert Christiansen City of Light The Reinvention of Paris (Head of Zeus) is a fascinating account of the fifteen year project by Emperor Louis Napoleon to knock down the old cluttered streets of Paris and create the Paris we know today. This development was ruthlessly driven through by the incorruptible prefect of the Seine Department Baron Haussman.

Maureen Everson has lived on the French Riviera and has loved the development of new houses and estates from the 1920s and how it became a popular area for the fashionable to live and love. Riviera Dreaming Love and War on the Cote d’Azur (TB Tauris) is a work of nostalgia overtaken by mass development after the 1960.

T E Lawrence continues to fascinate historians, journalists and those who have travelled across the Middle East. Apart from his own writings there are numerous biographies of Lawrence of Arabia. In Behind the Lawrence Legend The Forgotten Few who Shaped the Arab Revolt (OUP) Philip Walker explores the role of Colonel Cyril Wilson and dozens of junior officers who carried out intelligence and diplomatic work and helped sustain Lawrence and his operations in Arabia. A fascinating and excellent read.

James Barr is a young author who published Setting the Desert on Fire T E Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916 – 1918 in 2008. He has now written Lords of the Desert Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East (Simon&Schuster) in which he explains Britain’s declining influence underpinned by the rivalry with the USA.

David Lough has written a ground breaking book No More Champagne Churchill and His Money (2016). In the autumn he will publish Darling Winston Forty Years of letters between Winston Churchill and his mother (Head of Zeus) which will be full of revelations about Churchill’s character.

In 1943 Doris Miles was appointed as a private nurse to Churchill who was stricken with pneumonia. During her time with Churchill she wrote regular letters to her husband serving with the Royal Navy. These letters were full of observations and comments about Churchill and his circle, and her daughter Jill Rose has edited them in Nursing Churchill Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse (Amberley).

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a much respected organisation that for one hundred years has maintained tens of thousands of graves and memorials to the dead of two World Wars. In the early autumn Catherine Lawson’s A Guide to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Third Millennium) is published and illustrates the history with extracts from the archives and explores the CWGC’s main sites.

Portugal is a popular holiday destination for British tourists and there has been a long and historic connection between our two countries. The capital Lisbon has survived earthquakes war and espionage and Barry Hutton has written a vivid history in Queen of the Sea A History of Lisbon (C Hurst & Co).

Enjoy the summer break and return in September to the Palace of Varieties for more hard pounding!

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Theresa May Calls me Darling...

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Quite a Week...

13 Jul 2018 at 13:10

I am still trying to work out why the Prime Minister appointed Dominic Raab to succeed David Davis as Brexit Secretary. He’s a protégé of DD and succeeded me as his chief of staff back in 2006. If anything, he’s more hardline than David on Brexit matters – some call him an intellectual version of his former boss. There’s no doubt that he has a brilliant brain and as a lawyer can argue any case put in front of him. He will certainly be a different kind of interlocutor for Michel Barnier. He has little of Davis’s natural bonhomie, although is very capable of coming up with a stinging one liner, as the BBC’s Sarah Smith found out recently. In addition, you have to wonder why Theresa May keeps appointing senior cabinet ministers who she doesn’t actually like or get on with. Both Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab are people who wouldn’t feature on her dinner party list, and the feeling is mutual.
*
Why are Jacob Rees-Mogg’s four Trade Bill amendments seen as ‘treacherous’ when Dominic Grieve’s and Anna Soubry’s were seen through the prism of deeply held convictions? Double standards, methinks. Since when were MPs not allowed to put down amendments to Bills? It’s yet another example of Brexit motives being seen as dishonourable while Remain motives are seen as honourable. The fact is both sides are doing what they think is right.
*

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. Apart from when David Davis resigns. As happened in 2008, my phone became red hot with TV and radio stations wanting my views. They all knew that he has been a friend for 30 years and I was his chief of staff in 2005. On Monday morning I was woken at a quarter to six by the dulcet tones of the Evening Standard’s comment editor, Julian Glover. 950 words by 10am please, was the message. I wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep so I got up and wrote it in my dressing gown with sleeping dogs either side of me on the couch. I’m sure most people spend hours writing political column. I polished it off in not much more than an hour. I’ve learned over the years that the quicker I write a column, the better it normally is. With me it has to be a stream of consciousness, with the vain hope that some sort of theme emerges. The difficulty I had on Monday was that the Telegraph came on the phone too and asked for 600 words. I managed to think of a different theme, but in the end the article was eclipsed by Boris Johnson’s resignation so it was only published on the website.
*
Talking of Boris Johnson’s resignation, I was interviewing David Davis in the LBC studio when I saw my producer crawling on the floor trying to hand me something. I assumed she was trying to tell me to wrap up, which given I’d only been going for about 8 minutes, I thought was a bit odd. As she reached me she handed me her phone with a Sky News alert that Boris had resigned. So I immediately put the news to David and he just sighed, while going on to say why he thought Boris didn’t need to resign. It was quite a moment.
*

The government keeps telling us that the Chequers accord is so good and when people understand what it means they will think so too. That must be why the Prime Minister hasn’t done a single interview about it since Friday.
*
Quote of the week is surely this one from Times columnist David Aaronovitch. Talking of Labour’s stance on Brexit he writes: “Labour’s emphasis changes depending upon who you talk to, and whatever any of them say, it will eventually be contradicted anyway by the strangely sinister shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, whose soft-voiced reassurances always put me in mind of Harold Shipman.” Burn.
*

Back in 1990 I watched the World Cup Semi Final between England and Germany in Nottingham. I was a financial journalist at the time and was covering an insurance brokers’ conference in Nottingham. All 800 of us cried along with Gazza, and after losing the penalty shootout we were totally distraught. Twenty-eight years later it was a rather different experience. I watched it in a meeting room at LBC along with three four LBC producers. Nigel Farage also popped in during the advert breaks of his show. It was all going so well in the first half, but in the second half we looked tired and listless. At the final whistle I didn’t feel at all emotional. I wonder if it’s the fact that at the age of 55 one tends to take this sort of thing in your stride, more than you do when you’re in your idealistic twenties. This has been a fantastic World Cup in so many ways, not just for England but for football all round. Maybe this will see the rebirth of interest in international football. Many friends of mine don’t really follow England any longer and concentrate on club football. I wonder whether the success of England in the World Cup will change all that. Finally, it would be churlish not to congratulate Russia on putting on a superb World Cup. Fantastic stadia, no sign of the hooliganism or racist chants most of us expected, and a real carnival atmosphere.

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LBC Book Club: Pam Ayres

Pam Ayres discusses her autobiography THE NECESSARY APTITUDE

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Diary

ConHome Diary: A 'Betrayal of Cabinet Ministers Or a 'Schism'?

29 Jun 2018 at 14:04

So 100,000 people attended the anti Brexit march at the weekend, on the second anniversary of the momentous vote. Andrew Adonis tweeted a question: “Is this the day Brexit died?” You’ve got to laugh. The utter delusion of it all. Alison Pearson in the Telegraph this week: “They don’t want a people’s vote. They want a people like us vote.” Never a truer word spoken. Judging from what I saw it resembled a Waitrose customer outing. To think, though, that the poor souls thought it could compete with the 17.4 million of us who actually carried out what was surely the ultimate ‘meaningful vote’. Still, I’m sure it made them all feel a lot better.
*
On Wednesday on my show I found myself raging against all the cabinet ministers who seem to think it’s OK to make disloyal speeches, remarks and to slag off their own colleagues. I asked my listeners to come up with a collective noun for a group of cabinet ministers. My suggestion was a ‘Betrayal of Cabinet Ministers’. Other suggestions were ‘a sneak’, ‘a contortion’, ‘a rash’, ‘a conspiracy’, ‘a shambles’ and ‘a schism’. My personal favourite, though, was ‘a squabble of cabinet ministers’. Never a truer word spoken.
*

So Boris says ‘fuck business’, Jeremy Hunt backs him up but more politely. Greg Clark seems to encourage business to speak out against government policy on Brexit, Gavin Williamson tells MoD staff he made the PM so he can break her, the Chancellor continues to do his best to thwart whatever the government’s latest policy on Brexit is and Liz Truss takes a giant dump on Michael Gove, because she is so in tune ‘wiv da right’ innit. Shall I go on? And meanwhile Sajid Javid gets on with running the Home Office. Isn’t it funny to think that almost exactly a year ago Theresa May would have happily fired him from the cabinet because she felt he wasn’t doing his job and had his mind on leadership ambitions. Well, the latter is clearly still true, but at least he’s promoting his cause by actually doing his job. And doing it well. Perhaps his colleagues might care to think about that a bit before they do their next bit of grandstanding.
*
‘They’re going home, they’re going home, Germany’s going home…’. Schadenfreude has been an overused word these last couple of days.
*

At PMQs this week the LibDem leader Vince Cable (remember him?) called for a second referendum. Can he be by any chance related to the Vince Cable who, in late 2016 said the idea of a second referendum was “seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive”. I agree with the 2016 version of Vince Cable.
*
It is rumoured that at the Cabinet sleepover at Chequers next week is going to consider a proposal from Business Secretary Greg Clark that any EU citizen with a job to come to should be allowed to. That’s after Brexit. A.F.T.E.R B.R.E.X.I.T. Astonishing. He clearly also wants us to remain in the customs union and the single market. Greg is a friend of mine, but if he seriously thinks that anyone but devout remainers are going to stand for this, he is in for a surprise. My personal view is that freedom of movement was not a reason I voted for Brexit, but I am in the minority on that. My view is that a citizen of India or Argentina should have exactly the same right or opportunity to come to this country as a citizen of Italy or Portugal. And I think that’s what most reasonable people would think. No one is saying EU citizens will be unwelcome. The opposite is true. But they cannot be given priority over those of the rest of the world.
*

The Duke of Cambridge seemed to have relatively gaffe free trip to Israel and the West Bank. Although I did slightly wince when he was with President Abbas and referred to “our two countries”. I was expecting that to become a bit of an incident, but no one else seemed to notice. Probably for the best.

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Iain Hosts a Phone-in With Theresa May

40 minutes with the PM

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