LBC 97.3 Drive: This Is What We Do...

10 Jul 2013 at 08:36

if you’ve never listened to my radio show, have a quick listen to these three audioboos from yesterday’s show. Because this is what we do… (And if you listen to only one, make it the last one. Especially if you want to know how I can be ‘cured’ of being gay!)



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Video: Iain's Nick Clegg 'Downfall' Video

Spoof video

Listen now


Book Review: 'Strictly Ann' by Ann Widdecombe

7 Jul 2013 at 23:27

I first met Ann Widdecombe at Politico’s, the bookshop in Westminster I used to own, in April 1997. She came in and bought ten copies of Derek Lewis’s account of his time as director of HM Prison Service. She plonked them on the counter, I looked her squarely in the eye and raised an eyebrow. After all, she was still prisons minister and this was an account of his sacking by her boss, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard. She smiled enigmatically. We didn’t need to exchange a word. Off she went, and I kept it to myself, much as though I could have earned some pocket money by telling a diary columnist. She became a regular visitor to the shop and was particularly taken by the DORIS KARLOFF 4 TORY LEADER badges we produced at the start of the Tory leadership campaign which followed the 2001 election. Indeed, she bought a job lot. But it was a leadership campaign that she didn’t join.

By that time I had published a book of her speeches and was about to embark on a theatre tour with her as the host of ‘AN AUDIENCE WITH ANN WIDDECOMBE’. I wanted to called it a ‘NIGHT WITH ANN WIDDECOMBE’, but it was too saucy for her. I still think I was right. In the end we did about 100 of these evenings, which we both found hugely enjoyable. They produced some hilarious moments, including one in Chelmsford when a militantly gay member of the audience got up and walked out shouting at us to eff off because we were bigots. The only time I saw her stumped was when a member of the audience asked: “Miss Widdecombe, can you please explain why any member of the female sex would ever want to have an affair with John Prescott?” She gulped like a goldfish.

As often as not, I’d drive us both to whichever far flung theatre we were performing at. She hated my driving – especially post performance when we’d stop off at a petrol station and I’d then drive up the M4 drinking a can of lilt, with a sandwich in one hand, a packet of crisps between my legs and the steering wheel occasionally in the other hand. In the end I did it to get the volcanic reaction and I was seldom disappointed.

Those drives down the motorway were often interrupted by me looking to my left and seeing the Widdecombe mouth wide open and a gentle snore emanating from it. On the rare occasions she was awake (just my little joke) we gossiped and sometimes bared our souls to each other. I remember driving to Malvern one night and we talked about the gay adoption debate – this must have been in late 2002 or 2003. Iain Duncan Smith had imposed a three line whip on it and I was fulminating about what a ridiculous decision that had been, and that it should have been a free vote. If memory serves me correctly she agreed, although you can imagine that’s where the agreement ended.

At one point I remember saying: “I don’t know why I am talking about this seeing as I have never, ever wanted children.” Ann was very shocked by this and said I couldn’t be serious. Just as she didn’t believe I never wanted children, I have never quite believed her protestations that she is quite happy being single and childless. She addresses this issue in the book and it is clear, to me at any rate, that family is, and has been, the most important thing in her life. The way she looked after her mother after her father died in 2007, was a lesson to many. Ann jokes that she relishes the single lifestyle. When she gets home she can kick off her shoes, pour herself a whisky and watch whatever she likes on TV without caring a jot about demands likely to made on her by a husband may well resonate with those who do have those demands made on them, but even so, I still reckon the lady doth protest too much. I can think of few things which would give her friends more happiness than if she met someone at this stage in her life and fell head over heels. It would be a brave man who took her on, but one thing I have learnt is that there is someone out there for everyone. They just have to find each other. If she is reading this I can already hear her saying ‘yuck’ or ‘stuff and nonsense’.

Christopher Howse wrote a disgusting review of STRICTLY ANN for the Telegraph in which he reckoned the whole book was about a failed life. He has a very warped view of what constitutes success. That’s the trouble with Widdecombe book reviews. They tend to be dominated by the critic’s pre-existing opinion of Ann, rather than concentrate on the book’s literary merits. Her novel AN ACT OF TREACHERY, a story of love in second world war Paris, was a brilliant tale, expertly researched and told. But most reviews concentrated on the absence of sex in it. Actually, there is a bit, on p158. But, don’t let on to Ann.

The thing is, Ann can write. And she can tell a story. This is not a book about a failed life. It is a book about a woman of definite opinions, who made her way in the world with little help from anyone and became one of the best known women in the country. She neared the peak of the political mountain, stuck to her guns, is seen as the most honest politician in the country and respected even by her foes. She has made some excellent (but also, it has to be said, one or two truly terrible) TV programmes, is a best-selling author and one of the best orators of her generation. You know, most people would settle for that as a record of accomplishment. Clearly not Christopher Howse, but you can’t win ‘em all.

This is a very detailed book, sometimes a little too detailed for the average reader, and in setting out to write her memoirs, Ann must have wondered which audience she was writing for – a political audience or her celebrity fans. If anything she has gone for the former, but she sometimes has to explain things to her second audience which leaves the political audience feeling a little irritated. I remember discussing the possibility of her writing her memoirs with her some time ago and she seemed adamant she wouldn’t do it. “I don’t want a friendless old age,” was her get out clause. “Well, I said, you should do it if only to put it on the record for posterity, or do you want Michael Howard to do that for you?”

It is often said that autobiography is a work of fiction about yourself. Not this one. Yes, it is at times a little self-serving, but I have never read an autobiography that isn’t. When reading back her speech proposing herself for the Speakership she writes:

“Re-Reading that speech again for the purposes of this book, I could not fault it.”

Maybe not, but if I had been her editor, that sentence wouldn’t have made the final cut. But that is to carp. All the political episodes she writes about that I have first-hand knowledge of are described with total honesty and candour. She is not afraid to admit her own failings or misjudgements, and she is also not afraid to dole out criticism to fellow MPs where they merit it – and even sometimes when they possibly don’t. This is not a bitchy book, but it’s not without its knifings. Michael Howard cops much of Ann’s ire, although she is not afraid to praise him at times too. But perhaps my favourite comment in the whole book is when she says she would happily fight in the trenches alongside Michael Howard…

“knowing that he would never be cowardly in the face of the enemy or desert his fellow soldiers. The difficulty is that if the battle went wrong he would immediately be looking for someone to court martial and shoot. Or perhaps just shoot.”

Straight between the shoulder blades!

I was wondering how much detail she would go into with regard to the whole ‘Something of the Night’ episode, but she does not disappoint. She is also very candid about her relationship with Michael Portillo in the Hague Shadow Cabinet.

I really enjoyed this book. As a friend of hers, I was relieved I did. I’d hate to have to tell her it was awful! But a true friend is a candid friend. I hated leaving her a message in May 2001 telling her I was supporting David Davis in the leadership contest. I recently told her I didn’t think presenting the Sky Atlantic ‘Cleverdicks’ series was her finest moment in TV. But I have great pleasure in saying that this book is a cut above the usual political autobiography and I would have been proud to publish it, had I been given the chance. By all accounts it is selling really well, and has been in the Sunday Times Top Ten Bestsellers for several weeks now. It deserves to be.

STRICTLY ANN by Ann Widdecombe is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20 in hardback. Buy it HERE



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to James Graham, Writer of THIS HOUSE

James Graham talks about

Listen now


ConservativeHome Diary Week 14: Five MPs Who Won't Get Promoted But Should

5 Jul 2013 at 14:04

What is it with Tory MPs at the moment? There must be something in the air. Last week Crispin Blunt ‘mwah mwah’d’ me, and this week I got a bear hug from Mark Pritchard, who had come into the LBC studio to talk about MPs’ pay. It’s just not British! Anyway, credit to Pritchard for sticking his head above the parapet and being willing to talk about a subject which most MPs know they are likely to get shredded by the general public. Mark’s view is that yes, MPs deserve a rise, but it would be impossible to take one in these times of austerity. I suspect that view reflects the majority view in the House of Commons, and yet IPSA is about to make things even worse by trying to impose a £10k rise on MPs. The argument that if you delegate the decision to an outside authority you ought to then accept its conclusion may be logical, but it won’t cut much ice with public sector workers who have had to accept an effective pay freeze for the next three years. What may well happen is that the rise is imposed anyway and rich MPs will take the moral high ground and refuse it, while MPs from normal backgrounds will come under huge pressure from the wives or husbands to accept it. What an utter mess from IPSA. Again. It’s an organisation which really should have been strangled at birth.
Three more MP hugs followed on Wednesday night at radio’s Arqiva awards, this time from Cheryl Gillan, John Whittingdale and my good friend Nigel Evans (who, given the circumstances, was in remarkably cheerful form). Quite unbelievably, I had just won Radio Presenter of the Year. In my professional life it is probably the best moment of my career. To be recognised by your peers in any walk of life, but especially after only two and a half years of doing it, was quite something. I know many Conservative members [yes, you, Sally Roberts!] get very annoyed when I criticise any aspect of Conservative policy on air, but sometimes people forget that radio presenters are there to present, not be mouthpieces for political ideology. I never thought I would ever say that I was glad I didn’t succeed in my political ambitions, but I truly believe I have, at a comparatively late age, discovered my real vocation in life.

It’s not often I get told to ‘piss off’ on air, that I’m horrific, that I shout down callers and then have the phone put down on me on my radio show. In fact it’s only happened once and that was last Friday. It followed a Fathers 4 Justice supporter gluing a message to the Haywain, which I rate as one of the most iconic British paintings of all time. I had interviewed Jolly Stanesby, a spokesman for FFJ and admittedly I gave him a bit of a going over, accusing them of losing the support of people like me by carrying out these random acts of wanton destruction. I put it to him that there wouldn’t be a single MP who would think to themselves “Oh well, we’d better pass a new law, if this is what they are going to do”. A few minutes later a 19 year old girl came on the phone and laid in to me over the attitude I had displayed. No matter how much I protested that I had great sympathy with FFJ’s cause she wasn’t having any of it and ended the call very abruptly! Whatever the rights and wrongs of what FFJ did, in a sense you can understand their frustration because no one in power seems remotely interested that fathers all over the country are suffering because of the ridiculous custody laws here. It’s one of the few regrets I have that I never got into Parliament, as fathers’ rights is a cause I wanted to champion. I just can’t understand why so few others seem to have taken up the cudgels.
Chris Grayling’s article in the Telegraph warning us not to be taken in by the charms of that nice man Nigel Farage was clearly written by a Tony Blair impersonator. Why? Because it contained so few verbs and so many one word sentences. If you ignore the content, it read like a Tony Blair conference speech.

Seeing as reshuffle time is fast approaching let’s indulge in a little speculation, shall we? I find it very amusing that most of the speculation revolves around the same names. It’s either very lazy commentary or those that are being heavily tipped are very good at their own PR and self-promotion. And from the way most people have written, you’d think only women were allowed to be promoted. So far I have tipped Jessica Lee for promotion so let me give you five MPs I’d seriously advise the Prime Minister to promote. None of them would be described as part of the set known as the ‘beautiful people’, but they all have one thing in common. They are clever, transparently honest, great constituency MPs and have run highly successful campaigns from the backbenches. My first nomination is Gavin Barwell. His reaction to the riots in his area and his piloting of some mental health legislation has been exemplary. He is great on the media and comes across as a normal human being. If he doesn’t become a minister there’s truly something wrong with the system. Tracey Crouch may sit for what has been traditional a marginal seat, but her brilliant constituency work will, I believe, enable her to not just hold her seat but increase her majority. She has been something of an independent spirit, but has never been a gratuitous rebel. She’d make a great Minister for Sport given her record as a qualified football coach and general expertise in the subject. Nick de Bois is similar to Tracey Crouch in almost every way except that he has testicles and knows nothing about sport (he’s a Liverpool fan. Need I say more?). His appointment as a minister would certainly go down well on the right, but I have to say I don’t think either I or he expect it to happen. But it ought to. Another woman on the right whose lack of preferment has always been a mystery to me is Eleanor Laing. She’s superb on the media, has a real knowledge of several key issues and is a force to be reckoned with. And she’s got an infectious sense of humour. OK, it’s not necessary to have a sense of humour to be a minister, but it sure helps. And my final nomination is Jane Ellison. Jane is from the left of the party and made her name in the Tory Reform Group. She’s eloquent, speaks normal person’s language and I think would make a great minister. Her supposed Europhile credentials have made her path to the top more difficult, but she’s stuck with it and never given up. That’s a real quality for a minister. So – Jessica Lee, Nick du Bois, Gavin Barwell, Tracey Crouch, Jane Ellison and Eleanor Laing. They all deserve it on merit, but do I expect any of them to make it? I wouldn’t put money on it.



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Iain Clashes with Alex Salmond over Brexit

Temper, temper

Listen now


Winning Radio Presenter of the Year - Who'd Have Thought?!

4 Jul 2013 at 08:56

I’ll try to keep this short. Last night at the Arqiva Awards I won Radio Presenter of the Year. That has to rate as one of the proudest moments of my life. I was up against Real Radio’s Dixie & Gayle and Absolute’s Frank Skinner. To be acknowledged like that by your peers is something very special, especially as I am a relative newbie to radio presenting. I am so very grateful to everyone at LBC and Global Radio for giving me the chance to do what I do every day. It was a massive night for LBC. We won 4 awards, more than any other radio station in the country (full details HERE). Dan Freedman got News Journalist of the Year, James Rea was Programmer of the Year and we also won the main award of the night Station of the Year – yup, we beat Capital, Heart, Kiss, Magic, Absolute and everyone else, so you can imagine how the whole of the LBC team celebrated.

To be shortlisted for a Sony and win an Arqiva in the same year is something very special indeed and I doubt it will ever be repeated! At the Arqivas you don’t get to make a little speech, you just go up and collect the award, in my case from Chris Tarrant – which in itself meant a lot, and he was charm personified – so please let me thank my wonderful producers Laura Marshall, Matt Harris (pictured with me on stage in the first picture above) and Carl McQueen. And also, because they worked on the programme during the nomination period, Rebekah Walker, Joe Pike and Caroline Allen. Chris Lowrie, who this year celebrates his 25th anniversary working for LBC has made me a far better presenter than I was at the beginning, back in 2010, and James Rea and Richard Park have encouraged me all the way and boosted my confidence. You may think that’s an odd thing to say as I know I appear to have all the confidence in the world, but the reality is very different. And finally I want to mention two people who are no longer at LBC. Louise Birt taught me so much and made me push myself to really grip emotional issues like mental health and stray outside my comfort zone. And I will never forget Jonathan Richards who took a risk on me when no one else had dared to. I hope he feels the risk has been worth it. Having finally discovered a career I think I can excel at, my only regret is that it didn’t discover me ten years earlier!

I’ve had a lot of messages over the past 12 hours, but this one from a listener probably means more than any of them…

I used to hate politics… until Iain. whenever you are on the air it is like an interesting conversation on the next table that i want to get involved in.

That’s what it’s all about. The listener. Talk radio is a very intimate medium and it really is a one on one relationship. So to every listener that has called in, shared their stories and views with me, thank you. I’ll stop there before I blub!

This is the presentation and the citation, but first Christian O’Connell introduces Chris Tarrant who presented me with the award.

This is a short interview I did with Radio Today immediately after winning the award. Excuse me if I sound a bit breathless!



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Iain Dale interviews LBC legend Brian Hayes

On LBC's 40th birthday

Listen now


James Purnell Can't Justify His Salary or the BBC's Move to Salford

2 Jul 2013 at 14:09

Have a listen to this from an interview I did yesterday with James Purnell, the former cabinet minister and now the Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC. He is very uncomfortable talking about his £295,000 salary (more than twice what Maria Miller gets as Culture Secretary) and is unable to tell us how much the BBC’s move to Salford cost. Well, at that salary you wouldn’t expect him to be a details man, would you?



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Tory MP Heidi Allen Goes Totally Off Message...


Listen now


Discussing Mental Health on the Radio

30 Jun 2013 at 22:50

Since I have been presenting on LBC (nearly three years, since you ask) one of the subjects I have covered a lot is mental health. Last year the programme was shortlisted for the Mind Media Awards for best radio programme. We didn’t win. but were delighted to attend such an inspiring event. This year we are entering again. My wonderful producer Laura has put together this 27 minute compilation of some of the most memorable moments over the last year. It covers depression, dealing with grief, suicide and also coping with being raped. I know people think I mainly do politics on my show, but it is so much more wide-ranging than that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I get far more out of discussions on issues like mental health that some of the more sterile political subjects. Anyway, have a listen, and make sure you have a box of Kleenex by your side. It gets emotional at times.



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Video: Iain has a go at Michael Portillo

BBC Election Night, May 2008, City Hall

Listen now


ConservativeHome Diary Week 12: Osborne & Cameron Don't Care About Marriage Tax Breaks. Good

28 Jun 2013 at 15:37

Digby Jones is someone who knows how to give ‘good interview’. I talked to him about deficit reduction shortly after George Osborne had sat down on Wednesday. He was keen to emphasise that ringfencing health, education and aid spending was fundamentally wrong, especially health. He argued that health spending had risen faster than any other department in recent years and therefore there was quite a lot of fat to be cut out. He told me a very illustrative tale. On a visit to a hospital in Leeds he had been shown a brand new cancer machine which had cost millions. But it was only being used during working hours for five days a week. There was a massive waiting list of patients who would benefit from using it. ‘Why don’t you use it at evenings and weekends’, he asked. ‘Oh no, we couldn’t possibly do that,’ came the response. On a subsequent visit the hospital administrators told him with great pride: ‘Weve halved the waiting list for that machine we showed you, Lord Jones’. ‘How have you done that,’ queried Digby. ‘Do you now use it at weekends and in the evenings?’. ‘No’, came the response. ‘We bought a second machine.’ Facepalm time. And that, in one anecdote, shows how health spending is out of control and how it could easily be cut. That attitude to spending public money is prevalent in the health service, the BBC and many other public sector bodies. It’s not one you come across very often in the private sector.

I have never understood the fetishisation of a married couple’s tax break. I am all in favour of the tax system being reformed so it doesn’t discriminate against married people and I am all in favour of encouraging marriage, but does anybody really think people will be encouraged to get married, or even stay married, by a tax bonus of £3 a week? If they do, they should be howling with the wolves because it is a nutty proposition. David Cameron and George Osborne keep paying lip service to this idea in the vain hope that it will keep Peter Bone and Mrs Bone happy if somewhere at the end of the rainbow this promise is ever introduced, but the truth of the matter is that neither Prime Minister or Chancellor gives a monkey’s cuss about this policy, as the LibDems have verified this week. Not once have they asked the LibDems if they would mind awfully if this allowance were introduced. Good. It’s a waste of public money. Instead of doing that they would do well to look at the way the tax system actually rewards people who don’t get married.

Roll out the barrel, put out the flags, the government are cutting £11.5 billion from public spending in 2015-16. Are we really supposed to be impressed by that? The Chancellor makes out that every spare pound has been squeezed out of government departments, yet some think he protests a bit too much. Public spending in 215-16 will total something in excess of £745 billion. A cut of £11.5 billion amounts to a grand total of 1.54 per cent of total expenditure. Wow, I am impressed. Not. All this surely has to bring into question the ringfencing of the health, education and international development budgets, which total around £250 billion. Anyone that thinks every pound of the £137 billion health budget needs to take some heavy medication.

Boris Johnson was in fine form according to a source at the London Pride Gala Dinner. My spy tells me that the little scamp told an anecdote about the time the Mayor of Bordeaux came to visit London. He concluded by saying: “He [Alain Juppé] may have been Mayor of Bordeaux and Prime Minister at the same time. Shows how efficient they do things over there.” Naughty, naughty. Boris, like most of the politicians there, ignored the dress code of black tie and instead opted for lounge suit. Vince Cable did the same, but least he was wearing a tie unlike his coalition colleague Mike Freer. Justine Greening rocked up wearing a jumper. In fact the only politician who seemed to adhere to the dress code was Labour MP Chris Bryant. There’ a joke there somewhere, but after last week’s cock joke, I’d better not go any further. Two members of the Google table walked out half way through the speech, muttering loudly about their dislike of Boris. When they pay tax, they’re entitled to a point of view. Until then, they know what they can do.

Now that the dreadful Julia Gillard has been ousted from the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra, I wonder whether the ‘Dave haters’ will gain inspiration from it. Gillard was beaten by Kevin Rudd because Australian Labor MPs believed more of them would retain their seats. You can see where I am going with this. Leadership chatter has abated in recent weeks, and a good thing too, but it won’t take much to reignite it. My guess is that crunchtime will occur in twelve months’ time. If the Tories come third in the Euro elections , which is a distinct possibility, we enter uncharted waters. David Cameron’s saving grace is that Boris Johnson is not in the House of Commons. Even now, there is no credible challenger from within his cabinet, and even if there were, none of them have Kevin Rudd’s cojones or chutzpah. Do they, Philip? Or Theresa?

Tweet of the week from the MailOnline’s Matt Chorley: “Somewhere in Ed Miliband’s office, someone is dropping knitting needles and a ball of wool into a bin.”

I’m sure after the events of this week you are all expecting me to have a jab at the Bow Group again this week. Sorry to disappoint, but I have said all I have to say about their stupid legal threats here. Assuming they are not going to go any further, neither will I. And so, peace breaketh out.

Could the long-running newspaper review partnership between the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and ‘Tory Boy’ Andrew Pierce be entering its twilight? Monday nights on Sky News would never be the same, but it is understood that Sky News executives were less than impressed to see Mr Maguire spouting his views on the BBC paper review this week, which, of course is now broadcast at exactly the same time as Sky’s. Since the BBC moved to Broadcasting House they have decided to take on Sky’s paper review at 10.30 and 11.30 and effectively copied Sky’s much more successful format. Kevin’s decision to ride with the horses and hunt with the hounds has gone down like a cup of cold sick in Osterley. A yellow card may be about to be issued.

George Osborne is, without doubt, the most political chancellor since, er, Gordon Brown. His spending review was just as much about the politics of the next election as about deficit reduction. And a good thing too, in many ways. Too many cabinet ministers don’t get the fact that they are in fact politicians rather than administrators, and that an election is only 23 months away. It is very clear now that the Tory strategy is to launch a three pronged attack on Labour – on the economy, welfare and immigration. Already, the next election is being fought on Tory turf and at the moment Labour looks as if it doesn’t quite know how to respond to the dividing lines Cameron and Osborne are drawing. Their response on the economy was to launch a “me too” response. They will find this more difficult to do on welfare. Their only policy at the moment seems to be to abolish the winter fuel allowance for wealthy pensioners. They, and the Tories, should go one step further and abolish it altogether and pump the money back into the state pension, thereby saving millions in administrative costs.

So President Obama lands in South Africa today for his state visit. A journalist friend of mine in Pretoria got in touch yesterday and said to me: “You do realise that they will keep Mandela alive until Obama gets here, don’t you?” I spluttered back “Surely no one would be that cynical.” It wasn’t until I finished the sentence I realised I was asking a rhetorical question.

It’s not often I am kissed by a male Tory MP, something I have always been grateful for. But my duck was well and truly broken on Tuesday night at the launch of James Wharton’s new book Out in the army: my life as a gay soldier. Just as I was about to depart – there’s only so much Christopher Biggins and Paul O’Grady a boy can stomach – up bounded Crispin Blunt who did the old ‘mwah, mwah’ trick on me. I’m not a very ‘mwah, mwah’ sort of person, but I coped manfully, if that’s the right word. Crispin has been on a bit of a journey, as he would certainly confirm. It’s good to see him finally able to be himself.



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Lord Ashcroft

Michael Ashcroft talks about his new book HEROES OF THE SKIES

Listen now


Listen: Michael Gove's 'Whopper'

27 Jun 2013 at 22:55

From an interview I did with Michael Gove this afternoon. We had been discussing new school buildings, but I decided to end the interview on a lighter note and talk about George Osborne’s burger eating habits.



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Video: Iain & Andrew Mitchell Debate Rwanda

18 Doughty Street - include 3x15 min documentaries

Listen now

UK Politics

In the Case of The Bow Group v Iain Dale... Round 2

25 Jun 2013 at 23:33

I warn you now. Reading this blogpost may make you lose the will to live.

Back on 24 May I incurred the wrath of the Bow Group’s chairman Ben Harris-Quinney when I wrote this in my ConservativeHome Diary.

I’m not quite sure what has happened to the Bow Group. It seems to have disappeared up its own backside, putting out daily press releases which seem designed to undermine the Conservative Party leadership at every opportunity. I remember when it considered itself a pseudo think tank, coming up with worthy (but often very dull) policy proposals, some of which were even adopted by Tory governments. It’s a long time since that happened. The Bow Group has now come under the control of a self-publicist who goes by the name of Ben Harris-Quinney. He doubles as director of Conservative Grassroots. Press releases from the latter organisation are sent from Bow Group email addresses, thereby blurring the two organisations, which, I would have thought, have very different aims. Mr Harris-Quinney’s main aim seems to take the government to task for its stance on gay marriage and his main weapon is to persuade 30 rather elderly Tory constituency chairmen to deliver regular letters to the doorstep of Number 10. Quite how pictures of 30 elderly gentlemen standing outside the Prime Minister’s home is meant to further whatever aim Mr Harris-Quinney has, only he can explain. Former Bow Groupers are said to be horrified at what has happened to a once august and respected organisation.

Fairly harmless stuff for a diary column, you’d have thought, but views which reflect what a lot of people think if my email inbox is anything to go by. However, Mr Harris-Quinney threatened ConservativeHome with a libel suit if they didn’t take down the article immediately. Unfortunately for Mr Harris-Quinney, the editor of ConHome is made of strong stuff and told him effectively to get lost, but if he wished to respond by way of an article he would happily publish it. Mr H-Q (as he shall henceforth be known) supplied such an article, but following legal advice ConHome decided it couldn’t be published as it contained two libels against me – not fair comment, actual libels. Not my interpretation, a lawyer’s. He then persuaded The Commentator to publish the same article. When I gently (and Raheem Kassam will confirm it was ‘gently’) pointed out the legal advice which had been received, he decided to take it down. I assumed that would be the end of it. However, today I received a legal letter from the Bow Group’s lawyers, Speechly Bircham. It is so preposterous that it is worth reprinting in full.

We are instructed by the Council of the Bow Group, who have asked us to write to you and correct certain factual inaccuracies that appeared in your article on ConservativeHome on May 24, which we understand was repeated on your blog and which followed an earlier tweet in similar vein.Our clients also take issue with the tone and language of your article, which they believe goes beyond fair comment and the courtesies of political debate.

1. The Bow Group’s aims are to provide a forum for research and debate in the Conservative Party. It holds no collective view. To say that the Bow Group considers itself a “pseudo think tank” that comes up with "worthy or “dull” articles may be fair comment but to say that it is “disappearing up its own backside” is pretty offensive to the many distinguished members, officers and patrons of the Group, that include numerous former cabinet members.

2. You say that the Bow Group sends out “daily press releases which seem designed to undermine the Conservative leadership at every opportunity”. Even a cursory look at the Group’s website shows that neither he nor the Group send out “daily press releases”, whether critical of the government or not.

3. You also say that it has come under the “control” of a self-publicist called Ben Harris-Quinney. Mr Harris Quinney was elected chairman of the Group along with 10 members of the Council in 2012 under its normal electoral process which has been in place for decades.

4. You say the Bow Group is in decline. In fact, in recent years it has greatly expanded its membership and greatly expanded its followers on Facebook and Twitter.

5. The essence of your article appears to be that Mr Harris-Quinney has somehow hijacked the group in order to push a particular view in the same-sex marriage debate. Mr Harris-Quinney does indeed hold strong views on this issue, as we understand you do. He has written several articles and issued comment along those lines, which he is entitled to do, even under the auspices of the Group where it is clear that it is his personal view and not those of the Group collectively. Indeed, the Group has published comment and articles in favour of same sex marriage. It s also clear from the Group’s website that it has published articles and comments from a wide range of its members on numerous topics.

6. We understand from Mr Harris-Quinney that he had no role whatsoever in “persuading” either of the groups of Party Association officers to write and deliver letters of protest to the Prime Minister on the same sex marriage issue in February and May. He accompanied the first group in February, not the second, and was not a signatory to either letter. In any case he would not have done so in his capacity of Chairman of the Bow Group which had no formal involvement in either initiative.

We would therefore ask that you remove the inaccuracies in your article which remains published online at and, and that you please bear these comments in mind when writing about the Bow Group in future,

Mr Michael Lingens, Senior Partner of this firm, is the author of this letter if you wish to discuss the matter further.

Yours faithfully
Speechly Bircham LLP

Here is the reply I have just sent to Mr Lingens, who I note from his biography is a corporate lawyer, rather than a libel lawyer.

Dear Sirs,

I am in receipt of your letter dated 25 June 2013. As a publisher of 15 years standing I think I am quite able to decide what constitutes ‘fair comment’, so my initial instinct is to refer you to the case of Arkell v Pressdram, but I am far too polite. Furthermore,I am assuming you have written this letter pro bono for your clients as I am sure the Bow Group’s membership would be rather perturbed to find their membership subscriptions being used for this purpose.

Let me take your points one by one. Your clients, you say, “take issue with the tone and language of your article”. May I respectfully suggest that your clients get over themselves and acquaint themselves with the definition of a diary column. It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “a column in a newspaper or magazine giving news or gossip on a particular topic”. Diary columns are meant to be amusing, sometimes bitchy and often mischievous. Anyone reading a diary column reads it with all those things in mind. Apart from your clients, of course.

Your Point 1

It is interesting that you confirm that the Bow Group’s aims are to provide a forum for research and debate “in the Conservative Party”. That’s what I had thought too. However, it seems that the Bow Group is becoming the provisional wing of UKIP. Indeed, its media officer is a UKIP member and councillor. This week the Bow Group has been promoting the idea of an electoral pact with UKIP.

Yes, to say that the Bow Group is “disappearing up its own backside” is indeed offensive. It was meant to be. Furthermore, it is true, as evidenced by your clients hiring you to send me your ridiculous and totally unnecessary letter. What further evidence do I need to supply to back up this assertion? Any normal person or responsible organisation would have contacted me directly or picked up the phone. Instead your clients resorted to cowardice.

Your Point 2

When I wrote the diary column I had had at least three press releases in quick succession. Having now checked, I see that they come from Conservative Grassroots, but from the email address Indeed, you are right, they weren’t daily. It was worse than that. I received three within two days. The subject headlines were as follows…

Cameron has lost the debate in the Conservative Party
No “loongate” investigation or SSM Amendment is insult to party members
Civil war in conservatism

It is interesting that your complaint is about the frequency of the press releases rather than to address my question, which is about appearing to consistently undermine the Conservative Party. May I respectfully suggest to your clients that by using the campaigns@bowgroup email address,, Mr Harris-Quinney is bringing the Bow Group into disrepute by associating it with the activities of Conservative Grassroots. I am astonished that the Bow Group council bows to his thirst for self-publicity in this way.

Your Point 3

I am well aware that Mr Harris-Quinney was elected chairman of the Bow Group. I have not suggested otherwise. Again, I note that you query the use of the word control, rather than the far more offensive “self-publicist”. I wonder why. Although Mr Harris-Quinney was indeed elected chairman, some seem to be taking issue with the method of his election and the conduct of his supporters. I trust you will be writing one of your imperious letters to the owner of the Blue Guerilla website, who published this comment on 28 May…

As much as I dislike Iain Dale I agree with him. I withdrew my membership of the Bow Group as soon as Ben Harris-Quinney became the Chairman as the way that his slate conducted themselves during the election period was appalling. They barred any member who did not support them from attending the AGM and over 50% of the members withdrew their support. I noted at a recent event that only 12 attendees came. In my day we managed to get over 100 people. Under Ben’s chairmanship they also held an event debating gay marriage where the police were called that the Spectator magazine covered.

A further anonymous commenter went further…

Ben Harris Quinney should not be lecturing Cameron on mandate for Gay Marriage. What little mandate he had at the Bow Group expired in October 2012. How can he justify not holding elections??? We are fast approaching June 2013!!!!

I make no comment on those allegations but they make any negative views I have expressed about Mr Harris-Quinney seem rather mild by comparison.

Your Point 4

You question my assertion that the Bow Group is in decline. I judge these things not just by Twitter followers, but by scale of influence. Compared to the 1970s or 1980s the Bow Group is a pale shadow of what it once was. I don’t know how many members it has compared to those times but if it is true that some of its events are attended by only 12 people. I stand to be corrected on this, but I am told that during the period Mr Harris-Quinney has chaired the Bow Group not a single Cabinet member has addressed a Bow Group meeting. I wonder why that is. Could it be because their views of the current leadership and mine coincide? Unfortunately it seems that this situation is unlikely to change in the near future because according to THIS page on the Bow Group website there are no more events planned for the rest of the year. For shame.

Your Point 5

Your interpretation of my article is just that – your interpretation. You used the work hijack. I didn’t. But if the cap fits. You assert that the Bow Group has no collective view. Perhaps it shouldn’t issue press releases on behalf of the Bow Group saying Ben Harris-Quinney thinks this or that, then. Presumably Mr Harris-Quinney should therefore be releasing press releases in his own name rather than that of the Bow Group, or Conservative Grassroots using a Bow Group email address.

Your Point 6

Of course Mr Harris-Quinney didn’t sign the letter. He isn’t a constituency chairman. Dear me. He attended the protest in February at Number 10. I assume he was there as he agreed with the letter’s contents or was he there just for the self-publicity? Case closed. Perhaps he didn’t attend the second one as it was the “other” Conservative Grassroots (the one with which he apparently also has legal issues). I lose track of all the people he is falling out with.

I shall be making no changes to either article. ConservativeHome took proper legal advice when Mr Harris-Quinney first contacted them on the day my diary column went live. Paul Goodman, the editor, emailed Mr Harris-Quinney saying…

Dear Ben,
I have taken specialist libel law advice, and the advice I’ve received is that the article is not actionable either by the Bow Group or yourself. However, in accordance with good practice, I’m very happy to offer you a right of reply with the same prominence. If you can send me a reply of up to 1000 words by 5pm this evening, we will run it first thing tomorrow morning – provided, of course, it is in good legal order.

Clearly you agree with Mr Goodman’s view, otherwise you would no doubt have threatened me with a letter before action. And the fact that you haven’t makes me wonder what on earth the point of your letter was, because its effect has been to make your clients look fools.

You ask that I “bear these comments in mind when writing about the Bow Group in future.” I am in no need of your advice on what I should bear in mind when writing about the Bow Group.

As will be clear to you by now, all this letter has achieved is to bring the Bow Group further into disrepute. And if this letter has indeed been sanctioned by the Bow Group Council rather than Mr Harris-Quinney alone, that in itself speaks volumes.

Finally, I note that you are senior partner of your law firm. Could you give me any reason why I shouldn’t report you to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for breaching O(11.1), IB, IB and IB of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011? I look forward to a reply by close of play Friday.

in the circumstances I am making your letter and my reply public on my blog. As David Cameron once said, “sunlight is the best form of disinfectant”.

Yours faithfully,
Iain Dale

So there we are. Perhaps I should have indeed restricted my reply to two words. But if Mr H-Q wishes to be a prat, it takes more than two words to point out the error of his ways to him.


Miles Windsor, who seems to be a Bow Group bag carrier for B-HQ, is asserting on Twitter that I threatened to sue The Commentator if they published the article ConHome had turned down. As I say above, Raheem Kassam will verify that is certainly not the case. Here is the email I sent him on Monday 10 June.

Just a word to the wise. The article by Miles Windsor was turned down by ConservativeHome because it contained several potential libels, not least against myself.

For the record I never threatened to out anyone and I have not published a book which blames women for rape. I did indeed point out that others might out hypocritical Conservative MPs if they voted against gay marriage and were found to have been having illicit affairs, but I made clear I would not do myself. I published a book by Nick Ross which did indeed talk about rape, but nowhere did he blame women for rape. Indeed he did just the opposite.

Unlike various members of the Bow Group, I don’t threaten libel action, I rely on an editor’s good nature and idea of fair play. I would be grateful if you would remove those allegations from Miles Windsor’s article as soon as possible. I also note with interest that nowhere in his article does he address the central point I made in my ConHome Diary that there are two organisations with the same name which seem intent on destroying each other.

All the best


Raheem replied “No problem Iain, thanks for the heads up.”. I left it there. Later that day the article was removed from The Commentator.

I trust Miles Windsor would now like to apologise for the lies he is spreading on Twitter. I suspect it will be a long wait!



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Video: Iain Dale North Norfol Campaign Video on Coastal Erosion

Created by Salsa Shark

Listen now


Book Review: 'Goodfella' by Craig Bellamy

23 Jun 2013 at 15:41

Craig Bellamy is a player than opposing fans love to hate. It ought to be because he’s a bloody good player, but the real reason is that people think he’s just a bit of a nasty piece of work. It’s true. He can be, but this book shows there’s more to Craig Bellamy than the snarly pitbull he seems to present to us on regular occasions. ‘Goodfella’ is one of the best football autobiographies I have read in recent years. Bellamy’s true character really shines through the pages, and it’s not quite what you expect. He’s a man trying to cope with his demons, and there are plenty of them. He suffers from a chronic lack of self worth, he clearly suffers from depression and is a bit of a bastard to his family. Those are the three threads which permeate this excellently written book.

I just looked up his playing stats. The most interesting statistic is that he hadn’t ever played more than 93 games for any of the eight clubs he’s been with. Even so, and despite his chronic injury record, he has racked up 430 career appearances over 16 years, scoring 133 goals. He’s also scored 19 goals in 73 appearances for his beloved Wales.

Although Bellamy uses the book, like most autobiography writers, to settle a few scores and get his side of the story over, he’s very happy to admit his mistakes and failures. In fact, almost too willing. The reader wants to sometimes scream: “Mate, stop beating yourself up”. When Bellamy joined West Ham in 2008, we all looked forward to him striking up a prolific partnership with Dean Ashton, but it was not to be. Ashton got an injury which brought his career to a premature close and even when he was fit, Bellamy wasn’t. Indeed, I think they only appeared together once. What might have been…

Craig Bellamy’s best friend was Gary Speed. His shadow looms large over many a page in this book. Bellamy was devastated by his death. A man not given to tears, cried his eyes out for long afterwards. But in some ways it is clear that Speed’s death saved Bellamy from himself. He admits it. Sadly it didn’t save his marriage. He admits he was a complete bastard to his childhood sweetheart Claire, and failed to include her in any of the decisions he made about his career. His singleminded focus on football is to be lauded in many ways, but he seemed unable to mix his football life with his family life. In many ways he has been a great Dad to his three children, but he was a lousy husband.

Craig Bellamy is a better footballer than he will ever recognise himself. Since his early days at Norwich he has beguiled people with his trickery and outstanding goals. I’ve written elsewhere about his unfortunate departure from West Ham to Manchester City. I truly regret he didn’t stay at Upton Park for longer. He could have been a real West Ham great.

This season he will play a big part in Cardiff City’s first season in the Premier League. I wish him well. Apart from the first match of the season when West Ham entertain Cardiff at Upton Park. Fair’s fair.

‘Goodfella’ by Craig Bellamy is published in hardback at £18.99 and can be bought HERE



Sign up via Facebook or Twitter to comment.


Iain Tells James O'Brien Why he's Wrong on the Tube Strike

Very wrong.

Listen now