Diary

ConHome Diary: My End of Year Political Awards

18 Dec 2015 at 12:01

Seeing as this will be my last column of 2015 I thought I might look back and hand out a few end of year awards and brickbats. Anyone who says politics is boring only needs to look back at the events of 2015 and look forward to next year. What a fascinating time to be commenting on current affairs. Next year we have so much to look forward to – a probable EU referendum, the London mayoral election, the onward march of the SNP, more fun and frolics in the Labour Party, Tory leadership hopefuls stepping up the battle, and lots more besides. Anyway, here we go…

Politician of the Year – Nicola Sturgeon
Cabinet Minister of the Year – Amber Rudd
Junior Minister of the Year – Tracey Crouch
New MP to Watch – Jess Phillips
Speech of the Year – Hilary Benn in the Syria debate
The ‘Why, Oh Why Did I do That?’ Award – Margaret Beckett, Sadiq Khan and Frank Field for nominating Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour leader
Moment of the Year – Seeing the exit poll result flash up on my screen on election night
Political Achievement of the Year – Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership
Political Journalist of the Year – James Lyons, Sunday Times
Most Unlikely Political Appointment of the Year – John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor, closely followed by Ken Livingstone to co-chair Labour’s defence policy review
Minister Most Unlikely to Go Off-Message – Priti Patel
Treacherous Bastard of the Year Award – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
The Missing You Already Award – Ed Balls
Satirist of the Year – Matt Telford who played ‘Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’
Best Response in a Crisis Award – President Hollande
Campaigner of the Year – Lynton Crosby
The ‘Kick it into the Long Grass Award’ – Patrick McLoughlin for not deciding on a new runway
Losers of the Year – Pollsters. All of them.
Scoop of the Year – James Landale’s interview with the Prime Minister when he announced he’d quit after two terms
Gaffe of the Year – The ‘Ed Stone’
Political Prat of the Year – Donald Trump
Political Book of the Year – Project Fear by Joe Pike
Confrontation of the Year – Jess Phillips telling Diane Abbott to ‘fuck off’.
Interview of the Year – Natalie Bennett’s ‘brain fade’ with Nick Ferrari
The ‘WTF’ Moment of the Year – Michael Ashcroft & Isabel Oakeshott for, well, you know what


I don’t envy David Cameron in his task at the EU Summit. I had thought the so-called demands in his letter to Donald Tusk were a put up job, and that everything had been agreed in advance. The four demands were so weak, I assumed the EU leaders had decided they would allow David Cameron to claim a victory. I was wrong. As I write this, it looks as if the PM will return more or less empty handed, with everything being postponed until February. Cameron’s problem is that no one can really imagine him delivering on his threat to support a ‘No’ vote in a referendum if he doesn’t get his way on the renegotiation. Most EU negotiations involve games of bluff and double bluff. My fear is that the EU has already called David Cameron’s bluff, and his wargaming has been insufficiently robust. I hope I am wrong.
*
So far this year I’ve had five Christmas cards with totally illegible signatures – three of them from MPs. I mean, what’s the point? Yesterday I received a lovely case containing three bottles of vintage wine. I have no clue who it’s from. No note. So someone out there is going to think me very rude for not thanking them. Christmas, eh?
*

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ConHome Diary: Exposed - The UKIP London Candidate, Who, Er, Is Begging for a London Address

11 Dec 2015 at 13:40

UKIP candidate for the Greater London Assembly, David Kurten, seems to have got himself into a bit of trouble. He’s number two on the UKIP list behind Peter Whittle and ahead of Suzanne Evans. I’ve been sent an email he has sent out to UKIP members pleading for one of them to let him use a London address to get on the electoral roll. If he isn’t on the electoral roll in one of the 32 London Boroughs he can’t stand. You’d have thought both he and his party might have been aware of that when he put himself forward. The other explanation is that the party leadership were so desperate to relegate Suzanne Evans down the list they would have accepted anyone. Anyway, here’s the email from Mr Kurten…

“Hello friends,
If you can help me out that would be great: I need to be on the electoral register in Greater London for the Assembly elections. Currently I’m living in Surrey at the campus of the school I work with, so I need to move or find someone who would let me register at their address until I move into London. I have my flat here in Weybridge till 31st March so ideally I don’t want to move until then, but that’s too late in terms of nomination eligibility.
So, if you know of anyone in Greater London who would let me go on the electoral register at their address and pick up a few bits of mail for me, or of anyone who has a not too expensive spare room in SW or Central London I can rent short term from February to May and use as a pied-à-terre, please let me know.
Thanks and see you soon, Best wishes,
David

I put this to UKIP and this was the response I received.

“Mr Kurten took up his new short term job which came with accommodation in August, previous to that he lived in Peckham. He will be moving back to London full time when the contract finishes. Realising that he was temporarily 5 miles outside the GLA area he was looking for a short term solution. He has already been advised that a postal address is not good enough”.

I suspect the Electoral Commission and the other parties will be taking a more than passing interest in Mr Kurten’s living arrangements.
*
Loyalty to a friend is an admirable quality, but Nick Boles’s article in defence of Andrew Feldman on ConHome yesterday was quite extraordinary. He accused the media and others of conducting a witchhunt against the chairman of the Conservative Party Andrew Feldman. There is no such witchhunt. Legitimate questions are being asked about what he knew and when he knew it, and the answers he has provided beg more questions than they answer. There used to be a time when the chairman of the Conservative Party was a politician who appeared on the media more times than any other cabinet minister. Andrew Feldman, so far as I am aware, hasn’t done a single interview since this scandal broke. Indeed, I cannot recall ever seeing him doing a TV interview. It’s his prerogative not to allow himself to be held to account in the way every other politician does, but all it achieves is for everyone to speculate on why he refuses all invitations to be interviewed.
*

On Monday I interviewed Donal Blaney from the Young Britons Foundation about the Tory Party bullying scandal. It was an interview I knew I would get stick for, whatever I asked. I’ve known Donal for ten years or so, and spoken, or conducted media training sessions at several YBF conferences and events. I think YBF is an excellent organization and has carried out the sort of function in training young Conservative activists that the party ought to have been doing itself. After the interview I was assailed on Twitter by one or two people and in one or two articles for not declaring an interest. It was something I could have done, admittedly, but only if I wasn’t confident in the total professionalism of the interview. I defy anyone to think of anything I would have asked in that interview had the circumstances been different and I had never met Donal Blaney before in my life. I asked all the questions I think any other interviewer would have asked. My trouble is that because I adopt a David Frost style to this sort of interview, rather than a Jeremy Paxman one, I always leave myself open to a charge of conducting ‘soft’ interviews. I can certainly do those type of shouty ‘why are you lieing to me’ type of interviews, but in this case it just wasn’t appropriate. After all, we all know the tragic background to why the interview was being conducted in the first place. The second reason I didn’t declare an interest is because if I had, I’d probably have to do it three or four times during every programme. I know people. My contacts book is partly why LBC employ me. Should I declare before every interview with David Davis that I once worked for him and he is a personal friend? Should I declare before every interview with former Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay that I once employed his daughter as editor of Total Politics? Should I declare before interviewing Liam Fox that he’s invited me to his new year drinks? I could go on. At length. I’m in no different position to every other interviewer. Whether it’s Andrew Neil, Jeremy Vine or Nick Ferrari, or me, we all have social contacts and have good friends in the political world that we interview from time to time. None of us allow that to cloud or influence what we ask. It’s called being professional.
*
My grandmother would never use the word ‘Fart’. She would use the word ‘Trump’. She was born in 1894 and was so ahead of her time.

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WATCH: My Interview With Donal Blaney on the Tory Party Bullying Scandal

7 Dec 2015 at 20:45

Today I did a 15 minute interview with Donal Blaney, chairman of the Young Britons Foundation, about the Tory Party bullying scandal. In the interview he announces the cancellation of this year’s YBF conference, is highly critical of how the Tories have handled the scandal and talks about his own struggle to come to terms with the death of Elliot Johnson.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: The Day Hilary Shone

4 Dec 2015 at 14:45

Sometimes the Prime Minister just can’t help himself. Up until Tuesday he had played a blinder in persuading Labour MPs of the case for air strikes in Syria. He had been calm, measured and persuasive. And then he blew it at the 1922 Committee by asking Tory MPs if they really wanted to go into the lobby with ‘terrorist sympathisers’. He didn’t mean Tory rebels. He didn’t mean Labour MPs. He meant Corbyn and McDonnell. But that got lost in the media outrage when it was leaked. I suppose he thought he was among friends and they would all understand what he meant, but the ’22 always leaks like a sieve and he must surely know that. His entire speech in the debate on Wednesday was ruined by the constant interventions demanding an apology. What should have been one of the speeches of his career (think Tony Blair’s speech in the Iraq war debate in March 2003) turned out to be a dreadful one, and it was entirely of his own making. When you are in a hole you not only stop digging, but you do your best to extricate yourself. Generally, if you apologise for getting something wrong, people think better of you. Instead, the prime minister was like a fish bait on the end of a rod. He wriggled for half an hour.
*
On Monday I interviewed Frank Field about Labour’s leadership travails. He was hugely critical of Jeremy Corbyn [In some ways he had a cheek, bearing in mind he was one of the ‘useful idiots’ who nominated Corbyn in the first place “so the party could have a real debate”] but said there was no credible alternative. Well after THAT speech, there is now. It will be very interesting to see if Hilary Benn is willing to do what is necessary and become a real challenger to Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn can bang on all he likes about having the biggest mandate of any leader in Labour history, but if he continues to abuse the mandate and tank in the polls, he cannot surely expect to be leader by the time the next election comes round in May 2020. May 2016 is his first real deadline as Labour faces key tests in a number of elections. If Sadiq Khan loses to Zac Goldsmith, if Labour comes behind the Conservatives in Scotland, if Labour loses seats in local elections and loses power in Wales, the “biggest mandate” argument won’t wash any longer. In addition, Labour is now down to 27% in some national opinion polls. How low do they have to go before even Jeremy Corbyn himself realizes something needs to change, and that the ‘something’ is him?
*

I can’t remember the last time a speech by a politician moved me to tears, but Hilary Benn’s did. That proved to be a problem because I was on College Green and knew that as soon as he sat down LBC’s Ian Collins would come to me for my analysis. Deep breaths. Lots of them. When he sat down I and my producer Matt Harris actually applauded at the TV monitor. Totally irrational, but we did it anyway. I managed to give LBC listeners some reasonably rational analysis while Philip Hammond got to his feet. I am afraid Hammond missed a trick. All he needed to do was stand up and say “I agree with every word the Right Honourable Gentleman just said so brilliantly and eloquently, and there is nothing more I could possibly add”, and then he should have sat down. Instead, he totally misread the mood of the House and launched an attack on the Labour Party. He recovered from it by the end, but those are the perils of preparing your wind-up speech before you’ve heard what others had to say. Hilary Benn didn’t make that mistake. He wrote his entire speech while sitting on the front bench, listening to the debate.
*

While Hilary Benn was on his feet I tweeted this:
“I’m not sure Tony Benn would have agreed a word of what his son Hilary is saying, but by God he is crying tears of pride in Heaven”
An entirely innocuous tweet and a statement of fact, I’d have thought, but oh no, not when the leftist twitter trolls started on me. I suppose I am old enough and ugly enough to expect pure hatred and bile from the far left. It’s what they build their entire raison d’etre on. However, some of what they wrote was quite shocking. I knew Tony Benn well. He and I both counted each other as friends. I remember talking to him about Hilary and how proud he was of him. Tony would cry at the drop of a hat. He got very emotional the first time he saw Hilary at the Despatch Box answering ministerial questions. He may not have believed in God or even the concept of heaven, although I remember having a conversation with him not long before he died when there were signs that he was reconsidering his stance on religion, but I have absolutely no doubt that although he wouldn’t have agreed with Hilary’s stance in the debate he would have been so proud of the oratory and the force of his argument. Parents can be proud of their children even when they profoundly disagree with what they have said or done. Believe me, I know.

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Books

Keith Simpson MP's Christmas Reading List

1 Dec 2015 at 15:04

Guest Post by Keith Simpson MP

As we look forward to the Festive Season colleagues will be looking for interesting books to put in the stockings of loved ones and friends whilst ministers will be desperate to read anything rather than civil service briefs. This selection is personal and draws upon recently published books, historical, political and with some war and conflict. For books on cookery, sport and celebrity ghost written memoirs try your local supermarket.

Arthur Balfour held a series of senior ministerial offices as well as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. Probably the most intellectual holder of that office he moved in late Victorian and Edwardian political, cultural and sexual circles. Nancy W Ellenberger has written an elegant account in Balfour’s World Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Finn de Siècle (Boydell Press £26).

Today, Winston Churchill would never survive the parliamentary and public scrutiny of his finances and life style. He inherited from his father and mother an ability to spend, spend, spend, on everything from gambling to a life style well beyond his income. Churchill survived by extending credit, borrowing, financial gifts and his own prodigious output as an author. Others have touched on Churchill and his finances but David Lough has dug deep into the Churchill archives and the surviving archives of banks, financial institutions and publishers to write a fascinating book. Lough writes from experience as a former investment banker and the founder of a successful private wealth – management firm. No More Champagne Churchill and His Money (Head of Zeus £25) is a must read for any politician.

Previously, Michael Jago has written a biography of Clement Attlee and has now turned his pen to Rab Butler The Best Prime Minister Britain Never Had? (Biteback £25). The last serious biography of Rab was written by Anthony Howard in 1987 and had the advantage that the author knew his subject and was able to interview many of his contemporaries. Rab came from the middle class establishment, married money, was a Chamberlain appeaser, then responsible for the 1944 Education Act, helped to revive Conservative One Nation Toryism after 1945, was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary but was outmanoeuvred for the leadership and premiership by Macmillan.

Michael Bloch’s biography of Jeremy Thorpe (Little Brown £25) reveals how this talented politician led a double life of risk that amazingly never brought him down until well into his leadership. Bloch has widened this scope looking at an array of British politicians who were gay or he assumes were gay – some rather far fetched – in Closet Queens Some 26th Century Politicians (Little Brown £25).

Julian Amery was the son of the Conservative politician Leo Amery and his brother John was hanged for treason in 1945. Julian had a distinguished war serving in the Balkans and was an MP from 1950 to 1992 and held a number of ministerial offices. Although seen as right wing Amery was in favour of entry into the Common Market. A new, short account of his life is by Richard Bassett Last Imperialist A Portrait of Julian Amery (Stone Trough Books).

The outstanding biography of 2011 was Charles Moore Margaret Thatcher The Authorised Biography Volume One : Not For Turning. This is to be a triple deck biography and we now have the second volume, Margaret Thatcher Everything She Wants (Allen Lane £30) which has fewer surprises and revelations than the first volume.

We assume that political spin is a contemporary phenomenon but Paul Brighton demonstrates in Original Spin Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain (I B Tauris £25) that Peel, Palmerston, Gladstone and Disraeli all tried to manipulate the press.

For the political anoraks who cannot get through the Festive Season without a fix then the following can be recommended – Tim Ross Why the Tories Won The Inside Story of the 2015 Election (Biteback £12.99); Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh The British General Election of 2015 (Palgrave Macmillan £30; Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo UKIP inside the campaign to redraw the map of British Politics (OUP £19) and Dan Hodges One Minute to Ten Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Three Men, One Ambition and the Price of Power (Michael Joseph £17).

SPQR – Senatus Populusque Romanus – ‘the Senate and People of Rome’ was the Romans’ own abbreviation for their state and is the title of Mary Beard’s latest book published by Profile Books at £25. She is a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, Classics editor of the TLS, recently bested Boris Johnson in a debate extolling Ancient Rome over Ancient Greece. Erudite, sceptical and at times funny this is a superb account of Roman history.

Christopher Tyerman is author of God’s War A New History of the Crusades and has now written How to Plan a Crusade Reason and Religious War in the Middle Ages (Allen Lane £25) Tyerman challenges accepted myths that the Middle Ages was a period of ignorance and unbridled violence. The Crusades involved belief, propaganda, diplomacy, intelligence, finance and above all logistics.

Much of our historical interpretation is still Eurocentric, although historians are challenging that, and in The Silk Roads A New History of the World (Bloomsbury £30), Peter Frankopan highlights the importance of the crucial area between the Black Sea and China, not least as a route for trade, military conquest, disease and cultural exchanges.

Christopher Duffy is a distinguished military historian who established his reputation writing about the armies of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa. He then wrote The ’45 Bonnie Prince Charlie and the untold story of the Jacobite Rising. Duffy has now expanded this book using new sources in Fight for a Throne The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Helion and Company £35). This is not just another “fife and drum” account of the ’45 but a reassessment of the Jacobites in a positive way and a discussion of the post – Culloden era. Something for any SNP stocking.

Frederick the Great’s reputation as the founder of modern Prussia and the warrior king meant he was admired by Hitler and became the symbol of German aggression to her neighbours. There are dozens of biographies of Frederick but all now have been surpassed by Tim Blanning’s Frederick the Great King of Prussia (Allen Lane £30). He has mastered original sources and is the first historian to categorically write that, accordingly to our contemporary definition, Frederick was homosexual.

Ferdinand Mount, adviser to Margaret Thatcher, journalist and author has written a book about his family’s – and David Cameron’s – links with India. Through the lives of family members in the nineteenth century he has documented their service and ambitions in the old East India Company and later the Crown. It is a discursive book and covers many aspects of British India. The Tears of the Rajas Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 (Simon & Schuster £25) makes for grim reading and perhaps a counter-point to the books of William Dalrymple.

Éamon de Valera was head of the Irish government on three occasions having survived the Easter Rising in 1916 and led the anti-Treaty forces in the 1920s. A single minded nationalist he was, nevertheless, a thoroughly unpleasant man. In Éamon de Valera A Will to Power (Faber £20) Ronan Fanning shows that de Valera had supreme self confidence and whose vision of an independent Ireland meant it became a romantic, rural, backward idyll.

Originally published in German, Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War A Nation Under Arms 1939-45 (Bodley Head £25) attempts to describe how ordinary Germans reacted to the war and what sustained them until the final days of 1945. The book is based upon first hand testimonies of men and women from all walks of life and political opinions through letters and diaries and the Nazis own equivalent of opinion polls.

Hitler was a boor, and his advisers and propagandists worked hard to present him as a man of culture and taste whose residences could and did appear, in the British magazine Homes and Gardens in 1938. In Hitler at Home (Yale £25) Despina Stratigakos considers Hitler’s three main residencies, the old Reich Chancellery building in Berlin, his apartment in Munich and the Berghof above Berchtesgaden. Architecture, interior design and landscaping were all significant.

After Stalin’s death, his inner circle – those who survived – wrote themselves out of his history, especially the terror. But as Sheila Fitzpatrick shows in On Stalin’s Team The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics (Princeton £25) the core team consisted of between four and ten people who behaved as a social group even more than a political one. Based upon Russian archives, letters, diaries and interviews, Fitzpatrick has written a fascinating account of Stalin and his cronies. Something for the Shadow Cabinet.

Maisky was the Soviet ambassador to London from 1932 to 1943 when he was recalled to Moscow, arrested, tortured but released and eventually rehabilitated. His diaries are to be edited into three volumes and the first, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, is entitled The Maisky Diaries Red Ambassador at the Court of St James’s 1932-1943 (Yale £25). Maisky comes across as a perceptive, humorous affable diplomat with interesting observations on Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, Lloyd George and Labour political and literary figures. Maisky remained as ambassador for eleven years surviving the purges because his observations must have been thought valuable by Stalin, although he frequently told him what he wanted to hear.

Max Hastings, distinguished military historian and journalist with a formidable output, has turned his pen to The Secret War Spies, Codes and Guerrillas (William Collins £30) in which he examines in a critical way espionage and intelligence by the combatant powers. Hastings is not impressed by the overall value to their war efforts.

Robert Service has written biographies of Lenin and Stalin and has now published The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 (Macmillan £25) For those of us who lived through the Cold War, its eventual chaotic but peaceful end came as a surprise. Drawing on a vast array of sources Service examines how this came about.

Last month some of us were fortunate enough to hear the distinguished American journalist and biographer Robert Caro talk about the acquisition and exercise of power. He was in the UK to help publicise his first book which appeared in the USA in 1974 but has only now been published here. The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (The Bodley Head £35) is a mammoth biography of 1,246 pages. Robert Moses was not a politician but New York City’s master planner who ruthlessly exercised power to demolish and rebuild the City and marginalise ethnic minorities and the poor. From this Caro went on to write his yet incomplete multi volume biography of LBJ.

Henry Kissinger has been revered as well as reviled and now Niall Fergusson has written the first of a two volume biography Kissinger 1923-1968 The Idealist (Allen lane £35). As his official biographer Fergusson has written a glowing but not uncritical account and shows how Kissinger’s European roots and his study of the Concert of Europe helped shape his approach to contemporary international relations.

Dwight Eisenhower has usually been categorised as in the second eleven of American Presidents – a competent administrator rather than a statesman. Irwin Gellman has sought to challenge this interpretation and with it Eisenhower’s relationships with his Vice President Richard Nixon in The President and the Apprentice Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961 (Yale £25)

John le Carré, or David Cornwell as his given name, has made a reputation as the master of the spy novel genre, based on the British intelligence and security services, and combining fact with fiction, and a theme of personal betrayal. Cornwell’s father was scheming, duplicitous and a fraudster given to conceal his behaviour and life, and his novelist son has gone out of his way to leave personal false trails of his own life. Now Adam Sisman has written the authorised biography of this complex man, John le Carré The Biography (Bloomsbury £25). We await the autobiography next year.

The fictional characters in his spy novels, along with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, have done more to influence public opinion about our intelligence and security agencies than all the official histories and memoirs combined.

Central to le Carre’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is the existence of a Soviet mole at the centre of SIS. This was based upon the activities of moles such as Philby, Maclean and Burgess. The latter had been seen as having had a supporting role given his louch life style and drunkenness. Now Andrew Lownie in Stalin’s Englishman The Lives of Guy Burgess (Hodder & Stoughton (£25) has through meticulous research shown the extent of Burgess’s penetration of the British establishment and his central importance to Soviet intelligence.

Baroness Park of Monmouth was a daughter of the Empire and a graduate of Oxford University whose wartime service was in cyphers for British intelligence before having a career in SIS and then becoming Principal of Somerville College, Oxford. Quite a remarkable career for a woman at a time when there were few above secretaries and clerks in SIS. Her life and career, although the latter may not contain all the details, has been written up by Paddy Hayes in Queen of Spies Daphne Park Britain’s Cold War Spy Master (Gerald Duckworth & Co £20).

The uses and abuses of intelligence and the dangers of group think form the basis of Why Spy? The Art of Intelligence (C Hurst & Co £25) by Brian Stewart and Samantha Newbey. Brian Stewart served in intelligence in the field and in London for over fifty years while Samantha Newby is an academic specialising in intelligence studies. Although Brian Stewart’s experience is now historical, he looks at issues directly relevant to today. He died shortly after this book was published. His son is Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP, author and minister who has had some experience of aspects of his father’ life.

Now for some stocking fillers. Andrew Gimson, journalist, biographer of Boris Johnson, has written a primer and refresher of facts, figures and anecdotes about our monarchy in Gimson’s Kings and Queens Brief Lives of the Forty Monarchs (Square Peg £11).

Quentin Letts, parliamentary and theatre sketch writer for the Daily Mail, has turned his pen to a novel The Speaker’s Wife (Constable £17) The novel centres upon the Church of England and the House of Commons and whilst satirical has a moral purpose. Spot the fictional characters and their resemblance to contemporary figures.

The House of Commons has been the poorer since the elevation of Sir George Young to the Other Place. An old Etonian, One Nation Tory, the Bicycling Baronet, who has served off and on in front bench positions for over thirty years, culminating as Chief Whip. Like many MPs Sir George wrote a weekly column for his local paper, first in Acton and then in Hampshire. Keeping Young The Everyday Life of an MP is a selection from these columns which are at times both serious and hilarious describing the life of an MP at the constituency level which will be familiar to many. Copies of his book may be obtained from his Lordship, care of the Other Place, for a negotiated price.

Keith Simpson MP

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 41: The Consequences of Radio Regulation

30 Nov 2015 at 22:23

These are two short excerpts from my LBC show today. The first was part of an interview I did with Bernadette Smyth from the Northern Irish Pro Life group ‘Precious Life’. Now I have a pragmatic view on abortion issues, but I am not unsympathetic to the pro-life lobby. But this woman wound me up. It turned into the sort of interview that got Iain Lee the sack from the BBC.

The second features a caller called Peter from Stoke. He decided to try to give me a history lesson, although I am not quite sure it worked out so well for him. But make up your own mind. It escalated rather quickly.

The point is that I couldn’t have conducted these two ‘conversations’ on BBC radio. I never go into a programme looking for a confrontation or a row. But if they happen, so be it. I am not going to back away from them. I’m pretty sure that both of these clips would have had me in hot water if they had taken place on 5 Live rather than LBC. And that’s why LBC is such a great station to work on. You can take the odd risk without fearing the wrath of Hades descending on you. Of course it’s not a total free for all. You have to respect the constraints of regulation, but if you are constantly looking over your should worrying about what some mid grade BBC manager thinks about every word you utter, you shouldn’t be surprised if your listeners desert you for something more spicy. That’s not to say all BBC talk radio is boring. It isn’t. On 5 Live Nicky Campbell and Stephen Nolan push the envelope as far as they can. There are some excellent presenters on BBC local radio too. But I suspect all of them would prefer the LBC management approach to opinionated radio, rather than the one they have to operate under at the BBC. Or am I wrong? Perhaps I should ask La Fogarty!

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WATCH: Iain Dale on Sky News Sunrise on the Tory Bullying Scandal

29 Nov 2015 at 17:10

The Tory bullying affair continues to dominate the political news headlines, which must come as a relief for many in the Labour Party, given the headlines they are generating at the moment. Here’s a six minute interview I did in my garden this morning with Steve Dixon on Sky News Sunrise.

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WATCH: Lord Feldman Has Questions To Answer - Interview on Channel Four News

28 Nov 2015 at 20:39

This evening I appeared on Channel Four News to talk about the resignation of Grant Shapps and the bullying scandal that has beset the Conservative Party. It was a close run thing as the Sat truck was late arriving and the camerawoman arrived four minutes before I was due to go on air. They set up outside Simmonsdale Towers and were ready with only 20 seconds to spare. I tried to take it in my stride. On top of that just as I started speaking the wind got up and the rain started. Hopefully I made some sense.

On a personal level I am very sorry for Grant Shapps, but he decided someone needed to take responsibility and as party chairman the buck stopped with him. Up to a point. We need to remember that he had a co-chairman at the time, Lord Feldman. He is now the sole chairman of the Conservative Party. All these allegations have been made (and seemingly ignored) on his watch. Indeed, it was on his watch that young Elliot Johnson took his own life. Had that not happened we wouldn’t be where we are. I’m not calling on Lord Feldman to fall on his sword too. Yet. But I don’t recall ever seeing him do an interview. Any interview. Surely he needs to come out and reassure his party about what steps he is taking, not just to ensure that the truth will out, but that something like this can never happen again.

The thought that he was insulated from RoadTrip2015 is risible. I am told that his sister Deborah was the link woman between Mark Clarke and RoadTrip2015. Even if we ignore the outrageous nepotism in CCHQ employing a relative of the co-chairman, are we really expect to believe that she had no clue what was being said about Mark Clarke? Are we really supposed to believe that she didn’t talk to her brother about it? We’re being taken for fools.

Bullying and sexual harrassment take place in all political parties. Indeed they take place in all sectors of society, including the media. Everyone has a responsibility to stand up to bullies and eliminate all aspects of sexual harrassment wherever they occur. The Liberal Democrats were forced to face up to this issue. Now it’s the Conservative Party’s turn. What a pity it took a young man taking his own life to force them to confront it.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special on Work Capability Assessments

Iain Dale interviews Chris Grayling and Paul Farmer and takes calls on the Work Capability assessments. Nominated for News & Current Affairs Programme of the Year in the MIND Media awards 2012.

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WATCH: Jacqui Smith & I Have a Chinwag About the Autumn Statement

27 Nov 2015 at 23:47

I don’t normally post these, but I do love doing the Sky paper review with Jacqui Smith and Anna Botting. To be honest I don’t do an awful lot of TV nowadays, mainly because I don’t particularly enjoy it. I only do things I like or think I’ll be any good at. And the Sky paper review is always enjoyable. I think at that time of night people want a bit of entertainment so Jacqui and I always try to have a bit of a laugh, although the news agenda often puts paid to that.

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Iain interviews Norman Tebbit about his novel

Norman Tebbit's first novel is about a dog.

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ConHome Diary: This Scandal Could Result in Two Resignations

27 Nov 2015 at 14:11

The Mark Clarke scandal has moved from the Sundays to become a nightly stream of stories across the dailies, each more horrific and shocking than the last. My very real concern, as someone who has got to know Elliott Johnson’s father, Ray, through my radio show, is that too many people seem intent on settling old scores that have little if anything to do with the circumstances that gave rise to Elliott’s tragic suicide in September. Some even seem to be getting off on the mayhem they are causing as they unleash grudges they have borne for years. They should be ashamed of themselves.

I am aware of a small number of individuals, none of them alleged victims of physical or sexual bullying by Clarke, who are briefing against those who had the courage to raise complaints with CCHQ and the police after they said were physically or sexually bullied by him – allegations that Clarke strenuously denies. Maybe these score settlers might like to examine their own consciences and reflect on whether their own conduct has been truly blameless. I doubt it. Whose is? And perhaps they might like to remember, as they set about smearing others, that nothing that they are doing is lessening the Johnsons’ grief. If anything their behaviour is compounding it. When some of their wilder allegations are shown to be false, these people need to realise that they risk the success of any proceedings that might ever be brought against anyone who might held responsible for Elliott’s death. And a 21 year-old boy is sadly still dead.


Few people come out of this ongoing nightmare with much credibility. One person who perhaps does deserve some praise, despite the mauling he himself has endured this week in the press, is Grant Shapps’ former Chief of Staff, Paul Abbott. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his tenure as Shapps’ right-hand man, it was Abbott who passed Elliott Johnson’s complaint to CCHQ in August and encouraged other alleged victims to come forward. If it were not for Paul Abbott, Mark Clarke would still be director of RoadTrip 2020.

This inconvenient fact is overlooked by Ben Harris-Quinney – yes him again – the man who famously bellowed “I am the President” during Andrew Neil’s delicious skewering of him on The Daily Politics just days before the election. I have written about the absurd Harris-Quinney many times before in this column. He has turned the Bow Group from a moderate, influential and grandee-stuffed think tank into a socially conservative, impotent and irrelevant vehicle for Harris-Quinney to seek airtime for himself. He speaks for nobody but himself. The Bow Group’s once proud letterhead now only has two Tory grandees on it – Normans Lamont and Tebbit. How long until they see sense and distance themselves from Harris-Quinney? And his committee is all male – something one might refer to as “a sausage fest”.


I understand that the new MP for Bath, Ben Howlett, has not had the easiest of weeks at Westminster. Howlett fingered Sayeeda Warsi, Grant Shapps and Andrew Feldman on Newsnight last week, saying that he had reported instances of bullying to them which they had failed to investigate. The whips are furious. I also suspect he won’t be on Lord Feldman’s Christmas card list this year.

My only previous knowledge of Howlett was when he was seeking adoption in a number of seats prior to the last election. He was sifted for interview in Eastbourne, once represented by Margaret Thatcher’s close friend, Ian Gow. Gow was killed by an IRA car bomb in 1990. Eastbourne Conservatives decided not to select Howlett as their candidate. One reason was that he had publicly announced that the politician he most admired in Northern Ireland was Gerry Adams – well reported at the time on Guido Fawkes. When he was asked why, he said that he admired the courage of his convictions (and no that was not apparently a pun). Howlett assured Newsnight that on his watch there was no bullying and he presided over calm when he chaired Conservative Future. If there is one thing journalists cannot stand, it is cant. Hopefully, for his sake, no bullying incidents come to light.


The Times reported yesterday that a party activist had reported concerns about Mark Clarke a year before CCHQ has admitted to receiving any such email. And this despite a supposedly rigorous search of the party’s email server. If this (and maybe other) emails didn’t show up in this search it can lead to one of two conclusions. Either the search wasn’t very rigorous, or emails have been deleted. The latter is something The Times are alleging. They write: “Reports emerged yesterday that before the general election a senior figure in CCHQ ordered staff to “cleanse” their inboxes frequently by deleting all emails to prevent leaks.” Of course anyone who knows anything about deleting emails will be aware that deleted emails are actually no such thing. They may be deleted from the Inbox, but they still reside somewhere in a dark corner of a server. This is where both the Police and the CCHQ internal inquiry ought to be directing their attention. Or will internal party technogeeks get there first? Paul Abbott has stated that he was ordered to delete emails, but that begs the question, by whom? His immediate boss, Grant Shapps? Lord Feldman? Someone else?


I don’t know where this scandal will end up, but there is more chance of high profile casualties i.e. resignations than there was a week ago. Every single major newspaper and media outlet is investigating and trying to find witnesses or victims who haven’t yet been identified. I imagine both Lord Feldman and Grant Shapps are having a few sleepless nights. If it emerges that either of them knew about allegations and didn’t lift a finger they would be political toast. It’s clear that those at the top of the party are happy to let Shapps swing in the wind for this, whatever the truth really is. All scandals have at least one casualty and they regard him as collateral damage. It’s the second time in six months they have been happy to ‘stiff’ him. What was it Jeremy Thorpe said about ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life’? Shapps is expendable. Feldman, being a close personal friend of the PM, is not. Isn’t politics a disgusting business sometimes?


I suppose I could now take the piss out of John McDonnell. But why bother. He does it so well himself.

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Video: Iain has a go at Michael Portillo

BBC Election Night, May 2008, City Hall

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