Speech

Making a Speech is Like Giving Birth

25 Jan 2014 at 19:19

Someone once said that writing a speech is like giving birth. Whoever it was, they had a point. Back in early December I wrote this on the blog…

I must be mad. When will I ever learn? I have just accepted an invitation to give a lecture on the NHS to 50 doctors, surgeons and consultants from a London hospital in late January. Why on earth can’t I just learn to say ‘no’?

I don’t do a lot of speeches nowadays. My job means I don’t do many speeches to local Tory associations, like I used to and because of the hours of I work (my show doesn’t finish till 8pm) I don’t do anything on the after dinner circuit either. So when this invitation came in my instinct was to say ‘no’ on the basis that it would involve too much preparation time, and that I wasn’t enough of an expert on the subject. But then I thought, well, that’s never stopped me before and frankly, I have learned a huge amount about the NHS from all the time I spend talking to people about it and getting them to give their experiences on my radio show.

So I’ve chosen as my title “The NHS: Things That Need to be Said”. That should give me enough rope to hang myself…

And of course as the day of the speech approaches I go into my normal routine – put off writing it, then put off writing it again. I know, I thought, it can be Grant’s last job. But then I thought, no, that won’t work. This is not just a speech, it’s meant to be a lecture, and that means giving it some original thought. But being a lecture, it has got to be quite long and not filled with my normal quota of jokes. I was told 45-50 minutes is what is normally expected. Great. Not. I have this theory that if you speak for longer than 20 minutes very few people ever pay attention. They either start dozing or overtly looking at their watches. I have to say I prefer to do a short speech and then answer questions. A lecture is defined as “an educational talk to an audience”, and bearing in mind the audience is made up of 50 or so consultants, NHS managers and surgeons, who all know more about the NHS than I do, its educational content will be questionable. Anyway, the title of the lecture is “THE NHS-THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SAID”.

It’s the day before the day before the speech and I have finished the first draft. It’s a massive 6800 words long. It’s the longest things I have written in years. It’s almost pamphlet length, for goodness sake! I thought I would ask my Twitter followers how many minutes they reckoned that would make. The estimates range between 40 and 75 minutes. Thanks guys., So helpful. I’ve fed it into two websites which reckon they can calulate speech length, and I might as well not have bothered. One reckoned 60 minutes. The other 75. I think I had better read it out to myself and then embark on a bit of a cull.

I’m now at the stage in the birthing process where I question why on earth I agreed to make the speech in the first place. Oh well, I expect it will all come together in the end :)

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Personal

It's Thank You and Good Bye to Grant Tucker

21 Jan 2014 at 21:07

Four and a half years ago I first met Grant Tucker. He was introduced to me by Dawn Parry, who was then the Conservative candidate for Newport, in South Wales. It was at the Tory Party conference and he was very interested in how I knew Margaret Thatcher and what I thought of her. Bear in mind that Grant was born two years after she left power! Anyway, a year later I advertised for a job as my PA and Grant beat 50 other applicants to get it. To be honest he nearly didn’t. There was another candidate who I thought would also do a very good job and I just couldn’t decide between them. Normally I am very decisive when I employ people but on this occasion I was anything but. In the end I got two other people to interview the two of them and decided to take their advice. They advised me to take Grant on.

I assumed that Grant would probably be with me for a year, but it’s turned into three and a half years. I’m not the easiest person to work for (as I am sure Grant would agree) and we have our odd ups and downs, but I think we have enjoyed working with each other, even if Grant has a hands off relationship with English grammar. The job of a PA is to be your right hand (no jokes please…) and I am really grateful to Grant for all he has done in the three and half years. But it’s time he spread his wings and next week he starts a new job as Student Outreach Officer with the IEA. I really wish him well and hope it all works out for him.

Grant is the best networker I have ever met. Just by way of illustration, John Major came to a booklaunch at the Biteback offices last year. Grant immediately engaged him in conversation to the extent that as he was leaving, Sir John turned round and said, ‘Oh, I can’t go yet. I haven’t said goodbye to Grant’. He spotted Cilla Black walking down the street on day and decided to say hello, and he spent the next ten minutes chatting to her as she continued to walk. He’s befriended June Whitfield and takes her to the theatre. I could go on.

His work on the Book Club on my LBC show has been truly exemplary and he gets me top knotch guests – David Jason, Jennifer Saunders, Katie Price, Joan Collins and Tony Benn were the last six guests I had on at the end of last year. You don’t get many bigger names than that.

I hope Grant has learned a lot in the time he has been with me. We have become great friends and I am sure that friendship will be a lifetime one. He is someone who, if he applies himself, for whom the world will be his oyster. He’s either going to be the next Gyles Brandreth or will end up … [insert your own joke here]!

Good luck Grant, and thanks for everything.

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Interview

An Interview With Cherwell

19 Jan 2014 at 21:06

This is an interview I did a couple of weeks ago for CHERWELL, the Oxford University student newspaper. The interviewer was Robert Walmsley. The original article can be read HERE

Iain Dale is affable and easy to talk to. He seems to have the ability, which every good radio talk show host needs, of appearing knowledgeable about any subject. Dale made his name with the blog Iain Dale’s Diary, started in 2002. As a political commentator he has written for almost every publication you can imagine, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Spectator and The New Statesman — not to mention founding the magazine Total Politics. Now, amongst other things, he presents Drive on LBC 97.3 radio, which involves him broadcasting every weekday for four hours.

Having spent so much time writing and talking about Westminster, I begin by asking him his view on our current set of politicians. “I think my view has changed since I’ve become a radio broadcaster because although I can be opinionated in what I do, I’ve started to see politics how other people see politics. Certainly, when I listen to what a load of my listeners say, they think that all politicians are the same.”

It quickly becomes clear Dale sees this as a pressing issue and is particularly concerned by the increasing lack of real life experience in Parliament. “For whatever reason the parties keep picking apparatchik candidates and then promoting them very quickly through the ranks to become ministers and shadow ministers. Now, that’s easily solvable in some ways, but none of the parties actually show any inclination of wanting to solve it.” Instead, what he insists Parliament needs is people with a record of achievement.

Dale is intimately aware of these problems, having tried running for Parliament himself. He unsuccessfully contested the seat of Norfolk North for the Conservatives, at the 2005 general election. Interestingly, Dale was the first Conservative Candidate to have told the selection committee he was gay before he was selected. Reflecting on this, Dale says, “I remember after I got selected, in the autumn of 2003. I was at the Conservative conference and this young guy came up to me, it turned out he was from Oxford actually, and he said, ‘I want to thank you’ and I looked at him rather quizzically and said, ‘Well, why? I don’t know you.’ And he said, ‘What you’ve just done has made it easier for the rest of us.’ I thought, well, if I don’t actually achieve anything in politics in my life, I can think that this is something I did do, which probably paved the way for other people.” In 2010, however, Dale decided to resign from the Conservative Party candidates list and not to stand in any future elections.

Dale is an outsider to the Oxbridge elite in a profession dominated by it. He obtained a degree in German, Linguistics, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language from the University of East Anglia in 1985. When I ask whether he ever wanted to go to Oxford, his answer is a swift “no”. He says that part of the reason was he felt he would be out of place at the time.

Talking about his interaction with graduates of Oxford, he says, “People who have been to Oxford or Cambridge have a certain confidence about them — a certain element. It’s indefinable — you can almost always tell when someone’s been to Oxford or Cambridge.”

He recounts attending an interview for a job to work at the BBC’s translation unit in Caversham. “I thought I’d done absolutely fantastically and I got turned down. There may have been other reasons, but it seemed to me then I didn’t have the right background to be there. I still think it’s a little bit the same now at organisations like the BBC. If you’ve been to Oxford or Cambridge you still have an advantage over everyone else.”

Despite these setbacks Dale has ended up having a successful career as a political commentator. His interview style is quite different from many others in the media. He manages to ask pertinent questions without being aggressive and, even more unusually, allows politicians to develop their ideas at length. “I don’t believe that by shouting at politicians, that you get any answers out of them. Jeremy Paxman is a fantastic journalist, but he is only sometimes a great interviewer. There are too many interviewers who go into interviews with the intention of having a row. I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve ever done. I believe if you treat an interview at least in part as a conversation, you’re more likely to get something out of them.” This is an approach, which has so far proved quite successful for Dale, although he concedes that he does think he should press politicians more.

For a man whose life has been so dominated by Westminster, Dale’s interests are moving beyond politics. His show focuses on many topics other than parliamentary politics, with callers phoning in to talk about issues from mental health to male attitudes to rape. He explains his shift in style since he started working at LBC in 2010. “I thought all I’d be doing was politics, but now I find I actually really enjoy these sort of emotional phone-ins. If you had told me that three years ago, I would have laughed. It wasn’t something I knew anything about, it wasn’t even something I was interested in.” Nevertheless, he notes that the shift has been successful. “Now we’ve been nominated for awards for what we do. So I often get more enjoyment out of that than I do the politics.”

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Books

Biteback Author Alexandros Petersen Killed in Kabul Bomb Blast

19 Jan 2014 at 11:43

On Friday night on my radio show I was interviewing Sir Nicholas Barrington about his new book, ENVOY. Sir Nicholas had spent a lot of time as a diplomat in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was his first posting. During the show I had to read out the tragic news that a bomb blast had killed 14 people in Kabul. Little did I realise that one of the people killed was one of my authors at Biteback.

Last night I received an email from my friend Raheem Kassam to tell me that Dr Alexandros Petersen had been a victim of the blast. Raheem had introduced me to him a few months ago as he wanted to publish a biography of the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvilli. It was a really sound proposal and we agreed it would come out on the 5th anniversary of the events in South Ossetia in August this year. All was going well. He had secured John McCain to wrote a foreword and writing was proceeding with his co-author Richard Cashman.

As I understand it, Alexandros had just started a new job as a professor at the American University in Kabul. He was an incredibly talented student of international politics and geo-strategy, as THIS BLOGPOST, written only a week ago, demonstrates. You find out more about Alexandros on his website HERE.

A young life has been cut tragically short by the actions of Taliban terrorists. All of us at Biteback send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Our sympathies also go to the families of the other victims, who included aspirant Labour MEP candidate Del Singh and former soldier Simon Chase. it’s impossible to imagine what their families are going through.

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How To Dance to Riverdance ... On Ice

17 Jan 2014 at 09:52

Amazing.

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Media

Newsnight's Debate Was An Insult to Alex Crawford

16 Jan 2014 at 13:14

I didn’t see Newsnight last night but while I was at Sky News Anna Jones told me Alex Crawford was on the programme discussing the merits of foreign news. “I’ll watch that in the morning,” I thought to myself. I rather I wish I hadn’t. What an appalling piece of broadcasting, although Newsnight will no doubt be delighted that once again they are being talked about.

Newsnight under its new editor Ian Katz has come a long way in restoring its battered reputation. I like the fact they cover more stories with a lighter touch, but last night they disrespected one of the most respected foreign correspondents in British news, Alex Crawford. This week Alex celebrates 25 years at Sky, yet Newsnight invited her to take part in a discussion on the relevance of foreign news without even mentioning this fact. Or if they did, it’s certainly not in the clip above.

I was looking forward to a serious discussion on some research which purports to show that British people aren’t interested in foreign news. That’s not what the viewer got.

In many ways I am a huge fan of Kelvin Mackenzie. He brightens up any radio or TV slot and always provides entertainment. You never quite know what he’s going to come out with. But as a guest on a subject like this? What on earth were the producers thinking of? If all Newsnight wants out of a discussion is a bit of a bunfight, rather than illumination, then we can surely soon expect an appearance by Dappy during a discussion on sexual propriety. Perhaps they should leave such stunts to THIS WEEK!

Alex Crawford was on a live link from South Africa and there was a slight time delay. Anyone who has taken part in a discussion in those circumstances knows how difficult it can be. How Alex Crawford kept her temper, I do not know.

But the worst thing of all was that Jeremy Paxman continually pandered to Kelvin’s out and out trolling of the serious points Alex Crawford was trying to make. “Justify your existence,” he blurted out to her at one point. Alex Crawford doesn’t need to justify her existence to anyone, let alone a studio-bound presenter like Paxman. Her various awards speak eloquently on her behalf. She is a very brave woman who makes foreign stories accessible to the viewer. What more does one want from a foreign correspondent on a 24 hour news channel?

It seems I was not alone in reacting badly to what happened in this piece. Here are a couple of tweets from Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling.

I’d like to think that Newsnight editors might reflect on that discussion and debate whether they got it right. In the meantime, the rest of us can congratulate Alex Crawford on a wonderful career in foreign reporting, and express the hope that she continues doing what she does best for many years to come.

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How Would I Tell My Child About the Birds & Bees

14 Jan 2014 at 00:03

Simple. I’d let this guy do it.

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The Wonderful Story of Christian the Lion

11 Jan 2014 at 20:12

Grab a Kleenex and watch this…

And this is the full story…

And this is a US TV interview with the owners of Christian.

And this is an interview I did yesterday on LBC with John Rendall ostensibly on the closure of the Harrod’s pet shop, but it was mostly about Christian the lion.

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Video of London in 1927 - In Colour

11 Jan 2014 at 13:14

This is the first colour film ever shot of London, in 1927. The quality is astonishing. But what is even more surprising is that not a lot has changed! Fascinating.

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Personal

Why I Have Quit My ConHome Diary Column

10 Jan 2014 at 10:04

Last year I didn’t have a two week holiday. Yes, I took time off, but only a few days at a time. By the end of the year I was completely exhausted. Knackered. It was mostly my own fault in that in addition to my two jobs at Biteback and LBC I would take on other work too, and found it very difficult to say no to people. There always seemed to be a good reason to say yes. One of my new year’s resolutions was to learn to say no. And when on holiday, not to do work.

Coming back to work after a 16 day break over Christmas was a bit of a revelation. Not only was I looking forward to it, I felt refreshed, envigorated and energised. Presenting my first show of the year on Monday showed me how tired I had become before Christmas and how my tiredness was affecting my work in general. It also meant that it took far longer than usual to recover from minor coughs and colds. It probably contributed to catching them in the first place.

I am afraid one decision I have made is to discontinue my weekly ConservativeHome diary column which I started writing last April. It’s a shame, as I enjoyed writing it and winding a few people up along the way, but anyone who has ever written a diary column will know that it’s not just a matter of sitting down for a few minutes and bashing it out – believe it or not it takes quite a lot of thought and creativity. I usually wrote well in excess of 1,000 words, and I did wonder about continuing but only writing two or three snippets a week. But when people have been used to something else I decided it would attract a lot of negative comment if I reduced the word count.

Anyway, I wanted to put on the record that Paul Goodman, the editor of ConHome and a friend for more years than either of us care to remember, has been very understanding and there has been no falling out between us. I may still write the odd piece, but he understands the reasons for me standing down and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity in the first place. ConHome is a great site and still knocks the socks off its competitor sites.

Paul has compiled what I suppose is a ‘greatest hits’ column as my final contribution, which you can read HERE.

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