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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 15: Going National, New Imaging Music & RAJARS

16 Feb 2014 at 15:36

  • It’s been quite a week for us all at LBC. In case you missed it the station went national on Tuesday on the Digital One DAB platform. If you think about it, it is quite ludicrous that this country has never had a national newstalk station. Talk Radio, in its various incarnations, was indeed a speech radio station, but it wasn’t a phonein station as such. And neither is 5 Live, although there are phonein elements to it with 606 and Nicky Campbell’s Your Call. My point is that there has never been a national radio station where for more or less 24 hours a day listeners can phone in and take part in the conversation. When I went to Sydney a couple of years ago I found out that there are eleven such radio stations in Sydney alone. In the USA they are two a penny. So why not here? Maybe it’s the ludicrous was British radio is regulated, or maybe the industry has been short-sighted enough to believe that advertisers would be reluctant to advertise on a station which would inevitably have presenters with strong opinions and callers with even stronger ones. Maybe they thought the advertisers wouldn’t want to advertise in the middle of a phonein on female genital mutilation.

Actually, the truth is something more prosaic. I suspect it’s more to do with the stranglehold the BBC has always had on speech radio. I remember around 10 years ago I presented a monthly book programme on the late lamented OneWord Radio. After a couple of years the BBC decided that it would replicate OneWord and started BBC 7 (now Radio 4 Extra). Well no one could compete with that and within a matter of months OneWord shut down.

OneWord never had a big backer. It was a startup on a limited budget. LBC is part of Global Radio which also owns Capital, Classic FM, XFM, Heart and Smooth. It’s the UK’s biggest radio group. By enabling LBC to go national Global have made a clear statement of intent and it’s now up to us to repay the confidence and financial investment they have made in us.

LBC – Leading Britain’s Conversation from Cute Kitty on Vimeo.

  • To coincide with us going national, we also have a new Imaging package. I have no idea what it cost, but these things never come cheap, and this new imaging is eyewateringly brilliant. Each segment of the day has its own version of the main package and on Drive, I think we have the best one of all. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear the talkup music or the top of the hour opener. I actually think it has made me a better presenter, as it helps me kick off each hour in a really pacy, upbeat way. My colleague, Chris Lowrie, who has overseen the whole project should be justly proud of himself.

When you go national you want to hit the ground running and demonstrate that what you do is relevant not just to existing listeners but new listeners all over the country. ‘Big names, Iain, big names’ was the mantra from our Managing Editor James Rea. Well, I think between my production team and me, we delivered, with Michael Gove, Harriet Harman, Germaine Greer, Andrew Mitchell, Alastair Campbell, Lord Ashcroft, Danny Alexander, Jeremy Hunt, Ed Balls, Philip Hammond, Natalie Bennett, Zac Goldsmith, David Davis, Helen Mirren and many others gracing our airwaves over the last four days of the week. And we had huge amounts of press coverage with my interviews with Gove, Alexander, Balls and Hammond generating mentions in the Mail, Guardian, Telegraph and Sun throughout the week.

  • On Thursday we had our quarterly meeting where we get the detailed breakdown of our listening figures. It’s a meeting which all presenters and producers approach with some trepidation. But I was pleased to find out that the figures for DRIVE have increased both year on year and quarter on quarter. We now have 427,000 listeners in London compared to 365,000 for the same quarter (September to December) in 2012. The audience share has also increased from 2.7% t0 4.0%, only 0.1% behind Peter Allen on 5Live.

It will be interesting to see how quickly we as a station, and Drive as a programme, can grow a national audience. We’re not changing our editorial content but I don’t think we need to. Very few of our segments are ever exclusively about London anyway. I want to make much more use of the Global newsrooms around the country, but the phonein subjects will remain similar to what we have done in the past. What will gradually change is the number of calls we take from outside London and the South East. Only a fool would predict how many extra national listeners we will have in the first few weeks, but over time there is certainly the potential to at least double the audience.

  • I think LBC has an incredibly bright future ahead of it. If you’ve never tried us out, do tune your digital radio to LBC between 4 and 8pm on a weekday and see what you think. In case you hadn’t worked it out, that’s when I’m on…



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LBC Book Club: Best of 2012 (Part 2)

Bruno Tonioli, Sue Townsend, Clare Balding and Joan Rivers talk about their recently published books.

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Michael Gove Renews His Banter With Simon Cowell

12 Feb 2014 at 10:13

Last night I interviewed Michael Gove on my LBC show. We covered a lot of ground, but at the end of the interview I asked him about his spat with Simon Cowell, which occurred just before Christmas. He admitted he had instigated it and wasted little time in responding to my question about how Cowell should educate his new baby!

“I issue the challenge to Simon now… he should send his child to a British state school. If Simon wants me to show him round some schools I’d be happy to…”



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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Ann Widdecombe

Ann talks to Iain about her memoirs, STRICTLY ANN

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My Ten Most Interesting Politicians

9 Feb 2014 at 18:15

You know how I like a Top Ten list. Well today John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday has compiled his Top Ten Most Interesting Politicians. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out just why Grant Shapps merited inclusion in such a list. Well, anything John Rentoul can do, etc etc. But what does ‘most interesting’ actually mean? Different things to different people, I guess. For me it means they stand out from the crowd, they’re willing to speak their minds, and they make a difference. So here, in no particular order, are ten politicians I find ‘most interesting’…

Jeremy Hunt
Slowly but surely Jeremy Hunt is building a formidable political reputation. He has retained his ‘nice guy’ normality but underneath the niceness is an iron political will. He came into the health job with a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve and isn’t afraid to say the unsayable (witness his speeches on nurses needing to be more caring). He also does a shift in a hospital most weeks, something you can’t imagine many of his predecessors doing.

Humza Yousaf
He is an SNP MSP and Minister for External Relations and International Development in the Scottish Executive. He’s also one of the most fluent and persuasive exponents of Scottish nationalism I have heard. Still under thirty, he truly is a rising star in Scottish politics.

Esther McVey
Tipped for promotion to the cabinet in the next reshuffle, Esther McVey is a tough talking political streetfighter who takes few hostages. She’s got a very different hinterland to most MPs and has made her own success. Not seen as a typical Cameroon, she has overtaken many of her intake and risen without seemingly ingratiating herself with the usual suspects. And good on her.

Julian Huppert
He’s not only a LibDem but he even looks like one. In his short time in Parliament he has made an impact in a number of areas. He’s retained his independence of thought and hasn’t become a backbench drone. If he retains his seat (as I predict he will) I foresee a big role for him in LibDem politics after the next election. The Speaker doesn’t seem to like him and picks on his appearance, which is a little odd to say the least.

Mary Creagh
A lot tougher than she looks, she is an undoubted rising star of Labour politics. Having scored successes over badgers and forests at Defra she was promoted to the more high profile transport brief in the last reshuffle by Ed Miliband. Labour spin-doctors need to give her a lot more of the limelight, and if they do she could well soon become a real mover and shaker in Labour politics.

Mike Penning
If David Cameron wants to introduce some much needed grit into his cabinet, he could do worse than promote Mike Penning, who has been a huge success in each of the three portfolios he has held in the coalition government. A former firefighter, he is a key ally of Iain Duncan Smith.

Sarah Wollaston
The winner of Britain’s first true open primary Sarah Wollaston isn’t used to playing the political game. She speaks her mind and damn the consequences. Her GP background means that she is to be taken seriously on health issues, but she isn’t afraid to speak out on anything if she feels the need to. Her colleagues sometimes don’t understand her and resent her rebelliousness. Good.

Ed Balls
I’ve always found Ed Balls to be charming, witty and someone who loves a good debate. We agree on virtually nothing, but he is a big beast of the political jungle. It’s fascinating to observe his relationship with Ed Miliband and how he comes to terms with the Brown legacy. The big question is will he ever be able to?

Diane James
The ‘real’ winner of the Eastleigh by-election, she should immediately have been made deputy leader of UKIP, but Nigel Farage seems determined to block her rising standing in UKIP circles. She’s only number 4 on their South East list, and stands little chance of election. She’s a superb media performer and if Farage fell under the proverbial bus she would be a red hot favourite as his successor. CORRECTION: She is now number 3 on their list so could possibly get elected, I am told.

John Woodcock
I tipped John Woodcock for the top a long time ago and when he was appointed to the front bench he seemed set for political stardom. But after a couple of health setbacks he went public about the fact he suffers from depression. One of the nicest people in Parliament, his health issues will make him a better politician


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Video: Iain Hosts an 18 Doughty Street Fallands Special

18 Doughty Street

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UK Politics

The Ugly Face of 'Muslim' & 'Christian' Patrols

7 Feb 2014 at 12:26

Yesterday on my LBC Drivetime Show we talked about the rising tide of extremism in some areas of Tower Hamlets in the East End of London. Last year there was a lot of publicity about the so-called ‘Muslim Patrols’ who were seeking to impose Sharia Law by ordering people to stop holding hands in the street, to stop drinking alcohol etc. Several members of these patrols were arrested and charged. But there is now a worrying development. So-called ‘Christian Patrols’ have now been formed by a man called Paul Golding who says he is the leader of a radical right group called ‘Britain First’. They hang around outside the East London Mosque, holding cans of Stella Artois, trying to provoke confrontations with muslims in the mosque.

On the programme I started off by interviewing Matthew Collins from ‘Hope Not Hate’, which provoked Paul Golding to phone in. A little later we took a call from Abu Remaysah, who says he is the founder of the ‘Muslim Patrols’. Both conversations became a little heated, as you will hear if you listen to these two Audioboos.

All a bit ‘Life of Brian’, if you ask me!



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Lady Pamela Hicks

Iain talks to Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, talks about her new book, DAUGHTER OF EMPIRE

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Are You a Gay Homophobe?

6 Feb 2014 at 08:00

Stick with this till the end.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton John discusses her new cook book and her career in entertainment.

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UK Politics

Why the LibDem Seats Will Win 30-35 Seats in 2015

5 Feb 2014 at 08:07

There’s a lot of speculation about the number of seats the Liberal Democrats will win at the next election. Some people expect a virtual wipeout, while LibDems themselves cling onto the hope that incumbency will help them win seats they might otherwise lose. The truth will probably lie somewhere in between. So far quite a few very popular LibDem MPs have announced they will stand down, something which could not come at a worse time for the LibDems. The question is how many more there will be.

I got myself into a lot of trouble on election night in 2010 when I promised to run down Whitehall naked if the LibDems only won 59 seats, which was the BBC projection. When I interviewed Danny Alexander he said he’d join me. They actually only won 57, albeit with 23% of the vote. I have yet to fulfill that threat, and won’t be doing so! I think the only way to gauge how many seats the LibDems will win in 2015 is to go through their MPs, seat by seat, and analyse the probable result. So here goes…

Detailed analysis below, but here are the results. Of the 57 seats, I predict 35 will remain LibDem, 14 will fall to the Conservatives and 8 to Labour. But of the 35 LibDem Holds, I reckon only 13 are dead certs, 9 are hot bets, 8 are probable and 5 are rated as possible, but by no means definite.

In the predictions below I have assumed that Labour will be the beneficiaries of most of the decline in LibDem votes across the country but that the Conservatives might benefit a little in the south and south west. The big unknown factor here is how the size of the UKIP vote might affect existing Conservative vote levels in many of these seats. I have tried not to make these predictions through blue tinted spectacles, but it maybe that I will have underestimated the impact of UKIP. I have also assumed that the LibDems will not win a single one of their top 20 target seats. Even if that proves to be wrong, looking through the list it is hard to see more than a handful of even remotely possible gains based on the way things look at the moment.

I wonder how many LibDems would settle for 35 seats now, if they could.

Do leave comments to explain why you disagree with individual seat predictions. Here they are, together with brief explanations.

Danny Alexander
Majority: 8,765 over Labour

Norman Baker
Maj: 7,647
If Labour takes enough votes from the LibDems it could let the Conservative in, and Lewes used to be a safe Tory seat. Baker’s local popularity should see him through but with a much smaller majority.

Sir Alan Beith (retiring – Julie Pörksen selected)
Maj: 2,690 over the Conservatives
The Conservative candidate Anne Marie Trevelyan stood in 2010 and if her vote holds up, she only needs Labour to take a small proportion of the LibDem vote. Beith’s incumbency will also disappear.

Gordon Birtwistle
Maj: 1,818 over Labour
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Birtwhistle is a straight talking northerner and speaks out against what he views as wishy washy Liberalism. He’s very popular but it would be a major shock if he held on to the seat he snatched from Labour in 2010.

Tom Brake
Maj: 5.260 over the Conservatives
Somewhat charismatically challenged Brake is nevertheless a very good constituency MP and this could seem him through, but the Labour vote here is bound to recover. However, I’d say this was a 50/50 prediction and could easily go the other way. This would be the sixth time Brake has fought the seat and that counts for a lot.

Annette Brooke (retiring – Vikki Slade selected)
Maj: 269
It was a shock this seat didn’t go Tory last time. With Annette Brooke standing down the LibDems will have to perform miracles to keep this seat.

Jeremy Browne
Maj: 3,993 over the Conservatives
Boundary changes last time increased Browne’s majority from just over 500. I don’t know how popular he is locally. Seen as a very good minister it was a shock when he was sacked by Clegg. Might he stand down? I’d say this was a 50/50 call.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (retiring – Christine Jardine selected
Maj: 6,748 over the SNP
Prediction: 100% LIBDEM HOLD

Paul Burstow
Maj: 1,608
The Labour vote has halved to 7.7% since 1997 and will inevitably rise in 2015. Paul Burstow is standing again and incumbency could play a vital role if he is to retain his seat, but if the Tory vote holds up, he may have a problem.

Lorely Burt
Maj: 175
Lorely Burt did very well to hang onto her seat last time (she won it in 2005 with a majority of 279) and confounded all expectations. The Labour vote has gone down from 25% to 8% and if Labour takes just a thousand votes from the LibDem the Conservatives will win a seat many think they should never have lost.

Vince Cable
Maj: 12,140

Sir Menzies Campbell (retiring)
Maj: 9.348
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
The Conservatives will be targeting this seat but it’s a remote hope for them. The new LibDem candidate may suffer a dent in their majority but unless Ming Campbell’s personal vote is more than the norm, this seat should stay Liberal Democrat.

Alistair Carmichael
Maj: 9,928
None of the other parties come close, with the LibDems winning 62% of the vote in 2010. Jo Grimond’s legacy is safe!

Nick Clegg
Maj: 15,284
This used to be a Tory seat, but it would take a political earthquake for them to take it off Nick Clegg. Interestingly the Labour vote has started to rise, but not enough to cause the LibDems to panic.

Michael Crockart
Maj: 3,803
This seat went LibDem in 1997 and although the LibDem majority plummeted by 10,000 last time it is difficult to see them losing. Prior to 1997 it was a Tory seat but last time Labour beat the Tories into second place. A Labour victory is not impossible to imagine, but still rather unlikely.

Edward Davey
Maj: 7,560
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
Ed Davey won this seat in 1997 with a wafer thin majority of 56, which rose to more than 15,000 in 2001. But since then the Conservative vote has been on the rise. Davey has only managed to win with such handsome majorities because he has squeezed the Labour vote from 23% down to 9%. If that trend reverses, the Conservatives could squeak it, but it’s highly unlikely.

Tim Farron
Maj: 12,264
Tim Farron has 60% of the vote and while the Conservatives held this seat as recently as 2001, they have zero chance of winning it back in 2015. Why? Because it’s a two horse race. In 1997 the Labour vote was more than 20%. In 2010 it was 2%.

Lynne Featherstone
Maj: 6,875
Since 1997 Lynne Featherstone has built up the LibDem vote from 5,000 to 25,000 so as a constituency campaigner she is hard to beat. Meanwhile the Labour vote has declined from 31,000 to 18,000. Meanwhile the Conservatives have gone down to 21,000 to 9,000. This is a difficult one to call, but on balance Lynn Featherstone will probably retain the seat.

Don Foster (retiring)
Maj: 11,883
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
The Conservatives have been desperate to win this seat back since Chris Patten lost it in 1992, but it’s extremely unlikely to revert to the fold despite the fact that Don Foster is standing down.

Andrew George
Maj: 1,719
The Tories got a 10.39% swing last time and took a huge chuck out of Andrew George’s 11,000 majority. This time George will be hoping UKIP’s vote reduces Tory potency. His incumbency and local popularity should see Andrew George home, but it may be a close call.

Stephen Gilbert
Maj: 1,312
This seat could go either way. Labour are nowhere with only 7% of the vote. If UKIP does well in the South West, the LibDems win here, if they don’t, they won’t.

Martin Horwood
Maj: 4.920
A Liberal Democrat seat since 1992, this is one which the Conservatives had expected to take back in both 2005 and 2010, but it wasn’t to be. The Labour vote has been squeezed to just 5%. Martin Horwood is extremely popular and will have built up a high personal vote. On a catastrophic night for the LibDems it’s easy to see Cheltenham falling, but not otherwise.

Mike Hancock (deselected)
Maj: 5.200
This seat has never had a huge LibDem majority since it was won by Mike Hancock in 1997. It’s always ranged between three and six thousand. It’s difficult to assess the impact of the groping scandal, but on top of their national woes, it could be that the Tories win back what was once for them a safe seat. Hancock has failed to squeeze the Labour vote as much as some of his colleagues, and not so long ago they managed a healthy 25%. If they return to those levels the Tories will win.

Nick Harvey
Maj: 5,821
Ever since this seat was wrested back from the Conservatives in 1992 pundits have predicted it would return to the Tories, but astute constituency campaigning by Nick Harvey has prevented this from happening. I don’t see this changing. This seat has a strong UKIP vote which inevitable depresses that of the Conservatives.

David Heath (retiring)
Maj: 1,817
LibDem HQ must have bee tearing their hair out when David Heath announced his retirement as he stood the best prospect of retaining this seat. His current majority is the larges he has ever enjoyed, but that is largely because at the last election the UKIP vote doubled to nearly 2,000. If they do the same in 2015 they could deny the Conservatives a gain they thought they had in the bag last time.

John Hemming
Maj: 3,002
Hemming is a maverick and I wouldn’t bet against him pulling off a surprise, but if Labour is to form a government it’s this kind of seat they need to take back.

Duncan Hames
Maj: 2,470
Although is majority isn’t big, Duncan Hames has dug himself in since winning the seat in 2010 and will be difficult to shift. But the Tory candidate Michelle Donelan is a good campaigner. Yet again, her success depends on warding off UKIP and encouraging LibDems to vote Labour.

Simon Hughes
Maj: 8,530
No comment needed.

Mike Thornton
Maj: 1,771
The Conservatives thought they would win this seat back at each of the last two general elections, but each time Chris Huhne pulled through. At the by-election they came third, with UKIP almost pipping the rather monochrome Mike Thornton. It’s highly unlikely UKIP’s vote will hold up so the outcome of this seat may depend on where UKIP’s voters put their cross. If enough of them return to the Conservative fold, it could be enough to see the Conservative home.

Mark Hunter
Maj: 3,272
Apart from a narrow majority in 1997 of 33, the LibDems have had a majority of three or four thousand in this seat ever since. As long as the slightly resurgent Labour vote doesn’t gain too much traction, I think Mark Hunter will be safe.

Julian Huppert
Maj: 6,792
If you look at the size of the LibDem majority here, Julian Huppert ought to be considered very safe, but this is a seat which swings with the wind, and if the wind is blowing towards Labour you can see it returning to them. It obviously has a high student vote and this may determine the outcome. However Huppert has been a strong performer both locally in Parliament and if anyone can hold this seat for the LibDems, he can.

Charles Kennedy
Maj: 13,070
Out on his own, and despite an invisible presence in this Parliament, there would need to be a miracle to shift Charles Kennedy.

Norman Lamb
Maj: 11,626
Lamb’s majority was even bigger than the one he had over me in 2005. Although I think it will reduce in 2010 due to the crumbling LibDem local organisation and the resurgent North Norfolk Labour Party, he will still win handsomely.

David Laws
Maj: 13,036

John Leech
Maj: 1,894
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Although John leech trebled his majority last time, I fear the bell tolls for him unless UKIP can take a lot of votes from Labour.

Stephen Lloyd
Maj: 3.435
Won in 2010 from Nigel Wateson, Steohen Lloyd may hang on, but I’d expect the Labour vote to at least double at the expense of the LibDems, so yet again, a lot depends on how many votes the Tories lose to UKIP.

Michael Moore
Maj: 5,675
David Steel’s old seat – never been 100% safe, but it would be a major shock for the Conservatives to take this seat.

Greg Mulholland
Maj: 9.103
A Labour seat as recently as 2005, Labour has now slipped to third place. With a classic split opposition situation it would be a brave man who would vote against a third term for Greg Mulholland.

Tessa Munt
Maj: 800
The former seat of David Heathcoat-Amory Tessa Munt won Wells in 2010. The Tories will make every effort to regain it and will be devastated if they don’t pull it off.

John Pugh
Maj: 6,024
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a LibDem win.

Alan Reid
Maj: 3,431
A four way marginal, this could go to any of the main parties. If the LibDems lose my guess is that it would go to Labour, even though they were in third place in 2010.

Dan Rogerson
Maj: 2,981
A seat where the LibDem majority has been on the slide in every election since 1997’s highpoint of more than 13,000. If UKIP hadn’t existed, the Conservatives would have won this seat in 2010. So the key question is whether they will eat further into the Conservative vote in 2015. If so, the LibDems will hang on. Otherwise this is a pretty safe bet for the Tories.

Sir Bob Russell
Maj: 6,982
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
Difficult to see anything other than another home run for Sir Bob!

Adrian Sanders
Maj: 4,078
Regarded as a surefire Tory gain in 2010 it didn’t happen, and in all honesty Adrian Sanders has built up a string personal vote which may carry him through once again.

Sir Robert Smith
Maj: 3.684
Although the LibDem majority was halved last time, it’s difficult to see anything other than another victory for Sir Robert Smith.

Andrew Stunell (retiring – Lisa Smart selected)
Maj: 6,371
The LibDem majority has fallen in every election since 1997 but the Tories haven’t been able to capitalise. And I don’t see them bucking the trend in 2015.

Ian Swales
Maj: 5,214
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
This was a very surprise result last time and was in large part to massive job losses on Teesside. On that basis the seat may return to its natural fold.

Jo Swinson
Maj: 2,184
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Jo Swinson is popular but all the political portents are against her. She will be a major loss to the LibDems.

Sarah Teather (retiring)
Maj: 1,345
If the LibDems retain this seat it will be miracle of all miracles.

John Thurso
Maj: 4,828
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
A small electorate, Thurso should hold the seat he won in 2001.

David Ward
Maj: 365
One of the nastier LibDem MPs, few will shed tears at his demise.

Steve Webb
Maj: 7,116

Simon Wright
Maj: 310
Student fees will do for Simon Wright due to the large university vote. Of all the seats the LibDems are slated to lose, this is the deadest certs of dead certs.

Mark Williams
Maj: 8,324

Roger Williams
Maj: 3,747
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
A Conservative gain here is not out of the question but it is difficult to work out where their extra votes are going to come from.

Stephen Williams
Maj: 11.336

Jenny Willott
Maj: 4,576
Labour have their sights in this one. It may prove out of their reach.



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Voice of Russia: Debate on Margaret Thatcher's Legacy

With Iain Dale, Michael Cockerell, Peter Tatchell and Nigel Wilmott. It's sparky!

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Michael Gove

3 Feb 2014 at 11:43

One of my favourite books is the Strange Death of Liberal England.

Michael Gove



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Polar Explorer Dwayne Fields

Dwayne Fields is embarking on a trip to the South Pole. He tells Iain Dale why.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Ayn Rand

2 Feb 2014 at 23:37

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

Ayn Rand



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Video: Speech to the Microsoft Politics & Technology Forum, Sydney

Hosted by Microsoft in Sydney, Australia

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Who Will Be The New Sky News Political Editor?

2 Feb 2014 at 14:19

This week applications close for the position of Sky News Political Editor. There has been much speculation about who the runners and riders are, with some ludicrous names being put forward by some of the betting companies to succeed Adam Boulton. I would say this is one of the top three jobs in political broadcasting, Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil occupying the other two. So I thought I’d spend a few minutes of my Sunday mulling over who the real contenders might be, and perhaps who they ought to be.

Let’s start with the internal candidates. While Sophy Ridge has impressed since she joined Sky News, it’s probably a bit to early for her to be a serious contender. Joey Jones and Jon Craig have the strongest claims and both have a right to be considered very seriously. Craig has scored brownie points with Sky bosses for not throwing his toys out of the pram when Jones got the coveted ‘Deputy’ post, although he was clearly miffed. He’s an old fashioned journalist and can sniff out a story others might miss. He’s good on screen and popular across the parties, something which is an important prerequisite. Joey Jones is a superb analyst, rarely makes a wrong call and took to the Westminster beat like a duck to water. As Deputy he may well have the strongest internal claim, but it has to be said that deputies rarely inherit the crown. The rumour mill suggest that Sky want a political editor with a bit more ‘sizzle’ than Jones may be able to offer, but this is not a showbiz role, and substance ought to triumph over style.

I’d throw three other Sky names into the ring. Niall Paterson left the Sky Westminster Office a couple of years ago and was moved to the defence brief. He now covers media and technology. I was very sad to seem him go from politics as I thought he was the most brilliant exponent of the ‘live to camera’ art of reporting. I hope he has thrown his hat into the ring, and could be worth an outside bet. Dermot Murnaghan may feel that the time might be right for a move from the studio to get his teeth into day to day politics, something you can see he relishes from his Sunday morning programme. And Sky stalwart Stephen Dixon, who presents the weekend Sunrise show, should not be discounted. He is very well plugged into Westminster politics, is good on camera and has a wicked sense of humour.

Tom Bradby who has had the ITV News Pol ed job for nine years now. By the election next year it will nearly be ten years. He wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t thinking of what’s next. He’d be brilliant on Sky but with a young family, living outside London and his book and film exploits, it’s difficult to think he would relish putting in the hours that are a basic part of the Sky job. As an on screen presence he is hard to beat and he clearly loves his politics.

Chris Ship and James Mates from ITV are also outside bets. Shippy always has a wicked glint in his eye and I’d love to see him on a 24 hour news channel as I think he’d be highly entertaining outside the straitjacket of a half hour news programme. Mates would also do a good job, although may not like the hours. Last but not least there are many people who think Andy Bell, Channel 5’s political editor would slot into the Sky job very easily. Likeable and polished, he has a great on-camera look and is quick on his feet.

Let’s look at candidates who currently work for the BBC. Had Laura Kuenssberg not already just signed up for Newsnight I think she would have been the candidate to beat. She is one of the best political reporters on TV at the moment and I am so glad she will be a key part of Newsnight’s future. I’m told she was tipped off about the Sky job becoming available but still pressed ahead with Plan A to leave ITV for the pasture of Newsnight. That’s a clear indication, I’d have thought, that she sees her long term future at the BBC and maybe has half an eye on the BBC Political Editor’s job after the election. So that brings us to Nick Robinson. What a coup it would be if Sky could tempt him. I can’t see it happening, even though I think it’s a job Nick would revel in and excel at. It wouldn’t surprise me if discussions had taken place, but if he did it, it would be a political media earthquake. James Landale is one of the bookie’s favourites and it is easy to see why. He’s got a print background, is brilliant at ‘lives’, has a good screen presence, little fazes him and he has a brilliant sense of humour, as evidenced by his piece on THIS WEEK a couple of weeks ago. I often feel that he would come into his own if he was given a bit more freedom, and the Sky job would do that. Some say his background as an Old Etonian may provide a hurdle, but if it does, it shows what a perverse world we live in.

John Pienaar is a great live broadcaster and has a superb contacts book, but I’ve always seen him as very much a BBC man. The fact that for some years now he has concentrated on radio rather than TV may count against him. Jon Sopel may also be applying on the basis that he has been more or less frozen out of BBC political coverage and is restricted to presenting on the News Channel, after many years walking the Westminster beat. My penultimate BBC tip, and it’s very much an outside bet, is Robert Peston. If he calculates that the BBC is unlikely to allow him to succeed Nick Robinson, he might well apply for the Sky job, as I am told he is desperate to join the political beat that he last walked at the Financial Times.

My final BBC candidate would be Jeremy Vine. He’s one of the finest political broadcasters of our time and may feel that ten years in the Radio 2 lunchtime hotseat is enough. He’d add some vitality and pizzazz to the Sky output and it would free him from having to dress as a cowboy on the BBC election night show. If I were him, I’d be seriously thinking about applying for it. Or when you get to his level, maybe you don’t apply for things – they come looking for you.

There’s a story doing the rounds that Adam Boulton left his computer on and someone walking past spied a memo he had written to Sky News chief John Ryley where he recommended a candidate with ‘bottom’. The two names he suggested were apparently James Landale and Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 News’s political editor. Gibbon certainly ought to be in the running. He’s authoritative, respected and very much in the Michael Brunson mould of political journalists. Gary’s problem may be that he mainly does packages rather than breaking news reports into Channel 4 News and hasn’t had the chance to show his wares live on his toes. If you see what I mean! His newsreading colleague Cathy Newman has also been mentioned as a favourite. Like Gary, she knows a good political story when she sniffs one, but again, suffers from a lack of breaking news reporting experience in her current job. One man who certainly doesn’t suffer from that is Channel 4 news chief political correspondent Michael Crick. He might be regarded by Sky News suits as too awkward to manage, but if they want someone in the Adam Boulton mode, they could do far worse. His plebgate scoops are proof that he’s still ‘got it’.

It’s not easy to make the transition from print media to TV. Robin Oakley never quite managed it, yet James Landale and Jon Craig took to broadcasting like ducks to water. You never can tell. So in many ways it would be a big risk to pluck someone from a newspaper and put them straight into the top job. The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn was an early favourite with the bookies, but his odds have lengthened. His role in the Plebgate story may count against him until the court cases are put to bed, so it may be wrong time, wrong place for Tom. Had Tim Shipman not just moved from the Mail to the Sunday Times I would have tipped him as a good outside bet. He doesn’t do much TV but there are few better story getters in the lobby than Tim. George Parker from the Financial Times is said to be keen to throw his hat in the ring and is the subject of some heavy betting. He has upped his broadcast presence and is doing quite a lot of radio.

Andrew Rawnsley ought to be in the running, but his name hasn’t been mentioned anywhere so far as I can see. Although he is seen as on the Blairite left, he is popular across the political spectrum and has a huge amount of broadcasting experience. Those of us who are a bit long in the tooth will fondly remember A WEEK IN POLITICS which he co-presented with the much missed Vincent Hanna. He’s got great political nouse and has a very good turn of phrase. I think he’d be great at the job.

However, if I were to nail my colours to the mast and put forward one candidate from the print media I have no hesitation in saying I would plump for The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt. How he is not political editor of one of the broadsheets is quite beyond me. His spot on THIS WEEK and his films for the DAILY POLITICS have allowed us to see what a great political brain he possesses and what a good broadcaster he is. If he doesn’t get the Sky job, he will surely be snapped up soon by one of the broadcast media.

Whoever gets the job has a very hard act to follow. Adam Boulton is a political broadcasting colossus. He’s one of the few people who have truly changed the terms of trade in political news TV. He really blazed a trail. It’s been clear for some time that he had itchy feet. His few months in the US before the presidential election bore testimony to that and I can see him doing a lot more of that sort of thing. He and Sky have both been quick to maintain that he will still have some sort of political role and I imagine he will present their election night coverage. But how much of a back seat driver will he be? Will he still have an office at Millbank, for instance? If I were replacing him I’d want some pretty good guarantees that he wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder the whole time. Think Michael White at The Guardian and Trevor Kavanagh at The Sun. It wasn’t easy at all for their successors with both retained by their respective papers even after they stepped down as political editors.

I wondered whether to write this blogpost at all, seeing as I know virtually all of the contenders and it’s a bit invidious to choose between them, but in the end that’s what Sky have to do.

So apologies to everyone else, but if I were Sky I’d be picking Nick Watt. Which almost guarantees they won’t. Sorry Nick.



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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 14: When Bob Crow's RMT Lies To You

1 Feb 2014 at 16:25

Yesterday we rang to RMT to invite Bob Crow to appear on my radio show. Boris Johnson had just made an offer to meet him to talk about ticket office closures. His press people said they’d get back to us but Bob was a bit busy. “There’s a lot going on,” they said. Yes indeed. Today the Daily Mail tells us that this was going on.

I don’t begrudge anyone a holiday, but to take three weeks off on a luxury £7,000 holiday in the days leading up to a 48 hour tube strike is surely a bit much. I am sure RMT members will be very impressed.

And if the RMT press office is reading this. I don’t like being lied to, and nor do my producers and more importantly, nor do my listeners. I think an apology is appropriate.



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