Books

The Twenty Best or Most Memorable Books I've Published Over the Last Seventeen Years

30 Dec 2015 at 12:00

Back in 1998 I started Politico’s Publishing. I made a very big mistake in 2003 by selling it to Methuen. I thought I had taken it as far as I could and the list would benefit from being part of a bigger company. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Within two months I knew I had done the wrong thing and I left the company. The new owners ran it into the ground and within a short time it ceased to exist in any meaningful way. It is now totally defunct. Five years later I started Total Politics Magazine and within a year we had decided to revive the art of political publishing. There was a gap in the market and I decided to fill it. Again. And so Biteback Publishing was formed. Since then we have published nearly 500 books. I don’t know how many we published at Politico’s in the five years I owned it, but it must have been around 100.

So, to get to the point, I’ve had the bright idea of choosing the top 20 books I have ever published. These aren’t necessarily the best selling ones, or even the best, but they are books which I got a huge satisfaction out of publishing and many would not have made it onto the bookshelves without me taking them on, seeing as virtually all the large publishers have dumbed down to such an extent that they ignore political books nowadays…

When I started Biteback in 2009 part of our mission was to become a monopoly political publisher within five years. We may not publish every political book on the market, but we’ve come pretty damned close in a very short time. So here goes (in no particular order).

Power Trip by Damian McBride

Biteback, 2013
Bearing in mind my history with Damian (I was one of those smeared in ‘Smeargate’ in 2009) many thought it was deeply ironic I published Damian’s story. But I chased him for around 18 months before pen was put to paper on the contract. Damian was an absolute model author. He delivered the cleanest manuscript we had ever received. It almost didn’t need an edit. It has so far proved to be our second best selling book ever, selling more than 25,000 copies.

Here Today Gone Tomorrow by John Nott

Politico’s, 2002
John Nott hadn’t been seen in politics for more or less twenty years but when he approached me to publish his memoirs I was very keen indeed. He proved to be a difficult negotiator on the contract and I remember spending two hours going through it with him line by line. At the end I said to him: “You do realise I haven’t agreed to a single change, don’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “but it’s been good fun, hasn’t it?” I realised he really missed the cut and thrust of politics and business. It was a very honest book and very odd in some ways in that the first chapter was all about his ancestor taking part in the Afghan Wars of the 19th century, and the last was all about his views on supermarkets. But it sold very well, and despite being a cantankerous old bugger, he was a pleasure to deal with.

Fourth Among Equals by Bill Rodgers

Politico’s, 2000
We had a lot of trouble over the title of this book. Bill Rodgers was the least well known of the so-called Gang of Four who launched the SDP, but Bill is a very proud man and took a bit of convincing. It remains one of the best political autobiographies I have ever published and as an author he was a delight to deal with.

Getting out Alive by Roger Mosey

Biteback, 2015
This book was published in July 2015 and I’d class this as one of the most elegantly written books I’ve published. Roger has held virtually every senior post there is to hold at the BBC without actually becoming DG. Given his career path I am astonished that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I’d have thought 30 years in the higher echelons in BBC management would have turned him into an egotistical narcissist, but not a bit of it. He hasn’t sought to diss the BBC at all, but despite that this book is a real page turner for anyone who has worked in the media.

Tory Pride & Prejudice by Michael McManus

Biteback, 2011
This history of homosexuality and the Conservative Party remains one of the best books I have published. I wanted to call it QUEER BLUE WATER but Michael wouldn’t have it, and I have a policy of never forcing a title on an author, although this is the closest I have come to it! When I read the manuscript for the first time I rang Michael and told him: “Even if this book never sells a single copy, you should be very proud of writing it.” Its sales figures were very disappointing, but I stick to the view that this book is a fantastic piece of work, which anyone interested in gender politics or the modern history of the Tory Party should read.

Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth

Biteback, 2014
I remain of the view that this was the best political book of the 1990s and that’s why I republished it last year in hardback, with a couple of up to date chapters. Even as a £25 hardback reprint it did amazingly well so we then brought out a paperback version this year. Gyles has a brilliant way with words, and these diaries are massively indiscreet and brilliantly written. If you want to understand the Major government, this is a book you simply have to read.

Second Term by Simon Walters

Politico’s Publishing, 2001
I love reading novels with a Westminster based plot, which is why I agreed to publish this book. I don’t really normally publish political fiction because it is a very difficult genre to sell into bookshops and it’s easy to catch a financial cold. But this book was so good – and prophetic as it turned out – I took a big risk with it. In the end it sold out in hardback (2000 copies, which is great for hardback fiction) and Simon went on to get a five figure advance from a publisher which sadly soon went out of business – mainly because they kept paying five figure advances!

You Alone May Live by Mary Blewitt

Biteback, 2010
Back in 2007 I went to Rwanda to report on a Conservative Party social action project. Before I went I met Mary Blewitt, originally from Rwanda but now living in London. Many members of her family had been killed in the 1994 genocide. She accompanied us to Kigali and her story really affected me. In an interview with her we both broke down. Hers was one of the first books I published at Biteback, and although sales were disappointing, her story is incredibly powerful and it is a book I am proud to have published.

When my Husband Does the Dishes by Kerry Sackville

Biteback, 2011
I met Kerry Sackville on a trip to Australia in June 2011 when I interviewed her at 4 in the morning when I was broadcasting my show live back to the UK. She made a real impression on me and her book, which was a bestseller in Australia was brilliantly funny. I signed a two book deal with her, for what was a massive amount of money for us at the time. Sadly neither book did the business for us, but I remain of the view that they deserved to do much better. Somehow the British media just didn’t want to support the book, which is all about the life of a woman with two young children and a husband who does the dishes only when he’s after a bit of rumpy pumpy. One of the lowlights of my publishing career was when Mumsnet demanded £5000 to run an interview with Kerry on their website. They were told where they could stick it.

Prime Minister Portillo & Other Things That Never Happened ed Duncan Brack & Iain Dale

Politico’s Publishing, 2003
I’ve always loved counterfactual history so in 2003 Duncan Brack and I commissioned fifteen or so writers to write a series of essays on political events that might have turned out differently. I wrote the title chapter and wrote it as fiction, rather than an alternate history. The book did reasonably well and it was followed by President Gore and Prime Minister Boris. In mid 2016 we’re publishing Prime Minister Corbyn and Other Things That Never Happened.

Out in the Army by James Wharton

Biteback, 2013
James Wharton was a soldier in the British army, and he was gay. I met James at a function in London and he told me he was writing a book. I was like a rat at a trap and was delighted when he signed up with Biteback. It’s a warts and all story, very moving at very emotional. There’s little doubt that James played a big role in encouraging the upper echelons of the army to think seriously about gay equality and his subsequent celebrity is a mark of the importance of him blazing a trail for others.

Jim Bleat for Prime Minister by Margaret Woodhouse

Politico’s Publishing, 2001
I signed this book up at the 2000 Frankfurt Book Fair from a New Zealand author. She uses the story a sheep to explain politics to young readers. I thought it was a brilliant way of doing it, but sadly British bookshops just couldn’t see it, and nor could schools. We recorded a CD with politicians reading different chapters (including John Redwood, whose ‘baaing’ was magnificent.

Hate by Matthew Collins

Biteback, 2011
Matthew Collins used to a self-confessed racist. He even took part in a violent racist attack. But he then saw the light and renounced his previously held views and became an evangelist for anti-racism views. When he came to see me to suggest the book I was in two minds as to whether it would work, but work it did. His story is very rough and ready. I think in the original manuscript there were 94 ‘fucks’ and 10 ‘cunts’. I insisted they all stayed. Indeed, until I had met Matthew I had never called an author a ‘cunt’ – well not to their faces anyway. His reaction demonstrated to me we were going to get on. And we did. It’s a really important book for anyone wanting to understand and combat racism.

Inside Out by Peter Watt & Isabel Oakeshott

Biteback 2010
This was the biggest book in terms of serialisation and publicity that Biteback published in its first twelve months. It was a very personal story by the man who Gordon Brown effectively sacked as General Secretary of the Labour Party. It was a very quick turnaround. From the day I first met Peter and Isabel to the day of publication was about eight weeks. I love books for which time is the essence. Secrecy was also very important because we knew that the Brown spin machine would burst into action very quickly. When they eventually found out about the book, the day before the serialisation started, they were completely wrongfooted.

Stand Up for Your Manhood by Peter Lloyd

Biteback, 2014
I’ve always thought it was about time someone wrote a book defending men, masculinity and all that goes with it. This is that book. It’s not an anti-feminist book, and it’s not anti-women but what it is is pro men. It’s also very funny. It looks at all sorts of issues men have to cope with and it’s a book that ought to be required reading for any woman wanting to understand men. But then again, so few do!!! Controversial! Peter Lloyd is now editing a new ‘Male’ section of MailOnline. All power to his elbow!

The Welfare State We’re in by James Bartholomew

Politico’s Publishing, 2004
I commissioned this book in my final days at Politico’s and it remains a book I am really proud to say that without me it probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day. It’s sold very well and we’ve now reissued it at Biteback. To question the very essence of the welfare state is considered almost beyond the pale in this country but in this book James Bartholomew cites the evidence which he says proves that many aspects of the welfare state have merely accentuated society’s problems rather than helped solve them. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions no one could deny that this is a hugely important book.

When One Door closes by Peter Sissons

Biteback, 2012
Peter Sissons has always been a bit of a broadcasting hero of mine so when he came to me asking me to publish his memoirs I was very keen. I was even keener after I read the draft manuscript as I knew it would create many waves in the media sector. Peter has had a stellar career as a news reporter and news reader. He also has very strong views about how the news sector works, or often doesn’t. He made some very critical comments about the BBC and how it works, and how its news judgement can be defective and at times biased. He knew he would get it in the neck from liberal traditionalists and sure enough, that’s what happened. But they all knew he was right, even if they couldn’t admit it.

Project Fear by Joe Pike

Biteback, 2015
All publishers dream of discovering talented new authors who are brilliant writers, and I feel this is what has happened with Joe Pike. Joe interned at Total Politics and I then worked with him at LBC. He’s now a reporter with Scottish ITV. He approached me with an idea for a retrospective book on the Scottish referendum. To be honest I wasn’t keen and almost turned it down outright, but in the end I asked him to send a couple of sample chapters. They were brilliant. Joe writes non fiction as if it were dramatic fiction. He really knows how to tell a story and his sources were fabulous. This is without a shadow of a doubt the best book I published in 2015.

Call me Dave by Michael Ashcroft & Isabel Oakeshott

Biteback, 2015
For reasons I needn’t explain, this book attracted more publicity and sales than any other in my 17 years of publishing. The four weeks following its newspaper serialisation were somewhat surreal. I was attacked from all sides for publishing a book with a couple of single sourced stories. I mean, the crime. Journalists who should have known better didn’t seem to understand the difference between a book and a newspaper article. Most biographies contain countless stories that are not double sourced, but it seemed this book was always going to be judged in a different light to others.

In My Own Time by Jeremy Thorpe

Politico’s Publishing, 1999
In late 1998 I got a call from someone who said he was Jeremy Thorpe.‘Yeah, right,’ I thought. He was barely audible and spoke in a whisper. Anyway, it did turn out to be the former Liberal leader, a man my mother considered a bit of a hero until the trial of 1979. Thorpe hadn’t ever written a book and had been a bit of a recluse for 25 years. He invited me to his home in Orme Square and we discussed his idea for a book. Truth be told, the book wasn’t that good or revelatory, but the fact he wrote it was news in itself. It also put Politico’s Publishing on the map. John and I became friends with Marion and Jeremy and the six months I spent working with him on the book were fascinating. Despite his advancing Parkinsons Jeremy had lost none of his interest in politics and we had some fascinating conversations. I still treasure those memories.

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Random Thoughts

Attitude Column: Why Do Gay People Think That Old Age Is For Other People?

22 Dec 2015 at 23:10

I don’t know how many men over the age of seventy read this magazine, but what I do know is that the twenty somethings who read it will have given very little thought to what happens when they get old. In ‘gayworld’, old age is a faraway place which merits very little thought.

Few twinks appear able to see beyond thirty, and view the prospect of anyone over that age having sex as vaguely disgusting. Somehow young gay men have the rather endearing belief that that their youth will be eternal. Sadly, life ain’t like that. Middle age, then old age come around all too quickly.
Gay dating apps are full of profiles from people who trumpet “No over thirties”. “Don’t contact me if you’re old enough to be my father.” OK, everyone has their own tastes, but life doesn’t actually finish at thirty, believe it or not.

A whole generation of gay men are about to enter old age, but what will happen to them?

I was born in 1962, and it’s my generation I’m talking about. I’m lucky. I married the man I love and we look forward to spending our old age together, but there are thousands of gay men in their fifties and sixties who must be wondering what old age has in store for them. Is it a life of total loneliness, with companionship something that only other people enjoy?
I think we are going to see two trends developing in the next twenty years, one of which may provide a unique business opportunity for those of an entrepreneurial bent.

On the south coast there is a care home for retired publishers. In Oxford there is one for retired spooks. I’m sure there are other examples of the genre. Essentially, single pensioners go to live with people of a similar background and interest. These sort of homes are often run by the pension funds, or trade associations of the sector concerned.

Gay retirement homes have existed in the US and Australia for some years. In 2013 France opened its first one, near Montpellier, but in the UK, as far as I am aware, no one has so far grasped the nettle and opened a retirement home, or care home, specifically to cater for a growing gay population.

It’s estimated that there are more than 1.2 million people in the UK who are 55 or over. Many of them, who have been quite open about their sexuality face the prospect of retreating back into the closet in their twilight years, just to counter the likelihood of discrimination in their retirement home.

I think there will also be another interesting social development that may come to the fore, and not just for gay people. Communes were always thought to be the stuff of sixties hippies, who came together to live in big houses. I suspect that to avoid a life of loneliness we will soon find that Communes of relatively well to do middle class single people (and possibly some couples too) will pool their financial resources to buy large houses in the countryside with lots of bedrooms, but also communal living space.

My partner and I have discussed with several friends the prospect of doing this once we finish our working lives, albeit with varying degrees of seriousness.

One gay friend of mine, who isn’t out, but is in his early forties, positively looks forward to such a scenario. He’d love to find the right person to share his life with, but if that fails, he just wants to be loved and to feel safe. Like most of us he wants to live in a place where everyone is loved and cared for – where people look out for you for no other reason than they love and respect you. It’s not too much to ask is it, but I wonder who many single people in their seventies or eighties can truly say they have that nowadays.

No one looks forward to getting old, but neither should anybody fear it. It’s a sad fact that loneliness is one of the greatest afflictions of modern day society, particularly for the elderly. For elderly people who are gay, isolation can be even worse. It’s up to us all to think how to counter that.

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My Predictions For 2015 - How Did I Do?

20 Dec 2015 at 17:30

Back on 31 December 2014 I wrote THIS article giving ten predictions for 2015. So, let’s see how I did…

1. Three political party leaders will resign by the end of the year. CORRECT
2. Norwich City will be promoted to the Premier League. CORRECT
3. At least one politician associated with the Child Sex Abuse scandal will be arrested and charged. CORRECT
4. Ian Katz will be the new editor of The Guardian. WRONG (but nearly right, seeing as he was offered it and the offer was then withdrawn)
5. Jason Seiken will leave the Telegraph. CORRECT
6. Nick Robinson steps down as political editor of the BBC by the end of the year. CORRECT
7. Interest rates remain where they are for the rest of the year. CORRECT
8. Tim Farron becomes the new leader of the Liberal Democrats… what’s left of them. CORRECT
9. ISIS launch attacks in Lebanon and/or Jordan. CORRECT
10. John Kerry steps down as US Secretary of State. WRONG

So eight (and a bit!) out of ten! Not bad! I’ll write my 2016 predictions before the end of the year.

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List

My Top 100 Tweeters of 2015

19 Dec 2015 at 17:00

Each new year I compile a list of people whose tweets I have most enjoyed during the previous 12 months. I follow about 2000 people on Twitter, which is far too many to be honest, but I whenever I try to cull the number I end up giving up because it’s so difficult. Anyway, these are the ones who have entertained, informed, educated, annoyed and, most of all, made me laugh most this year. So here are my Top 100, including a massive 33 new entries, in no particular order…

PRINT JOURNALISTS (14)

@PickardJE – Jim Pickard, FT political journalist (NEW)
@BenGlaze – Mirror political reporter (NEW)
@ChrisDeerin – Journalist, Scottish Daily Mail
@ShippersUnbound – Political Editor, Sunday Times
@ZoesqWilliams – Columnist, the Guardian
@Montie – Columnist, The Times
@JohnRentoul – Columnist, Independent on Sunday
@TonyGallagher – Editor, The Sun
@Y_Alibhai – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent
@GrantTucker – My former PA & Diary Reporter for The Times
@DavidWooding – Political Editor, Sun on Sunday (NEW)
@SamCoatesTimes – Deputy Political Editor, The Times (NEW)
@OwenJones84 – Guardian columnist (NEW)
@VinceGraff – Columnist
@DAaronovitch – Columnist – The Times

TV JOURNALISTS (9)

@AFNeil – BBC presenter
@PiersMorgan – Presenter, GMB
@ReporterBoy – (Giles Dilnot), Reporter, Daily Politics
@MichaelLCrick – Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News
@KayBurley – Sky News presenter
@AdamBoulton – Sky News presenter
@FaisalIslam – Political Editor, Sky News
@DMcCaffreySKY – Political reporter, Sky News
@AlStewITN – Presenter, ITN

ONLINE JOURNALISTS (6)

@PaulWaugh – Editor, Huffington Post UK
@FleetStreetFox – Susie Boniface
@GuidoFawkes – Editor in Chief, Guido Fawkes blog
@Nero – Milo Yiannopoulos (NEW)
@Dizzy_Thinks – Phil Hendren (NEW)
@OwenJBennett – HuffPo political correspondent (NEW)

POLITICS (16)

@HeidiAllen75 – Conservative MP (NEW)
@JessPhillips – Labour MP (NEW)
@Suzanne Evans1 – Deputy Chairman, UKIP (NEW)
@LordAshcroft – Businessman & philanthropist
@Jacqui_Smith1 – Former Labour Home Secretary
@Andrew_Kennedy – Conservative Party Agent in Kent
@NadineDorriesMP – Conservative MP
@NichStarling – Former LibDem leader on Broadland District Council
@Edwina_Currie – Former Conservative MP
@ThereseCoffey – Conservative MP
@Tracey_Crouch – Conservative MP
@LiarPoliticians – Anti politics tweeter
@MrTCHarris – Former Labour MP (NEW)
@RuthDavidsonMSP – Leader, Scottish Conservatives (NEW)
@CampbellClaret – Alastair Campbell (NEW)
@GeorgeGalloway – Candidate for London Mayor (NEW)

RADIO (28)

@HattMarris84 – My producer on LBC
@StephenNolan – 5 Live presenter
@ShelaghFogarty – LBC presenter
@TheJamesMax – BBC London presenter
@JaneGarvey1 – Presenter, Woman’s Hour, Radio 4
@JuliaHB1 – Former afternoon presenter, LBC
@SuttonNick – Editor, World at One, Radio 4
@Rachel_Hump – Producer, LBC
@RobinLustig – Former Presenter, The World Tonight, Radio 4
@StanCollymore – TalkSport radio host
@TheJeremyVine – Presenter, Radio 2
@MrJamesOB – Morning show presenter, LBC
@NickyAACampbell – 5 Live presenter
@Tweeter_Anita – Presenter, Any Answers, Radio 4
@DuncanBarkes – Late show presenter, BBC London
@JohnMyersTeam – Chairman, Radio Academy
@DavidLloydRadio – David Lloyd, Orion Radio
@PaulEaston – Radio consultant
@IainLee – Radio presenter
@Grvlx001 – Jamie Angus, editor of Today
@NRDBrennan – Online Journalist, LBC (NEW)
@Hemmch – Chris Hemmings, Producer LBC (NEW)
@TomSwarbrick1 – Presenter, LBC (NEW)
@TheoUsherwood – Political Editor, LBC (NEW)
@B1Lou – Louise Birt, Managing editor, BBC Essex (NEW)
@Jags_dave – Jagruti Dave, My Drivetime producer, LBC (NEW)
@JamesCridland – Radio commentator (NEW)
@Sherls – Online editor, LBC (NEW)

SPORT (13)

@Dean36Ashton10 – Former Norwich City & West Ham footballer
@Joey7Barton – QPR footballer
@HenryWinter – Football journalist, The Times
@LeeClayton_ – Sports editor, Daily Mail
@DavidGold – Co chairman of West Ham United
@ClareBalding – BBC & BT Sport presenter
@JimmyBullard – Ex footballer
@BoringMilner – Spoof James Milner account
@MattyEthers – Matt Etherington, ex West Ham winger (NEW)
@Trevor8Sinclair – Ex West Ham winger (NEW)
@ArchieRT1 – German football journalist (NEW)
@ExWhuEmployee – West Ham news (NEW)
@MirrorDarren – Darren Lewis, Daily Mirror (NEW)

COMEDY (4)

@_YouHadOneJob1 – Comedy account poking fun at people who fail at the one job they had to do (NEW)
@RoyCropperNot – Spoof Roy Cropper sayings (NEW)
@AwkwardGrindr – Cringeworthy moments from Grindr
@2010LeeHurst – Comedian (NEW)

MISCELLANEOUS (9)

@SohailPakBrit – Gay muslim (NEW)
@WMaryBeard – Classics academic & author
@Alistairgriffin – Singer, songwriter
@AdamLake – Public Affairs Specialist
@Brit_Battleaxe – Christine Hamilton
@JamesWharton – Author of OUT IN THE ARMY
@GylesB1 – Gyles Brandreth
@Bishmanchester – David Walker, Bishop of Manchester (NEW)
@StirringTrouble – Aleksander Nekrassov

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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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Faisal Shinwari tells Iain why he jumped off Tower Bridge

I felt sorry for him

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Video

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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LBC 97.3 Iain discusses the Prophet Mohammed with Mo Ansar

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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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Iain Dale talks to the Fleet Street Fox

Susan Boniface, aka The Fleet Street Fox, joins Iain to discuss her life as a blogger, tweeter and tabloid hack.

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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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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Alistair Darling

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling discusses his book on the financial crisis.

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Radio

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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Iain interview Colleen Nolan

Colleen Nolan talks about her autobiography 'No Regrets'

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