ConHome Diary: Terror in Westminster & Dreaming About Tim Shipman

24 Mar 2017 at 13:36

Steve Uncles is a name you probably won’t be familiar with. He has been a leading light in the English Democrats for a number of years, particularly in the south east, and has stood in a number of elections, including for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner and in the European Elections. He appeared on the late-lamented 18 Doughty Street several times and I always found him an amiable cove. Last week he was sentenced at Maidstone Court to 7 months in prison. His crime? To submit bogus election papers for elections in Kent in 2013. He put in papers for candidates called Rachel Stevens (who was lead singer for S Club 7) and Anna Cleves and other real people who had never agreed to stand. I do not diminish the importance of the crime, but seven months in prison? Really? What on earth is the point of sending someone to prison for that kind of offence? This is why our prisons are so full. Surely to God there are other ways of punishing people? OK, in all probability he’ll only serve three months, but what possible good can come of sending him to prison? No one can use the argument, well, he won’t do it again if he’s in prison, will he? Yet another example of how our sentencing guidelines need massive reform.
‘Prime Suspect 1973’. Not exactly ‘Life on Mars’, is it?

Presenting a radio show when a terror incident has just happened is like walking a tightrope. One word out of place and you could lose your job. And so it was that on Wednesday afternoon Shelagh Fogarty and I negotiated our way through the appalling events that took place just outside the Palace of Westminster. To be fair, we quickly had quite a few details almost from the start. That’s something unusual in these cases. Several times I have had to do a three hour radio broadcast of rolling news when we knew very few details at all. Keeping an audience engaged in those circumstances is one of the most difficult things you have to cope with as a live broadcaster. I remember when flight MH17 went down in Ukraine. Those were the only details we had. Speculate too much and it’s inappropriate. Say too little and repeat ad nauseum and you lose your audience. It’s in these situations, though, when a station like LBC comes into its own. We don’t have zillions of reporters, but we do have an increasing number of listeners who are only too willing to tell us what they have seen. It was heartbreaking to find out that the police officer guarding the mother of parliaments had lost his battle for life. The pictures of Tobias Ellwood administering CPR to the police officer will stay with me for a long while. Two heroes of our time.
Some people never know when to quit. Well, Jacqui Smith and I have quit the Sky News paper review. Hold the front page! I hear you say. For us both it was quite wrench as we have, we think, developed quite a good on-screen rapport, but sometimes you just have to do what you think is right, and we figured our time was rapidly coming to an end. Sky seem to want to shake up the people who are guests on their paper reviews and we could see the writing on the wall. Apparently there’s a new broom who thinks their viewers want to see more Corbynistas and Americans, and fewer Westminster and media insiders. Well, it’s a point of view, I suppose. One thing I have learned in observing and participating in these paper reviews is that you shouldn’t go on them if you have no personality and very little to say. Some of their more recent recruits appear afraid to articulate a coherent opinion on anything and stay firmly rooted to the fence. I’ll leave you to judge whether that makes better TV than the kind of good humoured, and yes, spiky, banter Jacqui and I indulge in. But I make no complaint. It’s Sky’s prerogative to change their guest personnel whenever they want to. I’ve enjoyed doing these paper reviews for 17 years but all good things come to an end. I know both Jacqui and I are going to miss Anna Botting, who I continue to regard as one of the great stars of British news TV. And what’s more, she’s as nice in person as she appears on screen.

I had a very strange dream the other night. It featured Tim Shipman (Sunday Times Political Editor) and I fighting off Chinese spies. What can it all mean?
I finish writing this diary on Thursday morning. I’ve just read Paul Waugh’s HuffPo morning email and I am not ashamed to say it moved me to tears. Journalism in this country gets a pounding sometimes but yesterday we saw it at its best – reporting the facts and sticking to them. Refusing the indulge in the mindless speculation perpetrated by the likes of Arron Banks and others on Twitter. We also saw the very best of the British people. People rushing to help their fellow citizens. An MP rushing towards danger in order to help the fallen policeman. I could go on. But there are five families grieving this morning. I cannot imagine what they are going through, and yes, I include the family of the terrorist attacker in that. How on earth can they come to terms with what he did? But most of all we think of the family of PC Keith Palmer. In their pain and grief, I hope will come to know that a whole nation is grieving with them for a man who will be remembered as a true British hero.



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Iain interviews Michele Collins

Michele Collins talks about her autobiography.

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Why Jacqui Smith and I Are Saying Good Bye to the Sky News Paper Review

22 Mar 2017 at 14:13

h/t to @Liarpoliticians for the video clip.

Last night on Sky News Jacqui Smith and I announced we were doing our last paper review. (CLIP above). Several of you have been in touch with both of us to ask why.

I started doing paper reviews on Sky around 17 years ago. Jacqui is a comparative ‘newbie’ having been doing them for around six years. I’ve had various on screen partners – first Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, then Zoe Williams and, for the last five or six years, Jacqui Smith. We usually do every other Wednesday night. Not too long ago we were told we had the highest ratings of any pairing (including Pierce & Maguire! and suggestions were made that we might like to do it every week. Given that I live in Tunbridge Wells, and not London, and Jacqui lives in Worcestershire we declined that offer as we have to stay the night in London or get home really late.

Late last year our bookings seemed to get a little lighter. Fair enough, we thought, as long as we’re getting one a month, that’s fine. However, last night’s was the first booking since early December, and the next one they offered us was in mid-May. Apparently, a new broom in senior management has decreed that there should be more Corbynistas and Americans on their paper reviews. Neither of us have any argument with that whatsoever. We’ve had a very good run and enjoyed it. We both love Anna Botting and it’s a shame we won’t be appearing with her again, but we both feel that it doesn’t really work for us if we’re only on once every other month with no certainty. On-screen partnerships don’t work when you have to spend a bit of time getting into the groove again. So we both came to the conclusion it was best for us to call it a day.

Broadcasting to a ‘grateful’ nation is a real privilege – no one has a divine right to go on doing it forever. We pulled the plug, not Sky, even though I have to say Sky’s actions hastened the decision. But we make absolutely no complaint. As we said in the clip above, we’ve been very grateful for the opportunity and we leave with only fond memories.

Anna Botting is one of Britain’s finest news broadcasters. She can turn her hand to anything, as you’ll see later this evening, when she hosts the News at Ten live from Mosul. She has an infectious personality and is one of the best things on Sky News. It was nice to do our final show with Steve Dixon, as he was one of the first presenters I ever did a paper review with – back in the days when I would be nervous as a kitten!

Jacqui and I have become firm friends as a result of doing the Sky press preview and we’re continuing our relationship by editing a two volume set of biographies of female MPs together, ‘The Honourable Ladies’, which will be published late next year. However, I’m sure we’d both like to continue our on-screen relationship, so if the editor of THIS MORNING is listening….

So thank you, Anna, thank you Sky. And thank you Jacqui! It’s been great fun!



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Harry Redknapp

Football manager Harry Redknapp talks about his autobiography

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I'll Mourn His Victims, But No, I Won't Mourn Martin McGuinness

21 Mar 2017 at 09:11

Inam Bashir and John Jeffries. Two names you’ve probably never heard of. I knew their faces but not their names. They worked in a newsagents by South Quay DLR station on the Isle of Dogs. Each morning I’d call in to their little kiosk to buy my morning newspapers on the way to work. On 9 February 1996 I decided to drive to work in London’s Victoria so I didn’t see them that morning. I wouldn’t see them ever again.

At one minute past seven that same evening I was driving back to my flat just off Westferry Circus. I was driving past the Tower of London when I heard a muffled boom. I had no idea what it meant until I reached the underground roundabout at the top of the Isle of Dogs. Sirens were going. Police were everywhere. As I emerged into the daylight, only yards from my flat in Cascades – the building Prince Charles referred to as a ‘monstrous carbunkle’ – everything was being cordoned off. I wound down my window and shouted to a policeman: “What’s going on?”. He replied with one word: “Bomb”.

I managed to get into my building only seconds before the cordon came down.

I never saw Inam or John again. They were killed by the blast. Innocent men, no doubt with loving families. Killed. For what? Killed by IRA cowards. On the orders of IRA cowards. I have no idea whether Martin McGuinness gave the orders for that bomb to be planted. In a way it doesn’t really matter. We know that he approved and ordered dozens of other terror atrocities and clearly did nothing to prevent this one.

Yes, I hear all the blather today about how vital he was to the peace process, and in many ways he was. He adapted to government in a way no one could have predicted. I acknowledge all that.

But no, I won’t indulge in all the kind words being uttered about him today, often by the very same people who rejoiced in Margaret Thatcher’s passing.

I don’t mourn his passing. How could I when all I can do today is remember Inam Bashir and John Jeffries.

PS The man convicted of planting the bomb was released after only two years under Good Friday Agreement.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Photjournalist Paul Conroy

Paul Conroy talks about his terrible injuries from Syria and his work with Marie Colvin.

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ConHome Diary: The Week That Was + Questions for Lord Feldman

17 Mar 2017 at 13:27

Well that was quite a week, wasn’t it? I still don’t understand why the government abandoned its plans to trigger Article 50 on Tuesday. Yes, Nicola Sturgeon stole the show on Monday with her referendum announcement, but I fail to see why that should have thrown the government into panic. EU leaders had clearly been led to expect it on Tuesday and had even arranged press conferences. Putting off the triggering of Article 50 is surely an embarrassment to the government. Nicola Sturgeon has her SNP Spring conference at the weekend. Does the government really think she will be any less vitriolic about the prime minister now than she would have been if Article 50 had been triggered? I think not. Would it change the vote in the Scottish Parliament next Tuesday when the Scottish Government will seek to trigger a Section 30 Order? Of course not. In addition, given the sudden change, it will now be impossible for the actual negotiations to start much before June, as there is no date for an EU special summit before May. Had Article 50 been triggered on Tuesday, a summit could have been held on 6 April. It had already been planned. Because of the EU 60th anniversary celebrations the weekend after next, Article 50 cannot now be triggered until March 27th. Shame.
Calling a referendum is a big risk for Nicola Sturgeon. Lose and she will have to resign. Alex Salmond set the precedent on that one. It will also be a big test for Theresa May. I felt she has no choice but to authorise the referendum – it was, after all in the SNP manifesto – but she surprised most people yesterday when she said it would not happen until after the Brexit negotiations have been complete. She has right on her side, but it will go down like a cup of cold sick with the SNP and independence supporters. Frankly, if Nicola Sturgeon had any sense, she would also delay a referendum until 2021 or 2022 at the earliest. If Brexit looks like it’s going to be the disaster she has predicted, she’d probably easily win the poll. So it’s high stakes for both Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May. If either of them loses, they’d have no alternative but to resign. Come back Alex Salmond, come in Boris?

Wednesday ought to have been a total humiliation for Philip Hammond, and to a lesser extent Theresa May. But they can always count on Jeremy Corbyn to come to the rescue. Twenty minutes before PMQs a letter was released to Tory MPs from the Chancellor announcing a total reversal of the position on National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed. Corbyn – never the most nimble of politicians – had the opportunity to smash the ball into the back of the net. Instead he tapped it high into the stands, with a performance that even left of centre commentators described as his worst ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but Theresa May swatted him away as if he were a fly. Instead of being ritually humiliated the Hammond made a virtue out of having listened to protests and acting accordingly. And judging by the response on social media and my LBC show, it worked.
I don’t like the smell from East Thanet. I can’t predict where the case will end up, but if it does end up in court I wonder if the right people will actually end up in the dock. The police and CPS have little clue how elections work and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they charge the wrong people. And believe me, they will charge several. They’re on a mission and on the face of it there is a certainly a case to argue about some of the decisions that were made. But does anyone seriously believe that the local candidate or agent were in any way responsible for the national support that they clearly got for their campaigns? They would have had no say in it whatsoever. And when filling in their election expenses returns, there seems to be email evidence that shows that CCHQ told them the costs involved in the support they received would come under the national campaign. And that’s what all the legal arguments will no doubt centre on. Some of the MPs involved are friends of mine. Some of the people mentioned from CCHQ are friends of mine. In the end, though, shouldn’t the buck stop with the man who chaired the party, was head of compliance and presumably gave the orders? Step forward Lord Feldman. I like Andrew Feldman, but this is what happens when a Prime Minister appoints his BFF to a role he was completely unsuited to. He’d never fought an election, he knew little of the history of the party or the way elections work. Grant Shapps certainly did, but of course he left his post as co-chairman in May 2015. He might now look back and be rather grateful for that, even though it must have hurt at the time. The man I most feel sorry for who has been fingered by the Electoral Commission is Simon Day. It’s usually the deputy heads they go after, isn’t it? And think on this. Having read the Electoral Commission report, it is clear that Andrew Feldman was never interviewed, despite the fact he was responsible for compliance and signed off the party’s national election expenses. I think we deserve to know why he wasn’t even spoken to. Over to you, Michael Crick.


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Iain takes on Katie Hopkins

He accuses her of stirring up dark emotions

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ConHome Diary: Ready to Serve, The Honourable Ladies & the Wonders of Octopus

3 Mar 2017 at 13:06

On Wednesday evening I chaired a session at the Jewish Book Festival at King’s Place, which is also home to the Guardian. The guest was Malcolm Rifkind who was there to talk about his memoirs. POWER & PRAGMATISM, which I published last summer. I was delighted that they had to move the event to the big theatre due to the fact that 250 people had bought tickets. They were a really engaged audience and asked really good questions. I think they were surprised at how funny Malcolm was. To me, he is one of the great political speakers of our times, yet he’s never really got the credit he deserves for his ability to make brilliant speeches with no notes, on whatever subject he’s speaking on. I remember when he was Transport Secretary I watch him make a speech in the Commons on some very technical aspect of transport policy, which most ministers would have read out word for word. Not once did he look down at his notes and proceeded to make the house laugh – which isn’t easy when you’re talking about ports privatisation or some such policy.
Over the past two weeks or so I have done something I should have done years ago and switched my energy provider. I switched to a new entrant to the market called ‘Octopus Energy’. They predict I will save more than £850 over a year. Part me thinks, well, I’ll believe that when I see it, but I am very impressed with them so far. I tweeted I had done this and within an hour both the chief executive and their main twitter feed had replied and said they hoped I would be pleased with their service. You’d never get that from Npower or EDF, would you?

So it seems it’s now impossible for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 at the European Summit next week, given that the House of Lords has passed an amendment which will now ping back to the House of Commons. Mid March is now the most likely date for Article 50 to be triggered. It’s immaterial now whether the Lords should have done this, they have, so we need to see what happens next. Assuming the Commons ‘pongs’ the amendment back, you have to assume the Lords will back down. In the unlikely event that they don’t, and the ping-pong continues I suppose it’s possible that the end of March deadline could be missed. This seemed to be recognised in Theresa May’s remarks at PMQs when she said she ‘planned’ to trigger Article 50 by the end of March and used the phrase ‘It is my intention to…’. That’s a bit different to saying ‘I will’. Nuance maybe, but possibly significant. I keep being told that the March 31 deadline was chosen because if it is done after that, the Lisbon Treaty says the only way we would then be allowed to leave I if 14 members of the Council of Ministers voted to allow us to. I have yet been able to discover if this is an urban myth or not. Those that say this would happen have so far been able to give me any proof. Can anyone here do any better? And if this all goes terribly wrong and we end up in a 1910 situation, would Theresa May then be forced to create 100 new peers? Lord Dale of Ashdon in the county of Essex has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?! Haha.
The speech that Donald Trump gave to Congress this week is the one he should have given at his inauguration. Although there were lots of things I disagreed with in it but it was almost statesmanlike in its delivery. Perhaps he should use autocue a little more often. One thing though. He promised to create an Office to Support the Victims of Crime by Immigrants. At least that’s what I thought he said. And indeed he did. The proof is HERE [ADD LINK http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-speech-voice-immigrants-crimes-list-agency-donald-joint-address-congress-a7604836.html ]. Jawdropping.

I’ve got a new book project on the go. Jacqui Smith and I are going to co-edit a two volume set of books marking the 100th anniversary of the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. Since then 456 women have been elected. In the present day House of Commons there are 455 male MPs, which just goes to show how the chamber is still very male dominated. The first volume will contain biographies of the 168 women elected between 1918 and 1996. The second one will contain profiles of the 288 female MPs elected since 1997. It’s a massive project and we are now contacting potential authors for the various biographical profiles. And they will also be women too. The books have a very Ronseal title – ‘The Honourable Ladies’.


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LBC 97.3: Interview with Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman tells Iain Boris Johnson is too lazy to be Prime Minister, and he reacts to his expulsion from the Conservative Party.

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The UK’s Contrarian Publisher: Iain Dale on the ‘Gift’ of Donald Trump

27 Feb 2017 at 09:10

By Roger Tagholm for Publishing Perspectives

Particularly in an age when everyone faces the effects of the ‘echo chamber,’ hearing counter-opinions can be important. And the UK’s Iain Dale is happy to offer some balance. Since the June Brexit referendum in the UK and Donald Trump’s election in the US, the publishing industries of those and other countries have reacted primarily along the liberal lines common to the literary workplace. Today, a different voice. British bookseller, publisher, and commentator Iain Dale says, ‘I can’t stand Donald Trump,’ but that the book business’ ‘quite hysterical’ response overlooks something: ‘Controversy is always good for publishing.’—Porter Anderson

In the UK, Iain Dale is one publishing community member who has voiced opinions on Donald Trump and Brexit that differ from the views—or, at least, the perceived views–of most people in the book world. Dale is managing director of the independent Biteback Publishing house, and a rare figure in British publishing. He may be the only publisher to have stood (for the Conservative Party) for Britain’s Parliament. He lost to the Liberal Democrats in Norfolk North in 2005, and then put himself forward as the candidate for the safe seat of Maidstone in 2007. He “failed to get past the first interview stage,” has he puts it in his site’s biography. He’s been a bookseller, having opened Politico’s Bookstore in Westminster in 1997. And he hosts a drive-time daily (4 to 7 p.m.) radio show on LBC 97.3, the London Broadcasting Company, for which he’s been twice named Arqiva Radio Presenter of the Year, in 2013 and 2016. Dale was co-presenter on the 2016 General Election show, which received a Gold Award at the New York Radio Festival Awards. What’s more, Dale has edited, written, or compiled more than 30 books, including Memories of Margaret Thatcher, and his political blog at www.iaindale.com is widely followed. He’s a regular pundit heard on Sky News and is also a visiting professor of politics and broadcasting at the University of East Anglia. In short, he’s a busy man. He spoke with Publishing Perspectives on the reaction of the publishing industry to recent events on both sides of the Atlantic.

Publishing Perspectives: The book industry, of course, has had sharp reactions to the election of Trump and, to a lesser extent, the Brexit decision. What’s your view of both these events?

Iain Dale: It’s typical of our inward-looking industry that people in publishing seem to think of Brexit and Trump as a threat rather than an opportunity.

They both present opportunities to publish a huge range of new books, and for years to come. Publishing needs to get real and stop pretending to be Violet Elizabeth Bott [the lisping spoiled daughter in Richmal Crompton’s Just William books].

PP: Do you think, especially with regard to Trump, that the reaction has been over the top?—although many feel this is justified.

ID: I can’t stand Donald Trump, but the reaction to his election has been quite hysterical. Calling him a fascist and likening him to Hitler reveals the ignorance of the people who do it—and the fact they know nothing about history. He’s a gift to publishers of nonfiction (and possibly fiction!), and at some point even the most recalcitrant left-wingers will see the scales fall from their eyes.

PP: What did you think of “crowdgate,” when Trump was adamant that there were more people at his inauguration than Obama’s? Can’t this make him seem a comic figure to some, hard to take seriously?

ID: Donald Trump has to be taken seriously whether some people like it or not. Yes, he appears to be a clown, but he does happen to be president of the most powerful country in the world.

PP: In what ways do you think Trump will be good for publishing?

ID: Controversy is always good for publishing, and you don’t get more controversial than Trump. I suspect there will be more books published about him in 2017 than in the first years of all the most recent US presidents put together.

PP: Same question, but for Brexit. In what ways do you think Brexit will be good for publishing?

ID: It’s the same as with Donald Trump. We have a nation engaged in the issue of Brexit but not quite sure what will emerge from it. It’s the biggest political issue of my lifetime and there’s a real thirst for knowledge out there about what might happen and how it will change our country.

PP: Why do you think book people tend to lean to the left? And isn’t it ironic that it’s often the right that’s economically radical?

ID: I have no idea why the publishing and bookselling industry is dominated by people on the left. I suppose it’s the same in other areas associated with the arts. But it’s not healthy when left-wing book buyers in bookshops subliminally censor what the book buying public is allowed to read.

But it’s the same in the media. [UK talk show host] Graham Norton invited Harriet Harman [Labour Party politician and former leader of the opposition] onto his show to promote her memoirs, and very good she was, too! His show would never have someone on the right, or even soft right, on to do the same.

Did he invite Ken Clarke on [jazz-loving Conservative MP and former chancellor of the exchequer]? No. Because his producers wouldn’t be able to stomach it.

PP: Do you feel a sense of responsibility to put forward the other view, to counter the anti-Trump, anti-Brexit drumbeat?

ID: No. I’ll publish pro- and anti-Trump books. I know some people see Biteback as on the right, mainly because of my own background. But in reality we’ve published slightly more left-of-center books than right-of-center. If I see a good proposal, I’ll bid for it regardless of its stance on Trump.

PP: What titles do you have coming up at London Book Fair in this regard?

ID: A lot of our books are very UK-centric, so selling foreign rights has never been a huge revenue stream for us. However, there are exceptions. Guy Standing’s The Corruption of Capitalism has done well for us internationally, and we’ll be pushing this at the book fair. We have Jonathain Romain’s Confessions of a Rabbi, which might do well in the US, and Israel. We also have high hopes for Post Truth: How Bullshit Took Over the World by Buzzfeed’s James Ball.

PP: Didn’t you start out leaning to the left? What happened?

ID: When I was 16, I joined the Liberal Party when David Steel was its leader. Six months later I heard a speech by Margaret Thatcher, and thought to myself: “Well, I agree with every word of that.” And I haven’t looked back since.

However, I may be as dry as dust on economics, but on social issues I am as wet as a lettuce.

PP: How is trade at the moment? Is there anything you’re particularly concerned about? Are Biteback titles available in digital formats as well as in print?—do you have a view on the resurgence of print and indies?

ID: Last year was good for us. We’re actually vaguely profitable now.

In 2014, we realized we had to diversify our income and we couldn’t rely just on sales through bookshops. Forty percent of our income is now non-bookshop related.

Our Web site sales keep on growing, and ebooks are a meaningful part of our revenue, although I do wonder whether ebooks have plateaued.

My main concern is that it remains difficult to get current affairs books displayed in meaningful quantities in some of the bigger bookshops. We really punch above our weight in terms of getting PR for our books, but sometimes that’s not reflected in the support from some bookshops. It’s a constant battle.

PP: Do you think Trump will last, or do you think it might all implode in some way?

ID: Who knows whether he’ll implode? There’s a higher chance than with his predecessors, I suppose.


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LBC 97.3 Iain talks to David Aaronovitch about Ed Miliband

David Aaronovitch gives his analysis of Ed Miliband's failings

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ConHome Diary: Jon Snow's Deleted Tweet & Can We Have Less Fluff Please on Sky News?

25 Feb 2017 at 11:31

Twitter can be an unforgiving beast, as Jon Snow found out on Wednesday evening. He is a newsman I have tremendous respect for, but when he tweeted this on Wednesday, I and many others saw red.

“How many of those who voted Leave knew or had ever heard about the single market and knew whether they wanted to stay in it or leave it.”

Admittedly I have had to recreate the exact text of that tweet because after I tweeted the following, he deleted the original…

“I’m a huge admirer of Jon, but this is an argument for a dictatorship of the elites and that the ‘plebs’ shouldn’t vote in elections. FFS”
He then quickly deleted the original tweet and replaced it with this…

How many of those who voted in the referendum, knew or had ever heard about the single market and either wanted to stay in it or leave it?

The argument Snow was making was that the referendum was invalid because thick people didn’t know what they were voting for. The fact is that we had more information available to us in this referendum than any other referendum or election in history. Just because Mrs Miggins fro 32 Acacia Avenue didn’t know the contents of an EU Directive on environmental protection does not mean she shouldn’t have been able to vote. In general elections, some people cast their vote based on all sorts of peculiar reasons. I’ve stood on enough doorsteps to know that. I’ve had people tell me they are voting for a candidate because they fancy him. Or that another candidate doesn’t dress very well so they couldn’t possibly vote for him or her. Sometimes people vote with their gut instinct. If we expected people to read all four parties’ manifestos before casting their vote, we’d have a very restricted electorate indeed. Perhaps Jon would like the electorate to be restricted to those living in Islington. The fact is we all knew we’d have to leave the single market because it wasn’t just Boris Johnson or Michael Gove who told us so – it was Osborne, Clegg and Cameron on the Remain side. In addition, the EU itself made clear we wouldn’t be able to stay if we didn’t accept the continuation of complete freedom of movement of people and labour. I rather like the fact that newscasters like Jon Snow are cutting loose a bit and giving their views, but to treat voters as fools is perhaps not the wisest move.
I writing this on Thursday morning so I don’t know the results of the two by-elections. What I do know is that whatever happens, it’s a lose-lose for Labour and a win-win for the Conservatives. If Labour loses both seats it will be the first time a governing party has taken a seat off the opposition in a by-election for 35 years. If Labour win both it guarantees Corbyn’s position until after the local elections in May. The Corbynistas will be crowing about how it was Jeremy wot won it, when in actual fact it will be Jeremy who nearly lost it. These two by-elections have been vicious and spiteful, and for once it’s not the LibDems who have been most guilty of it. Labour’s campaign in Copeland has culminated in their message being encapsulated in the slogan “Tories Will Kill Your Babies”. It’s been the modern day equivalent of Peter Griffiths’ racist campaign in Smethwick in 1966, which saw him use the slogan: “If you want a N
* for a neighbour, vote Labour. He went on to win.

Labour’s candidate in Stoke has been a disaster. His tweets have brought shame on him and his party, given that they selected him in the first place. When he does interviews he comes across as shifty, nasty and just the kind of man you’d not want to vote for. However, Paul Nuttall has had a disastrous campaign and whatever the truth of the matter has emerged as someone who has a Walter Mitty streak to his character. Nuttall is a very clever man, but also someone who is quite sensitive and he will have been horrified by the media coverage he has attracted. Politics can be a very ugly business sometimes, as Paul Nuttall has come to personally realise.
I don’t know what it is, but since they moved their studio into the so-called ‘Glass Box’ something has happened to Sky News. The move coincided with them ‘losing’ quite a few of their more experienced presenters. Presenter lineups on any channel do change from time to time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure I will be ‘refreshed’ at some point on LBC, although having just signed a new contract, my detractors won’t be getting their way for quite some to come! But the secret of change is to implement it gradually, rather than in a ‘big bang’. I also detect signs of dumbing down. This week one of their Breakfast show’s 9.30am debates asked the question: “Who was the best James Bond”. That’s a phone-in for BBC Radio Surbiton, not for a major news channel. Most people tune into Sky to get the news, not an asinine debate like that. Guess what! The presenters and the guests all disagreed who the best Bond was. Like anyone gave a shit. If my producer had told me we’d be doing a phone-in on that subject on LBC I’d have laughed in her face and asked if she was feeling OK. I get the fact that it’s about light and shade and three hour of relentless bad news is not going to drag in the viewers, but even so, if I want fluff in the morning, there’s plenty available on ITV and the BBC. I remain a huge fan of Sky and always watch it in preference to the BBC News Channel. It’s always had character, and the presenters seem freer to express their personalities than they are on the BBC – for obvious reasons, I suppose. I like a lot of their new presenters, especially Niall Paterson and Gamal Fanbulleh. At Breakfast Sarah Jane Mee and Jonathan Samuels are both fine journalists, but can we have less of the fluff please?



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UK Politics

Twenty Things We Learned From Stoke Central & Copeland

24 Feb 2017 at 09:52

What a night. I stayed up to see both results. Here are a few thoughts…

1. UKIP’s ground operation is no match for Labour’s.
2. Labour’s scare tactics on the NHS can backfire spectacularly.
3. The relentless media campaign against Paul Nuttall – fueled it has to be said by Paul Nuttall himself – didn’t, after all, go over the heads of the electorate.
4. For the Conservatives to win by the margin they did in Copeland puts this result fairly high up in the byelection upsets of all time league table.
5. Labour can’t blame the Copeland result on special circumstances or the weather. It was a routing on a high turnout.
6. Given the publicity in Stoke, you wonder where the 62% were who didn’t vote. Sheltering from Doris?
7. UKIP needs to ask itself some hard questions. Its vote went up less than the Conservatives in Stoke, and was totally squeezed in Copeland. That happened because Theresa May has attracted back UKIP voters who wonder what the party is now far and they like what she’s doing on Brexit.
8. Jeremy Corbyn is now said to be preparing a war against the Blairites. Big mistake.
9. Copeland was a far bigger result than the last time the Tories gained a seat in government in Croydon in 1982. That was a byelection in which the SDP and the LibDems both stood.
10. John Woodcock says Labour is on course for an historic defeat. Many now believe Labour may gain many fewer than 200 seats in 2020.
11. Paul Nuttall’s reputation has been hugely damaged by what happened in Stoke. There is still a feeling that he never really wanted to be leader, so there are questions as to whether he has the resilience and determination to come back from this.
12. UKIP had high hopes of winning the Leigh byelection when it happens – likely in June – but they are 14,000 votes behind there. The Tories are in second place there with UKIP 1500 votes behind. UKIP has to win votes from the Tories as well as Labour. Stoke shows that’s more difficult than they had thought.
13. Stoke is an even worse result for UKIP than on the face of it, given that Labour selected a candidate who was even more hapless than Bill Pitt in Croydon in 1982. And believe me, that’s saying something. If he represents the quality of Labour candidates now being selected, God help them.
14. Labour’s share of vote has dropped in every byelection since EU referendum: Witney -2 %pts, Richmond -9, Sleaford -7, Stoke -2, Copeland -5.
15. The LibDems increased their share of the vote in both constituencies. They will be satisfied with that, even though they were never in the running for either seat.
16. People are now asking what UKIP’s main selling point is? If they can’t define that, they’re in real trouble.
17. Instead of UKIP becoming the main challengers to Labour in the north, it may be that they gain some votes from Labour in northern seats, with the consequence that they allow the Conservatives to come through the middle and take the seat. That’s what happened in 1983 when the Alliance parties intervention allowed the Conservatives to win a majority of 144. Seats like Halifax and Barrow went to the Tories. This should be Labour’s main fear now.
18. In his media round this morning, John McDonnell says “this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn”. I’ll leave you to think about that.
19. UKIP chairman Paul Oakden gave an Adam Ant response this morning: ""disappointing but not desperate". Well at least he avoided saying “desperate, but not serious.”
20. Paul Nuttall will be spending the day flagellating himself.


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UK Politics

Leave Politicians Told Us Exactly What We'd Be Voting For - It's a Shame Remain Leaders Didn't, But We All Know Why...

19 Feb 2017 at 15:23

The mantra that leading Remain supporters come out with nowadays is that, while “of course” they support the democratic vote on June 23rd, we poor buggers hadn’t got a clue what we were voting for when we voted to Leave. Yes, we voted to leave the EU, but we didn’t know our “destination” because no one had told us what our destination was. This is of course bollocks writ large. Voting to come out of the EU naturally meant leaving the EU and all its associated institutions. We knew we would be leaving the Single Market because we were told this. Not just by the two co-leaders of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, but also by Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne. Don’t believe me? Spend thirty seconds watching this video…

It was clear as night follows day that we’d leave the auspices of the European Court of Justice. If we wanted to negotiate our own bilateral trade deals, by definition we’d need to leave the Customs Union. There was nothing unclear about it. ‘Take Back Control’ meant just that. But politicians like Tony Blair, Tim Farron, Nick Clegg and Peter Mandelson have developed a narrative that the Leave campaign hadn’t told us the truth. It was all lies. And worse than that, they had lied by omission. They didn’t tell us the exact consequences of what leaving would mean. “No one voted to make themselves poorer,” they trill, as if leaving the EU would automatically make us poorer. In actual fact, there is an argument that it’s perfectly logical to vote Leave if sovereignty if more important to you than a percentage point or two onto GDP. Remain leaders by and large take it for granted that leaving the EU must by definition make us poorer, ignoring the fact that they can’t possibly know, any more than I, as a Leave supporter, can 100% guarantee that the opposite is true.

Leading Leave supporters have failed to answer this point. They almost shrug their shoulders as if they don’t care. “We won, so suck it up,” is often the attitude. They don’t even really take on the argument that the £350 million a week “promise” wasn’t in any way a promise. The words on the bus actually said “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now you can argue if you want that this is a promise to spend £350 million extra every week on the NHS, but it didn’t actually say that, did it? “Let’s fund our NHS instead” certainly means more money for the NHS but it doesn’t necessarily mean all of the £350 million would be spent on the NHS. And even if it did, Vote Leave was a campaign, it wasn’t an alternative government. But saying this is, I know, like pissing in the wind. But even if people did take it as a promise, how many people actually voted Leave purely because of this promise. 1%? 2%? Well, given the margin of the final result, maybe it really was that ‘wot won it’. Dominic Cummings certainly thinks so.

But how is this any different to the kinds of pledges and promises made in a general election campaign, which are then later ditched. Student tuition fees, Mr Clegg? To say that we were all gullible and that people voted for all sorts of reasons, including to give David Cameron a kicking, is not only to insult voters, it’s to fail to recognise that people vote in general elections for all sorts of reasons – a lot of them incomprehensible. Some just vote with their gut or their heart. Others study manifestos. Others vote on which party leader they fancy most. believe me, I’ve heard it on the doorstep. Should those people be denied the vote? Is that really what Remain leaders would argue? It just goes to demonstrate why many people now treat mainstream politicians with contempt. It’s in part why Trump won. Political leaders have in large part become an elite, which has lost touch with normal people and their motivations. Don’t believe me? Look at Nick Clegg’s rhetoric at the moment, and then compare it to the language in this leaflet from 2009 when Clegg was an articulate exponent of an In-Out Referendum…

If the LibDems had been successful in pushing the Labour government to hold such a referendum, and then the voters had said OUT, would Clegg then have been arguing what he is now? Trusting the people is something you either believe in or you don’t. If you don’t you go back and ask them again until you are able to scare the voters into giving you the answer you wanted in the first place. Ask the people of Ireland, France or Denmark. Or maybe Scotland.

But that’s all a side issue. Theresa May, David Davis and Boris Johnson need to take on those who argue that we didn’t know the destination when we voted to LEAVE. And they need to throw the argument back on Remainers. Even some ardent Remainers now recognise the Remain campaign was so negative that it put people off. Project Fear was a massive mistake. I remember during the campaign commenting on the fact that there was only one person in Britain Stronger In Europe who was able to articulate a positive case for EU membership, and that was their Head of Press, James McGrory, someone who used to do the same job for Nick Clegg. No one else put forward any vision, and positivity or any idea of what the sunny EU uplands might look like.

So imagine if we had voted Remain on June 23rd. What would we have voted for?…

* A federal Europe?
* A European Army?
* Membership of the Euro?
* More EU?
* Less EU?
* A reformed EU, but in what way?
* EU expansion and if so by how much?

I could go on. The Remain campaign didn’t address most of these issues for obvious reasons. We were told there were no plans for an EU army, despite the fact that there was a meeting the following week in Brussels to take the idea forward. They denied any prospect of Turkey joining the EU, despite the British Embassy employing designated staff to help push forward Turkey’s application, and despite the fact that meetings were scheduled in Brussels in the weeks after the vote to make progress on negotiations. Clearly what happened next with the coup and more crackdowns mean that it will indeed be a long time before Turkey gets membership of the EU, but it looked rather different a year ago. David Cameron kept denying he was in favour of Turkish membership, but this video rather gives the lie to that…

I do understand why Britain Stronger In Europe couldn’t address the issue of ‘more Europe’, an EU army, etc. They couldn’t because even most of their own supporters might have had a pause for thought. But it showed a distinct lack of courage and leadership.

Just because Leave won the referendum that doesn’t mean the arguments are over. I don’t blame Remain supporters for continuing to defend EU membership. Does anyone seriously believe that a 52-48 Remain result would have shut up the Eurosceptics? Of course it wouldn’t. Over the next two years Remain supporters will continue to warn of the dangers of leaving the EU, without seeing any benefits whatsoever. And that’s fine. But the tide is turning against them. 68% of the British people, according to ICM want the government to get on with it. Even 44% of of Remainers support that view (compared to 33% in December).

If the government is frustrated in its wish to trigger Article 50 or to commence negotiations Remain leaders should prepare themselves for a backlash. It would be yet more evidence of the elites dividing themselves from the will of ordinary people.



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ConHome Diary: Michael Gove Wanted to Reform Prisons But Liz Truss Seems More Interested in Headlines

17 Feb 2017 at 16:50

So unemployment is down a further 7,000. Productivity is up 0.3%. Wages up by 2.6%. All this economic good news continues to be reported with hashtag #despitebrexit. In addition, earlier this week the European Commission made a complete fool of itself by being the only organisation to cut Britain’s economic growth forecast by 0.5% to 1.5% this year. And surprise, surprise, they reckon that in 2019, he year we actually leave the EU, growth in the Eurozone economies will overtake that of Britain. Well they couldn’t really say anything else, could they?
I found Liz Truss’s speech on prison reform this week disappointing in the extreme. It was as if we had gone back twenty years and were listening to Michael Howard telling us that prison works. The only way prison works at the moment is that people are locked up and not able to commit further crimes. Beyond that, they don’t work at all. Just look at this country’s rate of repeat offending. Liz Truss doesn’t seem at all concerned that our prison population is at an all time high. Indeed, it’s double what it was in 1993, and yet we’re told that crime rates are at an all time low. Something doesn’t compute there, does it? I am very happy to lock up serious offenders, people who are a danger to society. Indeed, I’d lock most of them up for far longer. However, there are thousands of people in prison who don’t need to be there, if only we were able to dream up alternative forms of punishment. What is the point of putting people in prison if they are no danger to society, if their crimes are not serious. What is the point of imprisoning someone for not paying a TV licence fine, or council tax. And of course once people get to prison, they end up on the highway to hell. They’re locked up in their cells for most of the day due to a chronic lack of prison officers to look after them. Educational resources are at a minimum. Sixty per cent of released prisoners can’t read or write. Is it any wonder then, that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recently released prisons to find a job. And then there are the drugs. Stories are legion of people who go into prison never having taken a drug in their lives but come out addicted to a hard drug. There are constant calls for prison regimes to be tougher and less like a holiday camp. This is short-sighted thinking. If you treat people like animals while they are incarcerated, don’t be surprised if their behaviour doesn’t change when they are released. I’m not saying prisoners should live in the lap of luxury, but surely losing their freedom is punishment enough for the crime they have committed. Imposing Victoria conditions merely means that a violent rebellion is at some point inevitable. I believe Michael Gove understood all this, and was on the point of radically changing our prisons system for the better. Liz Truss seems to be putting all this into reverse gear, purely for the sake of some red meat headlines. Shame.

As usual nowadays when a Cabinet Minister makes a big speech, Liz Truss wasn’t available for interview on Monday, so I interviewed her Labour opponent instead, Richard Burgon. It rapidly became clear that he had little alternative policy to present, but he did commit a Labour government to recruiting 6-8,000 new prison officers on top of the 2,500 already being hired by the current government. I reckon, at a conservative estimate that’s a new spending commitment of more than £200 million.
Next week’s by-elections could well shape a lot of our domestic politics over the next two or three years. If Labour loses both is it really tenable for Jeremy Corbyn to continue? I cannot see how he or his supporters could explain them away. At the moment, most people seem to think they will hold on to Stoke but lose Copeland to the Conservatives. If this happens it would be the first time a governing party had gained a by-election from the opposition party for thirty five years. Even an Ostrich can now see that Labour can’t possibly win a general election with Jeremy Corbyn in charge. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to matter to them. Many on the left are far happier going on protest marches against the ‘wicked Tories’ than having the responsibility of power. And long may it remain so.



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