Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 3 - Being Recognised

23 Feb 2013 at 10:39

“Excuse me,” said the elderly gentleman. “Are you the chap from ConservativeHome?”

That happened yesterday afternoon on the train back to Tonbridge. “Er, no. I’m Iain Dale,” I said. Flattering, though it is, I am not Tim Montgomerie! “Ah yes, I see you on Sky News in the evening,” he then said. Not any more he doesn’t.

To be honest, I have never been very good in responding to public recognition. I just don’t know what to say. I’m not saying it happens every day, but it is happening more often, and bizarrely in taxis. In taxis I often get recognised by my voice.Talk about weird. “Love your programme, mate,” is what usually follows. I mutter some thanks and say ‘how kind’ or words to that effect, and then become completely tongue-tied. Very unusual for me.

Someone tweeted me earlier to say they had seen me having lunch with my LBC colleague and the editor and news editor of THIS MORNING at the Oxo Tower.

“Just seen you at the oxo tower for lunch with @PetrieHoskenLBC but was too shy to say hello. I think you’re both great.”

I tweeted back and quite a conversation the ensued. Turns out he is a Spurs supporter. That’s what I love about Twitter. It brings complete strangers together to talk about common interests. The only odd things about getting tweets like this is that it reminds you that whatever you do, someone could be watching. Some years ago I was on a train and David Starkey was sitting opposite. I tweeted or blogged about it at the time and asked people if they thought I should say hello to him. I didn’t in the end as I thought it was rude to disturb him. Then someone tweeted back to say they had been sitting opposite me on a train a few weeks earlier and wondered exactly the same thing. I am not sure I like the idea of always having to watch what I do or where I am in case someone recognises me, but I guess it comes with the territory to an extent.

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LBC97.3 Iain Talks to Jason Beattie

The Mirror's political editor defends his story on George Osborne and the disabled parking bay.

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UK Politics

The Tories Should Beware of Marta Andreasen

22 Feb 2013 at 22:03

The news that UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen has defected to the Conservatives will no doubt provoke some celebrations at Tory HQ in Eastleigh tonight. She is the second one to do so, following in the footsteps of David Campbell-Bannerman, who re-ratted last year. She cites Nigel Farage’s dictatorial leadership style as the reason for her defection. I suspect the real reason is that she stood little chance of being reselected by UKIP.

To say Andreasen’s behaviour is flaky would be an understatement. My experience of her is that she is also not to be trusted, and the Tories should be very wary of her. Back in 2009 she and I had agreed that her book would be published by my new company, Biteback Publishing. We spent quite a bit of money editing the book but she went completely silent and I could never get hold of her. A month later I discovered quite by chance that the book had been published by someone else. I was livid. We were out of pocket and she had completely betrayed my trust. I have not spoken to her since. She refused to answer emails about meeting the cost of the editing. I threatened to go public about it and wrote to Lord Pearson, the then UKIP leader about it. Suddenly a cheque appeared – not from her, but from him.

Only last month she was calling Cameron’s position on Europe “naive”. This is what she told the Oxford Mail

He made a great speech but he obviously doesn’t know Brussels. Mr Cameron fundamentally fails to understand the federal EU freight train. Whilst flexibility sounds great and was probably dreamed up by the Prime Minister whilst sitting in his slippers in Chequers, there is a different reality in Brussels. I can assure the Prime Minister that there is no such thing as flexibility when it comes to the EU’s objective: a deeper federal Europe where member states’ sovereignty becomes an anachronism. His speech therefore was naive. The train is on a one-way track.

The Tories should be very careful of this woman. I know from others that there have been other incidents which show her to be, shall we say, a full pesetas short of a euro.

I’ll leave the last word to Nigel Farage…

The Conservative Party deserve what’s coming to them. The woman is impossible.

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Random Thoughts

Have You Ever Met a Nice South African?

22 Feb 2013 at 19:36

I’ve never been to South Africa, which is probably just as well. I’d spend the whole time drooling. You see, I am that very unusual example of someone who finds South African accents rather sexy. Erotic even. That probably marks me down as some kind of linguistic pervert, but I could listen to that clipped lilt 24 hours a day. That, however, is not a commonly held opinion. I tweeted earlier: “Am I alone in finding South African accents sexy?” I wasn’t alone, but those of us who do indeed hold that view could probably fit inside a telephone box. Lee Mack clearly wouldn’t be with us.

I also love South African music – Mango Groove, Juluka, Johnny Clegg & Savuka, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I could go on.

In this country we tend to think of white South Africans as rather boorish (geddit?), with no sense of humour and not much of a dress sense when abroad. And a lot of people still assume that anyone who is white and South African is probably still a bit of racist. The image of black South Africans could do with a bit of improvement in this country, due in part to the Aids denying Thabo Mbeki and the polygamous (and other) antics of their current President Zuma. It’s only the besainted Nelson Mandela who provokes unanimous sighs of admiration, and quite right too. South Africa has it in itself to be a major power in the world. It is a country of huge natural resources and talent. It’s also a country I really do want to visit, and not just to drool over the accents!

This is a Spitting Image sketch, which I suspect is not very popular in Cape Town. It’s a song called ‘Have You Ever Met a Nice South African?’

And finally, here’s one of my favourite comeddy sketch characters of all time from the Fast Show.

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Iain Presents 'Counting Chickens' on Radio 5 Live

A programme about great moments on election night.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Ben de Pear

22 Feb 2013 at 17:15

So as the BBC release a publicly funded report into a public body the acting DG of the BBC will only be interviewed by the BBC about the BBC. In my time as a TV journalist I have been offered interviews with the following people produced by their own organisations; President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran, President Charles Taylor of Liberia, & Tim Davie of the BBC. We got Mugabe and Ahmedinejad ourselves but not Taylor & turned down his offer of self interview; we are still trying for Tim Davie.

Ben de Pear, Channel Four News, 22 Feb 2013

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Iain Talks to Nigel Evans MP After His acquittal

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Random Thoughts

Mystic Dale Has a 'Birds Eye' Premonition

22 Feb 2013 at 15:16

I was doing the News Review, with Petrie Hosken, on ITV’s THIS MORNING at 10.30 today and the final item was a picture of a ready meal of Steak and Chips in which a lady had found a dead bird. ‘What do you think of that then?’ chirruped Eamonn Holmes. Quick as a flash, I responded: ‘Was it a Birds Eye meal?’ Much laughter all round. And I promise I hadn’t rehearsed it.

Anyway, I’ve just got the train back to Tonbridge and picked up an Evening Standard. This is the main headline on the front page…

BIRDS EYE MEALS HIT BY HORSE MEAT FEAR

I think they should call me ‘Mystic Meg’. I’ve been called worse.

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Video: Iain interviews Boris Johnson in 2007

18 Doughty Street - Boris Johnson's first interview after he was selected as Tory candidate for London mayor.

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UK Politics

Saying Sorry Has to Mean Something

22 Feb 2013 at 14:29

We live in a society where ‘Sorry’ seems to be the easiest word. Apologies are demanded from public figure for the most minor transgression, preferably with tears. And if the apology is not forthcoming, the weight of the media descends. Politicians in recent years have thrown apologies around like confetti, thereby demeaning their value. Sometimes they have the desired effect and on other occasions they can rebound. I am still not sure whether Nick Clegg’s mea culpa over student fees did him any favours or not.

So when David Cameron visited Amritsar this week, on the final leg of his visit to India, everyone was agog to learn whether he would apologise on behalf of Britain for the massacre of 400 Sikhs in 1919. As it turned out, he called it a “deeply shameful event in British history” but didn’t use the ‘S’ word. But strangely the wrath of the Gods of Apology did not rain down on him. One local official, in charge of the memorial site said “He came here, he paid a tribute. It was more than an apology.” We talked about this on my LBC radio show later that evening and were deluged with calls from Sikhs and Indians, none of whom criticised Cameron’s reluctance to actually say sorry. Most of them said they felt it was ridiculous for a politician to apologise for something he himself had no control over and wasn’t even alive at the time. Wise people. Apologies should be contemporaneous. They must relate to recent events, be genuine and be full of genuine remorse and contrition. Only then can they really mean something.

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How Bad Is TTIP?

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Personal

New Glasses, Possums?

22 Feb 2013 at 09:25

I’ve had to wear glasses ever since I was in my mid-twenties. I’m a bit short sighted so need them for driving and watching TV, but I don’t wear them all the time. This week I went for my annual eye test, and I had imagine my eyesight had got slightly worse. Instead I was told that I had become marginally less short-sighted. Result. Naturally, that proved to be just the excuse I needed to buy a new pair of glasses, which I needed, seeing as I sat on my last pair, and they have never been the same since. I normally make sure Simmo is with me when I buy new glasses to avoid situations like the last time when I was let loose inside an Opticians and bought a pair of glasses which, according to him, “Dame Edna would have been proud of”. Suffice to say I never wore them, and learned my lesson.

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Video: Iain speaks to the BBC College of Journalism about his media work

BBC College of Journalism, 10 May 2011

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 2 - Dealing With a Shouty Guest

21 Feb 2013 at 23:16

Israel. Never touch the subject. That’s what one producer told me when I started presenting on LBC. I didn’t listen. It’s one of those issues which will fill the phone switchboard within minutes. It attracts zealots on both sides of the debate, but it can also attract some damn good calls too. The secret of handling the subject is to lay down the ground rules right from the start and make clear that you won’t tolerate anyone who wishes to take advantage of your good nature. It’s also impossible to satisfy both sides. Even when you think you have been as even handed as you can possibly be, there will always be those who think you have been unfair.

Earlier this evening I decided to cover George Galloway’s decision to walk out of a student debate in Oxford just because the other speaker was Israeli. I invited the other speaker on to the programme to explain what happened, and we also put out an invitation to George Galloway. He was busy, but he has agreed to come on my Sunday show soon and take questions from callers. In his absence I asked Yvonne Ridley. She couldn’t do it either but recommended someone called Roshan Salih (pictured). The interview turned out to be quite a memorable one with him taking a very aggressive stance right from the get-go. He clearly regarded himself as Galloway’s representative on earth and had learned a lot from George in how to shout down an interviewer, make spurious claims and when you can’t back them up, be downright belligerent.

I think it is a mistake for an interviewer to be downright rude to a guest and even when provoked descend to their level. I try my best to stay cool,but Mr Salih really tested my patience. I very nearly ended the interview at one point, but I am glad I didn’t, as I think that would have been a victory for him. I hope I challenged him in a reasonably polite way and exposed him for what he was. A clueless, anti-Israel bigot. As usual with all potential demagogues, he spent most of the time trying to put words in my mouth an attribute to me views I do not hold. I’d like to think he dug his own grave, but what an interviewer must accept is that what one listener will hear is very different from what another hears. I saw on Twitter that one regular listener felt I had been “monstered” by him, whereas the general consensus seemed to be that I had remained calm under fire and had dealt with him quite well. I haven’t yet listened back to it because I think I would need a cold shower afterwards, but if you’d like to judge for yourself you can listen HERE. The first section is an interview with Eylon Aslan-Levy, the student George Galloway was supposed to be debating with. The confrontation with Roshan Salih starts after 6 mins 45 secs.

Mr Salih is a former News Editor at Press TV. Who’d have thought. My producer told me afterwards he was very keen that I didn’t mention the fact. Can’t think why.

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LBC97.3 Iain Talks to Ann Barnes

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The Tories Won't Admit It, But Ed Balls Secretly Impresses Them

21 Feb 2013 at 18:07

Ed Balls is the one Labour politician virtually every Tory loves to hate. He gets under their skin like no other. The very sight of him sends them into paroxysms of vitriol. He is also, it has to be said, not the most popular figure in the Labour Party. But despite all that, he has transformed himself from being chiefly seen as Gordon Brown’s chief henchman, into a politician who is both formidable and, in my opinion, rather impressive. Let me explain. Deep breath…

The transformation started back in 2010 when Balls stood for the party leadership. He soon realised that he had no chance of winning, yet instead of giving up he began to enjoy himself. And by the end of the campaign, most pundits came to the conclusion that he had run the best campaign of all the contenders. He and his advisers sat down and analysed his problems and came up with a strategy to reinvent him. It couldn’t be done overnight, it would take time, but the objective was to relaunch Ed Balls as a politician with a human touch. He was fed up with being regarded as someone who was as popular as a fart in a lift, even among his own colleagues. He knew he had to break free from Gordon Brown’s shadow and his reputation as an out and out bully, which had dogged him for years. So, together with his press adviser Alex Belardinelli, he launched a charm offensive. And for once it really was all charm and less of the offensive.

We got to learn that Ed is a great cook. He spoke of his love for Norwich City FC. He outed himself as someone who had overcome a stutter. He raised a lot of money for two charities by running the London marathon. He took piano lessons. He displayed a very well developed sense of humour in interviews, which thus far had not been let loose on an unsuspecting public. I even got him to play the piano live on air. The look of terror in his eyes was something to behold. His advisers were less than impressed by our surprise stunt, but I maintain to this day that it did his image the world of good.

In tandem with this, his political profile rose inexorably. When Alan Johnson resigned as Shadow Chancellor Ed Miliband felt he had to turn to Ed Balls, despite himself. He knew the risks, but had been impressed by Balls’ tenacity and doggedness. Miliband knew there would inevitably be stories about Balls wanting his job. he knew they looked at economic policy rather differently. It was, in some ways, a courageous appointment. Balls recognised that too, and in two years there have been very few occasions when opponents or journalists could detect and rift between them.

In short, since 2010 Ed Balls has become a politician on the front line of British politics. He’s respected and feared by the Conservatives. They try to pretend that he is their biggest asset. Some may really believe that, but for most it is pure bravado. He knows how to needle Tories, he knows which buttons to press to rile them and his attacks invariably hit home.

So, why am I writing this? Because I was incredulous when I read Anthony Seldon’s open letter in the New Statesman (read it in full HERE) which calls on Balls to fall on his sword and resign from the Shadow Cabinet. Seldon is a Biteback author and a brilliant contemporary historian, but on this, I think his views are entirely misplaced. Here is an extract…

I was not your headmaster, but as somebody who has written about you for many years it falls to me to say this: the time has come for you to fall on your sword. After 20 unbroken years at the heart of politics, you need a rest… You need to see more of life beyond the microworld of politics. Falling on one’s sword is never easy. However, quitting in the next few months until, say, 2017 would undoubtedly benefit your leader, your party, your wife and even yourself. Let me explain. Ed Miliband would be a much stronger leader without you. Forgive me, but you stop Ed breathing fresh air. With you close to him, his breath will always be stale and smell of a toxic brand… Without you, Labour could present itself as a clean party, free of the factionalism and brutalism that so tarnished it when Brown was boss and you were his consigliere. I know that you think you were really a very nice person all along, vulnerable with your own insecurities. Yet you need to redeem yourself and the atonement will never happen unless you disappear and return to public life with a fresh persona. The party would be more inclusive without you. Yvette would not say it to you but, like many women working in the same organi­sation as their husband, she would be freer to think and act without you in her hair. The greatest beneficiary would be you. You may not see it this way now but I know you will in hindsight. If Labour loses in 2015, you will be blamed and your career will be damaged beyond repair. If it wins, you would return to the front bench in 2017 a redeemed and respected figure. You might even one day become leader, your long-held ambition. Oh, and don’t believe that guff about “skipping a generation”. The public will tire of young leaders, though it doesn’t yet realise it. Others, including Ed Miliband, share responsibility for the Brown errors: you will earn praise for taking the hit. You are 46 this month. Your best years could lie ahead of you.

I’m not sure Ed and Anthony will be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon! On the fact of it, Seldon says some things which might have some merit in them but he doesn’t consider the disbenefits of Balls falling on his sword, and they are many. Would Ed Miliband want a sore Ed Balls on the backbenches? Who would he replace him with?His brother? Therein lie more dangers than keeping Ed Balls in the job. I may not agree with many of his conclusions, but Ed Balls does know something about economics and is very capable of debating his points to good effect. He’s got a good political brain and isn’t afraid to mix it. He’s also a good lightning conductor for Ed Miliband. The media is more likely to stick the boot into him than go for the leader.

It is true that Ed Balls was damaged by his poor performance responding to George Osborne’s Autumn statement, but one bad performance cannot disguise the fact that Ed Balls would be in any objective observer’s list of Britain’s Top 10 Most Influential Politicians. Why on earth would someone in that list fall on their sword?

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Personal

Truth & Consequences: Five Decisions That Changed the Course of My Life

20 Feb 2013 at 00:50

Have you ever made a decision that has turned out to completely alter the course of your life? Without it, you know your life would have been completely different. I can’t remember why I was mulling this over today, but it occurred to me that there have been quite a lot of those in my life over the course of the last thirty years. If several of those decisions had gone a different way, I wouldn’t be writing this blog now. I might well be working on my Dad’s farm, teaching German, writing about insurance or perhaps even running the country! For want of anything better to do on the train home to Tunbridge Wells, here are a few of the decisions in my life, which have had consequences for the rest of it.

1972 – Won’t! Shan’t!

I was ten. I kept being taken by my parents to some private school in Cambridge to take exams. I didn’t really know what they were, but they turned out to be entrance exams. Apparently I passed. But I just couldn’t work out why my parents wanted me to go to a completely different school to my friends at Ashdon Primary School. So I put my foot down. I refused to go. As a consequence I ended up going to Saffron Walden County High School, the local comp. My mother had wanted me to go to private school as it would “help me get on in life”. She also suggested that I should hyphenate my second name and surname for the same reason. I never did work out whether she was being serious. Iain Campbell-Dale. Has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? Bet I’d be a Tory MP if I had taken her advice. Lol. Anyway, why was this such a crucial decision? Because had i gone to the private school, I doubt if I would have taken up German, which I did to great success at the County High, entirely due to the brilliant teaching of Mr [David] Lewis. I wouldn’t have studied German, I wouldn’t have gone to UEA, got involved in Norwich politics, then got a job in the House of Commons… and then… and then… and so it goes on.

1987 – Any Port in a Storm

I spent two years working in the House of Commons after leaving university in the summer of 1985. I was working for two Tory MPs, Patrick Thompson (Norwich North) and Robert Key (Salisbury). But after the 1987 election I decided I needed to make my way in the wide wide world and get a proper job. But before that I went to the States for a month to visit Mark Milosch, an American who had interned in our office a year earlier. He was studying for a Masters at the University of Michigan in the lovely town of Ann Arbor, just west of Detroit. We spent most of the time at his student digs but also spent 10 days travelling 3,000 miles around the States – out west to Utah via the Badlands and the Dakotas, south to Phoenix, across to Dallas (I insisted on visiting Southfork, much to Mark’s disgust), up to Memphis and back to Ann Arbor – all in a 15 year old Buick. It was the experience of a lifetime. As the time neared for me to return to England I started worrying about the fact I had no job to go to. I had applied to be PR Manager for the Hockey Association, but came second. “We think you’d be bored,” they said. I came second for a similar job with the Law Society. “We think you’d be bored,” they said. A pattern was developing. Anyway. a week before I came back I went to the university library and flicked through a copy of The Times, where I saw a job to be Public Affairs Manager for the British Ports Federation. They wanted someone to coordinate a lobbying campaign against something called the National Dock Labour Scheme. Never heard of it. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained so I sent off my application, highlighting the fact that Patrick Thompson had been a PPS at the Department of Transport. That turned out to be a key reason why I got the job. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that I had never set foot inside the DoT, let alone knew nobody there. Hey ho. I beat 170 people to the job and thoroughly enjoyed my two years there, in which I did indeed (along with others) persuade Margaret Thatcher to get rid of the NDLS. Why was this life changing? Because the guy that hired me was Nicholas Finney. He and I then went on set up The Waterfront Partnership in 1990, and six years later he sacked me from it (we’ve made up since), meaning I started Politico’s Bookshop, leading to me doing a lot of radio and TV work and so on…

1990 – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The abolition of the NDLS occurred in mid 1989 and I effectively did myself out of a job. I got a payoff of £7,000, which at the time I thought was a massive amount of money. It rather paled into insignificance when I later found out how much money some of my colleagues made from privatising the ports. I very nearly became Special Adviser to Norman Fowler, the Employment Secretary, who had been impressed with my work for the port employers. But he the went and resigned to spend more time with his family. They asked me if I’d be interested in working for Michael Howard, his successor. “No,” I said. “I don’t think we’d get on.” I could have been David Cameron…! I was then offered the job of Dame Shirley Porter’s re-election campaign manager. They wouldn’t pay me what I wanted so I declined. A narrow escape. I then had three interviews with Ian Greer Associates. I shall never forget a giant poodle walking into the room during one of the interviews. I was offered a post, but there was some instinct that told me it just wouldn’t work. Another narrow escape. The next job to come along was as a consultant at the giant PR firm Charles Barker. I was charmed into taking the job by Evie Soames, a doyen of the lobbying industry. Nick Herbert was her star employee at the time. I hated it. I hated being used as a pimp. Vauxhall Motors were a client. All they wanted to do was be photographed with the Transport Secretary Cecil Parkinson. Strangely arranging things like that didn’t give me a great deal of job satisfaction. I would sit at my desk bored out of my mind, willing the clock to get to 5pm. After two months of total frustration I quit. I had no job to go to and hadn’t got a clue what I would do. I rang the editor of Lloyd’s List, David Gilbertson, for some advice. “I’ve always fancied being a journalist,” I said. He invited me in and the upshot was two weeks of work experience. I took to it like a duck to water, and at the end of it, much to my astonishment he offered me a job as Insurance Correspondent, with the promise I could contribute to the diary column and write columns on politics. I bit his hand off, All went well, and I discovered I could write 1500 word columns on subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. Even by the time I had left I had still not worked out what Reinsurance was, but could quite happily churn out learned columns on it, and no one seemed to notice my complete ignorance. But eight months later, I was faced with a real quandary. My old boss at the Ports Federation, Nick Finney, rang me and asked if I would be interested in setting up a new specialist public affairs consultancy, based on transport issues and clients. To be honest I didn’t know what to do. I was enjoying my time at Lloyd’s List and was getting more and more confident in my writing and in my ability to get good stories for the paper. But I was being offered the prospect of a stake in a new business and quite a lot more money in salary. I must have changed my mind twenty times in a week. In the end I decided to leave the paper and join Nick. I spent six years building up that company, and it became quite successful, but in 1996 we had a massive falling out. I decided to resign, but before I could, I was sacked. I knew I had right on my side and I could probably have taken him to the cleaners in an employment tribunal, but I couldn’t stand the thought of months of acrimony. I left with a £20,000 payoff, when it should have been many times that. I ploughed the money into starting Politico’s, which opened its doors to the book-buying public in February 1997. But I often wonder where I would have ended up if I had stayed at Lloyd’s List. I certainly wouldn’t be running Biteback or be on LBC, that’s for sure.

1995 – Princess Diana Played Cupid

It was stunning. I had always loved Audis, but this Cabriolet, on the forecourt of Dovercourt St John’s Wood was simply magnificent. Six months old, four thousand miles on the clock, white leather seats. Turquoise. Every Essex boy’s dream. But why would someone sell it after only 4,000 miles? The salesman smiled. “It belonged to Princess Diana,” he said. “Yeah, right,” I replied. But it turned out to be true. Right place, right time. So I bought it. A few days later i had the roof down, shades on, and was driving around Trafalgar Square when a motorbike pulled up alongside me. The man on it had a camera in his hand. “Are you Diana’s new bloke then?” he shouted. I floored the accelerator. I had never been papped before. A couple of months later I was in a Compuserve chat forum – OK, I admit it, it was a gay forum – quite a novelty in those early days of the internet. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I had a one nighter with a nice chap who wasn’t into cars at all, but he said he had a friend who would love to see it – yes, and the car, haha. A week later he brought this friend to London from Tunbridge Wells and we met up at a bar called Kudos, long since gone. I think I had had a bad day because after having shown them my car I scarpered and didn’t invite them back for coffee (and that’s not a euphemism for ‘threesome’). But John (the car enthusiast) clearly had designs on something other than Vorsprung durch Technik, because he phoned later. It was clear that I had pulled without actually trying very hard. And seventeen years later we are still together, and now happily married. Sorry, Nadine, civil partnered. Silly me. But I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t made that phone call. Would I have met and settled down with someone else or continued my somewhat slapperish lifestyle? Thank God for Simmo!

2003 – Wrong Place, Wrong Time

“So, Mr Dale,” said the chairwoman of Barnet Conservatives, “Is there anything about your private life, which might be an embarrassment to the Association?” I’d made a really good speech, answered the questions well and was feeling really confident. It was the first seat I had applied for and I wanted to win the selection. I made a spur of the moment decision. “Well, it’s not embarrassing to me, and I hope it won’t be embarrassing to you, but I should tell you I am gay.” I went on to make a joke and say it was probably more embarrassing for them that I was a West Ham supporter. Most of them laughed, but a couple sat there stony faced. But it seemed to have gone OK and it was as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I left the building feeling quite confident. But the party agent ran out after me. “What the hell did you do that for?” he shrieked. “You’ve just lost several crucial votes.” I drove home feeling disconsolate, sure I hadn’t got through to the next round. But I had. Again, I gave a good speech and answered their questions well. I was confident of getting through to the final. But I didn’t make it. I needed two more votes. Had I got through to the final, chances are I would have made it, as I would have been up against two women, and in those days a man against two women would more often than not win. The eventual winner, Theresa Villiers is now in the cabinet.

Scroll forward a few months and I applied for North Norfolk, a LibDem marginal with a majority of 483. I was at the LibDem conference in Brighton and was taken aside by Lord Rennard. “You really don’t want to get North Norfolk, Iain,” he said, looking very serious. “Norman Lamb will get a 10,000 majority at the election.” I laughed and assured him I knew different. I genuinely thought I could win it. History proved him right, something he often reminds me. Had I taken notice of him and deliberately fluffed the North Norfolk selection I am pretty sure I would have got a seat I would win. Being selected for North Norfolk was one of the proudest moments of my life. Election night was one of the most devastating. But I had a great 18 months and really enjoyed it. But somehow it just wasn’t meant to be.

So, those are five decisions that affected the course of my life. Share some of yours in the comments. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no regrets about any of the above including North Norfolk!

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LSE Pulse Radio: Iain is Interviewed by Mike & Christina

Iain spends an hour being interviewed by LSE student radio presenters Christina Mysko and Mike Pearson.

Listen now