Diary

ConHome Diary: Signing Farage, The Worst Christmas of my Life & Interviewing the PM

6 Jan 2017 at 20:58

LBC announced a new signing for its presenter line-up yesterday. From Monday Nigel Farage will be presenting an evening show from 7-8pm Monday to Thursday. Given his other interests the show will often be broadcast from Brussels, Strasburg or America. The reaction from the left has been hilarious to watch. You’d have thought we’d offered a show to Mussolini. Mind you, these are people who seem to believe that anyone right of Tony Blair is automatically a fascist, and for them Blair himself comes quite close. This is the voice of the intolerant left – unable to entertain the thought that anyone who has alternative views might sometimes have a point. My instinct is to laugh at people like that, but the truth is that they are very dangerous and enemies of democracy. The truth is that Nigel Farage is a very good broadcaster. He’s eloquent, handles all the junctions well and interacts with callers well, even when they have rung up to profoundly disagree with him. He’s actually very charming with people, and even very hostile callers seem to find it difficult to have a real go at him, given that’s what they had intended to do when they pick up the phone. It will be a fascinating listen.
*
Talking of one of the ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’, Arron Banks’ book may be turned into a Hollywood movie according to various press reports. The ratings successes of House of Cards, 24 and Designated Survivor mean there’s a lot of appetite in the US for politically inspired stories, and they don’t come much bigger than Brexit. The question is, who would play Arron Banks and Nigel Farage? Answers in the comments please…
*

I wonder how many of us had heard of Sir Ivan Rogers before his resignation on Tuesday. Very few, I suspect. And yet his departure was treated by the BBC as if there had been a senior death in the cabinet. Admittedly there was no other news that day, or the next, so it took on an importance it didn’t really merit. Downing Street moved at lightning pace to replace him with Sir Tim Barrow, who most people seem to think is a very good thing indeed, even if, given his Foreign Office career, he is bound to have supported Remain. I don’t subscribe to the theory that a civil servant or politician can’t deliver on Brexit if they voted Remain, but I do think it is preferable where possible to fill posts with people whose heart will definitely be in what they do. I don’t know Sir Tim, but I’ve spoken to several people I respect who do, and they are unanimous in their view that he will do everything he can to deliver the best deal possible. He is said to get on very well with Boris Johnson, and knows his way around Brussels. Time will tell whether this is a good appointment or not, but the first signs seem positive.
*
I’m not going to lie, this was the worst Christmas I have ever had. On the Wednesday before Christmas my father died. The death of a parent is a very private thing, and those who have experienced it will know what I mean by that. It can be a very lonely thing too. At the age of 54, having lost both my parents, I suppose I have become an orphan. That may seem a flippant comment in the circumstances, but it’s a point in your life at which you know things will never be the same again. On top of that, I then contracted a terrible cold which meant on Christmas Day I actually lost my voice. Even now, ten days later, it hasn’t fully come back, as listeners to my radio show can hear! This is something I have noticed about getting older – it becomes more difficult to shake off minor ailments. I’m sure there are positive things about the ageing process, but at the moment I can’t think of many.
*

In two weeks’ time Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States of America. This week he has spent his time denouncing the FBI and CIA while at the same time praising Julian Assange. I find it incredible that he is feeding the post-truth fantasists. He bases his antipathy to the security services on the fact that their intelligence was wrong on Iraq. It’s quite incredible that the man who is about to become the most powerful man in the free world thinks that one mistake means they inevitably get everything else wrong. He’s refused security briefings from the CIA and FBI since the election, too. As a president he’s certainly going to be very different from any of his predecessors. We’ll soon see whether he’s the disaster many predict, or if he will surprise us all. I hope it’s the latter, but I fear it’s the former.
*
Talking of doing things differently, let’s take a look at the Number Ten media operation. It emerged on Wednesday night that instead of giving her traditional new year interview to Andrew Marr – as is the custom, Theresa May will instead be guest of honour on Sophy Ridge’s new Sunday morning show on Sky News. It’s certainly an interesting move, which will mean that Ridge’s show will get off to a fantastic start, so good on her and the Sky News interviews team for landing the big one. Naturally Twitter has gone mental about it, with the usual suspects suggesting that it’s all because May wants to be nice to Rupert Murdoch. Ridiculous. I suspect it’s more about sending a powerful message to the BBC and others the message that “a change is going to come”, and nowhere is this more apparent that in the granting of prime ministerial and cabinet ministerial interviews. The BBC is said to be “in shock” with senior editors wandering around the building wailing “How could they do it to us?”

Gone seem to be the days when a cabinet minister or junior minister would appear on a news show on any channel at the drop of a hat. It’s sending production staff apoplectic with rage. And this on top of the fact that it’s also quite difficult for news programmes to get any senior Labour Shadow Minister to appear on the media either. 2017 could well be a very difficult year for the political broadcast media.

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Iain Reacts to the 'Edstone'

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Personal

So Did I Keep my 2016 New Year's Resolutions?

30 Dec 2016 at 16:21

These are the resolutions I made a year ago. Let’s see how many of them I stuck to…

1. Not to buy a new car. ACHIEVED
2. Read more for pleasure, rather than because it’s my job. NOT ACHIEVED
3. Do more TV. NOT ACHIEVED
4. Go abroad more often. NOT ACHIEVED
5. Lose another half a stone in weight. HALF ACHIEVED
6. Ditch ‘I Want it That Way’ as my Karaoke song and find another one. NOT ACHIEVED
7. Start writing a new book… and think of something to write about. NOT ACHIEVED
8. Eat fewer biscuits and cakes. NOT ACHIEVED
9. Get into fewer rows on Twitter. HALF ACHIEVED
10. Visit Berlin. (Admittedly I vowed to do this in 2013…) NOT ACHIEVED

So three out of ten. Useless. A good reason not to repeat the exercise for next year!

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Coleen Nolan

Coleen Nolan discusses her autobiography UPFRONT AND PERSONAL.

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Personal

So How Do I Answer the Question: "Did You Have a Nice Christmas, Iain?"

29 Dec 2016 at 16:10

They say ‘honesty is always the best policy’, but I wonder how honest I will be when I go back to work on Tuesday and a caller says: “Did you have a nice Christmas, Iain?” Do I say, “yes thanks, hope you did too.” Or do I tell the truth and say “No I didn’t. My Dad died and I spent the rest of the time with the mother of all colds, snot dripping out of my head, and half the time without the use of my voice. You?”

What I have noticed as I get older, is that it takes me much more time to recover from a cold. It used to take 3 or 4 days to get it out of my system. This one has lasted a week so far and my head is still as thick with cold as it was on Sunday, Christmas Day – a day when I couldn’t actually speak properly.

If I sound miserable, I guess it’s because I am! This is the second Christmas in three that this has happened. I look forward to a relaxing break, and then it’s ‘snotsville’.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading, which means I then fall asleep quite easily and sleep during the day, which means I sleep fitfully at night. My brain is so addled that I haven’t done what I normally do and watch a series of Box Sets. The most challenging TV I’ve got into so far is THE CROWN on Netflix!

I try to fall asleep but then I start thinking about my Dad. Did I tell him I loved him enough? Could I have done more in his last weeks? All these things (and more) whirl around in my head and of course my brain races back into action and the prospect of sleep drifts away even further. And I am someone who can normally drop off to sleep on command – just like my Dad used to do.

At times like this we all need the emotional support of our nearest and dearest. I know Tracey, Sheena and I have been overwhelmed by the kind words of our friends, and the hundreds of comments made on Facebook. I have the love of John, Sheena has Alan and Zoe, Tracey has Peter, Issy and Philly. And the three of us have each other. And in the end, it’s our closest family who help us get through times like this. It’s just a pity none of them can do the same for my cold!

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Iain Hosts LBC's Coverage of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

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Books

BOOK REVIEW: All Out War by Tim Shipman - Without Doubt the Political Book of 2016

27 Dec 2016 at 21:36

You know that feeling you get when you finish a book you never really wanted to end? It’s almost a feeling of grief. That’s what I’ve got as I type this, minutes after finishing Tim Shipman’s majestic ALL OUT WAR. It’s impossible to fully comprehend what happened on June 23 and the ensuing two weeks without reading this book. I consider myself fairly well informed about most aspects of the referendum, its result and consequences, but reading this book taught me how much I also didn’t know and had failed to understand.

To write an instant, 624 page, fully-footnoted book in less than three months, let along publish it within four makes me doff my cap not only to the author but to the book’s publishers HarperCollins. In all those pages I only spotted one factual error, and not a single typo. Respect to all involved.

Sometimes, with instantly written books, the final chapters can appear, well, rather hurried. Not in this case. Indeed, the final chapter is without doubt the finest in the book. It almost serves as a rather polished executive summary of the whole tome. Shipman gives his verdict on the whole shebang, venturing into several ‘what if’ scenarios and analysing who really was responsible for what. It makes for fascinating reading.

At this point in a normal book review the author of the review usually spends the rest of the article giving his/her own opinion on the events in question. I won’t be doing that here as anything I offer would pale into insignificance compared to what Tim Shipman concludes. I don’t feel worthy. It’s possibly also because I couldn’t really find much to disagree with in his analysis, which in itself is somewhat remarkable. He’s incredibly fair in his thoughts on all the various leading players. Even Michael Gove and Boris Johnson will read this book feeling that he has been very fair to both of them – that’s not because he sits on the fence or writes a palid version of what went on, he writes it warts and all. Arron Banks may possibly feel his role in the campaign to leave the EU is slightly underplayed, and Nigel Farage may also feel that Shipman doesn’t challenge the narrative from Vote Leave that he was seen as toxic by swing voters, something I’ve always felt was overplayed. To the several million ex-Labour voters and non voters who voted Leave, Farage wasn’t seen in that way at all. But those are two minor quibbles.

I don’t know Dominic Cummings. My office in Westminster Tower is three floors about that of where the Vote Leave campaign was. I saw Cummings once but didn’t introduce myself. In fact I only visited their offices once in the whole campaign, to discuss an LBC interview with Michael Gove. If I were Dominic Cummings and I read this book – and surely he has – I’d be fairly confident my place in the political history of this country was assured. Every successful campaign needs a Cummings figure – someone who the campaign workers can look up to and respect. Stronger In didn’t have that. Lynton Crosby or Alastair Campbell could have provided that leadership, but one wasn’t willing to do the job, and the other wasn’t asked. Even then, no one can be certain it would have made a difference.

Stronger In had two main problems – Jeremy Corbyn and the fact that with few exceptions, none of their leading spokespeople were able to offer any sort of positive vision about what Britain’s future in the EU would look like. If anyone doubts Jeremy Corbyn did everything he could to scupper the Remain campaign they should read Tim Shipman’s chapter called JEXIT. Dear oh dear. I’ve always felt that Corbyn probably secretly voted Leave. Reading this chapter convinces me even further.

The relentless Project Fear approach of Stronger In worked to an extent, but it had to be married to something more positive too. Vote Leave had their ‘Take Back Control’ slogan, which was remarkably effective. Stronger In had nothing comparable. I interviewed all the leading players during the campaign, but there was only one who was able to articulate a positive vision, and that was James McGrory, Nick Clegg’s former spin doctor, who carried out the same job for Stronger In, but was also one of their spokespeople. He should have given his colleagues a masterclass in how to do it, because none of them managed it. Ever.

I’ve always considered Andrew Rawnsley’s SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE to be the best book in that type of contemporary political literary genre. ALL OUT WAR surpasses it. Rawnsley and Shipman are both Sunday newspaper journalists, so they clearly have a lot in common. Both books read at times like thrillers, they have pace and they keep the reader engaged.

There are lots of f****s and c**** in this book. One thing which united both sides of the argument was their liking of swearing. And in this book the reader isn’t spared. I suppose it makes them all seem more human than most people assume people in politics to be. Boris Johnson, for example, comes across in these pages as a much more human, vulnerable, emotional individual than he is usually portrayed as. Farage is portrayed as much less gung ho.

Remarkably, I’ve got to the final part of this article without mentioning David Cameron. Someone is quoted in the book as saying that David Cameron looks like the Lord North de nos jours at the moment. Others have written that he will go down in history alongside Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden in the pantheons of our worst prime ministers. People who say that no doubt voted Remain. I suggest that we won’t be able to judge that for 15 or 20 years. I suspect that in 2035 we may look back and think that leaving the EU was the best thing Britain ever did. Just my opinion. Could Cameron have avoided giving a referendum? Yes. But it would have continued the running sore of Europe that has split the Tory Party for the last thirty years. Some might think that would have been a price worth paying. In reality, the sore will continue to run, as the likes of Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry will continue to advocate the pro-European viewpoint.

It’s hard to believe this is Shipman’s first book. I’ve known Shippers (as he’s known to everyone) for donkey’s years. As political editor of The Sunday Times he currently has one of the, if not the – best jobs in political journalism. But it’s taken a long time for him to get there and be recognised as one of the best political journalists of his era. He held a succession of jobs on the Sunday Express, the Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph, all at deputy level. I could never understand why he had never got a Pol Ed job, as he proved himself to be a brilliant story-getter week after week. Since he’s been at The Sunday Times he’s formed a brilliant partnership with his deputy James Lyons, and they’ve made the Sunday Times unmissable for its brilliant political coverage.

I hope this will be the first of many books by Tim Shipman. It certainly ought to be, and I suspect HarperCollins will already be talking to him about his next one.

This book is brilliant. If you haven’t already done so, buy it. HERE

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Iain's interview with post-Strictly Ed Balls

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Random Thoughts

My Predictions for 2016 - How Did I Do?

24 Dec 2016 at 23:44

In 2015 I got 8 out of my 10 predictions right. Seeing as 2016 turned out to be the year of the unexpected, I don’t think I’ve done quite as well. Here were my predictions for 2016, made on 31 December 2015…

1. The EU Referendum will be held in July. WRONG (but only by 7 days!)
2. The ‘Stay’ Campaign will prevail, but by a margin of 55-45 or less. WRONG
3. Nigel Farage will not be UKIP leader by the end of 2016. CORRECT
4. Labour will experience a net loss of council seats in May. WRONG (net gain of +46)
5. Donald Trump will not be the Republican Candidate for President. WRONG
6. In terms of seats and/or vote share Labour will come third in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. CORRECT
7. Arsenal will win the Premier League. WRONG
8. Philip Hammond will not be Foreign Secretary by the end of the year. CORRECT
9. The LibDems are all but wiped out in the GLA, Welsh Assembly & Scottish Parliament elections, retaining less than half of their existing 12 seats in the three bodies. CORRECT
10. Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull calls an early election and wins an increased majority. HALF CORRECT

So a miserable 4 and a half out of 10. My worst ever. I’ll post my predictions for 2017 before the end of the year. For what they’re worth, which isn’t much!

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Iain Hosts a Phonein on Downs Syndrome

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List

My Top 100 Tweeters of 2016

22 Dec 2016 at 21:40

Each new year I compile a list of people whose tweets I have most enjoyed during the previous 12 months. I follow about 2300 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 14 new entries, in no particular order…

PRINT JOURNALISTS (15)

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

TV JOURNALISTS (9)

@RobBurl – Rob Burley, Andrew Mar Producer (NEW)
@AFNeil – BBC presenter
@PiersMorgan – Presenter, GMB
@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 (7)

@StephenKB – Stephen Bush, New Statesman (NEW)
@RaheemKassam – Editor, Breitbart London (NEW)
@PaulWaugh – Editor, Huffington Post UK
@FleetStreetFox – Susie Boniface
@GuidoFawkes – Editor in Chief, Guido Fawkes blog
@Dizzy_Thinks – Phil Hendren
@OwenJBennett – HuffPo political correspondent

POLITICS (18)

@Anna_Soubry – Conservative MP (NEW)
@MichaelGove – Conservative MP (NEW)
@ArronBanks – Chairman, Leave.eu (NEW)
@HeidiAllen75 – Conservative MP
@JessPhillips – Labour MP
@Suzanne Evans1 – Deputy Chairman, UKIP
@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
@RuthDavidsonMSP – Leader, Scottish Conservatives
@CampbellClaret – Alastair Campbell

RADIO (25)

@KTHopkins – LBC Presenter (NEW)
@Masterman – Radio X producer, the Chris Moyles Show (NEW)
@HattMarris84 – My ex producer on LBC
@StephenNolan – 5 Live presenter
@ShelaghFogarty – LBC presenter
@JaneGarvey1 – Presenter, Woman’s Hour, Radio 4
@JuliaHB1 – Former afternoon presenter, LBC
@Rachel_Hump – Producer, LBC
@RobinLustig – Former Presenter, The World Tonight, Radio 4
@StanCollymore – 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 – Radio guru
@DavidLloydRadio – Radio guru
@PaulEaston – Radio consultant
@IainLee – Radio presenter, talkRadio
@NRDBrennan – Online Journalist, LBC
@Hemmch – Chris Hemmings, Producer LBC
@TheoUsherwood – Political Editor, LBC
@Jags_dave – Jagruti Dave, My Drivetime producer, LBC
@JamesCridland – Radio commentator
@Sherls – Online editor, LBC

SPORT (11)

@LutaloMuhammad – Olympic Taekwando medallist (NEW)
@Chris_Sutton73 – Former footballer (NEW)
@Dean36Ashton10 – Former Norwich City & West Ham 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
@Trevor8Sinclair – Ex West Ham winger
@ArchieRT1 – German football journalist

COMEDY (5)

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

MISCELLANEOUS (10)

@PaulwrBlanchard – PRconsultant & Presenter, Media Masters podcast (NEW)
@Lance Forman – Purveyor of the finest smoked salmon (NEW)
@SohailPakBrit – Gay muslim
@WMaryBeard – Classics academic & author
@AdamLake – Public Affairs Specialist
@Brit_Battleaxe – Christine Hamilton
@JamesWharton – Author of OUT IN THE ARMY
@GylesB1 – Gyles Brandreth
@Bishmanchester – David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
@StirringTrouble – Aleksander Nekrassov

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Iain clashes with Alex about Labour

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 53: The Producer King Is Dead, Long Live the Producer Queen

17 Dec 2016 at 17:15

If you’ve never worked in radio, you will think I am going completely over the top when I say that the key relationship on any radio show is the relationship between the show’s producer and the presenter. If there’s a good relationship, magical radio can be the result. It there isn’t, it’s usually the listener that suffers. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my six years at LBC in the long term producers I have had. I broadcast my first show on the station in September 2009, when my producer was Matt Harris. Yesterday Matt produced his last show with me, after ten years on LBC. He’s spreading his broadcasting wings and joins Newsnight in the new year.

If I am honest I feel as if I am going through a sort of grieving process. Matt produced my evening show for my first nine months, and when I took over Drive in March 2013 we renewed our on air partnership. We’ve been together ever since. Laura Marshall was the third member of our team for the first year (I wrote about her HERE) but when she left to return to the North East, the excellent Jagruti Dave joined us. Over the last two and a half years I think the three of us have formed one of the closest-knit teams on the station. And it really is a team effort. We’ve won several awards and our audience has doubled.

Matt is at the top of his game, which makes his departure all the more painful. He totally understands what it makes to make a daily show interesting, relevant and compelling. He has a great contacts book, and as a studio producer is unsurpassed. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: he makes me a far better presenter than I really am, and I have continued to learn from him. He knows when to stop me going off on a particular tangent, he knows when he needs to curb my sense of mischief and he knows when I am thinking of doing something which might not quite work. Those are all a little negative, but totally necessary in a good studio producer. Far too many producers repeatedly let their presenters get away with blue murder, often because the producer is often afraid of the consequences of telling the presenter something in their ear they don’t want to hear. This is not something which afflicts Matt! He can do it because he’s got the experience to stand his ground when he needs to.

On a positive note, if you hear me skewer a politician in an interview, it’s often because Matt has spotted a weakness in the politician and suggested a line of questioning to me in my ear which I might not have thought of. And if we don’t get an answer from the politician he presses me to ask the question again. And again. And again, to the point where sometimes I can be embarrassed to do it. But almost always it ends up with us getting a newsline, and that’s where he excels – spotting an opportunity for a newsline which we can then pump out to our media colleagues. LBC’s higher profile in recent years owes a lot to this talent. All this means he has helped me become a much better, and on occasion tougher, interviewer than I was at the start of my career.

Matt is also great on big occasions. As anyone in radio knows, it’s on the big occasion, especially outside broadcasts, when a presenter feels exposed. When you’re out of your comfort zone anything can happen, and often does. We’ve done seven hour election night marathons, two referendum nights, the US election and many others. It really is flying by the seat of your pants radio at times, but you must never let the audience know that, as a presenter, you’re often in full panic mode while maintaining a facade of calmness and control. You cant be fazed by anything. What people don’t understand about LBC is that we never have a script. It’s all off the cuff. And that is where the role of the studio producer becomes far more important than it might be on Five Live or Radio 4. The producer has to know when to speak and when not to. He/She needs to know how much info to pass to the presenter and how and when best to do it. It’s a real skill, often underestimated by people who’ve never been in a radio gallery. And Matt has it in spades. I hope Matt will be able to utilise this skill on Newsnight. If I were running Newsnight, he’d be the person I’d want in the presenter’s ear throughout the whole programme.

The relationship between a presenter and producer is a unique one – It’s one of trust, respect and total, utter disrespect from time to time. I say this because I’ve probably made our relationship sounds like a perfect marriage. But in most marriages there are moments of tension, and from time to time we’ll have a bit of a blow up. I actually think that’s healthy. A live studio environment is highly pressurised and at times tempers can fray. It doesn’t happen often, but when you have strong personalities (and by definition a talk radio presenter isn’t shy in coming forward!) there will be times when things are said. I remember one time when we were calling (Ok, screaming) each other terrible things through the glass, when one of us had totally misunderstood something the other had said. The key is to get back on an even keel as quickly as possible so that no one outside the studio can tell that anything has happened.

There are so many memories of our time together. One of the most traumatic and moving came on the afternoon of 22 May 2013, when Lee Rigby was murdered in Woolwich. As details started to come in I tweeted out asking for witnesses to phone our newsroom – frankly it was more in hope than expectation, but at around a quarter to four I noticed Matt was deep in conversation with someone on the phone. As the clock edged toward 4pm I wondered what on earth he could be talking about seeing as we needed to head down to the studio and I frankly hadn’t got a clue what I was going to say.

I gestured to Matt to get off the phone so we could discuss how I would open the programme. He signalled that it would all be OK and it became clear he was talking to someone who knew something abut what had happened. He put the phone down and told me we have an eye-witness, James, who was literally feet away from the incident and had seen everything. “Do a short intro telling people what we know – then get into the call quickly. James was there. He can tell us everything.” And he did. That was the day I felt I came of age as a radio presenter. I heard months later the BBC held an internal inquiry as to why our coverage of Woolwich was so much better than theirs. The conclusion of their inquiry ought to have been that it was because Matt Harris and Laura Marshall were producing it. LBC is never better than when covering breaking news stories, and this was a prime example. As you can see from the picture, we won a Sony award for it.

I also think of the night of the Scottish Independence Referendum where I was anchoring our coverage from the count in Edinburgh, with Duncan Barkes in the studio in London. We turned up to the count, which was held in some sort of cattle barn on the outskirts of Edinburgh. We reached our allotted broadcast point to find that all we had was a table, chair and a microphone. I was less than impressed and had a good moan. Matt is always very good at reading my moods (and believe it or not, I do have them!) and did what was necessary to calm me down and make me focus on the job in hand.

That day in Brighton when I er, had a little fracas on the seafront, will also long remain in both of our memories. Matt had my back all day and was brilliant in trying to cope with a situation where the police were wanting to ‘have a word’ while I was live on air! I well remember the commercial break when he walked over and said “Now I’ve sorted it, but the Police were here, and now they’re not.” And at that moment the red light went on. “You’re listening to LBC…,” I said. It’s those moments that I’ll look back on when I’m in my dotage and dribbling.

I could go on for a long time about Matt’s talents, but some of you will no doubt already be feeling queasy. In short, I have been privileged to have him behind the glass for so long. I knew it would end at some point, as all good things do. When he told me he was going to Newsnight I didn’t try to persuade him to stay. You might think that odd, but it’s absolutely the right move for him at this point in his career. To have begged him to stay would have been selfish on my part and an act of pure self-indulgence. I’d love to think that at some point we will work together in future. You never know.

So the Producer King (he will hate that) is dead, but long live the Producer Queen. As I mentioned above, the third member of our team is Jagruti Dave, who joined us when Laura left in the Spring of 2014. She is the best guest-getter in the business and is an absolute delight to work with. I’m so pleased that she is taking over from Matt, as the two of us have developed a similar relationship.

She has learned a huge amount from Matt over the last two and a half years, as she is happy to admit. She’s developed excellent relationships with people across the political spectrum and the reason we have such a consistent lineup of top quality guests is often down to her. Like Matt, she often knows me better than I know myself. We often disagree on which subjects we should cover, but I have to admit (and I hope she’s not reading this) that more often than not she’s right and I’m wrong. “That won’t get a single phone call,” I’ll often say, when she suggests covering the plight of the lesser spotted Yak in Uzbekistan. “Ah, but you’ll do it brilliantly,” she will reply. And within five minutes we’ve got a full switchboard. “OK, OK,” I’ll say at the end of the show, “you were right again.” Cue a rather self satisfied grin on her face!

In my thirty years in the workplace I can honestly say that Matt Harris is one of the top ten people I have worked with. Wherever I end up in the rest of my working life, he’s someone I wouldn’t hesitate to employ or work with again. I hope he has become a friend for life. And I haven’t got many of those.

I hope the BBC realises what a gem it has recruited.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Bruno Tonioli

Bruno Tonioli discusses his memoir MY STORY

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Margaret Thatcher's Sexy Voice, Labour's Doldrums & ITV's Puerile Rubbish

16 Dec 2016 at 14:33

For anyone under the age of about 45, the name Jim Prior, who died on Monday, probably doesn’t mean much. However, those of us who know our history of the 1970s and 1980s know how significant he was. A key ally to Ted Heath, he was Agriculture Minister in the Heath government and he stood in the 1975 leadership contest. He never reconciled himself to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership and was the archetypal Tory Wet. He became Employment Secretary in May 1979 but the Prime Minister became irritated with his softly-softly approach to industrial relations. In the 1981 reshuffle she replaced him with Norman Tebbit. This was a key moment for Prior, who instead of resigning to lead internal opposition to Thatcher, he accepted the post of Secretary of State for Siberia Northern Ireland. Due to the fact that he necessarily spent most of his time outside Westminster, Prior lost influence and in June 1983, following her landslide victory, Margaret Thatcher summarily sacked him. And that was the end of his political career. One funny anecdote. How true it is, I have no idea, but it demonstrates how Margaret Thatcher used her femininity. Arriving for Cabinet one morning Prior engaged the Prime Minister in some light chit chat. He said to her: “Margaret, you’re sounding very sexy this morning, have you got a cold?”. Raising an eyebrow, Thatcher put on her deepest voice and smiled: “Jim, I can assure you I don’t need a cold to sound sexy…”. Sadly, history doesn’t record Prior’s reaction. Condolences to Jim Prior’s family, especially his son David, who now serves as a minister at the Department of Health.
*
Sometimes, just for a laugh, I have a look at the Morning Star website. After all, it’s important to keep up with publications which form the morning reading of Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition, isn’t it? I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that they described the fall of Aleppo as “a liberation”. Yes, really. That rather tells us all we need to know. And the thing is, the likes of Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher were probably nodding along in agreement. How do I know this? Well, the fact that someone has put a Soviet style red star on the top of Jeremy Corbyn’s office Christmas tree is a bit of a clue…
*

In the last eleven days, Labour has a) lost its deposit in the Richmond by-election, b) moved from second to fourth in the Sleaford by-election and c) recorded its lowest opinion poll ratings with two polling companies since the 1983 general election. But, splutter the Corbynistas, we’ve got our highest membership since the 1960s and we’re the largest political party in Europe. That doesn’t really matter a jot in terms of electoral success. I’m told that in Richmond, Labour has close on 2,000 party members. The fact that their candidate, Christian Wolmar, only managed to get 1515 votes tells you all you need to know. No doubt they will put it down to tactical voting, but if you can’t even motivate your own members to put a cross by their party’s candidate there’s something very wrong. Meanwhile, the party leader seems to have completely disappeared. I can’t recall the last time he did a major interview or did, well, anything to be honest. On Tuesday we learned that he has virtually nothing in his diary between now and Christmas. Yet another reason why Labour MPs are starting to tear what’s left of their hair out again.
*
Andy Carroll walks om water. Tra la la la la, la la la la
*

George Osborne’s speech in the Aleppo debate was quite something. I wonder whether we are about to see a totally different George Osborne, one who can spread his wings a bit, and make his mark in policy areas outside the economy. Many MPs made powerful contributions to that debate, not least Labour MP John Woodcock. He said that Osborne had made the speech which should have been made by from the Opposition front bench. Woodcock is a man who seems to have increasingly little in common with his party. If CCHQ have a top ten list of Labour MPs most likely to defect, he’d be pretty near the top.
*
I do think the election of Philip Davies to the Women & Equalities Select Committee is delightful. It will certainly make the committees inquiries a little more newsworthy. Only in Britain could you have a women’s committee with three men on it.
*

If you missed the ITV programme on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, be very thankful. Rarely have I seen such a terrible programme. The Duke clearly wanted no part of it and gave monosyllabic answers to virtually everything he was asked by the show’s hapless host Philip Schofield. Schofield was as cringingly craven as it is possible to be. How this 47 minutes of puerile rubbish passed the ITV quality threshold is quite beyond me.

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Iain Skewers LibDem MP Sarah Olney

Olney's hypocrisy over Turkey is exposed

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Diary

ConHome Diary: My Political Comeback, Climbing the iTunes Chart and Why Tim Farron Has Come of Age

9 Dec 2016 at 13:46

Wednesday’ House of Commons debate on Brexit was hugely significant in various ways. Somehow the media and other parties seem to think the government doesn’t want to tell us anything and are shying away from any parliamentary scrutiny. So far as I can see, nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t counted the number of times David Davis has appeared at the Despatch Box since Parliament returned, but I’d wager it is more times than any other minister. OK, he has perfected the art of saying very little, but there is little to say without damaging our negotiating position. Let’s remember that it is only five and a half months since the referendum. Because David Cameron and George Osborne did absolutely no preparation work in the event on Leave vote – a gross dereliction of duty – it will have taken this long to establish a negotiating position and a strategy. Everything started from scratch, including the setting up of the Brexit department. And I ask you this: who in their right mind would reveal their negotiating position three or four months ahead of the start of negotiations? No one, unless their objective was to undermine us. For Sir Kier Starmer to demand in the debate that the government reveal its “detailed plans”, is both outrageous and quasi-treasonal. Quite frankly, whatever the government does decide to reveal, it will never be enough for those whose main objective is to frustrate or even cancel Brexit. There will be a ratchet effect. Reveal ten aspects of our plans and they’ll demand another ten. I have no issue with the government setting out its broad objectives, but that’s it.
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Talking of people who want to cancel Brexit, let’s turn out attention to the LibDems. Just when you thought it was safe, they’re back. Sort of. I got quite a bit of stick last Friday for tweeting that the Richmond by-election result meant that Tim Farron had “come of age” as LibDem leader. But let’s give credit where credit is due. He’s targeting ‘the 48%’ and is shameless about it. He’s even worked out a way of arguing that overturning the referendum result is the most democratic thing that could possibly happen. OK, I exaggerate to make a point, but not by much. Under Nick Clegg the LibDems never gained a seat in a by-election. That hadn’t happened under any LibDem leader since Clement Davies in the 1950s. Overturning a 23,000 majority in Richmond has given the LibDems a huge filip. They’ve increased their parliamentary representation by 12.5%, after all! Will it have any long term consequences? I’m not sure. If they only appeal to the 48% I’m not sure there are too many seats outside London or the South East that they can properly target. In the north they will go down like a cup of cold, yellow sick. And I look at my old seat of North Norfolk where Norman Lamb’s majority dipped at the last election from more than 11,000 to just a tad over 4,000. UKIP got 8,000 voted there in 2015. If enough of those return to the Tory fold Mr Lamb might face a real challenge, given that it’s a highly Eurosceptic seat. I suspect he is wholly opposed to the new LibDems tactic. Perhaps I should make a political comeback! After all, it went so well last time…
*

I was amused by the reaction of The Guardian and their ilk to the defeat of the far right candidate, Herr Hofer, in the Austrian presidential rerun. It was a ‘victory for liberalism’, ‘a massive blow to the right’ they shrilled. Er, he got 47% of the vote. They seemed to think a 53-47 victory in the EU referendum was very decisive. A shame they are so inconsistent. After all, they seem to think that a 52-48 majority is incredibly narrow…
*
Chris Grayling has copped a lot of flack for refusing to let Sadiq Khan and Transport for London take over the running of suburban commuter train services. It has to be said that in normal circumstances there is an argument for this happening, even if it’s one I wouldn’t ever agree with. Apparently an email has surfaced which Chris Grayling sent to Boris in 2013 arguing that this should never happen as it could hand control of these routes “to the Labour Party”. Naturally, the Labour Party has gone spare about this, but so, it seems have some Tories. The normally very mild-mannered Bob Neil has thrown his toys out of his pram and called for Grayling to quit. Not even Tom Watson, who I interviewed on the subject, went that far. Whatever the merits of the case for transferring these routes to TFL, they’re not known as ‘Totally Failing London’ for nothing. It’s a terribly run organisation that couldn’t run a cycle superhighway on an Embankment. A bureaucratic shambles, it needs to be reformed from top to bottom. Boris totally failed to get to grips with TFL. It’s too early to tell whether Sadiq Khan will do so. So far, the jury’s out.
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Last week I told you about by new weekly ‘Brexit Briefing’ podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes. The first episode was released last Friday and unbelievably reached Number 9 in the iTunes New & Politics chart. It even reached 54 on the national chart of all podcasts. I think this shows just how much thirst there is for informed debate on this subject. This week’s episode features a debate between Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Helena Kennedy – you can rest assured there was not much meeting of minds.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna talks about his new book HYPNOTIC GASTRIC BAND, and about hypnosis.

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Books

Keith Simpson MP's 2016 Christmas Reading List

7 Dec 2016 at 00:09

This has been politically a roller-coaster of a year with the EU referendum which resulted in the resignation of David Cameron and the accession of Theresa May, the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, the resignation and then American tribute tour of Nigel Farage and the success of Donald Trump as US President elect. We live in an age of Post –truth politics in which all the old certainties have been overturned. In a world of unreason and the distortion of facts through social media it is a relief to turn to books.

This has been another bumper year for books on politics, history and war. Once again this is a personal selection which I hope that colleagues and friends will find useful.

As politicians, journalists and pollsters desperately scramble around trying to establish what makes Trump “tick” two useful guides give us an indication based upon his life story and experiences as a businessman. Trump Revealed An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money and Power (Simon&Schuster) was published in August before he was elected. Although the authors Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher are Washington Post reporters, this is not a hatchet job, but is well researched. Also published in August was The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnson, an investigative journalist and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

Amongst the plethora of books on the EU referendum and its consequences Tim Shipman’s All Out War The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class (William Collins) is without doubt the best overall account with lessons for Prime Minister May and her close advisers.

One of the great beasts of Parliament will retire in 2020 – Ken Clarke’s memoirs Kind of Blue (Macmillan), reflects his commitment to politics, his long ministerial experience, and a wide hinterland of good wine, brandy, cigars, jazz, port, bird watching and motor racing. Of particular interest is his relationship with Margaret Thatcher and ministerial roles at Health, Education, Home Office and the Treasury.

Rosa Prince is a freelance journalist and wrote Comrade Corbyn an insightful biography of Jeremy Corbyn. To be published in January will be Theresa May The Path to Power (Biteback) which may provide some clue as to the political beliefs and modus operandi of, a by nature, secretive politician.

Iain Martin, a financial journalist has written an excellent bluffer’s guide for economically challenged parliamentarians on what has happened in the City and financial world since Big Bang in 1986. Crash Bang Wallop (Sceptre) combines history, analysis and anecdote to make this a highly readable book.

For those colleagues who want their little grey cells to be stimulated then they should read two books by the Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harai. * Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind* (2011) and then Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow (Harvill Secker 2016) roam across history, anthropology, the environment and technology and are challenging and provocative.

Just as Parliament has to make a decision about the options for a complete renovation of the old Palace and whether to move out during the period partially or completely, Caroline Shenton, formerly Parliamentary Archivist, has written Mr Barry’s War Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the Great Fire of 1834 (OUP). This volume takes up where the author’s The Day Parliament Burned Down concluded, and shows the fierce rivalries between architects, peers and MPs – who insisted on remaining on what was effectively a building site and adding to the problems. I am not sure that it is a precedent but it took Barry twenty-five years to complete the new Palace and only three times over budget.

For those members of the Labour Party, and especially the Parliamentary Party, plunged into gloom over the leadership, then taking Attlee as a leadership role model is a comfort. There have been previous biographies, but now John Bew, author of Castlereagh has written a stimulating reassessment in Citizen Clem A Biography of Attlee (Riverrun)

Anthony Seldon has written and edited more than forty books on politics, including assessments of Blair, Brown and Cameron and prime ministerial governance. The role of the Cabinet office, the prime ministerial engine in Whitehall, has been looked at before, but in The Cabinet Office 1916-2016 The Birth of Modern Government (Biteback) Seldon, through trawling the archives and interviewing leading personalities, has written the best modern account. In the words in the forward by Jeremy Heywood, the current Cabinet Secretary, Seldon “has created in this volume, a manual, a set text, on being the Cabinet Secretary”.

David Owen, the former Cabinet minister and now in the Lords has been quite a prolific author, particularly in political history. Although Churchill and the crisis of May 1940 is a subject almost over written by many authors, David Owen in Cabinet’s Finest Hour The Hidden Agenda of May 1940 (University of Chicago Press) uses Cabinet papers as well as private ones to explore the debate over whether to seek a negotiated peace. Owen argues that it was collective debate and discussion in Cabinet that finally rejected this proposal.

Since 1984 the Cabinet War Rooms have been opened to the public and are the responsibility of the Imperial War Museum. There have been previous guides but the IWM has now produced a magnificent history and guide, superbly illustrated, written by Jonathan Asbury – Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms (Imperial War Museum) takes the reader to areas not easily accessible to the public.

Fascist in the Family The tragedy of John Beckett MP (Routledge) cannot have been easy for Francis his son to write, although he is an experienced political biographer. John Beckett was Labour’s youngest MP in 1924 but ten years later was Mosley’s propaganda chief and a leading anti-Semite despite his Jewish ancestry. Interned during the war he never abandoned his fascist sympathies.

On a related theme Richard Griffiths, author of Fellow Travellers of the Right, and Patriotism Perverted has turned his attention to those on the far right who at the beginning of the war divided between ones who held to their sympathetic support for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and those who supported the war effort whilst secretly maintaining their beliefs. His What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of The British Pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45 (Routledge) makes an important contribution to our understanding of the far right during this period.

Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, and in internal exile from the Corbyn Shadow Cabinet, has been fascinated by the life and political career of one of her Leeds predecessors, the redoubtable Alice Bacon. Using official and private papers and interviews with Alice Bacon’s family and friends she has achieved an impressive tribute in Alice in Westminster The Political Life of Alice Bacon (I B Tauris). Born into the Labour Party she saw deprivation at first hand and was elected to Parliament in 1945. Mentored by Herbert Morrison and Hugh Gaitskell she was appointed a Home Office and then Education minister under Wilson before being made a Peeress. She helped introduce substantial social changes and was a formidable opponent of the extreme left. Apart from the life and achievements of Alice herself, the reader will conclude that Alice in Westminster is a contrast in Labour politics with the Corbynisters and momentum.

Robert Renwick is a retired FCO mandarin who was our ambassador in Washington in the 1990s. The author of several books he now has, rather timely, written Fighting With Allies America and Britain in Peace and War (Biteback). From Churchill and Roosevelt to Blair and Bush he looks at the roller-coaster history of the “special relationship” and it provides a useful background reader to Brexit and the relationship between Trump and Farage – I mean Theresa May.

David Olusoga is an accomplished historian and TV presenter. Accompanying the programme of its name in 2014 he wrote The World’s War a fascinating and disturbing account of the millions of mainly men of the British and French colonial empires who fought and worked for the allied war effort. Now he has fronted a TV series and written the companion volume Black and British A Forgotten History (Macmillan) in which he shows that immigrants from Africa and the Middle East have a presence dating back to the Roman period.

Linda Kelly has written several books on the political and social life of eighteenth century Franco-British relations and she returns to this theme in her forthcoming book in the New Year, Talleyrand in London The Master Diplomat’s Last Mission (I B Tauris). The old diplomatist and reprobate who had served both Napoleon and the Bourbons arrived in 1830 as the new French ambassador. His political and social skills are something which our present Foreign Secretary might usefully study.

Craig Murray served as the British ambassador to Uzbekistan and resigned over allegation of human rights abuses. Fascinated by Central Asia and the Great Game he has researched the life and times of his fellow Scot, Alexander Burns – soldier, diplomat, explorer, archaeologist, adventurer, Freemason and an unusually enlightened agent of the British Empire. In Sikunder Burnes Master of the Great Game (Birlinn) he advances the case for the defence of his hero who was to meet a brutal death in Kabul in 1841.

At a time when Americans are trying to assess their President elect against his predecessors, one whose outstanding military leadership was tainted by political and financial corruption within his administration was Ulysses Grant. A humble man who knew success and failure, he was the outstanding Union general of the Civil War. Even his Presidency had redeeming features and in his retirement he showed outstanding qualities as Ronald C White argues in American Ulysses A Life of Ulysses S Grant (Brilliance Corporation )

Few figures in Russian history have been more obscured by myth and legend than Gregory Yefimovich Rasputin, the “mad monk” and confidant of the last Tsar and Tsarina. Now Douglas Smith has written the definitive biography Rasputin (Macmillan) having examined a wealth of new documents and placed Rasputin as a crucial figure in late Imperial Russian history.

In Caught in the Revolution Petrograd 1917 (Hutchinson) Helen Rappaport chronicles the events of 1917 in Petrograd through the eyes of foreigners – diplomats, journalists, merchants, factory owners, charity workers and Russophiles. These men and women observed and experienced the final months of the monarchy, the protests, the overthrow of the Tsar and then the eventual triumph of the Bolsheviks.

Mark Sykes is best remembered for being one half of the Sykes – Picot agreement in 1916 between the British and French to divide up what was thought to be the imminent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. His grandson, Christopher Sykes, using extensive family papers has written The Man Who Created the Middle East A Story of Empire, Conflict and the Sykes- Picot Agreement (Wilhelm Collins). The title is an exaggeration but the book shows Sykes to have been a well travelled, well informed Arabist, with excellent political contacts, and whose career included Parliament and political service in to the War Cabinet.

Astrid Lingren was better known as the author of children’s books, but living in Stockholm she kept a diary during the war A World Gone Mad the Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939-45 (Pushkin Press) which has now been translated from Swedish. Lingren emerges as a morally courageous critic of violence and war, aware of her comfortable and safe life in Sweden, and an observer of the threats from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the ambiguities of Swedish neutrality.

Joseph Lelyveld traces the last challenging months of FDR’s life as President Statesman, Commander-in-Chief and Party leader in His Final Battle The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt (Knopf Publishing). FDR was worn out by his responsibilities and seriously ill with a dangerous heart condition which some of his senior doctors chose to keep from him and which he himself preferred not to be told about.

Steven Runciman’s life almost covered the twentieth century as he died aged 97 in 2000. The child of wealthy parents, his father was a leading Liberal politician, Runciman was able to indulge in his interests and academic pursuits. This first book by the young author Minoo Dinshaw is a triumph. In Outlandish Knight The Life of Steven Runciman (Allen Lane) he brings to life the eccentric character of Runciman, the great historian of the crusades and Byzantine world, the Grand Orator of the Orthodox Church and Laird of Eigg. His friendships, curiosities and intrigues entangled with a vast number of well-known and obscure academics, artists, politicians, spies and camp young men.

Alan Clark, the politician and diarist, had an ambivalent attitude towards his father, ‘K’, or as Private Eye called him “Lord Clark of Civilisation”, a figure of fun to a younger generation in his final years. Now James Stourton’s biography Kenneth Clark Life, Art and Civilisation (William Collins) has rightly resurrected his reputation as a brilliant curator and art historian.

As President- elect Trump appears to be recalibrating American relations with China it is apposite that we can turn to John Pomfret’s recently published The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom America and China, 1776 to the Present (Henry Holt and Company) Pomfret served as a correspondent for the Washington Post and has an extensive knowledge of China. This is a wonderful book full of insights and fascinating vignettes.

Adrian Goldsworthy has made a reputation for himself as a scholar who writes in an accessible way on Roman history. In Pax Romana War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) he argues that Roman power did not exclusively rely upon military force and brutality but on a series of complex arrangements with conquered peoples.

French diplomacy has achieved some of its greatest successes less from its diplomats and politicians and more from its amatory pursuits – at least that is the claim of Nicolas Mietton in Une histoire érotique de la diplomatie (Payot). His An Erotic History of Diplomacy documents the heroic exploits of spies, seducers and courtesans in the service of France. Something for Boris to put on his FCO diplomatic reading list.

Lady Anne Barnard was a charismatic Georgian society hostess who used her personality and talents to overcome shabby gentility. She was eccentric, a seasoned traveller, artist and observer and left behind a memoir and a marvellous collection of papers. Stephen Taylor has written a wonderful biography Defence The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard (Faber & Faber).

Downton Abbey has stimulated an interest in the great country houses and the lives of the owners and staff. Some great houses have been in the same family for centuries and masses of papers and records have accumulated in the library, bedrooms, stables and outhouses. Such is the case of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, the seat of the Leicesters. Christine Hiskey trawled through thousands of papers scattered across the estate and has produced a wonderful portrait Holkham The Social, Architectural and Landscape History of a Great English Country House (Unicorn Publishing).

Amongst the many books published this year to commemorate the Somme campaign, two stand out as having an original and evocative theme. John Lewis-Stempel is both a countryman and an author of books on the First World War. In Where Poppies Blow The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War (Weideneld & Nicolson) he shows through contemporary letters and diaries just how important landscape, the seasons, wild life and nature was to many British soldiers. The reliance on horses and mules, the acquisition of pet dogs, cats and birds who provided links with life at home.

Sarah Wearne had the original idea of putting on a website photographs of CWGC headstones to document the brief personal inscriptions from loved ones. Epitaphs of the Great War The Somme (Unicorn) is a small, beautiful and very moving tribute to the families of dead soldiers. She has selected a cross section from those who died on the Somme, with inscriptions taken from the bible, literature or just homely remembrance. An original and lovely memorial.

Retired British generals like to write military history that understandably glorifies the British Army and tends to be critical of politicians and civil servants. Richard Dannatt as a former head of the army and having written his autobiography has now produced Boots on the Ground Britain and Her Army Since 1945. A case for the defence, but former ministers and policy making civil servants, let alone senior RN and RAF officers might have a different perspective.

Rory “Sahib” Stewart is now a minister in Dfid and before he was an MP worked in the FCO and other organisations. A serious knowledge and experience of Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in two books and a TV programme. As Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border he has tramped across the border area and the debateable land. His latest book The Marches (Jonathan Cape) is loosely based upon his travels, off and on with his elderly and much loved father, Brian. The Marches combines history, geography, culture, archaeology, family connections and life and death.

Jeremy Greenstock is a retired FCO mandarin who was our man at the UN before and during the Iraq War, and then sent as our representative to the US regime in Iraq. His book Iraq The Cost of War (William Heinemann) was originally written a decade ago but publication was prevented by Jack Straw so that it would not conflict with the Chilcot Inquiry. Thus it loses some of its originality and impact and although it gives a good perspective from an FCO point of view it confirms the suspicion that the UK was a useful but not equal partner to the US.

Now for the stocking fillers. D J Taylor is a literary biographer and novelist. His The New Book of Snobs A definitive guide to modern snobbery (Constable) is effectively an update of Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs (1848) and Taylor is Thackeray’s’ biographer. Taylor argues that snobbery is a key to our national life and looks at trends in different professions and stratas of society, including hilarious examples from politics. In the contemporary Tory Party the Etonians have given way to the Garagistes!

A variation and particular kind of middle class snobbery can be found in Dan Hall Highate Mums Overheard Wisdom from the Ladies Who Brunch (Atlantic Books). Based on a twitter account this hilarious collection brings together the most outrageous snippets of conversation that have been overheard in the shops, cafés and at the school gates of this gentrified North London suburb.

Matthew Parris has given us hours of delight through his newspaper columns and books. Scorn The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History (Profile Books) is the latest edition of one which has had frequent updates. The familiar now rub clichés with the latest from Brexit and social media.

Traditionally the English, even more than the Irish and Scots, have a well earned reputation for boozing on a gargantuan scale. But the history of alcoholic drinks, and the British love of drinks acquired from being a trading nation and imperial power are explained in an informative but amusing way by Henry Jeffreys Empire of Booze British History Through the Bottom of a Glass (Underworld). A book dedicated to the Temperance Chapter of the Press Gallery.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Ed Balls

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls talks about his jobs plan for the long term unemployed, child benefit, Peter Mandelson and how he spent Christmas.

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