Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 43: Interviewing a Friend Who's Become the Enemy of Another Friend

25 Mar 2016 at 09:30

I was on a panel the other day with Marina Hyde, the Guardian columnist. She said she never goes to media or political parties because she thinks if she speaks to any well known people or becomes friends with them she wouldn’t be able to write what she wants about them in her columns.

One of the reasons LBC took me on was because I take the opposite approach to Marina Hyde. I have an extensive contacts book. Not all the people in it are friends, or even acquaintances, but over the years you get to know people, and inevitably, doing the job I do I have to interview them. I think the most difficult one was when I recently had to interview Donal Blaney about the Conservative bullying scandal. I decided to approach this interview in exactly the same way as I would any other and, as I wrote at the time, I don’t think there was anybody who alleged I hadn’t asked him the difficult questions.

Yesterday I had a more complicated interview. On Wednesday UKIP’s Suzanne Evans was suspended by UKIP. She took them to the High Court to injunct them but lost. I’ve got to know Suzanne a bit over the last year or two and we have become friends. I think she has been one of UKIP’s greatest assets and she has done well to become a national figure in her own right. But over the last year she has been undermined by others within her party and she has fallen out in a big way with Nigel Farage, someone who I also regard as a friend. I am also his publisher – and Suzanne’s come to that matter.

So yesterday I persuaded Suzanne to come into LBC to give me her first broadcast interview since her suspension. It turned out to be a much longer interview than I had anticipated, Normally on a Drivetime show, because of the necessary paciness that’s required, it would be a maximum of ten minutes but this turned out to be 25 minutes. I had prepared a few lines of inquiry but 90% of the interview was adlib. I had to ask difficult questions about Nigel Farage and also some fairly intrusive questions about Suzanne’s own experience and conduct.

I’d like to think that at no time was my line of questioning influenced by my relationship with her or Nigel Farage. I certainly wasn’t aggressive in the questions I asked, but it would have been singularly inappropriate for this type of interview. The Frost approach in these situations is far more likely to yield results than the Paxman approach. There was no pre-agreement about any areas that were off limits and her reaction to the questions about the Breitbart article underlines that she had to deal with some very difficult issues.

On a normal show, I probably do around 12 separate interviews. On average I probably know two of the interviewees. One of them could be classed as a friend. I’d like to think I have never caveated a question or pulled up from asking a difficult one just because I know someone. It’s called being professional, I suppose.

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Iain interviews Simon Danzcuk on Sexting

Frank interview and searching questions

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Conservative Politics

The IDS Fallout: Power Is Ebbing Away From Cameron & Osborne

20 Mar 2016 at 09:01

“What an utter copper-bottomed shit”. Those were the words that greeted me when I took a call from a Tory MP a couple of minutes after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was announced on Friday night. My caller fulminated about the self-indulgence of a man who dared to ruin the Chancellor’s less than carefully crafted budget. He even dared to echo the Chancellor’s apparently long held view that the former Welfare Secretary wasn’t quite the full shilling in the intelligence department.

Those of us who inhabit the Westminster village are always prone to ask in these circumstances: ‘what did he mean by that?’ We look for hidden or disguised motives. We assume ulterior motives where there often are none. More often than not, ministerial resignations are not long-planned and are more likely to be the political equivalent of a hissy fit. Alternatively, they are the culmination of a long grinding down by the Prime Minister or the Treasury.

Let’s not beat about the bush. Iain Duncan Smith knew this was his last hurrah in mainstream politics. He was not in it to gain preferment to something greater. Having led the Conservative Party, there wasn’t really anywhere else for him to go. He had no ambition to be Chancellor or Foreign Secretary. This put him in a strong position. Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor both knew that there was only so much they could do to push him down a policy road he didn’t wish to travel.

There was no love lost between him and the Chancellor. They had fought some bitter battles over the years. Unfortunately, George Osborne has always underestimated Iain Duncan Smith and this time there were catastrophic consequences.

On the left, IDS has taken on an iconic status as a hate figure. The myth has grown up that his mission in life was to hurt poor people, by reforming the welfare system so the poor got less. Oh how they misjudged him. Yes, he got religion on welfare reform. He was passionate about it because he had identified how the welfare state had let the poor down over a number of decades. He couldn’t understand why the Tories had ceded this ground to Labour, whose urban councils had presided over decades of decline in council estates all over the country. He saw the client state they had built up. He believed Labour ensured that poverty ruled in certain areas in order to preserve their vote. Glasgow was a prime example. He knew that if he could reform the system, and drag people out of semi-permanent poverty, things could be very different. This underlay his whole approach. Yes, he thought the welfare bill could be reduced. In many ways it had to be if the deficit was to be reduced. But to him reforming the system of welfare was just as important as cutting costs. That’s where he parted company with HM Treasury and the Chancellor. All they cared about – and have ever cared about – is raw numbers. Hang the long term, cut in the short term.

The Treasury has always tried to assert its dominance all over Whitehall. It happened under Nigel Lawson and Gordon Brown. But under this Chancellor, the Treasury’s power is all pervading. Nothing is done without the Treasury’s say-so. David Cameron has effectively ceded control of domestic policy to the Chancellor, and he’s imposing himself in every department. One cabinet minister told me they are not allowed to say or do anything without running it by Osborne’s special advisors. In the end something had to give, and many other cabinet ministers will be silently cheering IDS for exposing what is going on, not just at the DWP but all over government.

People question the timing of this resignation, but is there ever a right time? IDS could have gone at any time over the last two years, but chose to hang on in there in the hope that he might prevail. Nadine Dorries has tweeted her displeasure at IDS’s efforts last week to persuade her to support his welfare cuts. He said it would be a personal betrayal if she didn’t. And why resign on the day when it seemed the Treasury appeared to weaken on the PIP payment proposals? Perhaps it was one battle too far.

Could part of the reason have been Europe? Many Tory MPs suspect that the referendum had more than a little to do with the timing. Up to a point, possibly. There’s little doubt that Duncan Smith has been unhappy at some of the comments the Prime Minister has made about the motivations of the ‘outers’ and his dismissive conduct of the arguments IDS has put forward. Resigning from the government means that IDS will be in a position to take a much more high profile leadership role in the LEAVE campaign and this may well have been a minor factor in his decision.

In the end, however, the language in his resignation letter said it all. It took on a Geoffrey Howe-esque tone and seemed to invite others to search their own consciences too. There is one crucial difference. This wasn’t planned. Priti Patel, IDS’s deputy at the DWP, was at an Asian Business Awards Dinner on Friday night. At around 9.05 her phone buzzed. It was IDS. She rushed out of the hall at London’s Park Plaza hotel to take the call, looking somewhat ashen faced. He hadn’t pre-warned his LEAVE campaign colleague what he was about to do, nor anyone else it seems, probably because he didn’t want anyone to have the chance to persuade him not to do it.

IDS has never been massively popular among his fellow parliamentary colleagues. They regard him as somewhat aloof and above it all. Among the Tory grassroots it is somewhat different. They still feel guilty about his overthrow back in 2003 and he’s incredibly popular at Conservative constituency association events. They are the same people who are highly suspicious of George Osborne, who they’ve never quite warmed to.

One consequence of this resignation is confirmation that the Downing Street fear factor is on the wane. I was at Michael Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party last Saturday where I encountered a Minister who had disobeyed Downing Street’s instruction not to attend. “You’ll be on a little list,” I joshed. “I really couldn’t give a toss,” came the reply. And it was heartfelt.

Yet more evidence that power is gradually ebbing away from Cameron and Osborne. The question is, who is the power ebbing to?

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LBC 97.3: Iain talks to Gyles Brandreth about the Royal Baby

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Why Ken Clarke's Publisher Deserves a P45

18 Mar 2016 at 15:48

Apparently my LBC colleague Steve Allen has been broadcasting his wonderment at the fact that I have snapped up Ken Clarke’s memoirs for the eye watering sum of £430,000. Except I haven’t. And I wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to publish Ken Clarke and I am sure he will write a fantastic book. But any publisher who thinks paying £430,000 for a political memoir is off their effing rocker. In this case, its Macmillan. The last publisher to do that was Bloomsbury who paid around £330,000 for David Blunkett’s diaries, and they were so idiotic that the deal didn’t even include newspaper serial rights! There are some bloody stupid people in publishing nowadays. Blunkett’s book sold a mere 5,000 copies. Do the math yourself and you can work out the loss they made. Macmillan will do the same. The top rate for a newspaper serialisation, unless you’re a former prime minister, is around the £150k mark, so Macmillan have got to make £270,000 from books and rights sales. I don’t see that this book has any foreign rights potential at all, so just to break even the book will need to sell around 150,000 copies. Not. Going. To. Happen. The deal was hatched by the same agent that Boris Johnson retains, Natasha Fairweather. She apparently got him £500k for his desperately average book on Churchill. Sadly Biteback was offered neither. These sort of advances belong in the 1990s. Publishing has changed a lot since then, although there are clearly one or two people who continue to play the literary agents’ game. If I was on the board of Macmillan I’d be calling in the commissioning editor and reading them the riot act. And maybe producing a P45. Ken Clarke is a great get, but not at that price. What is the point of commissioning a book when there is a 1% chance it will make a profit? The world’s gone mad. Still, having said that, I can’t wait to read it.
*
So according to Anna Soubry on ‘Any Questions’ if we leave the EU, trade will drop to zero. In case you think I am misquoting here, here’s the exchange with Kate Hoey…
bq. Anna Soubry: “44% of our exports which is £290 billion goes into the EU.”
Kate Hoey: “That has gone down by 10% in the last 8 years.”
Anna Soubry: “But Kate it will go down to almost absolutely zero if we come out of the EU.”

Well on Budget day I interviewed Anna and asked her if that’s what she really believed. Credit to her and she fessed up that it was a ridiculous thing to say and she had made an error. She sounded quite embarrassed about it. Glad she did the right thing and didn’t try to bluster her way out of it.
*
Lord Ashcroft’s 70th birthday party on Saturday night was quite an event. I did wonder how many (and which) politicians would have the balls to attend following the Prime Minister’s displeasure with the Ashcroft/Oakeshott biography of him, CALL ME DAVE. I’m sure Downing Street has, by now, compiled their ‘little list’ of those who will be punished in the next reshuffle, but I am not going to help them by naming names here. I asked one minister if he realised they would find out and this usually totally loyal minister replied that he couldn’t give a toss. Is Number Ten losing the fear factor? Rory Bremner was a superb compere for the evening. He’s really perfected his impressions of both Nigel Farage (who was there) and Boris. Interestingly Boris and Theresa May were both on prime tables – Boris more so than Theresa. He even had Miss World sitting next to him. There was no sign of the Prime Minister, though. Obviously he had a subsequent engagement. He missed out on being serenaded by Michael Buble.
*

And so to the budget. I had thought it would be quite a boring budget, with the Chancellor on the back foot, but how wrong I was. There were lots of eyecatching initiatives and boring it certainly wasn’t. However, the elephant in the room for me was the appalling record of the forecasts that are trotted out on these occasions. Of course economic forecasting isn’t an easy game, but you’d like to think the OBR might get it right more often than they get it wrong. Even their forecasts from the autumn statement at the end of November look way off. This means the economy has been growing more slowly than expected and has left a big black hole in the chancellor’s figures. George Osborne rather glossed over that, although he did have the good grace to admit that the debt to GDP ratio would rise this year – unfortunate for a chancellor who has always trumpeted his fiscal rules.
A lot of commentators saw this budget through the prism of a future leadership contest. I’m not sure this budget changed much at all. I think most Tory MPs were rather impressed by many of the more eyecatching measures, with the possible exception of the sugar levy and also his invocation (after a mere 9 minutes) of Project Fear.
*
On Newsnight on Wednesday Robert Chote from the OBR made an astonishing admission. He said the OBR had done no economic forecasting for what would happen if Britain left the EU. Seeing as it’s 50-50 at the moment I’d have thought that was a major mistake and an abrogation of its responsibilities. If it is true that the Treasury are doing no planning at all, you do have to wonder at that. If the OBR has done no planning, how can the Chancellor at the same time invoke them in his argument that there would be a protracted period of uncertainty? I think we deserve an answer to that.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Stefanie Powers

Hart to Hart star Stefanie Powers talks about her autobiography ONE FROM THE HART

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ConHome Diary: Zac Rediscovers His Mojo, The Naivety of Dan Jarvis & Could Suzanne Evans Rejoin the Tories?

11 Mar 2016 at 14:29

The London mayoral campaign continues apace, but I feel something has changed over the last few weeks. All the polls have shown Sadiq Khan quite a way ahead of Zac Goldsmith, although the latest one in the Standard shows the gap narrowing. It seems to me this campaign is mirroring last year’s general election campaign, and that by polling day things may be very close indeed. Of course, in the end it will all come down to second or third preferences. Khan remains well ahead on second preferences so the Goldsmith campaign still have a lot of work to do, but you just get the feeling that Zac is now up for the fight in a way he didn’t seem to be a few weeks ago. You may recall that I wrote that he needed to show a bit of fire in his belly and stop looking so depressed in media appearances. Winning elections is all about the candidate having a bit of fire in his belly. In recent times he’s looked much more ‘pumped up’ to coin a phrase and that has given his supporters a much needed boost. There are a lot of undecided voters out there to be had, along with a lot of undecided second preferences. I sense that the Zac campaign have their strategy worked out. It may not involve loud ‘look at me proclamations’ but a lot is going on under the radar. Just like in the general election.
*
So Dan Jarvis has made a speech. A big speech. The speech potential party leaders make. I like him. He’s a man of integrity and may be just what Labour need. However, there were elements of this speech which were too crowdpleasing. He came out with that old canard about important decisions being taken out of the hands of politicians. What a load of bollocks. This all started with the ‘agency’ programme under the Major government and has continued apace ever since. We are now told by politicians of all parties that we must ‘take the politics out of the NHS’, for instance. Why on earth would we do that? I don’t want to give power to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats who are accountable to no one. Look at what’s happened to the Highways Agency. It’s a complete law unto itself. We elect politicians for a reason – to make decisions and choices on our behalf. If they get it wrong and we don’t like what they do, we can chuck them out and elect a new bunch. Agencies just hoard power and try to make their independence from politicians a virtue. I can’t think of a single agency that has performed better as an independent body than it did under political control. The lamentable Border Agency is a good case in point. So when you hear a politician like Dan Jarvis trying to divest themselves of power understand that it is all for cosmetic PR reasons. In reality it never leads to better government.


Stuart Ramsey from Sky News deserves to win broadcast journalist of the year for his investigation into Daesh and the fact that he has procured the details of 22,000 Daesh fighters. It’s a massive story which should have been on the front page of all newspapers and led all broadcast news bulletins. Unfortunately, viewers and readers were short-changed because of journalistic jealousies. The Times put it on their front page, but you had to turn to page 2 to find out it was a Sky News original story. The Daily Mail put it on page 6. Scandalously it didn’t even merit a mention on the BBC website, even under that most annoying of phrases, ‘the BBC has learned’. Inter media competition and rivalry is all very well, but this story is a potential game-changer in the fight against Daesh terrorism. That means it’s news, whoever the originator is. Some editors should look themselves in the mirror and consider what they’re in this game for. Surely it should be for their readers, listeners or viewers. Rather than their own insecurities or vanities.
*
Can it be too long before Suzanne Evans looks Nigel Farage in the eye and tells him he stuff his party where the sun don’t shine? She’s been sacked from yet another position by Farage and yet continues to take it on the chin. Quite why she puts up with it is anyone’s guess. In a similar vein, Farage called Douglas Carswell “an irrelevance” this week. How can UKIP’s only MP be an irrelevance? I like and admire Nigel Farage. I’ve published his books. I’d count him as a friend. But his behaviour towards Suzanne Evans, Douglas Carswell and others is quite outrageous. I suspect that after the referendum things will come to a head. Could it be a matter of months before we see both Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell back in the Conservative Party?
*

David Cameron’s announcement that he intends to stand at the next election is a welcome one. The trend for ex PMs to stand down from parliament immediately is a regrettable one. Parliament needs their experience, and you never know when the call might come again. I hear Tony Blair regrets standing down and thinks he could have made a comeback at some point. If that’s the case, you have to give thanks to God that Gordon Brown stood down when he did.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Tom Bradby

Tom Bradby talks about the film dramatisation of his novel SHADOW DANCER.

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UK Politics

The NHS Can Never Meet All the Demands Made of It & It's Time We Accepted That

10 Mar 2016 at 17:30

The NHS debate will never move on until we accept that in its current form the NHS will never meet all the demands made on it. It’s a 1940s system struggling to cope with 21st century medical advances.

Jeremy Corbyn continues to believe that all NHS treatments must be free at the point of use. That ship has sailed. It’s time for a new approach.

Most funding for the NHS will continue to come from the taxpayer, but it’s time that we also consider the principle that the user should sometimes pay. We conveniently forget that patients already pay prescription charges. From time to time, the issues of charging for hospital food or GP visits are floated, but quickly ditched until the howl of public outrage subsides. We pay for food at home, so why not in hospital?

Other countries (like Ireland) impose charges to see GPs, and let’s face it, the revenue could be used to meet part of the funding shortfall. It would also make people think twice about booking an unnecessary appointment or cancelling with no good reason. Surely a £10 charge wouldn’t be unreasonable, with opt outs for anyone on benefits.
Private sector involvement in the provision of healthcare is nothing new. Most people use private sector dentists. GPs are effectively in the private sector, as are most osteopaths and physiotherapists. A lot of primary care is provided by the private sector – the out of hours service and 111 are prime examples. Drugs are provided by private sector suppliers. Chemists and dispensaries have never been in the public sector and no one has ever suggested they should be.

People also ask why the taxpayer should pay for the treatment of people who bring their own misfortune on themselves – people who binge drink on a Friday night often end up in A&E, for example. But where do you draw the line? Charge smokers for lung cancer treatment? Charge obese people for diabetes drugs?

If a cancer patient should have the temerity to decide to use their life savings to fund their treatment using a drug which for budgetary reasons is not available via the NHS, what does the NHS do? Instead of saying ‘thank you very much for helping us out and paying for your own drugs’, it refuses to continue any treatment for that patient. See? Public good, private bad. It’s the politics of socialist envy and basically says that just because everyone can’t have it, you can’t either. Last week’s announcement that expectant mothers will be given £3,000 to pay for midwifery services. Many will use it to pay private sector midwives. And why on earth not? I hope we see more such initiatives.

This article first appeared in The New Day newspaper. Iain Dale is the author of The NHS: Things That Need to be Said

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Video: Iain Comments on Cameron's Reshuffle

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Books

Biteback to Publish the Next 4 Volumes of Alastair Campbell's Diaries

7 Mar 2016 at 10:00

Iain Dale, MD of Biteback Publishing, has acquired world rights to four new volumes of diaries from Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former chief press secretary and director of communications and strategy, and the author of several books, including the number one Sunday Times bestsellers The Blair Years and, more recently, Winners And How They Succeed. World rights were acquired from Ed Victor at Ed Victor Ltd.

The first volume will begin in 2003, where the previous instalment, The Burden of Power, ended, with Campbell’s departure from Downing Street, with subsequent books covering the intervening years until 2015. Despite having left government, Campbell’s level of involvement barely abated: he continued to advise Blair (and later Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband) and played a key role in every election campaign since. It opens as Lord Hutton prepares to publish his report, sparking a huge crisis for the BBC. But any joy in No. 10 is dwarfed by continuing difficulties in Iraq. Meanwhile the Blair–Brown relationship is fracturing almost beyond repair and Campbell is tasked by both with devising a plan that will enable the two men to come together to fight a united election campaign.

Away from politics, the diaries will talk frankly about Campbell’s continued struggles with mental health issues, as well as his work in sport and his return to journalism as he tries to find a new purpose in life.

Iain Dale said: ‘When I heard from Ed Victor that we had agreed terms, I literally punched the air. I’ve read every word of the previous four volumes and, in my opinion, Alastair’s diaries represent the most valuable political historical documents of the last twenty years. There’s no spin, no editing out the awkward bits, just raw politics told in an entertaining and engaging manner. You get a unique perspective from someone who, even after he had left No. 10, was still right at the centre of things. Whether you’re an enemy or a fan of New Labour, if you read these diaries you won’t see Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or the events he covers in the same light ever again. I’ve been trying to entice Alastair to Biteback for some time and I could not be more delighted that we’ve been able to do a deal. It represents a huge long-term commitment from Biteback and I know my colleagues and I are going to enjoy the journey.’

Alastair Campbell said: ‘I am very pleased to be working with Iain Dale – not a bad guy for a Tory – and Biteback on publishing my post-2003 diaries. The first book with Biteback – Volume 5: Never Really Left – will be published in the autumn, and although it begins the day after I left Downing Street, it becomes clear that I never fully left and was centrally involved with Tony Blair up to the election of 2005, where this volume will end. It also, therefore, covers the publication of and fallout from the Hutton Inquiry, and the deal I helped put together to get Tony and Gordon Brown co-operating during the campaign, as well as my attempts – and failures – to adapt to a new kind of life, branching out into different areas, alongside the realisation of continuing mental health issues that required proper attention. I hope the four volumes Iain and Biteback intend to publish in the coming years, added to the four volumes already published by Random House, will be a vivid and essential record of an important period in modern political history.’

The first volume will be published in autumn 2016, with subsequent books over the next three years. The books will be supported by a major publicity campaign.

For more information please contact
victoria.gilder@bitebackpublishing.com or call 020 7091 1260

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Video: Iain discusses his A List failure on Newsnight in May 2006

BBC 2 Newsnight

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Labour Shows Again That It Has Given Up on Winning Elections

4 Mar 2016 at 13:45

Ben Gummer is a very good MP according to many friends of mine. I rather admired him for standing in a seat which is never going to be ‘safe’. He won Ipswich in 2010 by a majority of just over two thousand. Most predicted he would lose the seat to Labour in 2015, but he confounded everyone by increasing his majority to more than 3,700. That’s about as good as it gets in Ipswich. Assiduous locally, he’s also now a minister in the Department of Health, where he is spoken of in glowing terms. But like his Dad, he has a complete blind spot over Europe. On twitter this week he’s been advocating the IN case but mainly by tweeting the usual Project Fear guff. I gently chided him and suggested he might use some positive arguments for a change. Back came a rather pompous reply, so I told him to grow up. He didn’t like that and said I was being very rude. Well, maybe, but if the best any politician on either side of the debate can do is to insult our intelligence and treat us like children, many be they need to be shocked out of their complacency. Project Fear scare tactics may turn out to win the day in the end, but it will be a very sad day for our politics.
*
So this week Labour announced that Yanis Varoufakis had been appointed to advise Labour on economic policy and John McDonnell said that winning elections isn’t the most important thing for Labour – creating a social movement is. At least we now know that they’re not serious about winning an election. As if we didn’t before.
*

One of my LBC producer colleagues opined to me a couple of weeks ago that it was impossible to support the LEAVE campaign because of the people who were representing them in the media. “They look completely unhinged,” was the remark which hit home. Two weeks on, I wonder if minds are changing on that front. Serious people have now come out to support LEAVE and most of them don’t have flapping white coats or stary eyes. This sort of thing is important. People advocating major change have to be both believable and likeable. That’s why Alan Johnson and Ken Clarke are such powerful advocates for the REMAIN side of the argument. Even if you’re not on their side in party politics, the chances are that you like them and find them believable. LEAVE now have Gisela Stuart, Boris, Gove, Kate Hoey, Michael Howard, Priti Patel, DD and many more. They could still do with a few more, though.
*
Kudos to IDS and Priti Patel who have had the balls to stand up to Number Ten and insist that they should receive exactly the same level of support on the EU issue as other government ministers. It is a constitutional outrage that Sir Jeremy Heywood should issue an edit telling civil servants to provide no support or information to government ministers who are supporting LEAVE. He’s overreached himself and it was good to see Bernard Jenkin’s select committee holding the Cabinet Secretary to account. Sir Jeremy put in a typical oily performance and emerged relatively unscathed, but he need be under no illusion that his every action will now come under great scrutiny, and rightly so.
*

Assuming the REMAIN side wins, attention will then turn to David Cameron’s next reshuffle, and what he will do with Boris Johnson. In theory he would be within his rights to completely ignore the soon to be ex Mayor of London, but I suspect a job will be found. But which one? Foreign Secretary is certainly out. Northern Ireland might have a certain appeal for the crueller minds in Downing Street, but I suspect they will come up with a suitably middling position which Boris wouldn’t like but would find difficult to turn down. Transport, comes to mind.
*
I wonder if the BBC has overreached itself. No I’m not talking about the sacking of Tony Blackburn, I’m talking about the fact that they have hired Wembley Arena to host a Referendum debate and Q&A session in mid June. They haven’t got any star speakers lined up, and it’s difficult to imagine how this whole event would work. Why on earth hire an arena that holds 12,000 people when about ten of them would get to ask a question? I’m hearing that neither side of the debate is keen on this event and would be reluctant to put up their star people. So instead of Boris v Dave, it’s likely to be more like Ken v Liam.
*

Gavin Barwell is one of the nicest MPs in Parliament. I can’t think he has any enemies at all. Normally I’d think that was not necessarily a good thing. If you haven’t got enemies, generally you can’t be very effective, but that’s not the case with Gavin. Like Ben Gummer, he won a marginal seat in 2010 and increased his majority in 2015. He’s now written a book about how he did it, which if you’re fighting a marginal seat next time around you really ought to read. It’s called HOW TO WIN A MARGINAL SEAT and is out in a couple of weeks. Preorder it HERE [insert link https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/how-to-win-a-marginal-seat ].
*
Rather like the Labour Party, the US Republicans seem to be going through a seemingly neverending nightmare. Although numerically the presidential nomination isn’t yet sewn up for Donald Trump, it’s looking increasingly likely. His popularity is another sign of people’s dissatisfaction with the political elites, although given his wealth it’s nonsense to suggest that he comes from anything other than an ‘elite’. Marco Rubio seems to have vacated the ‘challenger’ position to the somewhat bizarre Ted Cruz. If Rubio can’t even win his home state of Florida in ten days’ time then his campaign is toast. So it really does look like Trump v Clinton. It’ll be some spectacle to watch, but I wonder what it will do to the Republican Party. Perhaps they will finally realise they need to appeal to the whole country and not just a narrow section of it.

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2015 Highlight: Iain spends an hour discussing the Indian Caste System

A phone in on the Indian caste system

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UK Politics

Why Religion Needs to Adapt to a Changing Society

27 Feb 2016 at 19:18

Even when I was a campanologist (no sniggering at the back), ringing the bells at our village church, I didn’t believe in God. Ok, I was only a teenager, and I was only ringing the bells each Sunday as the lesser of two evils. It was that or being a choirboy. You’ll understand why I chose Plain Bob Minor.

I had a typical rural upbringing. I lived in a quiet north Essex village near Saffron Walden, went to the local C of E Primary School, my mother did the church flowers once a month to keep up with the Jones’s, and every so often we’d be dragged along to the Sunday morning service to take Holy Communion. I hated the wafer thin fake bread and loathed the red wine even more.

I remember sitting there willing the hour away. I quite liked the hymns, but I just couldn’t get my head around reciting a whole lot of religious doggerel worshipping some supreme being. By that stage I didn’t believe in Father Christmas or fairies at the bottom of the garden. My father rarely came to church, but on one occasion that he ventured there I remember the vicar saying rather sarcastically how nice it was to see him there. He snapped back: “I don’t need to attend church every Sunday to prove my Christian credentials, I do that every day of the week.”

There are two sorts of Christians – those whose entire life and philosophy is governed by strict adherence to scripture, and those who try to live their life by what they think Jesus Christ would have done, or would have wanted. And this brings me (at long last!) to my point.

The Anglican Church, of which the Church of England is the leading player, is split asunder on the issue of homosexuality. Just recently the leaders of the Anglican Church voted to sanction the US Episcopal Church for its liberal stance on homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular. It was a murky decision which some felt that their valued they hold vital to Christian empathy and inclusion were sacrificed on the altar of what Bishop Stephen Lowe called the “altar of false unity for Anglican Communion.”

If marriage is such a great institution – and it is – why is it that some of the more recidivist members of various religions find it so wrong that gay people want to access its benefits too. How does my being married to a man, threaten or undermine anyone else’s marriage or relationship?

Some Christians cling on to the fact that the Old Testament is quite clear about the evils of homosexuality. But it’s also clear about the evils of eating shellfish, the evils of wearing mixed fibres, and that the best way to deal with adulterous women was to stone them. However, depending on which translation you read, the New Testament barely mentions homosexuality. Just as importantly, if a ‘New’ New Testament was written today, does anyone seriously think that there would be any condemnation of homosexuality at all?

Those Christians would do well to actually study the life and beliefs of Jesus Christ himself. I may not believe in God, but I do believe Christ existed. And from what I know he would be one of the last people to condemn anyone who found true love. And even if he still abided by the belief than ‘man shall not lie with man’ he would be compassionate and empathetic to those men who did. Or do. He certainly wouldn’t want anyone publicly shamed, stoned or thrown off the top of a building.

I’m afraid there is no way of keeping the Anglican Church united. Women bishops started the fragmentation. Gay vicars and gay marriage is likely to lead to a schism. The dogmatic and recidivist views of the African Anglican Churches will never reconcile with the increasingly liberal attitudes displayed by many in the leadership of the Church of England or the US Episcopal Church.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and formerly an ordained Priest, has decided that enough is enough and he has quit the church. Many other gay and lesbian Christians believe that fighting the fight from within is still the best way forward. Time will tell who is right.

This article first appeared in the April edition of ATTITUDE Magazine

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ConHome Diary: How Does Boris Get Away With It & Is Dave More Wilson Than Macmillan?

26 Feb 2016 at 14:11

Listening to the Prime Minister last Friday night, when he announced his EU deal, there’s no doubt that he talked a good game. He did it again on Marr and he did it again in the Commons on Monday. Whatever you think of the content of what he said, he’s at his best when his back is against the wall. In many ways David Cameron is a lucky Prime Minister, although some say it’s because he makes his own luck. Tony Blair was the same, and in this way he really is an heir to Blair. Untroubled by deep convictions, both Blair and Cameron have the ability to move effortlessly from policy to policy and give the impression that each one is the most important one in their armoury. Pundits have often compared David Cameron to Harold Macmillan. I’m beginning to think it’s another Harold that he most resembles – Harold Wilson.
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Just how does he get away with it? At least he was wearing a suit and had a haircut, but could Boris Johnson’s statement outside his house on Sunday night have been any more rambling and incoherent? Did no one think to say, “Boris, at least have some notes”? And yet he did get away with it and continues to. The media seems to give him a free pass and adapt the attitude of “Boris will be Boris”. That will change the moment he becomes Tory leader, assuming that eventuality ever comes to pass. They built him up, then they will bring him down.
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Let’s for a moment examine Boris’s stance on the EU, assuming of course it remains what it appeared to be on Sunday. At no point has he actually said the words: “I want to leave the EU”. His position appears to be that we should vote LEAVE on the basis that it would then mean we (but he means ‘he’) could then be in a much more powerful position to launch a much more meaningful renegotiation. Unfortunately that ship has already sailed on two counts. It is specifically ruled out (at the suggestion of Belgium), which means a LEAVE result means just that. In fact it was something various politicians (including David Davis) suggested a long time ago – just have the referendum and then launch the renegotiation. David Cameron thought he knew better.
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The fact is that Boris, at his own admission has never been an ‘Outer’. I have lost count of the people who have told me of conversations with Boris – even in the last few weeks – where he has made clear he has never supported leaving the EU. I suspect many of these instances are about to be catalogued publicly by people who feel Boris has said what he has purely to further his own political career. I’m afraid it is a conclusion that is hard to avoid. His strategy is predicated on a LEAVE vote coming to pass on June 23rd. David Cameron resigns the next day (and he’d surely have to), and Boris, having quasi-led the LEAVE campaign to victory becomes leader almost by acclamation. Except it might not quite work out that way. Would he get the support of enough Tory MPs, and to what extent would David Cameron copy his political godfather Michael Howard, and rig the rules to be unfavourable to Boris. Maybe there would be a two year long leadership campaign, giving him enough time to make the mother of all gaffes!
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It’s not been a good few days for Sajid Javid. Potential future leaders should show leadership. He hasn’t. He’s done the exact opposite. He’s ignored his true beliefs and rowed in behind the Prime Minister’s position. He then wrote a truly pathetic paen for a Sunday newspaper explaining that while he was supporting the prime minister he believes we should never have joined the EU. Well thanks for that insight. One wonders what the Prime Minister was able to say to Sajid Javid that persuaded him, which failed to persuade Michael Gove. Perhaps it went something like this: “Support me Sajid, keep your nose clean and you’ll be at the top of my list to replace George as Chancellor when I make him Foreign Secretary in the next reshuffle.”
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What none of the newspapers have picked up on is that the cabinet is stuffed full of MPs who will support the REMAIN campaign. In the parliamentary party around the split between so-called ‘Remainiacs’ and ‘Outer’s is roughly 50-50. In the Cabinet it’s more like 80-20 in favour of REMAIN.
*

Michael Gove probably hasn’t enjoyed the last week. His articulation of why he couldn’t support the Prime Minister was the best exposition yet of why Britain should leave the EU. It’s a decision he clearly agonised over but he has displayed leadership and no one seems to hold it against him. I predict a bandwagon is about to roll. And on the side will be a poster which says MICHAEL GOVE FOR LEADER.
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People of my vintage have grown up with Tony Blackburn. For fifty years he has been on the radio and whether you like or loathe his cheesy style I think it’s universally agreed that he is brilliant at what he does. On Wednesday night Tony Blackburn announced he had been sacked by the BBC from all his various radio shows on the network, including those on Radio 2, BBC Radio London and Radio Berkshire. Why? Well, read Tony Blackburn’s statement for yourself and see whether you the BBC are justified in what they have done. His sacking was a tool to draw attention away from the Dame Janet Smith report which was published yesterday morning. Its main conclusion was that BBC managers and head honchos knew nothing of Jimmy Savile’s activities and although floor managers and producers were aware of what was going on, they failed to alert managers. I say bollocks to that. It’s quite clear to any sane person that managers must have known, but they chose not to confront the issue. So it turns out that Dame Janet absolves the BBC of any corporate culpability. I find that an astonishing conclusion.

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ConHome Diary: The LibDems Who Are Voting Out & The Exit of Tim Montgomerie

19 Feb 2016 at 13:26

On Newsnight Evan Davis called Tim Montgomerie “the most well-known Tory who isn’t an MP”. So his resignation as a Tory Party member is news, no matter what some might say. The editor of this site has described it as akin to ending a marriage. What Tim’s critics need to understand is that no one resigns from a political party without serious thought and deliberation. Tim quitting is no flight of fancy. He will have agonised about it for a long time. Successful political parties are big tent coalitions. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party was just that. The likes of John Carlisle and Harvey Proctor could happily coexist in a party with people like Jim Lester or Stephen Dorrell. There is a certain intolerance in today’s Conservative Party which didn’t exist in previous times. If you don’t sign up to the Cameron/Osborne project you are ignored, briefed against or ridiculed. There are plenty of MPs who will attest to that. There will be few tears shed in Downing Street or Crosby HQ about Tim’s departure. Indeed, I suspect champagne corks will have popped. The turbulent priest has got rid of himself. There are few people in Conservative Politics who can look in the mirror and say “well, I may have gone, but look at my legacy”. Tim can justifiably do that. He was the inspiration behind the Centre for Social Justice, and of course without him, this website would not exist. He’s had his failures, but he has learned from them. In some ways Tim is a bit of a dreamer and an individualist, more comfortable ploughing his own furrow rather than operating as part of a team. He recognised that early on. He and I are polar opposites in how we operate. He’s a man of ideas, I’m not. He likes nothing better than to develop innovative policy – I’m better at marketing the policy. But to one extent or another, in the five years leading up to the 2010 election he and I became the ‘go to’ Tory gob on a stick for the broadcast media. I bowed out from that role after 2010 but if anything Tim’s reputation as a Conservative commentator burst into a new era after 2010. Barely a week went past without an appearance on Newsnight. Who will they go to now? I suspect the lazy producer will still book Tim when he is back in the country, partly because it’s difficult to think of anyone else who knows the party like he does. There’s a gap in the market now for a top class Tory pundit. But who is there to fill it?
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Potential prime ministers need leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the LEAVE campaign tells us much about his political calculation. I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe it would be out of genuine political conviction? Of course not. He will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the LEAVE campaign and on June 23rd the LEAVE side wins the referendum, it would lead to the resignation of David Cameron and hi becoming party leader by acclamation. He may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.
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As I have said before, I think this so-called EU renegotiation is a rather pathetic attempt to hoodwink the British people into thinking something has really changed. There is nothing in it that is of any real importance. If there had been, the negotiations would have stalled at the first fence. I’ve come to the conclusion that the EU is unreformable. Look at how the Prime Minister’s child benefit changes have been completely watered down. They are now a very poor reflection of the sentiments uttered by the Prime Minister in the Bloomberg speech or as written in the Conservative manifesto. People see through these things.
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A substantial part of the electorate is undecided on the EU issue. How will they make up their minds? Will Project Fear win the day? Who will influence their decisions? Surely in the end people feel in their gut that Britain should either be an independent country or part of Europe? I suspect that it isn’t the likes of Boris Johnson or David Cameron who will influence the debate, it is people’s family and friends who will be more of an influence. They in turn will be influenced by people they respect. It won’t be the likes of Emma Thompson or Michael Caine who influence the debate, it will be moderate, normal people. As I have said before, the LEAVE campaign’s problem is that it appears to be full of people who would look quite at home at a John Redwood leadership campaign launch (that’s a comment for people of a certain vintage). John Redwood is a very great man and I bow to no one in my admiration of him, but on both sides of the argument the campaigns need to think very hard about who they put up in front of camera. This is where the REMAIN camp have an advantage. They can wheel out people-friendly spokespeople like Ken Clarke and Alan Johnson. I’m afraid that whatever their merits might otherwise be, Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg don’t quite cut it. My column last week was given a headline which was totally misleading. It said that I was making the case for David Davis to lead the ‘Out’ campaign. I actually did nothing of the sort, but I think we can all agree that he much more of a cross-party appeal than many of the people appearing on our TV screens for the Outers at the moment.
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I was asking some of my younger colleagues at LBC the other day how they would vote in the referendum. To my surprise, several of them revealed themselves as Outers. I was tickled that two of them were LibDem supporters. I was going to say ‘there’s always one’, but in this case there were two. Fancy that, two LibDems in the same room.
*
Earlier this week I interviewed the man who tried to smuggle an Afghan girl into this country from the Calais Jungle camp. You may remember the story. When we were offered the opportunity we were told he’d be accompanied by the musician Alex James. The news hook was that they were both going to Calais this weekend and Alex would perform an impromptu concert for the migrants. I’m not a fan of Blur, but Alex James is quite an interesting person, so I was looking forward to it. So as the 4.45 break loomed I trailed them both by saying “In a moment we’ll be talking to the man who tried to smuggle an Afghan child into the country and one of the country’s top music stars, Alex James from Blur.” There turned out to be a problem. The musician was indeed Alex James, but I soon realised he wasn’t the Alex James we had assumed was! What to do?! Well, the show had to go on. They both came into the studio, and I just carried on. I actually thought it was very funny, and could well have been part of the plot for Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters. Aha!

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Video: Iain & Derek Draper on Question Time Extra (Part 2)

BBC News 24, October 12 2007

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