Diary

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.
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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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Video: Interview about Patick Mercer on Sky News

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Diary

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.
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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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Iain interviews Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Zac Needs To Get Pumped Up

12 Feb 2016 at 13:36

The EU Referendum campaign continues albeit with the Prime Minister still rigging things in his favour. He still feels free to opine on the issue and yet bans any minister who takes a different view from speaking. His ridiculously pathetic attempt to scare us into believing that the Calais Jungle would suddenly become the Folkestone jungle was quite a sight to behold. Good for the French in immediately making clear they wouldn’t seek to rip up the bilateral arrangement, which has absolutely bugger all to do with the EU. The mayor of Calais was no doubt doing her nut.
The latest scare story comes not from Cameron but from Hilary Benn, who yesterday tried to make out that Vladimir Putin would be secretly rather pleased if we left the EU. You’ve got to laugh. As if Putin would give a toss either way.
There is a view that if the Prime Minister recommends we stay in (and let’s face it, he’s not going to do anything else) then that’s game, set and match for the ‘In’ campaign. I take a different view. If you have the political establishment, big business, the BBC, the Church and the beautiful people all advocating one thing, don’t be surprised if the people do the exact opposite. We’ve become a suspicious bunch and far less deferential to those supposedly know better than us.
There is still the leadership problem. Those speaking out in favour of leaving still resemble people attending a John Redwood leadership campaign launch. Where are those who can articulate why we should leave without frothing at the mouth and their eyes resembling the aftermath of a Ketamin intake?
Well, there have been two significant developments in the last few days. First David Davis gave a lengthy ‘death by powerpoint’ lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies in which he carefully went through all the positive reasons for leaving, and scotching many of the scare stories. It was immediately interpreted as a bid to lead the ‘LEAVE’ campaign. Whether it was or not (and I genuinely don’t know), they could do far worse.
Secondly, Sarah Wollaston, previously a self-confessed Europhile, wrote a brilliant article on Wednesday’s Times articulating why she had decided we now had to leave. She describes Cameron’s EU deal as a “threadbare offering” and asks “What use are “emergency breaks” when the driver has no control or “red cards” that have no credible chance of being deployed?” She concludes: “If they are to have any hope of persuading the undecideds, the leave campaigns must settle their differences and inspire. We need a clear blueprint for Britain working alongside the EU in a constructive new partnership. We would join as the world’s fifth largest economy, not isolated but confident, outward-looking and open for business.”
And this is the challenge for the ‘LEAVE’ campaign. Unite, inform, inspire. Are they up for the challenge?
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When you’re in a campaign you need to want to win it. You need to look as if you want to win it. You need to have all guns blazing. Radiate optimism. Inspire your campaign workers. At the moment Zac Goldsmith is doing none of these. He looks as if he’d rather be anywhere else but doing what he’s doing. It appears that being in a bathtub with Mrs Brown would be preferable to sitting in a studio answering questions on his vision for London. David Cameron needs to give Zac a lesson on how to appear being ‘pumped up’.
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The common consensus is that Sadiq Khan is having the better of the campaign so far. But all is not lost by any stretch. Assuming Zac discovers his Mojo, he also has a powerful ally. Don’t laugh but his name is George Galloway. Galloway knows he won’t win, but he can inflict some significant damage on Sadiq Khan in some of the inner London Boroughs. I am told that his supporters are encouraging voters just to use their first preference vote, and leave the rest of the ballot paper blank. Neither of the main two candidates is likely to win on the first ballot. If enough Galloway supporters don’t use their second or even third preferences for Sadiq, that could let Zac through the back door. Stranger things have happened.
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In March I am publishing David Laws’ book on the history of the coalition. It’s imaginatively titled ‘Coalition’. I finished reading the unedited manuscript recently. I know I’m the publisher and I am biased, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint. There is one politician who comes out of it very badly indeed and won’t be a happy bunny. Such a tease…
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If you’ve never listened to the Alex Salmond Phone-in (Wednesday at 4 on LBC) you’re missing a treat. This week Mr S couldn’t remember his salary as First Minister and was challenged to a fight on air by a certain Mr William Wallace of Brentwood. Och aye, we even bring back people from the dead on LBC. It’s no doubt part of the reason David Mellor and Ken Livingstone have a show! Just my little joke. I actually think their Saturday morning show is one of the best shows on the station. It ought not to work but it really does. Tune in Saturday mornings from 10 and judge for yourself. Class bantz.

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Brenda in Chelmsford tells Iain About Caring for Her Husband Who Has Dementia

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UK Politics

Why the PM Is Pushing Me Towards the Brexit

5 Feb 2016 at 14:33

Like many of you, I guess, I haven’t yet decided on which way to vote in the EU Referendum. David Camerson’s so-called deal isn’t helping me make up my mind. Frankly, if you go into a renegotiation asking for very little, you can expect to receive even less.

The Prime Minister made four demands, three of which weren’t actually demands at all. They were a statement of the bleedin’ obvious – motherhood and apple pie demands. He wanted a legal block on ever closer union. Totally meaningless. The British Parliament has that already in that it can decide whether to ratify a new treaty or not. The only real bone of contention was on in-work benefits.

The PM is heralding a four year brake on in work benefits as some sort of triumph. In reality it is nothing of the sort. It’s more of a handbrake U turn, as migrant workers will be able to gradually reclaim the very same in work benefits they were supposed to be banned from receiving in the first place.

The PM has caved in on the issue of paying child benefit to migrant worker’s children who still live in their home country. On what planet can any sensible person believe it is right to pay British benefits to children in foreign countries? In his manifesto the PM promised to put a stop to it, but in this deal today these benefits will continue to be paid. Good luck in selling that one to a sceptical electorate, prime minister.

This is a deal with one priority in mind – holding a referendum as early as possible, ideally on 23 June. Why? Because the longer it’s delayed the more likely the political agenda is to be dominated by a further migrant and refugee crisis over the summer months.

At the EU summit in two weeks’ time this sword will held over the head of his fellow 28 EU leaders. The message will be “drop me in it now, and fail to agree terms, and I cannot guarantee a Stay vote in the UK referendum.”

So what we have here is a cynical manipulation of the British public. The trouble is, people are going to see it for what it is. I desperately want both sides in this referendum to give me a positive reason to vote for one way or the other. So far, all I hear is cynicism, threats and exaggerations. What we should be getting are facts, vision and hope.
If anything, the events of this week have pushed me further to considering a vote to leave the EU, partly because I am increasingly of the view that meaningful reform of the EU is impossible.

Will 28 countries ever agree on anything? The refugee crisis is a good example. If the EU can’t put measures in place to alleviate this crisis, what on earth is it for?
It’s all very well to introduce a Red card system where national parliaments can club together to veto a new proposal from the European Commission. And it sounds reasonable until you find out that the orange card system has only ever been used twice. What the British people want is surely their own Parliament to be able to veto new proposals which disadvantage our country.

And when the Prime Minister says he has got a concession for non Eurozone members to be able to argue against measures taken by Eurozone countries if they feel they are disadvantaged by them, all well and good. They can put their case but there’s no mechanism for it to go beyond protests.

So I believe we, the British people, are being hoodwinked by the Prime Minister and it’s our fault if we fall for it. If Conservative MPs fall for it too, so be it. The trouble is we have an opposition hardly worthy of the name. Virtually the whole of the British political establishment is in hoc to the EU and is blinkered to the consequences. It says it all that in a profoundly Eurosceptic party only 5 out of 30 cabinet ministers are likely to vote to leave the EU.

I am a Europe loving Europsceptic. There’s not an Anti-European bone in my body. I speak relatively fluent German. I’ve lived in Europe. My uncle died so Europe could be freed.
I believe in cooperation between European countries. What I don’t believe in and can’t support is an unreformable monolith that is undemocratic and democratically unaccountable. If I am to vote to remain in the EU I need a lot more than a bit of tinkering around the edges by a Prime Minister who should be leading public opinion rather than vainly attempting to follow it. What a sad state of affairs.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Lord Ashcroft

Michael Ashcroft talks about his new book HEROES OF THE SKIES

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VIDEO: World Cancer Day: How Cancer Has Affected Me

4 Feb 2016 at 13:44

World Cancer Day: Iain Dale's Story

Today is World Cancer Day and LBC is proudly supporting Cancer Research UK Watch Iain share his story and donate now to show your support #ADayToUnite

Posted by LBC on Thursday, 4 February 2016

This is a video to mark World Cancer Day. I was asked to record something which reflected how cancer had impacted on me and my family. I spoke about my Godmother, Eleanor Daniels, who sadly died in 2007. She may not have been a blood relative, but to us she was. She was a major influence on me and my two sisters, Tracey Hunter and Sheena Dale and was my mother’s lifelong best friend from childhood. We all still miss her hugely.

In the last few weeks a friend of mine lost his mother to cancer. A close friend of mine and John’s has been diagnosed with breast cancer. And this week the father of a work colleague has had an operation to remove cancer. It affects all of us. If you can make a donation to fight cancer, please do so. Nowadays, if some cancers are caught early, they can be caught in time.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Jack Straw

Jack Straw talks about his newly published memoirs, LAST MAN STANDING

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WATCH: My Response to David Cameron's "Renegotiation" (Or Hoodwinking the British People)

2 Feb 2016 at 18:35

My response to David Cameron’s EU “renegotiation”.

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Video: Iain interviews Boris Johnson in 2007

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

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Policy

A Visit to the Brilliant Ebbsfleet Academy & The Difference a Good Head Teacher Can Make

28 Jan 2016 at 09:41

When I was a parliamentary candidate I used to enjoy visiting local schools. I always learned something. Of course academies that time were a mere glint in Andrew Adonis’s eye. On Wednesday I visited an academy for the first time. It came about following an invitation from one of my LBC listeners who calls in regularly and takes me to task for some of my views on education policy. It turned out that Alison in Sydenham was also head of the Ebbsfleet Academy, which is just off the M25 near Gravesend. Four years ago it was a failing school. Those parents who cared about their children’s education didn’t want to send their kids there and the schools exam results were a joke. Seventeen per cent would get 5 GCSEs or more. The school then became an academy, changed its name, brought in a new head, and the rest, as they say was history. Last summer 54% of their pupils got 5 GCSEs or more including Maths and English. This year they expect to get more than 60%. It’s a remarkable turnaround. It’s been done through inspirational leadership, an almost total replacement of the teaching staff, and imposing rules and discipline. I have never seen such a clean and tidy school. Even all the classrooms were tidy.

All the classes I visited were full of eager to learn kids with seemingly few discipline problems. Many of the yeargroup classes were split into two – boys in one classroom, girls in another. I was quite surprised to see this, but it’s something that both girls and boys seem to like and think is a good idea. Virtually all the teachers were under 30 and many recruited from the TeachFirst programme. Going round the school, the head knew the name of every single pupil she encountered, and had words of encouragement for all of them. In one of the breaks I sat down with six or seven pupils who told me about their experiences of how their school had been transformed. It was truly inspirational. The school is in an area where 42% of the pupils qualify for the pupil premium. Some of them come from very challenging backgrounds. One of the great things Alison Colwell has brought to the school is a real sense of encouraging her pupils to aspire to be better. I asked the seven kids what they wanted to do when they left school. They all gave aspirational answers – law, accountancy, computer technology. Alison later told me that she asked that question to a group of girls when she first arrived at the school. They all wanted to work in nail bars. Nothing wrong with nailbars, but the point was that they had never really considered anything else.

The school is now attracting more and more kids from the local area and is about to start a sixth form. The local community can now be justly proud of it. It just shows how important leadership is for a school. They’ve got the right head teacher at the right time. If this academy is a representative example of the genre, then those schools who are about to convert have nothing to fear. In fact, they should embrace their future. Change is never easy, but it can be very rewarding, as the Ebbsfleet Academy has discovered.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Harry Wallop & Andrew Martin

Harry Wallop discusses his book CONSUMED and Andrew Martin talks about his book on the Tube, UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND.

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Tribute

Cecil Parkinson 1931-2016: An Obituary & Personal Memories

25 Jan 2016 at 15:22

Iain pays tribute to one of his political mentors

Cecil Parkinson, who died today at the age of 84, belonged, albeit fleetingly, to that unfortunate group of politicians known as ex future Prime Ministers. At the peak of his political powers in mid 1983 he was seen as a natural successor should Margaret Thatcher have fallen under the proverbial bus. But it was not to be. His affair with his secretary Sara Keays led to his resignation from the Cabinet and four years in the political wilderness.

Cecil Edward Parkinson was born in 1931 and grew up in the Lancashire railway town of Carnforth.. A chartered accountant by profession, and a partner in West< Wake & Price from 1961 to 1971, he made his name – and money – in the building world in the 1960s through his company Parkinson Hart Securities. Parkinson was a genial, suave, tall man, whose matinee idol looks could reduce Tory ladies of a certain age to jelly. He married Ann Jarvis in 1957 and together they raised three daughters.

Parkinson was first elected to Parliament at a 1970 by-election in Enfield West, following the death of the Chancellor, Iain Macleod. In the dying days of the 1970-74 Heath Government he became a junior whip, but it was with the election of Margaret Thatcher to the Conservative Party leadership which sparked his political rise. He specialised in trade policy in the Opposition period from 1976 to 1979 and became Minister of State for Trade in the first Thatcher administration. But it was his sudden promotion to become Chairman of the Conservative Party, replacing the octogenarian Lord Thorneycroft, in 1981 where he made his name.

By common consent he proved to be one of the most outstanding Conservative Party Chairmen of the late twentieth century. He reformed Conservative Central Office, recruiting several leading businessmen to play key roles in the marketing and organisation of the Party. Christopher Lawson was recruited from Mars to become director marketing and Parkinson oversaw the introduction of targeted direct mail campaigns to both recruit new members and raise money.

In April 1982, at the suggestion of Norman Tebbit, Parkinson became a key member of Margaret Thatcher’s five man Falklands War Cabinet. Tebbit felt that Thatcher needed some support in case the more dove like Francis Pym and Willie Whitelaw lost their collective nerve. He was highly successful in presenting the Government’s case during the three month conflict and his political stock was certainly on the rise.

During the following twelve months Parkinson was hardly off the nation’s TV screens attacking the newly formed SDP/Liberal Alliance and the unilateralist policy of Michael Foot’s Labour Party. June 10th 1983 should have been the happiest day of Cecil Parkinson’s life. In the early hours it became clear that the Conservative Party was heading for the biggest electoral landslide in its history. As architect of that victory Parkinson’s political career was at its summit.

In the early hours of that morning he told the Prime Minister that he had been having a long term affair with his secretary, Sara Keays, who was about to have his baby. Thatcher had planned to appoint Parkinson Foreign Secretary later that day thereby sending out the signal that he was her chosen heir. Instead she sent him to Trade & Industry. Four months later, in the middle of the Conservative Party’s annual conference, he was forced to resign after The Times printed Sara Keays’ allegations that Parkinson had promised to marry her, then reneged on the promise. Some commentators felt it deeply ironic that Parkinson resigned because he had decided to stay with his wife rather than leave her for his mistress.

Although Parkinson had only spent four months at the DTI he managed to privatise British Telecom and introduce changes to the way the Stock Exchange operated, known as the City’s ‘Big Bang’. These changes helped the London Stock Exchange maintain its competitive position against Frankfurt, New York and Hong Kong.

During his period out of the Cabinet Parkinson never hid his desire to return to the front of the political stage. This was not a sign of naked ambition or careerism, more of a desire to wipe the epithet “disgraced” from his name. He often said to friends that he was fed up with being described as the “disgraced former Tory Party Chairman” and the only way to rid himself of that description was to come back. But when he did return to the Cabinet in June 1987 he was never quite the same. Somehow the political spark had been extinguished. While he was a competent Energy Secretary, the complexities of electricity privatisation appeared too much for him and led to a sideways move to Transport, rather than the Treasury which he had long coveted.

When Margaret Thatcher fell in November 1990 Parkinson decided to leave too. He was genuinely sick to his stomach at the way his parliamentary colleagues had treated his political protector. This was graphically demonstrated during the last meeting of the Thatcher Cabinet. As she was reading out a prepared statement about her future she continually broke down in tears. It was all too much for Parkinson who blurted out to the Lord Chancellor, who was sitting beside her: “For God’s Sake James you bloody read it”

Parkinson’s contempt for Thatcher’s successor John Major was never easily hidden and his deservedly poorly reviewed 1992 memoirs, Right at the Centre, leave the reader with the distinct feeling that although he considered himself to be a key member of the Thatcherite vanguard, he had never quite achieved what he set out to.

He left parliament at the 1992 General Election and immediately went to the House of Lords as Lord Parkinson of Carnforth. This, however, was not the end of his political career. He became the founding Chairman of Conservative Way Forward, a ginger group committed to keeping the Thatcherite flame alive, and in 1998 Parkinson experienced a year long Indian Summer when William Hague brought him back into frontline politics as Party Chairman. It was not a happy year as he fought continual battles with the Party’s Chief Executive Archie Norman MP, whose McKinseyite approach to reforming the Party and Conservative Central Office proved to be something of a disaster.

He is survived by his wife Ann and their three daughters, and his daughter Flora, by Sara Keays.

I have many personal memories of Cecil. I first met him in January 1983 when I attended a reception at Number Ten as Chairman of the University of East Anglia Conservative students. Most of the Cabinet were there – I remember discussing with Cecil Parkinson the number of free running shoes he had been sent after a recent profile had announced to the world that he was a keen runner. He offered me a pair but it turned out his feet were much smaller than mine!

One of my main memories of running UEA Tories was a meeting we held in 1985 with Cecil Parkinson as guest speaker. He was slowly being rehabiliated after his 1983 resignation and we expected a big crowd in Lecture Theatre 1. Little did I know that when we walked in it was full to overflowing, with 900 students.

He got a standing ovation, which I was a little surprised at, as UEA was a very left wing university in those days. In fact, his reception was so good that it provoked the socialist workers’ crowd who tried to invade the stage. They failed at that due to the skilful work of members of the UEA Rugby Society, so then the eggs started coming in. None of them hit Cecil. They all hit Ann, his wife, and me. My new suit was ruined. Cecil was furious and shouted “which little lefty rat threw that at my wife?” The rest of the audience cheered and turned on the egg throwers who left without further incident. What a great meeting! Cecil loved it!

My next encounters with Cecil came in 1990, when he was Transport Secretary. In early 199 I was working for a public relations company called Charles Barker. I had been recruited to beef up their lobbying efforts. I truth I hated it. I was a fish out of water, and left after only three months. One of my clients was Vauxhall, and they wanted to meet Cecil Parkinson and show off their new electric car. I kept asking them what they wanted from him in terms of policy but they hadn’t got a clue. All they were interested in was a few pictures of him driving their new product and shaking hands with their chief executive. It was at that point I knew I could get no satisfaction working as a pimp, because that’s what lobbying really was in those days – matchmaking without consummation.

At the time, I was good friends with Cecil’s Special Advisor, a redoubtable lady called Elizabeth Buchanan. She had previously worked for Paul Channon and later became a private secretary to the Prince of Wales and Margaret Thatcher. Anyway, we sat together in the audience in Blackpool (I think) to listen to his party conference speech. Cecil had never been a great platform speaker, and this year was no different. He plodded through his speech but the audience wasn’t really that interested. At the end, Elizabeth grabbed my arm and whispered: “We must lead a standing ovation”. I dutifully got to my feet and applauded like mad. Unfortunately we were the only two who did. It was mortifyingly embarrassing.

In 2004 he and Ann came up to North Norfolk to speak at a fundraiser for my campaign. He arrived very late, having driven the wrong way down the M11. But he was in fine form.

At one point, many years ago (in 1996 I think) I approached him to ask if he would cooperate with a biography I planned to write about him. He thought about it very seriously, but in the end he decided not to because he knew that all anyone would be interested in was the real story of his affair with Sara Keays. It’s a book I would have loved to have written, as I believe his contribution to the Thatcher project has never really been told.

Despite his personal flaws, Cecil Parkinson was a towering political figure. I remain of the view that in different circumstances he could easily have succeeded Margaret Thatcher. Having said that, I am not sure he would necessarily have been a great Prime Minister. But I will always regard him as one of the nicest people I have met in British politics.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Seumas' Power Grab, Crispin's Poppers & Margaret's Ostrich

22 Jan 2016 at 14:13

The appointment of Seamus Milne as Jeremy Corbyn’s Director of Strategy raised many eyebrows at the time. A Labour friend of mine who knows about these things told me: “Within a few months he’ll have complete control, you just watch the purge of anyone who dares to confront him”. On Wednesday night it emerged that Corbyn’s popular director policy had quit after a bruising encounter with Milne over the fact that Corbyn had announced policies in his Fabian Society speech on Saturday without even consulting Coleman. Next on the hitlist is Corbyn’s chief of staff Simon Fletcher, who has also been completely sidelined by Milne. Make no mistake this is a power grab right out of the Trotsky political handbook, which tells us that in order to implement permanent revolution you have to grab all levers of power within an organisation and be ruthless about it. Many Labour MPs profess to be horrified by Milne’s approach to his job, and several have told Jeremy Corbyn of their concerns, but as far as the leader is concerned he can do no wrong. Carry on comrades!
*
Those of us who considered Donald Trump a joke candidate are having to rapidly revise our views. He’s still there and shows no signs of departing the field. Indeed, he is consistently topping the polls. This week he received the endorsement of the completely batshit crazy Sarah Palin. I say that as someone who thought she was rather refreshing when she first arrived on the scene and defended her against a concerted media onslaught. No more. Her performance in front of The Donald and a hysterical Iowan crowd proved once and for all what a narrow escape the United States had when John McCain failed to beat Barack Obama. And the thing is, her screeching was scripted. She was reading from notes. Trump, standing behind her on the stage, didn’t quite raise his eyes to the skies but you could tell that even he was thinking “this woman is off the scale”. The fact that she is the darling of the Tea Party tells you all you need to know about it. Tim Montgomerie, who is now covering the US election for The Times, has tweeted that he couldn’t support either Trump or Cruz, even though previously he has supported Rick Santorum who may look and sometimes sound very moderate but is actually just as reactionary as Trump and Cruz.
*

The Democrats are also having their issues. Hillary Clinton is by no means home and dry and is being seriously challenged by Bernie Sanders, the US equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn. I interviewed Bernie’s Oxford based brother, Larry, this week, a very genial cove who is equally as left wing as his sibling. In New Hampshire Sanders is tipped to run Hillary very close. If he could beat her he could really get what George Bush Snr used to call ‘The Big Mo’. I struggle to believe that there is a serious possibility of the presidential election being contested by Trump and Sanders, but you never know.
*
Back in 2005, Lord Ashcroft published his analysis of where the Tories went wrong in the 2005 election. It was called ‘Smell the Coffee’. It was avidly read by everyone. It was well researched and didn’t pull its punches. Contrast that with the meek effort by Margaret Beckett this week. She had been tasked by Labour’s National Executive Committee to write a report explaining why Labour lost and lost to badly. To be frank, her report was a joke. It was short on explanation and long on bleating. It concluded that Ed Miliband was a good leader and done little wrong. It was all the fault of the dastardly media who gave him such a hard time. Imagine the derision that would have been heaped on Lord Ashcroft in 2005 if he had made similar claims about IDS and Michael Howard. They too faced a hostile media, but no one seriously believed that was why the Tories lost. The second people to blame for Labour’s loss were the ‘evil Tories’ who managed to bamboozle the stupid electorate. So in short, very little of it was Labour’s fault. There was little coffee smelling going on in this report, but the smell of bullshit and ostrich dung was very evident. Labour will never make electoral progress if they don’t confront their failings at the election, let alone the consequences of what they did in the ensuing leadership election.
*

Unlike Crispin Blunt I have never used, or felt the need to use ‘poppers’. I’m not sure how wise it was of him to tell the House of Commons that he was a popper user, but he had right on his side in his argument that their use shouldn’t be banned. Yet another example of government taking it on itself to ban something which is completely harmless in order to make itself look tough.

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ConHome Diary: Who Will Lead the LEAVE Campaign?

15 Jan 2016 at 13:45

On Wednesday afternoon I hosted the first of Alex Salmond’s weekly phone-ins on my LBC Drivetime show. Whenever you do something new on the radio there’s always a slight nervousness that it might not work and go terribly wrong. Let’s put it this way, some politicians are more natural broadcasters than others. We’ve done a lot of political phone-ins over the last two or three years, some working better than others. When it was first suggested that we should do one with Alex Salmond I was as confident as I could be that he would be a natural, and so it proved to be. He had, however, made a hostage to fortune by promising to give straight answers and shoot from the hip. The first caller, Paul in St Albans, really put Salmond on the spot by pointing out that the fall in the oil price would have left a giant £9 billion hole in the SNP’s first budget, and he quite naturally asked how he would have filled it. [see the video clip above] He wriggled, and he wriggled again, so I was forced to point out that he had promised to give a straight answer, and so far he hadn’t. Later on I asked him if he thought a commitment to a second referendum should be included in the SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next May. “It’s a question for Nicola Sturgeon,” he said. “No, I’m asking for your opinion,” I responded. But answer came there none. So, straight talking unless it concerns independence or the possibility of disagreeing with the SNP party line. But this is where phone-ins really provide something different to normal political interviews, because callers operate by different rules to interviewers. They can put a politician on the spot in the way that interviewers often can’t.
*
I am very troubled by the Durham university rape case where a student was this week acquitted of raping a girl. I’m not going to name him here because it’s bad enough that his name is still being plastered across the papers even though he has been cleared. This is the latest in a line of similar cases where a woman has made an allegation which a jury has taken very little time to decide was spurious or malicious. The woman’s name still remains secret, yet the man involved will forever be associated with being accused of rape. Google his name in ten years’ time and that’s the first thing that will come up. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have the answer to this. The police and CPS have a duty to investigate any allegation of rape, but in this case and others you do wonder why the CPS even brought the case. The biggest issue here is that cases like this make it even more difficult for people who genuinely have been raped to think that they will be treated sympathetically and fairly. The woman involved in the Durham case should hang her head in shame.
*

So Boris Johnson has ruled himself out of leading the LEAVE campaign in the EU Referendum. He didn’t do it quite as bluntly but he has described himself as “not an outer”. I doubt whether he was talking about his belly button. I also can’t really see Theresa May leading the campaign. No one has so far been able to find any particularly Eurosceptic comments from her in her 18 years in parliament. So who could lead the LEAVE campaign, because they do need someone who is popular with the public and not frothing at the mouth. What they can’t have is a campaign full of spokespeople who might have looked at home at a John Redwood leadership campaign launch. For younger readers, look it up on Google. The STAY campaign will have David Cameron, Alan Johnson and many other people who look and sound perfectly reasonable and are good on the media. While Nigel Farage must play a very prominent role in the LEAVE campaign, he cannot do it on his own. He’s the man to mop up the core Eurosceptic vote, but his appeal isn’t necessarily going to hit home with all the people the LEAVE campaign will need to embrace if it is to win. But then again, if the two different LEAVE campaigns can’t unite, then I’m afraid their cause may well fall at the first hurdle. That’s partly why the PM will want an early referendum. I should say that I haven’t made up my mind as to how I would vote. My heart says leave but my head still needs some convincing. The question is, who best to persuade me?
*
It was rather heartening that David Mundell’s ‘coming out’ was greeted with a giant ‘meh’. OK, there was quite a bit of newspaper coverage. Mainly because he’s the first gay Tory cabinet minister [Nick Herbert only ‘attended’ cabinet]. We’ll know when things have really changed when a) a politician doesn’t feel the need to make a public statement and b) when newspapers don’t comment on it. I suspect that day is still a fair way off. I read somewhere the other day that the House of Commons has the highest per centage of out gay MPs of any legislature in the world. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from that other than this country’s more liberal approach to these things is allowing politicians to be themselves. There are other sectors of our society which could learn a lot from the tolerance displayed in the political world.
*

I’ve just re-read what I’ve written today. I think I must have had a sense of humour bypass this week. I promise that next week the usual diet of sniggering and smut will be back.

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