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  • 6.00pm Tony Blair is urging Ed Miliband and Labour to come out fighting and take on UKIP rather than pander to their agenda. Why is Nick Clegg the only leader to have the guts to take on UKIP?
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Diary

ConHome Diary: A Cock & Bull Story

3 Oct 2014 at 13:40

How quickly we forget. Spied walking into the ICC was Scottish Office Minister David Mundell, who was immediately offered a union jack flag by one of the myriad of people determined to press their wares on unsuspecting conference go-ers. Mundell, however, was having none of it and waved it away. One suspects he wouldn’t have done that a fortnight ago!
*
Clearly the Mail on Sunday subs desk was on holiday last weekend, and had no one to cast their eye over the text of their George Osborne interview. This passage slipped through the net. “He showed no such inhibition in an extraordinary candid interview with this newspaper. During his extraordinary interview with the Mail on Sunday…”. Truly extraordinary. May one suggest Rojet’s Thesaurus?
*

So a minister caught in the eye of the storm was replaced by an MP who had written a book called IN THE EYE OF THE STORM, and had originally been blackballed by the Prime Minister for publishing it during the week of the last reshuffle, something which cost him his first step on the ministerial ladder. I am of course talking about Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who was appointed Minister for Civil Society on Saturday night to replace Brooks Newmark. Wilson had originally been appointed Prisons Minister, but when Number Ten realised his book IN THE EYE OF THE STORM was about to be published they told him he had to choose between publishing the book or a job in government. Seeing as the book had already been sent to reviewers, he didn’t have much choice. Cameron promised that he would be first on the list if a Minister resigned, but when he saw two resignations pass with no phone call, he must have wondered if he was right to believe the PM’s pledge. But on Saturday he finally entered the government, two months after he should have done. I sent him a text which contained two words: “Justice prevails”.
*
Bloody hell. £4.50 for a small egg mayonnaise roll in the ICC. And £8.65 if you add a bottle of Fanta and a Danish pastry. Daylight effin’ robbery. It turns out the ICC had put all their prices up especially for the visit of the rich Tories. Next week the prices go down again. And to think CCHQ has signed up for three conferences in this dire building.
*

Bournemouth MP Conor Burns was browsing the Blackwells bookshop at the conference and spied a tome called “How to manage your slaves”. Looking up he remarked: “There’s one for the Prime Minister’s reading list”. He was clearly joking. Wasn’t he? Well wasn’t he?!
*
Tuesday morning arrives and I receive a lovely email from Lord Feldman – he’s the co-chairman of the Conservative Party in case the fact had escaped your notice. It informed everything that was going on at the conference that day. Nicky Morgan is speaking. So is Theresa May, so is Jeremy Hunt. And I can join an exclusive session so he can reveal the party’s innermost general election plans. How exciting! But isn’t it strange how there is absolutely no mention of the fact that Boris Johnson is speaking that morning. Clearly nothing should be read into this. Nothing at all.
*

At the end of the month my new book comes out. It’s called THE NHS: THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SAID. I was invited this week to make a speech at a conference organised by something called the Westminster Health Forum. According to its website it “aims to provide the premier environment for policymakers in Parliament, Whitehall and government agencies to engage with key stakeholders in timely discussion on public policy relating to health and healthcare.” Basically, it’s a private company seeking to make a profit. Nothing wrong with that, except that it pretends that is something else. Places at their conferences cost £210 pus VAT and they get sponsorship for their events too. Strangely, though, they think that speakers should put in hours of work preparing a speech, and then deliver it for free. They say they don’t pay speakers so they can retain their impartiality. That gave me a good laugh. Just as well media organisations don’t take that ridiculous stance, otherwise I’d be a pauper.
*
Oh dear, the Bow Group decided to boycott the Conservative Party Conference. How it managed to survive without them, I just don’t know.
*

Interviewing Lord Ashcroft is always a memorable experience. I particularly remember the time when he came on my evening show and I asked him a question he clearly didn’t want to answer so he asked me about my porn collection (how did he know?!). It’s rare that I am lost for words… On Tuesday it happened again. The good Lord came on my LBC Drivetime show to talk about his polling and the next election. All was going well until he used the word ‘bullshit’ not once but three times within about ten seconds. OK, it’s not ‘f***’ or ‘c***’ but at 5pm you can’t really get away with it in the way you could later in the evening. I found myself uttering words like ‘I think that’s enough of that, if you don’t mind’, as my producer saw his career disappearing in front of him. Still, no mention of the porn collection. Result!
*
That’s nothing compared to what happened when Sir Christopher Meyer came on to talk about whether Brooks Newmark had been entrapped by the Sunday Mirror. He, of course, is a former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. The interview was going well until the point when he described what had happened as a “cock and bull story”. I looked at him expecting to see a twinkle in his eye, but he clearly hadn’t realised what he had said. “So to speak…” was the only response I could think of. He then cottoned on and we both dissolved into fits of giggles for a few seconds. Live radio. You can’t beat it.
*

I caught the obligatory conference cold while in Manchester at Labour and still haven’t shaken it off. But I imagine the joy and delight of travelling up to Glasgow to spend 48 hours with the LibDems next week ought to do it. You can imagine how much I and the whole political lobby are looking forward to the LibDem conference. The phrase ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ doesn’t quite cover it. Still, plenty of opportunity for mischief.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Gyles Brandreth

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Julia Hartley-Brewer As You've Never Seen Her Before...

26 Sep 2014 at 14:15

All LBC presenters are doing ‘Fake Some Noise’ for the new Global Radio ‘Make Some Noise’ charity. This is Julia’s.It’s brilliant. I have recorded one as well, but having seen Julia’s I think I might redo it. I’ve done 99 Red Balloons, but in the original German. I’m thinking of redoing it now, and doing my usual karaoke song, ‘I want it that way’ by the Backstreet Boys. Or maybe a Meatloaf song. Decisions, decisions.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Joan Rivers

48 minutes of comedy chat with the Queen of Comedy, Joan Rivers.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Don't Even Ask, to Get On My Top 100 People on the Right List!

26 Sep 2014 at 14:14

I write this on the train back from Manchester having spent three days at the Labour Party conference. It was an odd affair. It was the quietest and most downbeat pre-election conference I think I have ever been to. Try as they might, they just couldn’t get the atmosphere going. The whole thing, including Ed Miliband’s speech was as flat as a pancake. It was like attending a party and after half an hour you whisper to your partner “how quickly do you think we can leave without being noticed?”
*
One of the more bizarre things I did at the conference was lip-synch, in German to Nena’s ’99 Red Balloons’, while having red balloons poured on to me from above. The things one does for ‘charidee’. The strange thing was, there were no red balloons to be found on any stand at the conference. How times change. So we had to go out and buy some. It was all in aid of Global Radio’s new ‘Make Some Noise’ charity appeal which is raising money for underprivileged children. My contribution came under the heading ‘Fake some noise’. I’ve always been good at that. But the least said about it, the better.
*

I’ve been attending party conferences since 1985, and Labour conferences since 1998. I’ve heard some pretty rancid leader’s speeches in my time, but this year’s effort from Ed Miliband ranks down there with the worst. His ‘look, no notes!’ approach is superficially impressive, unless of course you end up forgetting to actually say anything about the two issues of most concern to voters – the economy and immigration. Still, at least he didn’t utter any nonsense about ‘being here to stay’ and ‘turning up the volume’. I remember IDS’s 2003 conference speech as if it were yesterday. I had just been selected as a candidate in North Norfolk, so was naturally delighted when Adam Boulton asked if I’d like to do the post speech commentary with him from the Sky box above the conference floor. But after twenty minutes I was thinking, ‘Jesus this is awful, what on earth do I say?’ Adam Boulton kept grinning at me, clearly relishing putting my on the spot. I could see my political career disappearing down the plughole if I said anything remotely honest. Eleven years on I can’t remember what I said, but I think I managed to keep on the tightrope somehow. This is why I always have some sympathy for politicians who tour the TV studios having to pretend that whatever their dear leader had said meant it was the greatest political oration since Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech. What is great on radio, though, is that you can see that whatever the politicians’ mouths are saying, their eyes and faces are saying something very different. Weren’t they, Tessa Jowell?! Simon Danczuk, the outspoken Labour MP for Rochdale was characteristically honest. He told me: “I wonder if this speech will reach further than left wing Guardian readers.” Even then, I’m not sure many of them will have taken much notice of it.
*
We’ve just stopped at Stoke on Trent. Not for long, thankfully.
*

During next week’s Conservative Party conference The Times will be publishing my annual Top 100 People on the Right list. Prepare for a few surprises. Doing these lists each year is a great opportunity to make new friends, and a whole lot of enemies. Luckily, it’s compiled by a panel of people so when I am accosted by someone who has been thrown off the list or demoted by 20 places I can truthfully pass off the blame onto others! It doesn’t always work, though. One former Conservative minister was bereft that he didn’t feature. “But we’ve been friends for years; how could you?” he bleated. “After all, you chair the judges, you could have overruled them,” he continued. “Yes,” I said, “I could have. And if you hadn’t been so bloody useless over the last year, I might have.” End of conversation. The ones I really hate are those who email me in the weeks leading up to the event asking to be included. The shamelessness of it never ceases to amaze me. It almost guarantees exclusion. I’d love to name and shame, but that would be very unfair, wouldn’t it?
*
Could I just make clear that, unlike Gareth, I have never met Ed Miliband on Hampstead Heath. I thank you. In fact, contrary to popular rumour, I have never actually been to Hampstead Heath.
*

If you’re in Birmingham next week, do come and say hi on the Global Radio Stand, where I’ll be broadcasting my LBC show from on the Monday and Tuesday. I’ll also be hosting an Audience with Christopher Biggins on the Tuesday night (don’t ask), the Bright Blue fringe on welfare on Sunday at 5.30 (why did I agree to that? The Ryder Cup is on!) and the Freedom Association event on the BBC licence fee on Tuesday lunchtime in the Freedom Zone. I’m also doing a booksigning on the Blackwells stand on Tuesday at 10.30. Enough already. And after all that it’s off to the Liberal Democrats in Glasgow. Joy of joys.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Kate Adie

Iain talks to Kate Adie about her new book on women in the First World War.

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Diary

ConHome: Despite the'No' Vote, Cameron Is Still On The Skids

19 Sep 2014 at 14:42

The devil in me really wanted the Yes Campaign to win. Not because I would necessarily have supported them, but because it would have been fascinating to see the fallout from a Yes result. We’ll never know now, but would the dire warnings of the Better Together campaign really have come true, or would Scotland have surged ahead without the English yoke around its neck. From a journalistic point of view it would have been an astonishing rollercoaster to be able to report and commentate on. Would RBS really have relocated its operation to London? Would supermarket prices really have rocketed? Would George Osborne have stuck by his pledge not to allow Scotland to keep the Pound? Would Alex Salmond have let Trident submarines continue to use Faslane after all? We’ll never know the answer to those questions now.
*
It’s quite clear to me that David Cameron is now at the most dangerous point in his nine year long leadership of the Conservative Party. His complete mishandling of the Scottish independence issue sits very badly with many MPs and members of the Conservative & Unionist Party. His rather pathetic moist-eyed speeches in the latter part of the campaign didn’t display any leadership whatsoever. They showed a rather pathetic prime minister who thought he’d try to get people to empathise rather than follow. It was like a bad X Factor audition, where the contestant knows they have performed badly and tells Simon Cowell how much “I really want this”. At times I half expected him to get an onion out of his pocket. I said right at the beginning of this campaign that Cameron needed to take the fight to Alex Salmond. He should have taken part in the debates, and taken the unionist cause to the Scots head on. It is complete nonsense that the Tories are toxic in Scotland. Margaret Thatcher got more votes in general elections than the SNP ever has. Even now, the Tory vote share is only four points behind the SNP. Yes, they only have one MP, but their vote share is roughly the same as the LibDems who have 11. Cameron had an opportunity here and he blew it, not just by ruling out a third question on the ballot paper on Devo-Max but by remaining aloof from the fight. By only going up to Scotland three times in the last ten days it was inevitable that there would be accusations of panic. And those accusations were 100% true. The truly pathetic sight of the three Westminster leaders rushing up to Scotland, and then the publication of promise after promise, or bribe after bribe, showed the Westminster elite at their absolute worst. They played right into the hands of Alex Salmond. Time will tell as to how much panic there is among Tory MPs. It’s entirely conceivable that even with a No result more than 46 MPs will sign letters calling for a leadership election. Cameron has been given the benefit of the doubt for a long time. He may now find he has used up all the remaining goodwill he had left. But the question any Tory MP calling for a leadership election must answer is this: If not Cameron, then who? I have to say I have no answer to that question.
*

You read this after I have just completed a marathon eight hour session presenting LBC’s coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum coverage from the main Edinburgh count. And that comes on top of presenting Drive last night from Glasgow. Indeed, I’m about to start preparing for tonight’s Drivetime show as well. It’s the sort of timetable that gets the adrenalin flowing. There’s only so much you can do to prepare shows like this. In a sense you rely on the drama to get you through it. I revel in these situations and love presenting on breaking news stories – and they don’t come much bigger than this. Yes, it can be a bit rough and ready but listeners quite like that. You can use humour far more than in a normal show, and have a bit of banter with your co-presenter which isn’t possible when you’re on your own. Contrast our show with what the BBC gave us. I had one producer with me at the count, and there were two more back at LBC in London, together with a tech-op and someone answering the phones. I don’t know how many people were working on 5 Live’s coverage, but it would have been several dozen, if not in the hundreds. And I reckon we gave them a run for their money, both with the speed of our response, the guests we interviewed and the analysis we gave. And we gave our listeners the chance to ring in and comment to, and some of the views they imparted really contributed to the evening. I felt we really were ‘leading Britain’s conversation’ throughout the night. Unlike the BBC we weren’t just on broadcast mode – we were on ‘receive’ too.
*
The reverberations from the result of the Independence Referendum will be felt for many years to come in British politics. Perhaps the main consequence will be the revival of a moderate kind of English nationalism. The three political parties threw the kitchen sink and much else besides in their attempt to bribe the Scots into voting no. And it left many people in England thinking, OK, so we subsidise the Scots, and now our elites want to give them sweeping powers to govern themselves which we in England just don’t have? Where’s the fairness in that? The answer is of course that there is no fairness at all. Scottish MPs will continue to vote on laws which only apply to England, and the astonishing thing is that most of them see nothing wrong with that. Labour’s answer to Scottish devolution is to rehash their proposals for devolution for English regions. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks a regional assembly for East Anglia will improve the governance of Norfolk. Those of us who have long supported the creation of an English Parliament still face an uphill battle to persuade the political elites that its time has come. It doesn’t require more politicians, or even a new building, or more bureaucracy. All it means is that the House of Commons would meet as a whole for two days a week, and in the other two it would meet with only English, or English & Welsh & Northern Irish MPs, to discuss and debate matters pertaining to those three countries. I cannot for the life of me see why that would be difficult to arrange, or that it would be unfair. Yes, it would create two classes of MPs, but so what? If Scottish MPs continue to vote on the English NHS, or the English roads system, when the decisions they are voting on have no relevance to their constituents, there will be trouble ahead. We’ve seen the divisive consequences a resurgent nationalism can have in Scotland. Do we really want to see that in England? Because if our lords and masters aren’t careful, we soon will.
*

Like many people I have a Google alert on myself. You might think this is yet another example of my giant ego, but frankly I need to see what people are saying about me. Many has been the time when I have been quoted as believing something which is the opposite of what I really think. It enables me to hit back [enough self-justification – ed]. So it was some incredulity that I read an alert on Tuesday from an article in The Economist which said this…
“The loss of Scoland would be very disadvantageous to the Labour party, which has 40 Scottish MPs to one Conservative; the right wing blogger Iain Dale seems to be campaigning quite strongly on this issue, perhaps for that reason.).”
Apart from the fact that The Economist finds it difficult to spell Scotland, I was rather mystified as I couldn’t recall any public utterances from myself on the issue of Labour MPs in Scotland. The mystery was solved when I clicked on the article to find that my name had mysteriously been replaced with the words ‘Guido’ and ‘Fawkes’. You’d have thought that The Economist might have been able to tell the difference. Let me spell it out for them. One is a gossip mongering, Thatcherite blogger who writes some poisonous stuff about politics, and the other is Guido Fawkes. Got it? Er…
*
Next Monday The Times will be publishing the first instalment of The Top 100 Most Influential People on the Left list. With the help of an expert panel, this is the seventh year I have compiled this list. And I have to say the lobbying to be included on it, or the sister list, The Top 100 People on the Right, has never been stronger. “You are going to include me, aren’t you?” I am regularly asked. The shamelessness of it never ceases to amaze me. Were I on the other side of it it’s not something even my well-developed ego [there’s that word again] would ever dream of asking. At least, I hope I wouldn’t. I have to say, though, that no one has ever lobbied me to be included on the Top 50 Liberal Democrats list. Strange, that. Anyway, do sign up to The Times Red Box email which will carry the 100-51 placings on Monday, followed by the Top 50 in the paper on Tuesday, the day of Ed Miliband’s conference speech. Will he retain his position at the top of the list? Only one way to find out.
*

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Jack Straw

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UK Politics

EDP Column: On Scottish Independence My Heart Says Yes, My Head Says No

13 Sep 2014 at 09:33

My middle name is Campbell. My Christian name is spelt the Scottish way. I am a quarter Scottish. Believe it or not, I am a direct descendent of Robbie Burns through one of his illegitimate children. Strangely, though, I feel little affinity with the country of my ancestors. Whenever I go there I feel like a foreigner. Indeed I feel more welcome and at home when I visit the United States. So in some ways, if Scotland votes to go independent next Thursday I’ll react with a shrug of the shoulders. And if I had a vote in the referendum I genuinely don’t know which way I would cast it. My heart says I’d vote yes, but my head tells me something different. I think that’s how many native Scots will think too, and my suspicion is that a good proportion of them will vote with their hearts rather than their heads.

Alex Salmond is without doubt the canniest politician in the United Kingdom. He has played the ‘Better Together’ campaign like a fiddle. The panic they displayed after the Yougov poll last Sunday was laughable. Salmond’s greatest strength is exactly the same as George W Bush’s, in that he is constantly ‘misunderestimated’ by his political opponents. The patronising contempt displayed by Alistair Darling towards him in the TV debates achieved nothing except push some doubters into the ‘yes’ camp.

The ‘no’ campaign rivals the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign in its sheer incompetence. To win hearts and minds you need to be positive and optimistic. Better Together have been relentless in their negativity and condescension. They needed to pull at the heart strings, wax lyrical about the benefits of the United Kingdom. Instead all they can do is threaten doom and gloom and give the subliminal message that Scots aren’t capable of managing their own affairs. Only in recent days has this idiotic approach changed, but it’s probably too late.

As I write around 20% of Scots are reported to have sent in their postal votes. Indeed, although the opinion polls show that another 10-15% are still undecided, I find it difficult to imagine that the majority of those will swing towards voting ‘no’. There is little doubt that the ‘Big Mo’ is with the Yes Campaign, and Salmond’s challenge is to maintain this right up until polls close on Thursday.

In many ways the First Minister has got away with blue murder. Better Together have completely failed to exploit his woolly answers on many important issues, not least the question of Scotland’s currency. Alex Salmond blithely says that the Pound’s is Scotland’s as well, ignoring the fact that all three main party leaders have told him that if Scotland goes independent it’s on its own. In theory it could still use the Pound, but it would have no presence on the governing body or the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England. This wouldn’t matter in the good times particularly, but if Scotland hit a financial crisis there would be no lender of last resort. It would mean that Scotland would find it very difficult indeed to attract inward investment and it would have no control over interest rates. If you don’t have control over your fiscal policy you’re not a fully independent country – something which Ireland found to its cost in the euro crisis.

Salmond believes that in the end the government will cave in and allow Scotland to keep the Pound. I suggest that this is very unlikely to happen, not least because of if did I suspect Tory backbenchers would force a leadership election. The way around all this unpleasantness is for there to be a UK-wide (including Scotland) referendum which would take place on the same day as the May 2015 general election. There would be a simple yes/no question: Should Scotland continue to use the Pound Sterling? That way the rest of the United Kingdom would have the say we have been denied so far.

And it’s not just the Pound Sterling Alex Salmond wishes to retain. He wants to keep the Queen and the BBC. It’s a sort of ‘pick and mix independence’.

I don’t think we in the rest of the UK have touched the surface in thinking about the consequences for us if Scotland votes yes. That’s partly because it’s impossible to be definite about what they are. But one thing is for sure, we would be diminished on the world stage. We would no longer count as one of the three major players in the EU. We would be relegated into the second division of European powers alongside Spain and Poland. Our place on the United Nations security council would no doubt be threatened, although there is no formal mechanism to remove us.

There are calls for the 2015 general election to be delayed, as it would be preposterous to elect Scottish MPs who would have to then stand down within a year. It’s even suggested there should be a national government which would govern us between the election and Independence Day in March 2016.

We are in totally uncharted waters. Some of us find it difficult to see how David Cameron could cling to office if the referendum result goes the wrong way. There are even suggestions that both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband would have to fall on their swords too.

How on earth did we get to a point where the entire political and constitution of the United Kingdom is under threat? Make no mistake, if there’s a ‘yes’ vote on Thursday, it will be the biggest constitutional crisis for centuries – bigger than the 1936 abdication crisis or the1910 House of Lords stalemate. One thing is certain, though. The fallout will be fascinating to watch; rather like one of those unfolding car crashes on Youtube videos, except this time it is all of us who will potentially be victims in one form or another.

This column first appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Eastern Daily Press

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Let's All Have a Referendum on Whether Scotland Should Keep the Pound

12 Sep 2014 at 21:51

So I wonder which crass Damian McBride wannabe in Downing Street was so stupid to send this text to Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish. It read: “Tim, “Just seen your Tweet. Do you want to be a Tory MP? No chance now.” Anyone who knows Tim knows that he has never wanted to be an MP, so his reply was hardly a surprise. “I don’t, and I’ll cope.” Good on him.
Tim had earlier tweeted that he had been Parliament on Tuesday, spoken to 30 Tory MPs and had never known the mood to be so bad. This came as a little bit of a surprise to some of us who remember the dark days of October 2003 in the later days of IDS’s leadership. You may recall who was his chief of staff in those days… Mr Timothy Montgomerie. If Tim really thinks the mood of the parliamentary party is worse now than then, it explains a lot.
*
I worked out the other night (because I have nothing better to do) that after next Wednesday I will only be spending five of the next thirty nights in my own bed. [puts on his best Frankie Howerd voice]. No! Stop it! On Thursday I’m off to Scotland to present the stations results coverage and my Drivetime show from there, then it’s straight down to Manchester for the Labour Party conference, the Tory conference in Birmingham, the LibDem conference in Glasgow and then straight off to Frankfurt for the Book Fair, which I haven’t been to for three years. There’s part of me that dreads the party conference season, but obviously once I’m in the thick of it I enjoy it hugely. The best part is meeting up with people who for whatever reason you only see at the conferences. Thank goodness there are no seafronts to encounter this year. Insert your own joke here.
*

I guess we’d better get used to the fact that there will be no domestic news other than Scotland for the next week at the very least. It’s only in the last seven days that the London media has woken up to the fact that the United Kingdom is on the verge of breaking up. The speed with which reporters have been quickly dispatched to Edinburgh has been breathtaking. What a shame it’s taken media organisations so long to catch on that the biggest political story for years was happening right under their noses. Only when YouGov published a poll showing a slight majority for support for independence did London editors realise what could happen. English readers, listeners and viewers have been shortchanged by their London-centric media for far too long. Had it not been for the internet, the rest of us wouldn’t have realised what was going on either.
I have said repeatedly that Alex Salmond wasn’t to be underestimated and that’s how it has turned out, because even if there is a narrow ‘no’ vote on Thursday, he’s still won. Whatever happens Scotland will either become totally independent or have a pseudo-independence. And Alex Salmond will be grinning from here to Auchtermuchtie.
*
I am a quarter Scottish. My Christian name is spelt the Scottish way and my middle name is Campbell. Believe it or not, I am also a direct descendent of Robbie Burns – at least, that’s what my family tree tells me. I suppose the fact that my writing can be as indecipherable as his poetry adds to the burden of proof. Thought I’d say that before you did. And yet I have never felt remotely Scottish or even had affinity towards the country of my ancestors. Even when I visited the old family homestead in New Cumnock in Ayrshire, there were no twinges of sentimentality at all. Indeed, whenever I visit Scotland I always feel as if I am in a slightly foreign land, totally the opposite of what I feel when I am in the United States, where I feel completely at home. I cannot explain why this should be.
*

If Scotland votes yes and Alex Salmond still insists he should be able to keep using the Pound, I have a suggestion. Let’s have a referendum of the whole United Kingdom as to whether his wish should be granted. I shall vote for Scotland to return to the Groat. It’s what Robbie Burns would have wanted.
*
At the Conference in Birmingham I am comparing An Audience with Christopher Biggins. With what, I hear you ask? Honestly. You’d have thought well educated Tories might know the difference between the words ‘compare’ and ‘compere’, wouldn’t you? Whenever I spell something incorrectly or use grammar wrongly I always blame the fact I was educated under Shirley Williams. I wonder what the excuse of LGBT Tories is. Best not to ask, I think. I’m told tickets are still available. Surely not.
*

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World Politics

Remembering 9/11

11 Sep 2014 at 12:44

Thirteen years ago today, Al Qaeda committed a terrible act of terrorism in the United States, something which has gone down in history as 9/11. I think we all remember where we were when we found out about it.

I was sitting at my desk on the balcony at Politico’s talking to my bookkeeper when I suddenly noticed that Sky News had switched to Fox and were showing smoke coming from a tall tower. As the situation became clearer I remember seeing a spec on the skyline coming closer to the tower. I assumed a small light aircraft had hit it. In the corner of the screen I noticed a spec moving across the screen. ‘Jesus, there’s another plane’, I remember saying. ‘Oh my God, it’s going to hit the other tower’. Crash. Fire. Carnage. But it wasn’t until the first tower collapsed that the true horror hit me. People down below in the shop stood watching the bigger screen in silence. Someone rushed out the door saying her sister worked at the World Trade Centre and she had to phone her.

At that moment I thought of my friend Daniel Forrester who I knew worked there from time to time. Indeed his father had a corner office in one of the towers. I tried to ring him. The number didn’t work. I remember helping a customer ring her boyfriend in China to tell him what was happening. His father worked in one of the towers. I kept trying to call Daniel, becoming increasingly frantic. Eventually he called me. The emotion of the day caught up with me and I can remember speaking to him with tears running down my face, trying to keep my voice from breaking up completely.

I remember thinking how brilliantly Sky had coped with the coverage. I think Kay Burley was broadcasting at the time. She had come a long way from her first job on TVAM. That day she came of age. It wasn’t until much later in the day that I started to think about the political implications. I could not understand why President Bush hadn’t sought to immediately reassure his weeping nation. It was not his finest hour.

September 11th 2001 was a day that changed the world. It robbed a generation of its innocence and its consequences will be felt for decades to come.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Entices Ed Balls to Play the Piano

The Shadow Chancellor tinkles the ivories at the Labour Party Conference

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Media

Attitude Column: The Idea That Gay Men Are More Likely to be Paedophiles Is Absurd

6 Sep 2014 at 09:40

Here we go again. Back in the 1960s and 1970s most people, bless them, took the view that the words ‘homosexual’ and ‘paedophile’ were more or less interchangeable. If your predilection were of the male on male variety you didn’t particularly differentiate between men and boys. That viewpoint is still shamefully held by many, especially if they write on this subject for the Daily Mail or belong to some sort of religious fundamentalist group.

I remember a time, not so long ago, when I was involved in a discussion with a senior Tory MP about gay adoption. His line of argument was based around the apparently harmless notion that we must always “think of the children”. I got rather angry. “What you’re effectively saying is that gay men are more likely to abuse a child than straight men.” He started blustering, but that was exactly what he meant. He also came out with the old canard that gay parents would inevitably turn their children gay, even if they didn’t mean to. Nice. Despite what feminist writer Julie Bindel might say in her new book ‘Straight Expectations’, if you’re gay you’re born gay. I don’t know any gay parents whose kids have grown up to be gay, although by the law of averages some no doubt do.

It is, of course, nonsense to suggest that gay men have any greater predilection for underage sex than straight men. Or women come to that matter. I’d no more want to have sex with an underage boy than my own grandmother, and she’s been dead for 35 years. Of course there are paedophiles among gay men, just as there are among straight men, yet from the way the issue is still covered in some newspapers you’d think the proportion was 90-10. For some reason newspapers seem titillated (if that’s the right word) by priests or politicians who get caught with young boys. They cover these stories with a sexual prurience which you just don’t find in stories about a builder abusing his 12 year old daughter. The truth is that most abuse occurs in the home or between family members, regardless if it is between family members of the same sex or otherwise.

For some years there have been rumours that MPs and other politicians, as well as entertainers were involved in some sort of child sex ring in the 1970s and 1980s. Various names have been the subject of rumour and gossip for years. And that’s the point; it is all so far rumour and gossip. But a national newspaper – the Sunday Mirror – felt it was justified in publishing all sorts of lurid allegations about various Thatcher government ministers who were supposed to have been present at party conference parties where rent boys were allegedly procured for party goers.

On the basis of a single source, The Mirror saw fit to name various ministers who are now dead and can’t answer back, yet the newspaper shied away from naming anyone who was still alive, using the phrase “The Mirror has chosen not to name him”. So they are quite happy to make dirty insinuations and allegations against the dead, and thereby sully their reputations, yet shy away from doing the same to someone who can answer back. Cowards.

I make no argument against the setting up of inquiries into historic sexual abuse by powerful people. Indeed, I welcome them. All abuse needs to be exposed as publicly as possible and the guilty need to be punished with the full force of the law.

However, I fear we are about to enter a dark period for gay people. Just when we thought we had achieved some sort of quality under the law and in the eyes of society in general, we’re going to have to endure yet more poisonous journalism from people who should know better. I wrote in a previous column about how most of us lead normal, ordinary, blameless lives, way divorced from the debauchery some journalists and religious fundamentalists seem to imagine.

So much has been done since the 1960s to gradually weaken these previously deeply held stereotypes and it is up to every decent gay man or woman to ensure that they do not take hold again.

This article first appeared in the September issue of Attitude Magazine

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LBC 97.3: Iain takes James Purnell to Task

James Purnell is the former cabinet minister and now the Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC. He is very uncomfortable talking about his £295,000 salary (more than twice what Maria Miller gets as Culture Secretary) and is unable to tell us how much the BBC’s move to Salford cost. Well, at that salary you wouldn’t expect him to be a details man, would you?

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Will Cameron Have to Quit Over Scotland?

5 Sep 2014 at 21:45

So, only 13 days until Scotland decides its future. This referendum may have a far wider impact than just north of Hadrian’s Wall. Goldman Sachs are warning that the Pound may go into freefall, but the other impact could be on David Cameron and as a consequence the date of the next election. You may think I am mad, but it is entirely possible that we have just entered the last two weeks of David Cameron’s period of office as Prime Minister. If Scotland votes yes, could a prime minister who had lost Scotland really remain in office? As they say north of the border, ‘I have my doots’. If David Cameron didn’t fall on his sword of his own free will, I suspect there are enough Tory MPs to call a leadership election. The other alternative would be to conduct what the Germans call a ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’ in which he would instruct his own MPs to vote against their own government. That’s the only way an early general election could come about. I’m surprised that so few political commentators are speculating in this manner because make no mistake, this will, if there is a yes vote, be the biggest constitutional crisis since the 1936 Abdication crisis, or maybe the House of Lords crisis of 1910. Of course, it may be just as bad if Scotland votes No, but by the narrowest of margins. Then we get the worst of all worlds.
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I’ve been on holiday for the last two weeks. Well, sort of. It’s a holiday that has been somewhat eclipsed by having to put the finishing touches to the Politicos Guide to the General Election. We want it to come out in time for the party conferences, but it’s been a real labour of love putting it all together, along with my three co-editors. We also have the problem of the fact that we don’t know how the Scottish referendum will go or the result of the Clacton by-election. Books like this will always be slightly out of date on the day they are published, mainly because of what Harold Macmillan would call ‘events dear boy, events’. But for a political geek like me, who loves lists and tables about politics it’s like being in political heaven putting it together. The challenge is also to make it accessible for the normal punter. But if you want to know which constituency has the most muslim voters, or what the top Plaid Cymru target seats are, this is the book for you!
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Next week I’ll be chairing three panels to decide on the Top 100 Most Influential People on the Right, the Left and the Top 50 Most Influential Liberal Democrats. The latter one may provide somewhat of a challenge. This year the lists will be published by The Times throughout the party conferences. Do subscribe to their new Red Box email, compiled each morning by Phil Webster.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to A P McCoy

Champion Jockey A P McCoy discusses his career in horseracing.

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Tribute

Interviewing Joan Rivers

4 Sep 2014 at 20:02

I’m so sad to hear of the death of Joan Rivers. I saw her do a stand-up show in the 1990s but in October 2012 I had the honour of interviewing her on LBC. We decided it might be safest to pre-record (!) but she was absolutely charming. I don’t mind admitting I was petrified. Little old me interviewing a comic legend. Who’d have thought? I needn’t have worried. My strategy of letting Joan be Joan worked liked a treat. I just teed up the lines for her and off she went.

Do have a listen to the interview. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Click HERE to listen

Joan Rivers blazed a trail for female comedians both in the US and the UK. I found her humour cheek-achingly funny. Yes, she could be cruel and acid tongued and I think that kind of humour came as a shock to a lot of Americans who were more used to the likes of Bob Hope.

She was also multi-talented. She wasn’t just a stand-up comedian, she could turn her hand to a lot of other things. You don’t get to report from the red carpet at the Oscars if you’re not good. She was also a great talk-show host. She knew that in that format, it wasn’t all about her.

Joan Rivers is a legend, and that legend will live on through her humour.

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Video: Iain has a go at Michael Portillo

BBC Election Night, May 2008, City Hall

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