MPs in Grinder Shock!

5 Oct 2013 at 12:06

Shocked. I say, I’m shocked. This was a picture taken on one of the commercial stands at the Tory Party Conference. Sadly I have no idea what the real context is. Maybe just as well.


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ConservativeHome Diary Week 25: George Osborne is a Kewl Dude

4 Oct 2013 at 15:21

Manchester proved to be a much quieter week for me than Brighton was (ahem). It has to be said that virtually everyone I met made some joke or other about the “incident”, as if they thought they were being entirely original. Still, I had half thought I might well be totally shunned, or people’s eyes might look the other way as I approached. Not a bit of it. Everyone wanted to tell me what they thought.

- – – – – – – – – -

Driving to Manchester from Norfolk on Sunday morning I got a call from my friend Keith Simpson. “What on earth have you done to upset Adam Boulton?” he asked. “Nothing, so far as I am aware,” I replied, wondering what on earth he could be meaning. “He’s called you ‘humourless’ in his Sunday Times column,” said Keith.

Well, I may be many things, but I hope lacking a sense of humour is not one of them. I pulled over in a lay-by and read the column, but even having done so I was slightly mystified by what had provoked it. When I had talked to Adam in Brighton about ‘the incident’, I didn’t recall coming over all po-faced at all, but clearly something had happened.

And then when I arrived in Manchester several other people asked me why Adam was so upset with me. I hadn’t a clue. I could have had it out with him, I suppose, but decided I’d leave it – and if he had something to say to me, no doubt he’d say it. Perhaps it was what I wrote in this column last week about his producer Amber Elliott. Anyway, on Tuesday I was in a break in my show and Adam popped his head round the door, and said he was sorry if he had upset me. It was a big thing for him to do and I appreciated it hugely. Unfortunately, I had to go back on air before I could issue much of a reply.

- – – – – – – – – – -

Party Conference tweet of the week from Tonbridge & Malling agent Andrew Kennedy: “Just been stuck at a table with three county council leaders telling each other how important they are. Akin to being at a meeting of dogs licking their own balls.”

- – – – – – – – – -

So there I was, gossiping away with David Davis in the Total Politics lounge ,when I whipped out my Blackberry Q10 and advised DD never to get one. He’s a bit of a gadget freak, you see. I regaled him with tales of how utterly crap it is and totally unintuitive, and that I was about to abandon it and revert back to my much missed Blackberry Bold. It was then that I got a tap on the shoulder. I looked round to see a woman looking rather displeased. “Hello, she said, “I’m Director of Sales for Blackberry.” Sadly the ground didn’t open up in front of me. DD was most amused.

- – – – – – – – – -

The only fringe I did this year was for Dods, which was on Sunday nigh,t and was designed to look ahead to the main events of the conference. I was on a panel with Liam Fox, Margot James, Sky’s Anushka Asthana and the lobbyist Kevin Craig. I urged those present to make every effort to speak to journalists during the course of the week, otherwise they would just speak to each other. I once followed Jeremy Paxman round the conference centre for an hour. He didn’t speak to a single Conservative representative but spoke to plenty of fellow journalists. He duly reported that night that the mood of the conference was rather ‘depressed’.

- – – – – – – – – -

George Osborne, poor love, was forced to go to the Telegraph reception on Monday night, thereby missing a Katy Perry concert which he had tickets for. My intrepid assistant asked him what his favourite Katy Perry song was and it’s apparently LAST FRIDAY NIGHT. No, me neither. Anyway, I thought I’d look up the lyrics. Are you sitting down?

Last Friday night
Yeah, we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage à trois
Last Friday night
Yeah I think we broke the law
Always say we’re gonna stop

Gulp. When Agent Tucker asked what George thought of her new number one ‘Roar’, he pointed out that in fact this week’s number 1 was Jason Derulo. He seems to be on more on top of his music chart knowledge than he is on the economy! Joke! With his trendy new haircut, George is clearly down wiv da kidz.

- – – – – – – – – -

Talking of my assistant Grant Tucker, he was at a reception and introduced himself to Liz Truss. “Do you service all of Iain’s needs?” was her first question. Grant didn’t tell me his reply, or what the second question was. Grant has now been with me for three years. I’m not sure which one of us is the most surprised that he’s lasted that long. It has to be said that he is the best networker I have ever met. He’ll go up to anyone famous and engage them in conversation and within two minutes he’s their bestest friend. It’s quite a talent. If only he had a basic grasp of English grammar, though. He’s Welsh, you see.

- – – – – – – – – -

On Tuesday night, I spoke at the Pride dinner. I don’t do many speeches nowadays and for some reason I was incredibly nervous. I kept starting to write the speech but the words just wouldn’t come. I don’t like making speeches from a set text, but in this case I thought I better had, seeing as I was so out of practice. I thought there would be about 50 people there but when I arrived it was more like 130. I was 45 minutes later than everyone else, and they were quite clearly well oiled. With drink, ahem, that it. The event took place at Harvey Nichols – I mean, how gay is that?! I’ve just had a look through the speech to see what I could relate here, but frankly it was 90 per cent pure smut, and I know how ConservativeHome readers hate that sort of thing. Anyway, it seemed to go down well and afterwards three members of the audience came up to me to tell me what I had said had really touched a nerve with them. And they weren’t referring to the smut.

- – – – – – – – – -

I’m told Birmingham has declined to hold any more political party conferences after next year. Good. Let’s go back to Bournemouth. I’d also love for the conference to be held in Cardiff, but apparently there aren’t enough hotel beds. I suppose we could all bunk up. There’s lovely.

- – – – – – – – – -

Having broadcast 24 hours of live programming I really feel in need of a week off, but the show must go on. My first show back in the studio featured an hour on Marxism. Not something I ever thought I’d broadcast when I started on LBC, but it was actually rather enjoyable. That’s the great thing doing this show, you never know what you’ll be talking about one day to the next. Yesterday it was Marxism, tonight it’s coping with terminal illness. A friend of mine was diagnosed this week with terminal kidney cancer. She’s got two months. How on earth do you cope with news like that? It puts conference spats into a bit of perspective.



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Speech to the Tory Pride Dinner in Manchester

4 Oct 2013 at 10:04

On Tuesday night I gave the after dinner speech at the Tory Pride Dinner in Manchester. Several people who weren’t there have apparently been told about it and asked if I would put it on the blog, so here goes. I have removed all the jokes and smut, though, which formed about 90% of the speech!

Sexuality is something very personal. It is something that most people don’t have to speak publicly about and declare their sexuality to the world. Hopefully the day will soon dawn when it is exactly the same for politicians.

It would be nice to think that many a shoulder will be shrugged when a politician declares himself or herself to be gay. But even in these days of so-called sexual liberation, politicians’ sexualities are still phenomena which set the media and political worlds a-tittering and a twittering.

Ten years ago this week I was selected as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate having told the selection committee I was gay beforehand. I got 66% of the votes. Good on them, I thought. A few days later I was attending the conference in Blackpool – yes, the Quiet Man conference – when a young guy walked up to me and said, can I shake your hand, I want to thank you. What for, I asked? He looked me in the eye and said “Because you’ve made it easier for the rest of us.” Well, if that’s what I go down in history for, rather than the Brighton incident, I shall be very happy.

The truth is, being gay in the Conservative Party is something that nowadays hardly raises an eyebrow. Even the boneheads – and Mrs Boneheads – on the hard right seem to accept that we shouldn’t actually be imprisoned now, which is progress of sorts.

Ten years ago they would also have stopped us from having civil partnerships. Now they still want to stop us getting married, but I’d like to think that not a single one of them would reverse the civil partnership legislation. Well, I can think of a couple who might, but again, progress of sorts.

I truly don’t understand why anyone would be against gay marriage. If the institution is as good as everyone says, why wouldn’t its advocates want two people who love each other to benefit from it. It’s very simply, if you’re against gay marriage, don’t marry a homosexual!

On my LBC show I had a caller recently who told me she detested the ‘gay act’ and it was terrible that people should choose this lifestyle. She clearly hadn’t got a clue, poor love, who she was talking to. So in my usual loving, caring way I gently pointed out to take it from one who knows, that being gay wasn’t a choice. You were born like it. She still didn’t click. “I knew I was gay at the age of 7”, I then said. There followed an awkward two second silence, which on the radio sounds like two minutes. Whether I provoked her to examine her own prejudices I have no idea.

And then on Eurovision night it all started again. This time on Twitter. A fellow West Ham fan called Brian – someone who clearly believed it’s not possible to be gay and shout “Come on You Irons” every fortnight – told me that “nature, history and religion are against you. It is nurture and environment and perverse thinking.” Thanks for that. He continued: “Our minds are malleable and can be turned”. Speak for yourself, mate. And finally came this little gem: “We are all born heterosexual and get influenced to be gay in our twisted minds.” When I asked him if, as a straight man, he could be turned, strangely, I didn’t get an answer.

You may think it bizarre, but I don’t regard people like my LBC caller and Brian as homophobic. I just think they’re scared of something they have a fear of. Because they think that we’ve all chosen to become gay, they think we could persuade their kids to turn gay too. You might think it’s laughable, and it is, but it’s up to us to show that being gay is nothing for them to fear. As the brilliant E4 sitcom says – it’s the ‘New Normal’.

Last December I spoke to David Cameron’s patrons club. I don’t really do much speaking to Tory associations nowadays because of my LBC job, but you can’t really say no to the PM, can you. The speech went reasonably well, but then came questions. Mr Dale, what do you think of women bishops? I replied that if you have women vicars surely you have to have women bishops. That was when the heckling started. Mr Dale, what do you think of gay marriage, came the next question. I started my answer. I must protest said another, and so it went on. I’ve never been heckled at a Tory meeting before. And it went on for an hour. I felt like being on a battlefield repelling attack after attack. Were these people really representative of the modern day Conservative Party?

By the end of the evening I had completely lost my voice, but I’m glad it happened in a way, because as the evening went on, those in the room who supported my position became more voluble and felt able to speak up themselves.

We should be proud of that fact that a Conservative Prime Minister showed real leadership on this issue, just as Tony Blair did back in 2004 on civil partnerships. I don’t mind admitting I was disappointed that a majority of Tory MPs failed to back the bill, but frankly some of them had very good reason, because if we are honest, it was a dog’s breakfast of a bill in terms of how it was drafted. It was supposed to be about equal marriage but it actually gives gay couple advantages, including the fact that gay couples cannot cite adultery as a reason to divorce, although some of us might think, what’s not to like about that! Apparently parliamentary draughtsmen couldn’t define consummation in gay relationships and therefore couldn’t define adultery. Perhaps they should have consulted most of the people here tonight. We could even have shown them! But all that is to quibble.

It was a great thing to do and we should be grateful for the leadership of not only the Prime Minister, but Nick Herbert and Lynne Featherstone who played crucial roles in driving this through.

So, you’ve got your gay adoption, you’ve got your equal age of consent, you’ve got your gay marriage. Surely that’s it, surely there isn’t anything else for the gays to lobby for – that’s what you hear a lot nowadays. Well, sorry. But until gay bashing ceases, until bullying of gay school children is eradicated, until prejudice of any form against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people disappears there is a lot of work still to do.



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ConservativeHome Diary Week 24: Not a Week I'd Care to Repeat

27 Sep 2013 at 19:45

Well, it’s been quite a week. And not one I’d care to repeat. If you missed what shall now forever be referred to as “the incident” I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ve declined all interviews about it and would love to send it to hidden depths of my mind, never to be talked about again. But I realise that it will be something with which I will forever be associated. My own stupid fault. I’ll tell you what, though, you certainly find who your friends are at times like this, especially among fellow media people.

Journalists have a job to do, but the degree of Schadenfreude among some of the people I had previously considered friends came as a bit of a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I had been bloody stupid and I deserved all that came my way, but it really was like vultures picking at a publishing carcass at times.

I am hardly the biggest name in the world so I was a little taken aback at the scale of the media coverage, but I reached what I think is quite an interesting conclusion. It was because it had pictures and video to illustrate it, and they were vaguely comical. Pictures tell a thousand stories. It’s why the media will cover a US shooting of three people but barely mention the deaths of 80 people in an Islamist attack on a Christian church in Pakistan.

The Damian McBride book created more headlines than a publisher could ever dream of. I knew it would be big, but I didn’t realise it would be THAT big. By Monday, two days before publication, we had to order a second print run having sold out of the first run of 5,000. It reached number 6 in the Amazon chart, the highest any of our books has ever got. It reached the top 50 on their Kindle chart, which doesn’t sound as impressive until you consider that virtually the whole top 50 are made of 99p novels.

Damian himself has also turned out to be a publisher’s dream. His manuscript was the cleanest in terms of typos and spellings I have ever seen, and it was beautifully written, needing precious little editing. He’s not used to doing interviews, yet if you have seen him on TV or heard him on radio he’s performed superbly, sometimes under very hostile questioning. Rightly, he has been at pains to point out that the Mail serialisation only covered about 8% of the book, and if you read the whole book you get rather a different impression. It’s not all lurid, gory, backstabbing spin doctory stuff.

The only real issue with the book was the libel read. We had to take out virtually any mention of Rebekah Brooks or Andy Coulson in order to avoid the risk of prejudicing either of their trials. The problem was we had completely conflicting advice from the lawyers. Normally you only get a book read once by a libel lawyer to cover these issues. But this wasn’t about libel, it was about contempt of court. In the end I decided to play safe and delete more or less the whole lot. It will all go back in when we publish the paperback.

People keep asking me how I came to publish the book, bearing in mind my history with McBride. For those who don’t remember, I was a minor part of the Smeargate emails in 2009, which culminated in Damian’s resignation from the government. He had advised Derek Draper to smear me as a racist, after I appeared to defend Carol Thatcher after her ‘gollywog’ incident. Anyway, about eighteen months after than my colleague at Total Politics, Amber Elliott, who knew Damian a little, received an email from him asking her to pass to a message to me.

The message contained an apology for what had happened over Smeargate. We then exchanged a few emails. A few months later I got back in touch with Damian and asked to meet with a view to talking about him writing a book. I had been hugely impressed by his blog and his ability to tell a story. For the next eighteen months we kept in touch until we eventually did a deal. All along I was worried that another publisher would come in and scupper us, but Damian and I had formed a good relationship and I think the fact that I understood his world and he knew Biteback’s background swung it for us. We certainly couldn’t compete financially with one other organisation I later found out who had tried to win him over at the last minute.

This story took an interesting twist this week. On Tuesday evening I was broadcasting in our little studio in the Brighton Conference centre, right next to where the Sky producers and journalists sat. At around 630pm the police turned up and my producer agreed with them that I would voluntarily go to the local station after the show finished at 8. Amber Elliott, who now works as a producer for Sky, decided to recall their cameraman who had by that stage gone home, just so they could cover my walk from my studio down to the conference exit. Nice. I am told the cameraman was less than gruntled. I guess she was only doing her job, or obeying orders, but I can’t deny it hurt when I was told about it. Perhaps I should just man up.

The next day I was set to interview Alastair Campbell back in the LBC studio about his new novel “My Name Is…” It is a superb book, telling the story of a teenage alcoholic through the eyes of twenty people involved in her life. Anyway, he arrived early so we had a coffee. While we were talking his phone rang and it turned out to be Grant Shapps on the line. Apparently Alastair was going to the Conservative conference to promote a campaign by Alcohol Concern, but had been refused a pass. The nice Mr Shapps had intervened, having been tweeted by the spin maestro, and sorted a pass for him. So for the first time in 20 years, Alastair Campbell will be at a Tory conference. If you see him, be nice to him. He’s a pussycat really. No, really.

I’m not doing many fringe events this year at the conference but if you free on Sunday night I shall be doing a panel for Dods looking at the week ahead with Liam Fox, Margot James and Anushka Asthana from Sky. It’s in Central 3 in the conference centre from 7.30pm. I’m also the speaker at the Pride Dinner on Tuesday night. I think I am supposed to be witty and amusing. Not quite sure that’s my mood at the moment. Anyway, I think there are a few tickets left and you can find the details here.

Do say hello if you see me wandering aimlessly round the conference centre. I don’t bite. Well, not usually.

And for once, if you have a go at me in the comments, you will be fully justified to. I have officially been an idiot.



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Statement and Apology

26 Sep 2013 at 12:23

Following the incident on Brighton seafront on Tuesday morning, I have today voluntarily attended Brighton police station where I accepted a police caution. The police have informed me they now regard the matter as closed. I want to thank them for the fair and courteous way they have dealt with me throughout.

But above all I want to issue this public apology for my behaviour.

I want to apologise and say sorry to Stuart Holmes, who is a passionate campaigner and well known to everyone who attends party conferences and was perfectly entitled to do as he did on Tuesday in trying to get attention for his causes. It was totally out of character for me to react to him in the way I did.

I also want to apologise for the blogpost I wrote after the incident. It was full of absurd bravado and in the heat of the moment I behaved in a frankly idiotic way.

I have embarrassed not only myself but my family and my work colleagues and I apologise to them.

I also want to apologise to Labour leader Ed Miliband and his conference attendees.

I did apologise personally to Mr Holmes on Tuesday afternoon and we shook hands. He agreed to let the matter rest, but I have no complaint that he changed his mind on reflection.

Since the events of Tuesday I have gone through what happened over and over again in my mind. Whatever I felt at the time, nothing can justify what I did.

In addition, having accepted my guilt, I feel I should make some sort of reparation to Mr Holmes. I will pay for a new placard for him and also make a donation to a charity of his choice.

Finally, people have questioned why I didn’t remove the blogpost and why I have said nothing more until now. On the latter point, I was advised not to because the police were involved. On the first point, I felt it important people should be able to have their say. I will have to live with the justified criticisms for a long time.

I know there will be many who will never forgive me for what I did and I understand that, but those who know me will know that I mean every word of my apology to Mr Holmes, Mr Miliband, the Police, my family, friends and colleagues.



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How Newspaper Book Serialisations Work

22 Sep 2013 at 14:18

Many people don’t seem to understand how newspaper book serialisations work, so let me try to explode a few of the hoary old myths that have been regurgitated in the last few days. Even journalists from newspapers which bid for the Damian McBride serialisation don’t seem to get it, as I will explain in a moment by fisking The Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll’s bizarre piece yesterday.

For publishers newspaper serialisations are a double edged sword. If a newspaper is allowed to serialise too much of the book, it can seriously impact on book sales. So there is always a word limit agreed in the contract. In the Mcbride book, if my memory serves me correctly, the Mail is allowed to serialise 15,000 words out of the total word count of 140,000 (it could be 20,000, but I haven’t got the document to hand). Even so, I am sure there will be many people who think they don’t need to read the book because of the massive coverage, not just in the Mail but elsewhere. To compensate for this, the publisher takes a cut from the serialisation fee. Depending on the book and the context the cut is anything from 10% to 50%, although the norm is 10-20%. The rest goes to the author.

So how does a newspaper come to serialise a book? What’s the process? For a normal political book, up until recently there were only really three players – the Mail, Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times. Most of the others had pulled out of the serial market altogether or would only do one or two books a year. Recently though, The Times, Telegraph Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian have reentered the serial market. When I first started publishing books in 1998 it was commonplace to secure high five figure serial deals. Even 8 years ago quite a few books got six figure sums. Nowadays only ex Prime Ministers or the likes of Peter Mandelson command such sums. Most book serialisations go for a fraction of what they would have done some years ago. Indeed, I wonder whether we are heading towards a situation where newspapers stop paying for book deals and take the view that newspapers in other countries do: “Why should I pay for something which is PR for the book?” I don’t see that happening here while we have seven or eight national newspapers which compete with each other for attention. If you’re a low ranking Cabinet Minister who has written memoirs you can expect £5-15,000 for a book deal. Higher profile politicians with some good revelations will command more, but they are few and far between nowadays. The problem is that David Blunkett broke the serial market. Being a canny operator he retained serial rights for himself when he published his diaries back in 2006. So he trousered a £400,000 advance from Bloomsbury, who say this as the book that would establish themselves in the political memoir market, but he also got £250,000 from The Times (I think) for the serialisation. I am told they bought it sight unseen. It was a complete turkey. There was little in it, and it sold only around 5,000 copies. Newspaper editors looked at this deal and decided ‘never again’. That is not to say that for the right book a newspaper won’t try to snap it up before it is even written. On the McBride book I had two pre-emptive offers but I decided to keep our powder dry. I only ever consider a pre-emptive offer if I need it to help my bump up the advance to the author. We are not a big company and can’t afford to compete with the likes of HarperCollins, Penguin or RandomHouse, so an early tie-up with a newspaper can enable us to punch above our weight. We don’t do this often, but it has been known.

We normally talk to all the papers every six months and tell them what we have coming up in our publishing schedule. They then indicate which titles they might be interested in seeing with a view to bidding. Once we have an edited manuscript we get them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement before releasing the document to them to evaluate. The biggest nightmare for a publisher is a leak. For really big titles we don’t even give them the manuscript. For the McBride book. where we had 7 or 8 papers interested. we asked them to send a representative to come to our office for two hours to read the manuscript. They weren’t allowed to make notes, they weren’t allowed to have a phone. A Biteback member of staff sat there like an exam invigilator. One newspaper complained that we couldn’t possibly ask their political editor to agree to those conditions. Did we have no trust or respect? Don’t bid then, I said. We just couldn’t afford to take any risk. Needless to say, they compiled and did indeed bid.

Then comes the bidding process. Normally you conduct an auction. It usually starts very low. It continues until there is only one bidder left. I hate the process, mainly because at the end of it the losing bidders usually feel hard done by. Occasionally I adopt a different method, which I call the “Final, Sealed bid” method. This is where each newspaper is allowed one bid, and that’s it. There is no second round. Newspapers bid the highest they are prepared to go. This is risky for a publisher because usually you get a higher price by using the competitive bid mechanism. Anyway, I decided that as there were 7 newspapers involved the best and fairest way to conduct the bidding on the McBride book was to get them to bid once and once only by a Friday 12 noon deadline. I also decided not to conduct the bid process myself, partly because I was too close to one or two of the journalists involved and wanted to ensure that the process was 100% trustworthy on both sides. We explained this process to all involved, but despite that I had two calls from newspapers seeking to circumvent it. I made very clear that wasn’t going to happen.

I can’t go into the financials here, because I don’t see it as anyone’s business except for the author, the publisher and the newspaper concerned. The same applies to questions as to whether the author takes the money or gives it away.

I will say this, though. When we sign a contract with an author, we acquire the rights to sell the book for serialisation. In theory the author could ask for a clause to be inserted saying we can’t sell the serial rights to a particular newspaper, but in publishing 350 books or so, it is something an author has never requested. But this is an important thing to remember – it is the publisher who acquires the rights from the author to sell the newspaper serialisation. So to those who complain that Damian McBride sold his soul to the Mail, they are wrong. He didn’t. Having said that, I make it appoint of consulting with the author right the way through the process. But in the end the decision is the publisher’s not the author’s. Only once have I ever had a shouting match with an author who decided that a particular newspaper serialisation would ruin his reputation. Luckily his agent agreed with me and eventually he came to see the light. So it was Biteback who agreed the deal with the Daily Mail, and quite right too.

Chris Mullin hated the fact that his diaries were sold by Profile Books to the Mail on Sunday but they were perfectly within their rights to do it. Peter Hain had a right old go at Damian McBride for selling his book to the Mail on This Week on Thursday night. I sat on my sofa laughing heartily, remembering the fact that Peter Hain’s own memoirs OUTSIDE IN were sold to the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times. I know because I am his publisher and I did the deal. [this is updated – I had thought it was the Mail on Sunday earlier]

But it is also the publisher’s responsibility to protect the author’s interests. In most cases we ask for copy approval. This means that the newspaper has to show us the copy they intend to print before it actually goes to print. This allows us and the author to query how the story has been presented. On rare occasions you can also ask for headline approval, but this is not often given. The reason for copy approval is because sometimes newspapers don’t quote the exact copy in the book – they adapt it. This is done for perfectly legitimate reasons, but the contract states that it must be a true reflection of the book. If you are reducing a 5,000 word story to 500 words there can inevitably be difficulties. This is where copy approval becomes relevant. However, it is very rare that the publisher or author asks for anything to be changed. This process happened with Peter Hain’s book and so it has with Damian’s. The Mail handled it brilliantly and so far as I am aware, not a word has been changed.

Let’s move on to THIS ARTICLE in yesterday’s Guardian by Lisa O’Carroll. I got an email from Lisa on Thursday. Here’s how the email exchange went…

Lisa: Hi Iain, Just read your blog – I have to follow up A Campbell’s stuff on Twitter and wanted to chat to you about book deal serialisation on or off record. Could you give me a buzz?
Iain: Sorry, no, you really don’t have to follow up Alastair’s shit-stirring. It is none of anyone’s business. If The Guardian had won the serialisation would you expect me to reveal details to other newspapers? No, thought not. There’s your answer!
Lisa: Ok, I’m told that Associated paid £115 or so….
Iain: Shows how wrong you can be, doesn’t it!
Lisa: Well I wouldn’t know that would I?
Iain: Exactly. Just as it should be :).
Lisa: Well I’m writing a story saying that he got over £100,000. Speak now if you care to…otherwise I’ll take your arrows as intended x:)
Iain: It’s a free country :). But commercial details like that are between an author and a publisher. I know that sounds po-faced, but when you write your own bestselling book I doubt you’d want your publisher to bandy about figures would you? x
Lisa: These things always have a habit of coming out…(I mean figures, as opposed to my best selling book, which also will never make it on to the shelves…)
But am dying to read McBride’s. Loved the stuff in the Mail today and hear it’s a very belter of a read.
Over and out

All very amicable, but there is no way I was going to, or ever will, give out commercial details like this either on or off the record. So let’s take a look at what Lisa actually wrote.

It is believed that the Daily Mail easily outbid the competition with its six-figure offers, with five-figure sums coming in from rivals including Associated Newspaper sister title the Mail on Sunday, understood to have come closest with an offer less than £100,000. A source said the Mail may have bid up to £150,000. The Sun is believed to have offered about £50,000, the Daily Telegraph offered more than £50,000, while the Guardian bid less than £10,000. Newspapers were asked to submit blind bids for the book after Dale sealed the rights to publish in March this year. It is believed that the Mail’s bid was increased significantly after it emerged that the Mail on Sunday was a serious player in the race.

In those 122 words there are at least four factual errors. Newspapers were not asked to bid blind, they all read the manuscript. They knew what they were bidding for. I would have happily confirmed that detail to Lisa had she asked. Virtually all the figures she quotes are fantasy. Get better sources Lisa!

I think the Mail have handled this serialisation brilliantly and responsibly. Had the Mail on Sunday, Times/Sunday Times, Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph won, I am sure they would have done so too. I understand why partisan Labour figures are furious at the timing of the book. No political party likes to have their conference overshadowed like this, but I have a responsibility to publish books when they will sell best. Party conference time is the usual time to publish books like this and had Macmillan, Penguin or Random House published it, I am 100% sure they would have made the same decision. Yes, it is about money. Yes it is about making a profit and I am happy to say that. I employ 14 people. it’s books like this that keep them in jobs and enable us to publish other political books which barely wash their faces financially. So if people want to shoot any messenger for the timing or method of this serialistion, fire the arrows in my direction, not Damian’s.

And finally. Before anyone accuses me of any political motivation, save your breath. If I had got Andy Coulson’s book (and I hope to!) I would also have published that on the eve of a Tory conference. And so would anyone else with an ounce of publishing self-respect.



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Why Is Alastair Campbell so Keen to Trash Damian McBride's Book?

21 Sep 2013 at 22:03

You know, the most amusing thing about the last 48 hours or so has been the emergence of Alastair Campbell as spinner-in-chief against Damian McBride. It’s most odd because most of the things Damian writes about in his book confirm all the things that Alastair says in his diaries (of which I am a massive fan). In fact, before I go on, let me say that I really like Alastair and this blogpost is not intended to be an attack on him. But he has attacked the book and I will damn well defend myself, my company who published it, and my author who has written what I believe is one of the political books of the year. So here goes.

In an article in today’s Guardian he lays into Damian and suggests that the book will be a massive flop. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I would say that a book which reaches Number 6 in the Amazon Hot 100 5 days ahead of publication won’t do too badly. Our and Biteback sites have taken several hundred orders (it’s cheaper than Amazon’s price) and on Wednesday it will be in all Waterstone’s stores and hundreds of independent bookshops. This is what Alastair says in The Guardian…

Campbell said he believed that McBride’s book, Power Trip, would sell no more than 5,000 copies.

Well, according to Bookscan, this is what the three volumes of Alastair’s diaries have sold…

Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume I: Prelude to Power – 9,773 copies in HB
Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume II: Burden of Power – 2,803 copies in HB
Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume III: Power and the People – 1,739 in HB

Alastair points out on Twitter that perhaps the best comparison would be with The Blair Years, which sold massive amounts, although I haven’t got the actual figure. That was the volume which left out any embarrassing bits for Labour. It was fascinating stuff, nevertheless, but as a reader I felt rather cheated that the controversial bits had been omitted.

His main beef with Damian’s book is that we sold the serial to the Daily Mail and that it is being published to coincide with Labour’s conference. Like Tessa Jowell, he seems to think Damian owes something to Labour. I cannot understand why. Damian was a civil servant before becoming a Labour employee. When he resigned he was unceremoniously spat out and dropped by the Labour hierarchy. Ed Balls, so far as I know, was the only one to show Damian the milk of human kindness.

The fact is that most political memoirs are published to coincide with party conferences. There’s no conspiracy. I publish books when I think they will get most publicity and most sales. It would be a bit odd for a publisher not to. Alastair says he is not going to read Damian’s book. That’s a shame, because whatever he thinks of him personally, he would find it a truly fascinating political narrative. It’s a book which really does tell what it’s like to be, as Richard Nixon might say, ‘in the arena’. It will shock, it will horrify, it certainly plays into the hands of those who think that all politics is visceral. But above all it is totally honest. And I think that is what will come through when the book reviews start to be written.

I have no idea how Damian’s book will sell. Serialisations can often kill book sales if people think they have read it all in the newspaper. However, in this case the Mail are printing 15,000 words of a book which contains 140,000 words. But I am optimistic. Political memoirs rarely sell more than a few thousand copies, but this is so much more than a political memoir. We’ll see if that message gets through.

Tomorrow I’ll write a post explaining how newspaper serialisations work, because there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about who controls what. And I will also tell the truth behind this ridiculous article from The Guardian. They reckon they know the ins and outs of how I sold the serialisation for Damian’s book. They really don’t, as will become clear tomorrow.


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ConservativeHome Diary Week 23: Bonking LibDems & Their Leaks

20 Sep 2013 at 15:38

The poor old LibDems suffered from two rather embarrassing email incidents during their conference. The first was when a press officer sent their entire “Lines to Take” to the media instead of their MPs. MPs and ministers were given a checklist of five things to mention in every radio. “We are a party in confident mood” and “We are the only party which can bring about a strong economt and a fair society” were two of the less memorable mantras the politicos were supposed to spin to a supplicant media. Oh dear. I decided to get this out of the way early in my interview with the chirpy Tim Farron by just asking if he agreed with all of them. The second disaster to strike the LibDem press office was when an inexperienced press officer copied and pasted the wrong bit of a document into a press release, thereby setting a hare running that the LibDems regarded anyone earning more than £50,000 a year as wealthy, and that they would face big tax rises if the LibDems had their way. Cue media hysteria and another story which had to be extinguished as quickly as possible.

There are a couple of explanations for these cock-ups by the LibDem media team. Firstly, apart from the West Ham-supporting Head of Media Phil Reilly (naturally one of the good guys) not a single LibDem press officer has been working for the party for more than eight months. But I wonder if tiredness could be the issue. The entire LibDem front bench and team of special advisers were booked into rooms on the 15th floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Glasgow, but it appears they didn’t get much sleep. The exertions of a bonking couple in one of the rooms kept the entire floor awake for most of Monday night. They were apparently “at it” for several hours, and the identity of the couple caused much speculation the next morning. Your humble servant was lucky enough to be present (while waiting to interview the Cleggmeister) when a rather ashen-faced young man emerged from the room looking somewhat dishevelled. Discretion prevents me from identifying the poor bugger. But he did have a smile on his face. I’m afraid I ducked out of asking the Deputy Prime Minister whether he got a full eight hours. Of sleep, that is.

“Disgraceful.” “I’ve been totally misrepresented,” spluttered a clearly rather angry Paddy Ashdown about an Observer piece last Sunday. So it was with a degree of incredulity that while I was waiting to interview Nick Clegg I spied Ashdown emerging from a lift with The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley. Furthermore, the two of them were laughing and joking as they disappeared into Ashdown’s room. He’s clearly a forgiving sort. Half an hour earlier, I had been told he wasn’t doing any more media interviews. Rawnsley’s charms were clearly more alluring than my own!

Wandering around the appallingly depressing conference centre in Glasgow, it seemed I was the most popular man in the building. One after another journalists came up to me, slapped me on the shoulder and engaged me in conversation. But after the initial pleasantries, it became clear they had only one thing on their minds. “So, Iain, the Damian McBride book…. What’s in it, then?” They must think I was born yesterday. Luckily, I was able to tell them that I genuinely didn’t know when the newspaper serialisation of the book was commencing. I’m pretty sure they all thought I was spinning them a line, but I wasn’t. They won’t have long to wait. Have you bought your Daily Mail today?

The LibDem big idea on free school meals isn’t the vote-winner Nick Clegg thinks it is. When we covered it on my radio show, virtually everyone who got in touch with the programme was against it on the basis that we haven’t got the money, many councils do it already, or isn’t that what Child Benefit is supposed to be used for. There are some red faces among Southwark LibDems who, when it was proposed by the ruling Labour group, spoke out against it. I’m sure they now think it is an even better idea than putting 5p on plastic bags, an idea David Laws assures me is the most popular policy the LibDems have put forward since, er, the abolition of tuition fees. OK, I made that last bit up, but he insists people love the idea. I’m not so sure.

One man who is spitting tacks about the school dinners idea is George Osborne. Why? Because the Tories had to accept it as a trade-off to get through the marriage tax allowance. I’m told George Osborne is not exactly a fan of this policy, which is as dear to the authoritarian right as mother’s milk. I have never understood why. Being in favour of marriage is surely like being in favour of motherhood and apple pie. We all are, but should it be rewarded by a £3 a week tax break, especially in difficult economic times? I think not. I’m just waiting for which dumbass Tory right winger will table an amendment saying that people in civil partnerships shouldn’t get it as they’re not really married.

Next year’s LibDem conference will also be in Glasgow, which fills most of us with complete dread. I’ve got nothing against Glasgow. In fact I quite like it, but the conference centre is just awful. A modern architectural monstrosity which has all the atmosphere of a morgue. Yes, cue the easy joke about the LibDems being in their death throes, but it’s not easy to comprehend why they want to come back so quickly. Apparently they were supposed to be in Liverpool, but once Alex Salmond set September 18 2014 as the date for the Scottish referendum, they decided they had to avoid a clash. As a consequence, for the first time, the LibDem conference will take place after the Tories. But will that mean that Parliament returns a week later than normal? I suspect so. I wonder if Nick Clegg cleared that with Mr Speaker.

One of the LibDem talking points at their conference was the fact that Norman Lamb, the North Norfolk MP, is sporting a smart new haircut. Gone is the gelled flicked up hair at the front. Instead it’s all now slicked back. “Is this the start of a leadership bid?” wondered some commentators. The truth is a little more prosaic. I am given to understand that Norman’s usual hairdresser has returned to Lithuania, so his wife decided to attend to the Lamb thatch. A lesson for us all.

I have a column in the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude, and in this month’s issue I have written a light piece about why gay people have the reputation for liking a certain type of music. I’m sure Tory MP Nick de Bois will be hugely impressed that he gets an honourable mention. But I won’t spoil his fun by revealing the context. He will have to buy a copy! Or more likely get one of his staff to!



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Damian McBride, Me and His Brilliant Book

20 Sep 2013 at 08:04

Four years ago I appeared on the Today Programme talking about Carol Thatcher and her use of the word ‘gollywog’. She had just been fired from the ‘One Show’ for having the temerity to liken someone’s hair to that of a ‘gollywog’. This is what I wrote on my blog at the time…

Chris Moyles is Radio 1’s star DJ. Two years ago he was involved, on air, in an incident which led to him being accused of racism. Halle Berry, no less, felt that he was indeed being racist. In December 2008 he faced another allegation, after he asserted that “Polish women make good prostitutes”. On neither occasion did the BBC fire him, let alone discipline him or even make him apologise. On both occasions the BBC said he was “poking fun”. Today, despite issuing a full apology, Carol Thatcher was fired by the BBC – not disciplined, but fired – from the One Show, after she likened a tennis player’s hair to that of a golliwog. It was a jokey remark made off air in the Green Room. The logic of the BBC’s argument is that the very mention of the word ‘golliwog’ is considered racist. Utterly preposterous. Whatever Carol Thatcher said off air should not have been made public by the BBC. By firing her in this manner and allowing all this to enter the public domain, they have branded her a racist when she is patently nothing of the sort. When dealing with the BBC, having the surname of Thatcher is not an advantage. However, if you are a fat, loudmouthed git with a surname of Moyles (or Ross, or Brand) you can get away with anything.

At the time, I was one of the country’s three best known bloggers, alongside Guido Fawkes and Tim Montgomerie. Deep inside Downing Street, plans were being hatched to help Derek Draper launch a blog to take on the three of us. The Left had been scratching their heads as to why people on the right dominated the blogosphere. What happened next would have massive consequences for him, his blog and a certain Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s spin doctor in Number 10. Later that day Draper (who I knew and had advised on how to launch his new site, LabourList) saw an opportunity. He effectively called me a racist for going on the Today Programme and trying to explain why a 55 year old woman might use the word without meaning it to be pejorative. This is what he wrote on the fledgling Labour List…

Ashcroft sock puppet Iain Dale has defended Carol Thatcher and the use of the word “Golliwog”. See, even the nice seeming ones are nasty underneath. On the Today programme he said Adrian Chiles must hear much worse every week. No, Iain, he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t make a habit of hanging out with racist Tories. Until Dale thinks again we are suspending his listing on our blogroll. Come on Iain, do the decent thing and admit you got this wrong.

I reacted in my usually calm and measured manner…

As my readers can imagine, I am truly bovvered. Inconsolable. Bereft. My blog won’t be able to survive without the thirty visitors LabourList has sent its way. Believe me, it’s his site which loses out if I don’t link to it, not t’other way around. And with fewer than a thousand visitors a day, he needs all the links he can get. There’s just one thing that Derek might have to explain. Just where, exactly, have I ever said that the use of the word ‘golliwog’ is acceptable. Not here, and not on the Today Programme. I have indeed tried to explain why the BBC is guilty of hypocrisy and has overreacted, but that is not the same as saying the word is nowadays ‘acceptable’.

And so it went on. I was bloody furious. Someone I had helped get his blog off the ground, and knew reasonably well, had smeared me as condoning racism. I shouldn’t have been surprised by these tactics, but I was. Scroll forward two months, to April 2009, when Guido Fawkes rang me up to tell me that Derek Draper had been acting under orders from Number 10, and Gordon Brown’s chief henchman, Damian McBride. Again, I found it difficult to believe, but Guido said he had the emails to back up the claims and would be publishing them. Wow.

Here’s what I wrote on March 27th 2009…

On the Daily Politics yesterday, Guido Fawkes made an allegation that McBride had given Derek Draper his marching orders on how to trash my reputation as a blogger, and in particular how he should smear me over the Carol Thatcher golliwog remarks. This wasn’t the first time I had heard the allegation made. I intend now to submit an FOI on this subject as I regard it as a hugely serious breach of McBride’s role as a civil servant – paid for by the taxpayer, if indeed it is true. Several people have warned me off doing this. “Let it lie,” they say. One lobby correspondent advised me: “Don’t get on the wrong side of McBride”. I’m afraid they ‘misunderestimate’ me. But I will say this. I hope Guido’s allegations are wrong and that Damian McBride can truthfully tell me that he gave no such advice to Draper either by email or verbally. But if these emails do exist, they will come to light through an FOI request. Someone else said to me that they will just delete the emails, if they exist. I reminded that person that to do so would constitute a criminal offence. It’s the kind of thing a certain Richard Nixon got into rather a lot of trouble for.

UPDATE: Guido has submitted an FOI request. In the absence of a reply from DM, I have followed suit…

Dear Damian,
This is a Subject Access Request made under the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998).
Please provide me with copies of all emails, letters or other documents referring to either myself or my publication, “Iain Dale’s Diary”. In particular, but not exclusively, the analysis provided by you to Derek Draper and on the afternoon of Friday 13, February 2009.
I have copied this to the Cabinet Office Freedom of Information Unit. If you require payment of a fee please advise by return.
I should remind you that it would be a criminal offence to destroy the information requested. Please confirm receipt of this email.
Kind regards

On 11 April the whole scandal broke when Guido revealed the contents of emails between McBride and Draper. A day later, I wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph on the subject (read it HERE). This is how it ended…

When you’re a leader in trouble you turn to those whose undying loyalty you know you can count on. That’s why Brown was reluctant to let McBride go last September after he had been found briefing against Ruth Kelly. Instead of firing him, he moved him sideways and out of direct contact with the media. But at the same time he brought back his old ally Charlie Whelan.

Whelan is now political officer for the giant Unite union, and he funds Draper’s website. It was he who persuaded Geoffrey Robinson, the co-proprietor of the New Statesman, to dispense with the services of the magazine’s award-winning political editor Martin Bright, who was considered not onside with Brown. Whelan was also copied in on McBride’s emails to Draper as he had agreed to fund the new Red Rag blog which was to play host to the smears about Tory politicians. I suspect there is far more about to emerge about Whelan’s pivotal role at the heart of the Brown empire. If Gordon Brown really wants to bring about a new era at Downing Street, he can do several things – take away Alastair Campbell’s pass which gives him free access to the building; reshuffle Tom Watson out of Number Ten; but most significantly of all, tell Derek Draper his services as editor of LabourList are no longer required. The trouble is, our Prime Minister is wedded to the notion that seeking political conflict and dividing lines is the be all and end all. And he’s incapable of changing.

So McBride had had to quit, not just over these allegations, but also relating to similar ones against Tory MPs, including Nadine Dorries.

Eighteen months later, out of the blue I got an email from Damian apologising for what had happened. That sparked an exchange in which we both buried the hatchet. Then last year we met up for a coffee. Damian had been out of the political world for three years and was working happily for CAFOD. We met in a Costa Coffee near Waterloo. I had heard on the grapevine that Damian was planning to write a book, and I was determined to publish it. We talked it through, what kind of book it would be etc and the ramifications. We both laughed about the irony of me publishing it after all that had happened. He wasn’t totally sure about doing it but to cut a long story short we continued discussions over the last year and in March I announced that Biteback had signed up the book and it is published next week. Judging by the reaction to what Damian writes on his superb blog, it will be a huge hit. One Sunday newspaper journalist who has read it reckons it is the political book of the decade.

Damian has written the book over the last six months. In my 15 years in publishing I can truthfully say it is the cleanest manuscript I have ever read. Very few misspelling, hardly any typos and a beautiful writing style. He has been a model author and an absolute pleasure to work with. He will be denounced for raking over old coals. He will be criticised for taking the Mail’s shilling. Those who denounce him loudest are probably those who dropped him like a stone when he most needed them. I was most amused to see Alastair Campbell ranting away on Twitter last night, proclaiming that he had turned down £1 million from Murdoch. More fool him. In any case, the rights to the serialisation were mine to sell as the publisher. I am bloody proud I got the biggest political serialisation since Mandelson’s memoirs. Seven newspapers were in the bidding and the Mail won. That’s life, Alastair, get over it.

One of my colleagues at Biteback said to me earlier in the week that this was in every possible respect the best book we have ever published. I absolutely agree. It deserves to make the bestsellers lists.

Royalties from sales of the book will be split between Damian McBride’s current employers, CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), and the appeal by his former employers, Finchley Catholic High School, to build a new sixth form centre.

*Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin is published on 25 September in hardback. Price: £20.00

You can order a signed copy HERE



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UK Politics

The Revenge of the Orange Bookers

17 Sep 2013 at 20:21

Each year the Telegraph assembles a group of experts to compile a list of the top 50 ranked members of the Liberal Democrats. Meeting this year in the Westminster Intercontinental – the new hangout of choice for politicos – the panel judged the performance of Lib Dem politicians since September 2012.

The Liberal Democrats have proved remarkable disciplined over the last year. There is now no likelihood of any challenge to Nick Clegg’s leadership before the 2015 election, even though his poll ratings remain at rock bottom. Retaining the Eastleigh seat vacated by Chris Huhne helped to steady nerves in February, and although in terms of vote share the local elections in May were the party’s worst ever, the chunks torn out of the Tory vote by Ukip helped to save dozens of Lib Dem councillors their seats. Now, as the party gears up for the general election, Clegg’s increasing readiness to disagree with his Tory ministerial colleagues is proving popular with Lib Dem activists – though whether this will help him convince them to “occupy the centre ground”, as he puts it, remains to be seen.

Two years ago we described the ranking of 2011’s top 50 as “the rise of the Left”. This year a more apposite title could be “the revenge of the Orange Bookers”, as Clegg stays at number one and sees two key allies rise to numbers two and three. Sidekick Danny Alexander, the other Lib Dem member of the Quad which takes the key coalition decisions (it includes Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne) rises two places to number two, while David Laws, co-editor of the economic liberals’ bible, The Orange Book, the brains behind Cleggism and returnee to ministerial office last year, shoots up to number three, due to his appointment as chair of the key election manifesto group, which – Lib Dems hope – will be writing the negotiating mandate for the next coalition. And straight in at number six is Ryan Coetzee, Clegg’s Director of Strategy and former MP for the South African Democratic Alliance, brought in to apply some polling-evidence rigour to the party’s appeal. No fewer than seven other places are occupied by Clegg staffers.

The main losers are mostly on the Left of the party. Down goes Party President Tim Farron, who annoyed many activists by his failure to back same-sex marriage, and Simon Hughes, conscience of the party, who’s had a quiet year. Also falling is Shirley Williams, gradually edging towards retirement, and rent-a-quotes Matthew Oakeshott – increasingly marginalised – and Evan Harris, who drops out entirely, mostly because of his focus on the Hacked Off campaign at the expense of party rabble-rousing. Down too is Vince Cable, not really on the Left (he was an Orange Booker too), but always willing to criticise his Tory colleagues in public, which scores points with party members, but fails to compensate for his lacklustre ministerial record. Very few now see him as a credible leader-in-waiting.

And yet, being Lib Dems, the awkward squad are still around. Cerebral scientist and Cambridge MP Julian Huppert rises two places thanks to his trenchant defence of civil liberties. Social-liberal thinker Duncan Brack returns to the top 50 as vice chair of the manifesto group – carefully balancing Laws – and Leeds MP Greg Mulholland is a new entry because of his self-appointed role as convenor of the Lib Dem awkward squad in the Commons. Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Lib Dems in the Local Government Association, rises 16 places; there may be fewer Lib Dem councillors left after three years of coalition, but they are still hugely important in this most localist of parties. Paddy Ashdown, who climbs to number five thanks to his role as Election Campaign Chair, is hardly a friend to the Tories, though he has always proved loyal to his leader.

Apart from Cable, and Jeremy Browne, who seems to have disappeared without trace inside the Home Office, the Lib Dem ministerial team have remained fairly stable in our rankings over the last 12 months; rising stars include Norman Lamb, who has a unique ability to generate positive news from the Department of Health. The smart money for the next leadership contenders, though, remains on Ed Davey (establishment) versus Tim Farron (grassroots).

The Lib Dems continue to struggle to show much diversity among their leading figures. Only 10 women feature in the 50 – actually two fewer than last year, with the highest rating being the party’s two female ministers Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone at numbers 15 and 16. However, the party can celebrate the entry of two men from ethnic minority backgrounds. The shortly-to-be ennobled businessman Rumi Verjee (in at number 46) funded the party’s Leadership Programme, which aims to improve its parliamentary representation from under-represented groups. Maajid Nawaz, a newcomer at number 50, is one of the most interesting in the list, as a former self-styled Islamic extremist, imprisoned and tortured in Mubarak’s Egypt, who underwent a wholesale change of heart and is now Executive Director of Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank – and a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

*You can see the full list of the Top 50 Most Influential LibDems HERE and HERE *


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