The Independent on Sunday “Diary columnist” Matthew Bell has come up with an interesting theory as to why I have bought a house in Norfolk. Apparently it’s got nothing to do with the scenery or the fact that Broadland is the most peaceful part of the whole country. No, it’s because I have ambitions to succeed Keith Simpson as the local MP. When he put this to me it was all I could do to stifle a huge roar of laughter. Mr Bell clearly isn’t familiar with my electoral record in that part of the country, and he didn’t seem to understand that I have resigned from the candidates list and made clear I will never stand for Parliament again. “Ah, but you could change your mind,” he said, seeing his diary story disappearing from his grasp. Just to avoid any doubt at all, if I ever, ever change my mind and try to stand for Parliament for the Conservatives again, I will happily donate £10,000 to the charity of Keith Simpson’s choice. Having scuppered Mr Bell’s plans, I see he resorted to a rather pisspoor attempt at satirising my horror at seeing Lady T’s funeral papers on eBay. I trust he will do better next week.
Talking of Norfolk, I doubt whether anyone was expecting the Conservatives to lose control of Norfolk County Council. As one wag commented: “We didn’t do this badly even when Iain Dale was standing here!” I like to think that was a joke. I seem to remember in 2005 we got three more county council seats in North Norfolk than was achieved this year! Just saying…
I was wandering down Green Street, E13, (outside West Ham’s stadium) on Saturday when someone came up to me and said: “You’re Iain Dale, aren’t you?” After telling me he was an LBC listener he then told me he was a Labour voter, but liked my show. He then proceeded to tell me why, as a habitual Labour voter he was now supporting UKIP. There was nothing unusual in his reasoning, but he ended up by saying: “I’m UKIP Labour. There’s a lot of us about.” It was the first time I had heard anyone describe themselves as ‘UKIP Labour’ before, but I think it is, and will be, a growing phenomenon. Thursday demonstrated that UKIP are attracting votes from not only Labour but also the Liberal Democrats. In West Sussex. the LibDems lost eight seats to UKIP. Believe it or not there are quite a few Eurosceptic LibDems. Ed Miliband has reasons to be rather disappointed by Labour’s performance last Thursday. UKIP cost Labour dozens of gains, especially in the south. Miliband will now need to work out a strategy to prevent that happening in a general election. Expect Labour to support an In-Out referendum and to toughen up its immigration rhetoric. It will be interesting to see which Labour frontbenchers break cover first.
I’m sure everyone is excited at the prospect of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday. It’s the most political event in the entire music sector. I was in the audience in Dublin when Riverdance made its debut in 1994, and then again in 1998 when Britain hosted the event in Birmingham. I was a guest of the BBC and sat next to the newly elected Labour MP Stephen Twigg – now a leading light in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. Stephen rather lost control of himself when the Israeli transsexual Dana International won the vote. He was up there boogying with the best of them. The winning song, Diva, was certainly a very catchy number. My next Eurovision related experience came in 2010 when, at Total Politics, we enlisted the help of Bucks Fizz to make a video encouraging people to vote. It was rather unsurprisingly called ‘Making Your Mind Up’. Naturally I couldn’t resist making a cameo experience in the video, which became a bit of a Youtube hit. I didn’t get my skirt ripped off though.
There’s a saying about judging people by the company they keep. Quite why UKIP still pander to political gadfly Winston McKenzie is anyone’s guess. I remember interviewing him back in 2007 when he was competing for the Conservative London mayoral nomination. I thought he wasn't quite the full shilling, albeit vaguely entertaining. Politically, he couldn’t string a sentence together. He is at best an attention seeker, at worst – well, make up your own minds. In 2005, he tried for the X Factor and failed. In the 1980s he was Labour. In the 2000s, he was a Liberal Democrat. Both of those parties eventually saw through him. He stood for Veritas in 2005 (remember them?) before founding his own ‘Unity’ party. Having failed to get anywhere with the Tories, he then joined UKIP. I warned Nigel Farage at the time what he was taking on, as did others. Yet he was allowed to fight the Croydon by-election last year, where he distinguished himself by equating gay adoption to child abuse. Even now UKIP candidates are using him in their literature to demonstrate how liberal they really are. As Ali G might say, ‘Is it because he is black?’ There can’t be any other reason. When UKIP jettison Mr McKenzie and other dodgy candidates, then I will know they’ve become serious. I suppose if McKenzie ends up with the Greens or the BNP he can claim a full set!
The angelically behaved Nadine Dorries has finally been allowed to rejoin the Tory flock. And about time too. Her treatment has been nothing short of a disgrace. Even those on the Tory benches who aren’t great fans of hers were telling the whips it was time to bring her back into the fold. Sir George Young was throwing his hands up in the air in a ‘nothing to do with me gov’ kind of way, telling anyone who would listen that it was the posh boys who were vetoing it – one posh boy in particular. I wonder what changed Mr Osborne’s mind. Lynton?
The whips’ troubles may not yet be over, however. Dr Sarah Wollaston, the lovely doctor from Totnes is causing all sorts of troubles on Twitter with her full and frank remarks. It’s fair to say she is not exactly a fan of Lynton Crosby. When he told the 1922 committee that MPs on Twitter should be Tory evangelisers, not commentators, she let him have it with both barrels… on Twitter. This week she has been speculating that he is the reason there were no bills on minimum alcohol pricing or plain package cigarettes in the Queen’s Speech. She’s also been having a go at the Eton Mafia in Number 10. Can an interview without coffee with Sir George be avoided much longer?
In his speech opening the Queen’s Speech debate Peter Luff (who for reasons best known to others is known on the Tory benches as ‘Leaker Luff’) quoted Stanley Baldwin’s words on leaving office. “When Stanley Baldwin was leaving Downing street after his last premiership, it is said that he was stopped by a journalist who asked, “Will you be available to give your successor the benefit of your opinions?” Baldwin replied, “No, when I leave, I leave. I am not going to speak to the captain on the bridge and I have no intention of spitting on the deck.” With that, he walked off. I wonder if Sir Alex Ferguson ever reads Hansard?
If you’ve ever had a book published you’ll know what it feels like to finally get your hands on a finished copy. This week I got my first copy of my new book Memories of Margaret Thatcher – a portrait by those who knew her best. Thirteen years ago I published Memories of Maggie. This is a vastly expanded version of that book. There are 215 essays of varying length by a variety of people – world leaders, politicians, political opponents, journalists, activists and friends of the Iron Lady. It’s a bit of a doorstep of a book, running to nearly 600 pages. I hesitate to describe it as a loo book, and it’s certainly not meant to be read in one go, but it’s a treasure trove of fascinating anecdotes which I think give a really unique insight into what Margaret Thatcher was like as a human being, as well as a politician. It’s the ideal complement to Charles Moore’s authorised biography, which I have just started reading, and ardent Thatcher fans will love it!