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Follow Iain on Twitter. Iain also blogs at www.iaindale.com. Iain Dale presents LBC 97.3 Drivetime programme 4-8pm every weekday.


Iain Dale GraphicWhoever chose Lough Erne as the venue for the G8
should get some kind of honour. As a PR exercise it couldn’t be faulted. The
countryside backdrops to all the interviews and press conferences were simply
stunning. Less stunning, though, was the fact that David Cameron seemed to have
a physical aversion to wearing a tie at any point during the event. Orders had
clearly gone out from Number Ten that this was a ‘dress down’ G8, although it
was rather difficult to tell whether Angela Merkel had got the message,
as in all the pictures I saw she seemed to be wearing the same, tired old lime
green jacket. I assume she brought a change of underwear.

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Paul Goodman wrote a fascinating piece earlier
in the week predicting the coming reshuffle will be dominated by promotions for
women. I think he may well be right, and most of the names he mentions will really
deserve their promotion. What a shame it is, though, that we still write
articles about the relative merits of women MPs, as opposed to MPs in general.
Perhaps it will ever be thus. But at the reshuffle there will be two female
cabinet ministers who will retain their cabinet posts purely because of their
gender, rather than the fact that they have been any good. Justine Greening has
indulged in a long sulk since her unwanted move from Transport to International
Development, while Maria Miller is so out of her depth, it would be kinder just
to put her out of her misery. But that won’t happen, I suspect. It would be just
too politically embarrassing to have a second successive reshuffle in which two
female cabinet ministers were pitched overboard.

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I’m really not quite sure why Stephen Twigg made
his big speech on schools this week, because I am buggered if I am any wiser as
to what Labour’s education policy really is. Is he in favour of free schools or
against them? The answer seems to be both. And there was me thinking that
sitting on the fence was the preserve of the ‘yellow peril’.

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A political acquaintance of mine was wandering
home the other night, minding his own business when he encountered  a chap with a full Freddie Mercury moustache and a
gold, tiger emblazoned jacket. He used the frankly legendary line: "Excuse
me, I think you're quite fit. Can I suck your c**k?" Somehow my friend’s
incredibly British response of "I'm actually okay… but thank
you…" didn't seem to quite cut it… Amazing the disguises some MPs will
use nowadays…

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I’m all in favour of jailing people who break
the law and are a danger to society, but this current political fetish for
jailing bankers because – well, just because – is getting ridiculous. The
Banking Commission, led by the marvellous Andrew Tyrie, has done some sterling
work, but it seems to be suggesting that bankers should be jailed for being,
er, reckless. Well, if that’s the criteria by which we decide whether to jail
people, perhaps a good few politicians might be eligible for a quick sojourn in
Wormwood Scrubs. Sometimes politicians should be careful what they wish for.

**********

I see Dr Sarah Wollaston, rapidly becoming one
of my favourite MP's, is accusing David Cameron of reneging on the coalition
promise of introducing ‘open primaries’ because they are more likely to result
in the selection of ‘outspoken’ candidates. Try as I might, I just cannot think
to whom she might be referring.

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I am far from being a pacifist. Indeed, I am a firm
believer in intervention when there is a clear case that can be made. But
whatever David Cameron says, that case cannot be made in Syria. It is a mystery
to most people why Cameron is going out on a limb on Syria. It is not a country
which is of great importance to the UK and yet the Prime Minister speaks as if
it were. The murderous killings on both sides are truly horrific, and we are
right to play a role in providing humanitarian aid, but to go further would be
self-defeating madness. At the start of the conflict it could have been argued
that the rebels needed armed support because they didn’t have any. That is not
the case now. Saudi Arabia is supplying all the weapons the rebels need. It is
also now clear that even if we did supply them, they might well end up in very
undesirable hands indeed. Some might say that is a risk worth taking if it
would hasten the end of this bloody conflict. I do not.

Have we learned nothing from Iraq? In any
conflict there is an end game. The only end game here seems to be the end of the
Assad regime. But what then? What comes afterwards? That’s the question Bush
and Blair failed to answer in Iraq. They imagined democracy could be imposed
and Iraq would live happily ever after. It was naive in the extreme. Surely we
are not going to make the same mistake here?

But Cameron has a much bigger political problem.
If rumour is to be believed, despite his public gung-ho statements, William
Hague is not the hawk on Syria he makes out. He is doing the Prime Minister’s
bidding. In addition Cameron has a cabinet and a parliamentary party which are
both deeply divided on the issue. At a guess I’d say both would be 70-30 or
60-40 against arming the Syrian rebels. Cameron must know that, so why on earth
is he, at every opportunity, seeming to talk up the prospect? He has already
committed himself to holding a parliamentary vote before any such decision is
taken. We already know that Labour and the LibDems would vote against any such
arming, so how does he think he could ever get a parliamentary majority? It’s a
bit of a mystery.

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Something very odd happened on my LBC radio show
on Wednesday. I found myself, as the former Tory candidate for North Norfolk,
interviewing Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, about the
former Conservative MP for North Norfolk, David Prior about the Care Quality
Commission scandal. Whoever said things come in threes seems to have had
a point. The CQC cover-up is a genuine scandal. The fact that anyone in a
regulatory body feels it appropriate to hide incompetence and wrong-doing is
worrying enough, but to actually bury a report because it makes their own
organisation look bad? Monstrous. To his credit, Norman Lamb was as angry and
incredulous as I was and is determined to get to the bottom of it. The CQC is
lucky to have someone with David Prior’s managerial and health service
experience as its new chairman. He made no effort to defend the organisations
past errors and his assessment of its fitness for purpose was castigating. It
was good to see such honesty from a public official. It’s all too rare.

**********

My old chum Eric Pickles joined me in the
studio on Wednesday evening to take calls from LBC listeners for an hour. He
insisted on a hour, saying that Nick Clegg was a wimp only to do 30 minutes. He
was in characteristically honest form as he told several listeners that their
questions had nothing to do with him as he had devolved various policy areas
down to local councils. Other politicians would have tried to fob them off with
lovely sounding words which meant nothing. Pickles’s approach was direct and
honest, something I think most people appreciate. He also gave a clear hint
that within a few weeks he is going to announce a new policy on parking, which
local councils certainly won’t like. From what I managed to glean, I/we pop
into  a shop for a few minutes, and are on a yellow line, we won’t get a
ticket, and also local councils will be prevented from using parking tickets as
a cash cow. About time too.

We are struggling for a title for the hour with
Eric Pickles, and as we are looking at doing this once a month we are
soliciting suggestions. “Phone Pickles” doesn’t really work in the same way
that “Call Clegg” or “Balls’ Calls” does. How about “Tickle Pickles”? Perhaps
you can do better…

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