DALE Iain Krieg illustration square

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

David Cameron was the clear winner in yesterday evening’s debate. He clearly showed the difference between the Conservative long-term economic plan and the chaos that would ensue if Alex Salmond put Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Only with a Conservative Government can hard working families be sure that their taxes won’t rise and that we will pay down the deficit

Actually, I am writing these words before the debate has taken place, but I can assure you that those words above, or a version of them, will feature in all the post-match spin and press releases. Because they all do. Always.

Five times a day, like other journalists and commentators, I get a CCHQ press release into my inbox. I have almost got to the wrist-slitting stage. Why? Because it’s the same boring message. Over and over again.

If we were in Germany, it would be called the Goebbelsprinzip. Say it often enough and people will come to believe it. The trouble is that it is being said so often, ad nauseam, in every single wretched interview that people have stopped listening. It’s not as if the phrase ‘long-term economic plan’ is snappy. It isn’t. You can be ‘on message’ without repeating the same mantras word for word.

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I got a blue tick on twitter last week. For some reason I was ridiculously pleased by it. I still don’t really know why. Because I am an egotistical knob?

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Wednesday was April Fool’s Day, and as usual I did my best to hook a few people in. I wrote on my blog:

“It’s being officially announced later this morning, but I wanted my esteemed readers to be the first to know, that I am being raised to the peerage to replace Michael Ashcroft in the House of Lords. It’s a great honour and I am very grateful to Michael for resigning his seat and allowing me to take his place. I’m told it was a close run thing between me and Tim Montgomerie, but I’m told the Prime Minister so enjoys Tim’s almost nightly appearances on Newsnight that I got the nod.

I have chosen Lord Dale of Leicester Square as my title and I want to make clear that joining the House of Lords will have no impact on my LBC show, although it will be retitled Lord Dale at Drive. Listeners will not be obliged to call me Lord Dale. Sir will do.”

What I have found in recent years is that many people only read the first few lines of a blogpost before they move onto something else – so if you make something half believable in the first couple of lines, they fall for it hook line and sinker. The rest of the post was very clearly a windup, but even so, many people were taken in, including my LBC colleague Beverley Turner.

Mind you, it doesn’t really compare to my April Fool in April 2010 when I made out that returning officers were going on strike to protest about being made to work on election night. So successful was this that the Government’s Media Monitoring Unit sent it all round Whitehall, believing it to be true. The Ministry of Justice began taking calls, and Jack Straw’s SpAd – the former was then Justice Secretary – protested that I had mentioned him in the blogpost without even having had the politeness to talk to him.

Read about the aftermath here. Oh well, it made me happy anyway. And then there was the time I said I’d be running for Mayor of London. Oh how we laughed.

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This election will be the first for 36 years that I haven’t been able to campaign in. It will be the first time since 1979 that I won’t be donning a rosette or knocking on a single door. I’m not even putting a posterboard in my garden.

No doubt some of you will be outraged, but since I am talking about the election on the radio and co-presenting LBC’s election night extravaganza I just don’t think it’s appropriate to be an active participant in this election. I know that sounds a bit po-faced, but there you go.

Mind you, it doesn’t stop my listeners from accusing me of bias towards the Conservatives. Or Labour. Or UKIP. “Why don’t you just have done with it and come out as a UKIP supporter,” is a regular taunt on Twitter. “You’re such a lefty Liberal, you must so in love with Ed Miliband,” is another. “You always give your Tory mates such an easy time,” is another one. I have never worked out why, but no one ever accuses me of being biased towards the Liberal Democrats. I really must try harder.

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This election needs an injection of excitement. It needs a Prescott punch. Or a Mrs Duffy. Or a Sharron Storer. Something. Anything. Most people I speak to inside the beltway reckon they are a tad bored by the election campaign – and it’s only been going four days. Or three months depending on your perspective.

I have to say that I haven’t contracted my usual bout of election fever yet. Call me old-fashioned, but I hanker after the days of pasting electoral rolls onto canvass cards, and typing up the NCRs. If you’re under 40 you probably have no idea what I am banging on about.

But that sort of thing added to the whole election experience. Their computerisation has taken a lot of the fun away for people with a slightly OCD attitude to canvass returns and the Get Out the Vote operation. Those were the days.

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Each day in this campaign, LBC is doing an Election Call phone-in with a leading politician. So far this week we’ve had Sadiq Khan, Patrick O’Flynn, Michael Gove and Nick Clegg. As a presenter, though, you’re always aware that political parties encourage their own members to call in and ask “So, Mr Gove, would you like to tell us more about your riveting long-term economic plan?” Or “Mr Khan, isn’t it true that David Cameron will introduce a law forcing Labour voters to eat their first-born?”

Obviously, we have people sifting the calls before people get on air, but you can never be 100 per cent certain that the caller isn’t a party stooge. I well remember back in 1992 when I was working on the Conservative campaign in Norwich North for the then MP, Patrick Thompson, and he was due to do an hour long phone-in on Radio Norfolk.

Unbeknown to him, Deborah Slattery, his agent, and I had already cooked up a plan to ensure that he bettered his Labour opponent, Dr Ian Gibson. In short, every single call that got on air on that phone-in came from Tory Campaign Headquarters. And it worked like a dream. Needs must, and all that. We won that seat by 266 votes.

Of course, it couldn’t happen now. You couldn’t phone from the same phone because of Caller ID, and in any case we never put people straight on air. They are phoned back. Withheld numbers automatically raise suspicions. So, in short, don’t even think of trying to do what we did in 1992. It won’t work!

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I’d love to do a comparative study of the number of professional party agents that have been appointed by each party in individual constituencies in this election. I suspect it’s under half what it was in 1992, and probably a quarter of the number that were employed in 1979. In legal terms, the job of agent is probably far more onerous than it was a quarter of a century ago, and yet complete amateurs are expected to get it right first time. Good luck to all the agents in this election. Some of them are going to need a lot of it.

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