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.

Halfway through George Osborne’s budget speech, I began to wonder what all the fuss was all about. Most of the measures that he was announcing had either already been leaked, or he had announced himself during his Andrew Marr Show interview last Sunday. I should have had more faith in the political abilities of the Chancellor. In the end, this turned out to be a bit of a landmark budget.

My only worry is that the National Living Wage bit of it is a bit oversold. After all, it isn’t the so-called Living Wage – it’s simply a higher Minimum Wage, and although it was a good short term PR wheeze to call it the Living Wage, in the long term it might have been better not to.

But it will have a massive effect on many people and raise their standard of living hugely. It’s the equivalent of a six per cent pay rise for the next four years. £9 an hour equates to an annual salary of nearly £19,000.

Of course there will be unscrupulous employers who try to avoid paying it, so the Government really does need to beef up enforcement. It is a scandal that so few people have been taken to court for not paying the existing minimum wage, when we all know there are loads of companies that don’t.

One measure which has passed by with little comment is the minute rise in the 40p tax threshold. We were told that the threshold would rise to £50,000 by 2020. All I can say is that there is a bloody long way to go. The pathetic rise of £115 to £43,000 didn’t even cover inflation so, in real terms, people earning above that level are worse off. It also means that in Osborne’s five remaining budgets he’s got to cover £7,000. Good luck with that.

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Don’t you think Mario Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister, looks a bit like Nick Griffin?

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Last Saturday I drove to Finchley to chair the Conservative Way Forward hustings. CWF has become quite a campaigning force under the chairmanship of Donal Blaney and the directorship of Paul Abbott, the former Chief of Staff to Grant Shapps.

In the morning, around a hundred CWF members gathered to deliver thousands of leaflets for Mike Freer, the local MP. They then gathered in the sauna-like basement of a local hostelry to hear the candidates for the Conservative London mayoral candidate selection set out their stalls.

Syed Kamall had told the organisers in advance that he wouldn’t be attending because Ramadan is taking place. I couldn’t quite work this out, since I thought Ramadan only had implications for the time that you ate: clearly not. Quite how it impacts your ability to appear at a hustings I am at a loss to know, especially when, at the very same time the next day, I saw Syed commenting on the Greek referendum on Sky News. I texted him to say that if he wanted to be a real challenger to Zac Goldsmith, he really ought to speak at the hustings. He didn’t even reply. No doubt texting is banned in Ramadan too.

[10.30am Update: Turns out I had been given a wrong number. Syed has since phoned me and explained that in Ramadan because your body isn’t functioning at its maximum potential because of the times you are allowed to eat it’s OK to do short burst things like interviews, but not sustained things like a hustings in a hot room. He said he had asked CWF to move the hustings.]

When I arrived at the hustings I was then told that Ivan Massow had pulled out as well, and was being empty-chaired because of it. One of his campaign team protested to me about the empty chairing, but I have to say it hardly surprised me that he failed to show. If the reason he gave was true, fair enough, but the organisers had their doubts.

In addition, Sol Campbell had withdrawn earlier in the week, as he realised after his car crash of an LBC interview he wasn’t quite ready. At least he had the politeness to do it properly, as had Zac Goldsmith who said that he had a previous commitment.

So we were left with two candidates: Stephen Greenhalgh and Andrew Boff. At the last minute a Bromley councillor, Simon Fawthrop, put his name forward so we invited him onto the platform too. The place was like a sauna, the microphones didn’t work and the fans were loud. Apart from all that, everything was hunky dory!

Of the three candidates I thought Stephen Greenhalgh, Boris’s Deputy Mayor in charge of policing was the most coherent and impressive. He had a clear plan, was passionate and spoke well. Andrew Boff has always been a great public speaker and has some radical ideas too, but on the day I thought Stephen edged the debate. He’s not someone I know well, but I was impressed. As for Simon Fawthrop – well, let’s be kind and say he survived to fight another day, but mayoral material he is not.

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It’s outrageous that CCHQ will shortlist the declared candidates down to two or possibly three for the open primary selection. Why shouldn’t Londoners have a much wider choice? If the candidates are credible, why not put them all through?

Labour have just done that, and they are giving people six candidates to choose from. We all know Zac will be one of the two or three, and quite right too – but I fail to see any reason for excluding a Conservative MEP, the Deputy Mayor for Policing, the leader of the Conservatives on the GLA or the leader of Westminster City Council.

If any of them are excluded by CCHQ, we should ask why they are good enough to hold their current positions, I’d have thought. Perhaps CCHQ should bear that in mind.

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It’s my birthday next week. Just sayin’.

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So we’re going to spend the next week talking about fox hunting. Not Greece. But fox hunting. Only in this country… Next Thursday, MPs will be given a free vote on changing the law – not to allow free-for-all fox hunting, but to amend the law slightly to make it easier to use more hounds.

I come from a farming background, but have always been rather ambivalent towards fox hunting after the local hunt used to think it was quite acceptable to ride through my father’s crops, and indeed our back garden, without a second thought for the damage they were doing. I can remember as a ten year old telling them exactly what I thought of their behaviour.

The first question I was asked in the North Norfolk candidate selection back in 2005 was on fox hunting. I didn’t exactly lie, but I didn’t tell the whole truth either. It ran something like this: “You are a close friend of Ann Widdecombe, do you share her views on fox hunting.” I replied to the effect of: “Just because I am friends with someone doesn’t mean I necessarily share their view on anything, and there are rather a lot of things Miss Widdecombe and I disagree about.”

A classic politician’s answer. It was totally true – but on the other hand didn’t tell the whole truth. I felt slightly grubby, but needs must and all that. In 18 months I managed to restrict my attendance of the local hunt to a single occasion.

This issue is the only one I have ever felt the need to caveat my real views on, and I’ve always hated myself for it. It’s not that I am against killing foxes, I just don’t like the way posh people on horses do it – and yes, I know, it’s not just posh people who take part. I’ve shot foxes myself before, so I’m not some tree-hugging animal rights activist, and I fully accept the need for the fox population to be controlled. But to subject an animal to death like that, where it is ripped apart by voracious hounds, surely belongs to our bygone history, not 2015.

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On Monday I am going to the O2 to see Roxette in concert. And I am not ashamed to say so, either. I just listen to my heart, as I join the Joyride.

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Also on Monday, I will have the first broadcast interview with Zac on why he’s running for mayor of London. So do tune into LBC from 5-5.30pm.

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