DALE Iain Krieg illustration square

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

I did enjoy Theresa May’s joke about Boris Johnson at the beginning of her main conference speech. It genuinely brought the house down. For those who didn’t hear it, here goes:

“When we came to Birmingham this week, some big questions were hanging in the air. Do we have a plan for Brexit? We do. Are we ready for the effort it will take to see it through? We are. Can Boris Johnson stay on message for a full four days? Just about.”

Johnson can be quite sensitive about jokes which poke fun at him, so it made me wonder whether the Prime Minister or one of her team ran it by him in advance to check that he was OK with it.

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On Tuesday, I hosted a fringe for ConHome with David Davis. It was in an ‘In Conversation’ format, so he and I shooted (or is it ‘shot’?) the breeze for 45 minutes before he took questions from the audience.

Unbeknown to either of us the whole thing was filmed, as I discovered when a friend told me it was being shown on Wednesday night on BBC Parliament.

My last question to him at the end was: “Do you think you’ve got through this without dropping a bollock?” Had I known it was being filmed, I might have chosen my words rather differently. I wonder if the BBC bleeped it.

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The other fringe I spoke at was hosted by FOREST and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association in a very loud bar called Nuvo. There were several hundred people there, all getting gradually drunk as a skunk.

I’d written a few bullet points, which I then discovered I had lost, so I had rapidly to type out a few notes on my iPhone, just in case I dried up. Although I speak on the radio for three hours every day, I don’t do many speeches nowadays, so I got a lot more nervous about doing this than I would have done a few years ago. In fact, I was bloody petrified.

There were four speakers and I was the last, after Paul Scully. Most of the audience were happily guzzling and chatting while we all spoke, but in the end I think it went off OK. I banged on about freedom of the individual and the fact that we should all take responsibility for what we put in our bodies (ooh, er), and that anyone who supported a sugar tax should forfeit the right to call themselves a Conservative.

OK, shameful populism at an event like this, and of course it got the cheer I knew it would. I also got the biggest laugh out of the four of us for using the phrase “shag like a beast”. You had to be there. It was in context, I promise.

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The Liberal Democrats are apparently throwing the kitchen sink at the Witney by-election. Given that they came fourth in 2015 with 6.8 per cent of the vote – 12 per cent down on 2010 – one has to salute their optimism. Still, it gives them something to do.

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UKIP is in danger of becoming a laughing stock. Having resigned after only 18 days as UKIP leader, Diane James fell on her sword on Wednesday night. Even Sam Allardyce lasted 67 days, but at least he did get one win under his belt.

James cited various reasons for her decision. She had been spat at on a train and jostled in the street. She said she hadn’t got the full support of her MEPs or party officials, but perhaps most important of all she has a husband who is very ill. It seems to me that she was pushed into standing in the first place, and instantly came to regret the decision.

So what now? Apparently Steven Woolfe was within an inch of defecting to the Conservatives at the weekend, so that will damage his candidacy.  (And, by the way, I am glad to read that he is in good spirits after yesterday’s incident.)

Raheem Kassam, Nigel Farage’s former press officer, has announced he wants the job. Yes, really.

But all eyes are now on Suzanne Evans. She’s told me she is :definitely considering it”, and I suspect she won’t be able to resist. However, her allegiance to Vote Leave rather than and the fact that she is an ally of Douglas Carswell will make her persona non grata to the Faragistas.

Could it be that Paul Nuttall will be persuaded to throw his hat in the ring as well? They really need all their big beasts to contest this latest leadership election.

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For the last 24 hours, I have been assailed by some rather aggressive people in Liverpool who have taken exception to the fact that my company is publishing a book on Hillsborough by Sir Norman Bettison.

he venom has to be read to be believed. The concept of freedom of speech seems alien to these people, none of whom have read a word of the book, yet feel free to damn it weeks before it is even published. They assume they know what’s in it, but are likely to be surprised.

The local paper then had a go at me, as the publisher of the book, for what I wrote about the city in 2011, having been there to attend a Labour Party conference. Of course they failed to report what I wrote in this column last week, where I said how much I had enjoyed being there for that party’s conference this year.

This kind of guff is like water off a duck’s back. Sir Norman came to us to publish this book because he knew we were made of strong stuff. and could cope with the tsunami of abuse that would inevitably greet news of its publication of his book. It is very far from what some people imagine. But I might as well whistle in the wind when I say so.

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