Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
I’ve spent much of the last month being accused on my radio show of being pro-Zionist. But it seems that there are as many definitions of that word as there are types of baked bean. If it means supporting the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, then I happily plead guilty. The evidence of my pro-Zionist support, it seems, is my “neocon” credentials and my “friendship” with Douglas Murray.
I am not, nor ever have been a neocon and, although I am an admirer of Murray’s work, he is not a friend of mine. An acquaintance, yes – but can you really be someone’s friend when you have never met them outside of a work situation? Surely a friend must have been to your house, or you to theirs or met your family, or some that at the very least you go out for a meal or drink with from time to time. I’d happily have Murray as a friend, as I regard him as a very nice guy, but I find it odd that people on the internet appear to love to judge me by the company that I, er, don’t keep.
I suppose in some ways that Sayeeda Warsi’s was always a resignation waiting to happen. The only surprise has been that it has taken more than four years to do so. A minister who treated the phrase ‘collective responsibility’ with a degree of caution was always likely to fall on her sword at some point – or face the sack.
Some of her fellow ministers were somewhat irritated by the latitude shown to her by the Prime Minister and his team of enforcers. But, to them, she was a graphic demonstration of the way the party had changed – female, northern and Muslim. In some ways, she is irreplaceable, and for a Party which has always been challenged by its inability to attract ethnic minority support, her departure is a considerable blow. It is also a blow to Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary. I’m told that William Hague made it his business to ‘handle’ the noble Baroness, and ensure that she didn’t go off piste too often, whereas Hammond has adopted a different approach. His less inclusive approach to his junior ministers, which he also adopted at the MoD according to my source, did not sit well with Warsi.
So Joyce Anelay has replaced Warsi at the Foreign Office. I got to know her when she was the Conservative home affairs spokesman in the Lords. Hers is an inspired appointment, as she is not only hugely competent but will also be immensely popular with diplomats around the world. She’s a bridge builder, and someone who has really earned the right to sit round the Cabinet table. I welcomed her appointment on Twitter by remarking that she has the best hair in the House of Lords, only to be assailed by ‘right on’ lefties, who clearly object to any compliment being paid to a woman about her appearance. Frankly, I couldn’t give a monkey’s arse what they think of what I said.
Of course, if justice had anything to do with it (and it rarely does in politics) the job might well have gone to the Chancellor’s former PPS, Rob Wilson. He was offered a job in the reshuffle but in the end it went to someone else because his book In the eye of the storm was about to appear – and if you’re a Minister you can’t publish a book without Cabinet Office approval. On such threads do careers hang. So come on, Prime Minister: next time there’s a vacancy, do the right thing.
I’ve never quite understood this fascination with Ed Miliband’s so-called ‘weirdness’ and ‘geekiness’. All politicians are weird to an extent. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be in politics. But people who are weird and geeky are invariably not good when meeting the general public.
Miliband isn’t like that at all. I’ve met him on several occasions, and each time he’s been great company and lacking any degree of geekiness. I think he is a bit like John Major in that if everyone in the country could meet him face to face ,he’d be far more likely to win the election. But that’s not possible so he has to try to convey his real personality through the media, and that’s certainly his challenge over the next nine months.
He’s got to get over this newspaper obsession with his apparent tendency to look odd in photographs. I say apparent, because we all know that in a film roll of 200 pictures of the same incident there’s bound to be one that makes someone look odd. And that’s the one the photo editors always pick when it comes to the Leader of the Opposition.
It may be unfair, but that’s the way it is. Last Friday, I did an hour long phone-in with Ed Miliband, in the slightly odd setting of a hotel in the marginal seat of Hastings. Politicians are usually incredibly nervous of these occasions, but Miliband soon got into his stride and answered each question well, avoiding using any of the usual soundbites. There wasn’t a mention of the phrase ‘cost of living crisis’, which is quite some going when you’re on air for the best part of an hour. The only time he was somewhat lost for words – as indeed was I – was when someone asked him which part of Number Ten he would refurbish first if he won the election. I thought he missed a trick on that one. He should have said he’d replace the black door with a red one! Trouble is, the Daily Mail would have probably thought he was being serious – and done another double page spread on Red Ed.