Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
I write this on the train back from Manchester having spent three days at the Labour Party conference. It was an odd affair. It was the quietest and most downbeat pre-election conference that I think I have ever been to. Try as they might, they just couldn’t get the atmosphere going. The whole thing, including Ed Miliband’s speech, was as flat as a pancake. It was like attending a party, and after half an hour you whisper to your partner: “How quickly do you think we can leave without being noticed?”
One of the more bizarre things I did at the conference was lip-synch, in German, to Nena’s 99 Red Balloons, while having red balloons poured on to me from above. The things one does for ‘charidee’. The strange thing was that there were no red balloons to be found on any stand at the conference. How times change. So we had to go out and buy some. It was all in aid of Global Radio’s new ‘Make Some Noise’ charity appeal, which is raising money for underprivileged children. My contribution came under the heading ‘Fake some noise’. I’ve always been good at that. But the least said about it, the better.
I’ve been attending party conferences since 1985, and Labour conferences since 1998. I’ve heard some pretty rancid leader’s speeches in my time, but this year’s effort from Ed Miliband ranks down there with the worst. His “look, no notes!” approach is superficially impressive, unless of course you end up forgetting to actually say anything about the two issues of most concern to voters – the economy and immigration. Still, at least he didn’t utter any nonsense about “being here to stay” and “turning up the volume”.
I remember IDS’s 2003 conference speech as if it were yesterday. I had just been selected as a candidate in North Norfolk, so was naturally delighted when Adam Boulton asked if I’d like to do the post speech commentary with him from the Sky box above the conference floor. But after 20 minutes I was thinking: “Jesus, this is awful, what on earth do I say?” Adam kept grinning at me, clearly relishing putting my on the spot. I could see my political career disappearing down the plughole if I said anything remotely honest.
Eleven years on I can’t remember what I said, but I think I managed to keep on the tightrope somehow. This is why I always have some sympathy for politicians who tour the TV studios having to pretend that whatever their Dear Leader has just delivered the greatest political oration since Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. What is great on radio, though, is that you can see that whatever the politicians’ mouths are saying, their eyes and faces are saying something very different. Weren’t they, Tessa Jowell?! Simon Danczuk, the outspoken Labour MP for Rochdale was characteristically honest. He told me: “I wonder if this speech will reach further than left-wing Guardian readers.” Even then, I’m not sure many of them will have taken much notice of it.
We’ve just stopped at Stoke on Trent. Not for long, thankfully.
During next week’s Conservative Party conference, The Times will be publishing my annual Top 100 People on the Right list. Prepare for a few surprises. Doing these lists each year is a great opportunity to make new friends – and a whole lot of enemies. Luckily, it’s compiled by a panel of people, so when I am accosted by someone who has been thrown off the list or demoted by 20 places I can truthfully pass off the blame onto others!
This doesn’t always work, though. One former Conservative minister was bereft that he didn’t feature. “But we’ve been friends for years; how could you?” he bleated. “After all, you chair the judges, you could have overruled them,” he continued. “Yes,” I said, “I could have. And if you hadn’t been so bloody useless over the last year, I might have.”
End of conversation. The ones I really hate are those who email me in the weeks leading up to the event asking to be included. The shamelessness of it never ceases to amaze me. It almost guarantees exclusion. I’d love to name and shame, but that would be very unfair, wouldn’t it?
Could I just make clear that, unlike Gareth, I have never met Ed Miliband on Hampstead Heath. I thank you. In fact, contrary to popular rumour, I have never actually been to Hampstead Heath.
If you’re in Birmingham next week, do come and say Hi on the Global Radio Stand, where I’ll be broadcasting my LBC show from on the Monday and Tuesday. I’ll also be hosting an Audience with Christopher Biggins on the Tuesday night (don’t ask), the Bright Blue fringe on welfare on Sunday at 5.30 (why did I agree to that? The Ryder Cup is on!) and the Freedom Association event on the BBC licence fee on Tuesday lunchtime in the Freedom Zone. I’m also doing a booksigning on the Blackwells stand on Tuesday at 10.30. Enough already. And, after all, that it’s off to the Liberal Democrats in Glasgow. Joy of joys.